After their worst effort of the season against Florida this past weekend, you would have expected the Montreal Canadiens—who just had two days of rest—to come out with fire in their eyes, yesterday against the Blue Jackets. And for about five minutes that was exactly what happened, as the Habs moved their feet and created a bunch of scoring chances as a result.
The problem was that the game, and more importantly the Canadiens, quickly took on the same pulse as the crowd at Nationwide Arena; flatlined.
Like Saturday night, the Habs looked disorganized and uncoordinated and their five-man defensive unit, usually so hermetic, leaked like a sieve. The result was that the Jackets were able to freely claim the high slot and often had a man open to pick up rebounds.
And so, the Canadiens suffered a second loss in a row against a team that they “should” have beaten, in another game where they had a complete lack of effort. As such, Carey Price was hung out to dry again by his teammates and if it wasn’t for his brilliant play, this one would have been a blow out.
The Habs’ power play woes continued as they went 0-for-3 against the Blue Jackets, and are now 3-for-42 for the season.
Say what you will about Columbus as an NHL city, but there were more people in the stands than there are at most New Jersey Devils’ home games. And, while the crowd sat on their hands for 55 minutes of the game, they did give their home boys a standing-O as they brought home the victory.
Final Score: Jackets 3 – Habs 0
Habs’ scorers: none
Jackets’ scorers: Rich Nash (4), Derick Brassard (4), Kyle Wilson (3)
Three Stars: 1. Mathieu Garon, 2. Derick Brassard, 3. Jakub Voracek
Price played an excellent game.
The team in front of Price might have been flat and listless but Price himself was certainly not. As the defensive coverage dissolved and disintegrated in front of him, Price was forced to make spectacular save after spectacular save.
A 2:00 penalty to Tomas Plekanec near the start of the second period yielded some of Price’s best moments of the night as he stopped first, second, and even third chances to keep it a 2-0 game.
The problem was that the team in front of Price was not able to give him any support as their shots were blocked or from the outside, their defensive coverage was lax, and their turnovers were plentiful. There’s only so much the goalie can do, and Price did his part.
Scott Gomez is still out in left field.
With his consistently inaccurate passes and endless attempts to gain the offensive zone by himself—but instead turning the puck over—Gomez has become a completely ineffective player for the Canadiens. It seems like he is trying to do it all by himself rather than using his linemates, and when he does use his linemates it is either poorly timed or he misses his passes.
At one point, while on the penalty kill, Gomez had the puck on his stick ten feet inside the Habs’ blueline, and he could have easily cleared the puck off of the boards and down the ice. Instead, he tried to connect on a cross-ice pass, which was intercepted, sending the play back towards Price. He is just not thinking.
With Travis Moen playing on his wing, Gomez has got to start dumping the puck into the corners and letting Moen dig it out rather than trying to carry it in by himself. Until Andrei Kostitsyn was placed on their line in the waning minutes of the game, the Gomez-Brian Gionta duo had little to no offensive zone presence.
Gomez is lost right now and it is probably time for coach Jacques Martin to do something drastic to shake the tree. Can you say “Lars Eller as the second line center” for a game or two?
Hal Gill and Josh Gorges were the Habs’ worst defensive pairing.
Perennially reliable defensively, that duo looked out of sync as they left the Jackets with too much room to skate and had a ton of bad turnovers. More specifically, Gill did not have a good night and Gorges was left to try and clean up his mess.
On the first goal, Gill tried an ill-advised shot from the point that was blocked and went the other way. It was ill-advised because the Jackets’ player was standing right in front of him. The shot seemed rushed and almost like he was just trying to get rid of the puck rather than making a play.
Being as slow a skater as he is, Gill should know better than to take a low-percentage shot like that. What he should have done was dump the puck in the corner and retreat to his defensive position.
The result of his turnover was a 2-on-1 the other way and a 1-0 Jackets lead on a wickedly accurate Rick Nash shot. This was the worst example of Gill’s handy work, but he had four or five bad turnovers during the game and each one led to a scoring chance against.
Ugly. Just ugly.
Where is Maxim Lapierre?
Does anyone remember that there is a player named Maxim Lapierre in the Habs lineup? What happened to that player? Where did he go? What happened to the guy who skated like the wind, hit anyone he could, got in the oppositions face—and in the process put them off of their game—and the player who could score those key goals at key times?
I’ll tell you what happened to him; he has been replaced by a ghost. A shadow of the player we saw in last year’s playoffs.
I don’t know if it is because of the constant line shuffling or not, but Lapierre is invisible out there. The only reason I noticed him was because I made a conscious decision to see what he was doing on the ice.
As much as he and Eller had some chemistry together in their first few games, they didn’t seem to be clicking last night on a line that included Dustin Boyd.
Lapierre seems like he has stopped skating and if he is not skating he is not using his most lethal weapon and is, in effect, rendering himself useless.
The Habs have enough problems with the Gomez line, players like Jaroslav Spacek, and the powerless power play and they don’t need another headache or question mark player.
Martin mixes things up at the end of the game
In the final minutes of the third period, with the Canadiens trailing by three goals, Martin had Eller playing with Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri, and Kostitsyn playing with Gomez and Gionta.
As much as G&G were invisible and completely ineffective all game, that line suddenly came to life with AK46 on their wing. All of a sudden, they were able to establish and keep an offensive zone presence and actually had a few good scoring chances. Kostitsyn is a big, rugged player and his size is a good complement to the smaller, speedy Gomez and Gionta.
The other change that the coach made was to put Eller on the wing with Plekanec and Cammalleri and, in the few shifts they had together, he didn’t look out of place. While I feel reticence about breaking up the Habs’ top performing trio, I also feel that the time has come for major shake up.
Martin should keep the top two lines as they were in the last few minutes—Eller, Plekanec, Cammalleri and AK46, Gomez, Gionta—and see if that can produce some offensive balance. Personally, I would shake things up even more and would drop Gomez to the third line center, put Eller as the second line center, bench Spacek, bring in Alexandre Picard or Ryan O’Byrne, and put Benoit Pouliot back as a second line winger.
The result up front would be the following:
But that’s just me.
Standings and Next Game
The loss drops the Canadiens to 7-4-1 and keeps them stalled at 15 points in the standings—still first place overall in the Northeast Division. The Canadiens again have two days off before taking on the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday and the Senators in Montreal on Saturday.
Keep in mind, folks, that a team is never as good as it seems when they are winning and never as bad when they are losing. The problem for the Canadiens is that while they were running off to a 7-2-1 record early in the season, there were a ton of problems with the team that were masked by the wins; no power play scoring, no offense from the Gomez line, when the Plekanec line doesn’t score the Habs don’t win, and a slow and problematic defense corp. In defeat, those problems are amplified and become the exact reasons for the loss.
Let’s see if the Canadiens can reverse the trend in back-to-back games this weekend because as much as people are upset about these two straight losses, things will get really ugly if it the lose three or even four straight.