The Habs got to return to the ice only 24 hours after their Game Three loss to try to even up the series against the Maple Leafs. To do so, the team refused to use their depth and dress their most physical defender in Alexander Romanov. Instead, they kept completely mediocre Jon Merrill dressed who accomplished absolutely nothing all night long.
Up front, they returned to the usual Phillip Danault line as Eric Staal returned to the lineup to replace the injured Artturi Lehkonen. The Habs refused to try anything new and so the product on the ice looked much like the entire second half of the season. This meant a team not fast enough to win races, not physical enough to bully the opposition, not confident enough to make plays or to trust their teammates. Briefly, a team with no identity and no clue what they need to do to win games. Carey Price was the team’s only hope as he faced Jack Campbell that the Habs continue to make look like an All-Star as they lost 4-0.
The Habs were the more aggressive team out of the gate, but the defencemen were clearly trying to do too much as they made bad pinches early which allowed a Jason Spezza breakaway where Price had to shine, before a second pinch created a 2-on-1 where Price made a nice save on Mitch Marner. On this second play, Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a slashing penalty that would not be called in any other series in the league this first round. The power play came close as the Leafs took momentum, but Price remained the difference early. Once again, the only offensive spark plug for the Habs was Cole Caufield, which is rather sad considering he doesn’t even have 10 NHL games under his belt.
With six minutes left in the period, Eric Staal broke out on a 2-on-1 with Joel Armia. The Habs couldn’t score but T.J. Brodie took a penalty on the play. The power play was completely clueless, but they got a second chance a few moments later as Toronto was caught for too many men on the ice. Once again, the Habs power play was so terrible that it couldn’t even gain momentum for the team. On this second advantage, the best scoring chance went to the Leafs against Nick Suzuki who actually played it quite well and saved his team from a shorthanded goal against.
The second period had been the Habs downfall all series and this one was no exception. In the opening minute, the second line of Alex Kerfoot, Alex Galchenyuk, and William Nylander caught a sleeping giant in Joel Edmundson to beat Price on the backdoor pass to open up the scoring.
Montreal fought back and played hard but once again didn’t have anyone getting to the front of the net to make Campbell’s life difficult. Tyler Toffoli had the best chance of the sequence, not a surprise considering he was the one playing with Suzuki and Caufield, the only two forwards look like they were trying anything offensively.
With 7:32 left in the second, Galchenyuk struck again. This time, it was a 2-on-1 where he found Spezza. Armia was late backchecking, but frankly, it was another terrible pinch. Jeff Petry was the one stuck in deep on that play that left Price all by himself.
On the next shift, Ben Chiarot was called for cross-checking Auston Matthews. I get that I’m a Montreal fan and I’m going to be at the very least a little biased for my team. But frankly, I don’t think that was a penalty in the regular season. To make matters worse, Toronto’s power play got to slap Armia’s stick around without that being called, and before that, they tripped Byron; the result of the no-calls was Spezza finding Joe Thornton with a beauty of a pass to make it 3-0.
Make no mistake about it, the Leafs were far superior on the entire line on this night. To me, it just makes the officiating display even more needless. They do not need that help to handle the Habs. With the game comfortably in hand, the Leafs were then given a penalty which Montreal could do nothing about because they can’t even figure out how to enter the zone.
The third period was a carbon copy of Monday night. The coaching staff finally played the offensive guys, but the Leafs were comfortably playing with 3-5 goaltenders the entire period and simply making sure the Habs couldn’t get to the middle of the ice. Thornton was assessed a penalty near the middle of the period (see my comment about the last penalty for my thoughts on that).
With the net empty with five minutes to play, Zach Hyman and Matthews both missed the net before Galchenyuk, the player Bergevin selected to start his tenure in Montreal, put a dagger into the game, and many seem to believe Bergevin’s tenure in Montreal will come with the end of the season that should come Thursday.
To summarize, the Habs played the perimeter with the puck, got a few scoring chances with no one screening Campbell, and ultimately retreated to their fate of a 3-1 series deficit without a whimper. Before the season started, I advocated a true turn to the youth and not a single thing outside the first 10 games of the season has made me waver in my opinion that the Habs should allow every single free agent on the team to walk this offseason. One could perhaps make a case for Corey Perry, but that’s really it. The centre position next season needs to read Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Evans, and Poehling with Romanov in the top four and two kids as the third pair. If they aren’t good enough, too bad. At least we’ll get a great pick out of it.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
For all the crap this guy puts up with from this fan base during the regular season, here’s hoping that the fact he remains this team’s only chance come playoff time will give him some breathing room in the regular season. Price was the only Canadiens’ player worth watching, might as well give him $40M because he’s half the team.
Stats: 24 saves, 27 shots, .889 save %, 3.07 GAA, 58:41 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
As mentioned throughout the article, Suzuki and Caufield are the only two that are even trying anything offensively. Then again, it’s not like anyone else is even getting a chance. Staal played nine minutes and Kotkaniemi 12 while Danault played 18 minutes. Not much offence will come from that strategy that has already proven futile but that this bench boss doesn’t understand isn’t working. Why am I placing this criticism in a space for their best offensive player on the night? Simply because it is Suzuki who complained earlier in the season about the team playing “not to lose” instead of playing to win. Seems to resonate a whole lot throughout this series, doesn’t it?
Stats: 5 shots, 6 hits, 20:56 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Cole Caufield
Much like Suzuki, whenever they were on the ice, they at least got to the offensive zone. The sad part is that a rookie with less than 10 games under his belt will now start to garner attention from the opposition’s best defenders because that’s how completely incapable offensively this team is.
Stats: 1 shot, 19:33 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli got some looks in this game for the first time in the series. Likely has much to do with being moved to the line with the two kids. They didn’t finish the plays, but I place most of that blame on the team being completely incapable of upholding the momentum this line tried to create and so they were already starting from scratch against defenders that were fresh and ready to challenge them.
Stats: 2 shots, 1 hit, 19:41 T.O.I.