The Montreal Canadiens were coming off their best win of the season beating the Boston Bruins in a thriller at the Bell Centre. The Bruins are this season’s best NHL team so far, so the thinking was they could build on that outstanding performance in Philadelphia. Not so much.
It was a generally poor performance by the home team on all accounts, but thanks to Carey Price, the Habs stole a point, falling in overtime to the Flyers 3-2.
Carey Price had perhaps the worst game in a Habs uniform in years the other night against the Bruins.
He let in two horrible goals as he failed to block out the bottom half of the net from in tight. He let in a third horrible goal with the same issue, but he got lucky — the refs ruled the play offside. His recovery though, was outstanding and Price was the only player worth talking about in a positive manner for the first two periods.
At the halfway mark in the contest, Price had faced 29 shots. The Habs had fired only 13.
Ten of the shots Price faced were of a quality so high, a lesser goalie would have allowed five goals and the game would have been over. Instead, Price held Montreal in it, so they trailed only 2-1 after two periods.
In the third period, Price stopped a penalty shot, and he made it look all too easy. Price gave the Habs an opportunity to steal a game when they should have been hanging their heads in shame at an effort so sadly flat for two periods. The game is called hockey, but you can call it ‘goalie’ if you want and it would be appropriate. Price against Carter Hart, and the veteran showed the young gun what it means to keep your team in it long enough to steal a result.
Halfway through the first period to halfway through the second period, there were 25 shots on goal — the Flyers had 24 shots, the Habs had one. The play was abysmal for two periods. The Habs could not even put two passes together. You could call every single skater a goat, but rather than pick out and criticize everyone, let’s pick out one that Claude Julien also picked out.
Tomas Tatar‘s lack of discipline is getting out of hand. Tatar is fourth in the NHL in minor penalties this season. And they’re all such ugly minors too — moments where there is no danger to the Habs, so there is no need to slash a player to win a puck 180 feet from the goal.
Tatar has gotten so much under the skin of the head coach that Julien benched Tatar after the latest needless minor penalty. After getting out of that purgatory, Tatar moved into a different one, being taken off the first line of the Habs and put on the fourth.
Tatar has been having a fine season on the first line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher as they match-up against the league’s best and do a strong job of it. If Tatar doesn’t stop the senseless penalties soon, it’s going to be costly.
All in all, the club was flat for half a hockey game. The score was close. The game was close. It shouldn’t have been. It was one of those nights where you felt like this team is not much more than a ‘win one lose one’ kind of team. That’s discouraging for fans who certainly felt exuberant after a win over the NHL’s best on Tuesday night against the Bruins.
Montreal’s an odd team this year: two wins over red hot Saint Louis, a win over powerful Boston, a win over talented Toronto, a comeback win over surging Vegas — they can play with anyone. Yet they have losses against pathetic Detroit, struggling Minnesota, and underachieving San Jose. Hard to figure out exactly who these Montreal Canadiens are, to be honest.
They were in it in the third period, but all of these negative thoughts remain valid about the Habs because it would have been 10-1 Flyers after two, if not for Price. Don’t let the score ruin your vision of how flat the Habs skaters were. The standings will make you feel good, but not the hockey your heroes played. They stole a point. Be thankful.
One more goat to note besides the entire Habs team except the goalie: the refs.
How often have you seen a game with one team having six minors and a penalty shot against while the other team didn’t have a single minor penalty? You — all in black and white stripes — couldn’t find one infraction from the guys in orange? Not one over an entire game? The Habs chased the game all night, so it is natural that they had more minors. When you don’t have the puck, you don’t draw a penalty. But six to nothing? You don’t see that often, if ever.
Usually the Wilde Cards segment features outstanding performances from prospects in college, junior hockey, or even in Laval. This time, however, it’s a look at how hard it is to actually shine in the AHL.
Fans seem to want to send Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki to the farm to help them up their game. It’s not that simple. The AHL is a tough league to shine in. Many of the players there are career professionals who know how to shut down the ice, but don’t have enough skill to play in the NHL. These career veterans know the game though. They’re mature, and they hit. Going to the AHL is not a panacea. It’s extremely difficult to shine in a league that is not very creative. If you want proof, check the rookie category in scoring in the AHL, and see dozens of top prospects and high draft choices stuck at one goal or two goals this season. It’s a revealing look at how difficult it is to shine in the AHL.
It’s hard to put a lot of points on the board, if your line mates are not as talented as you are. They don’t see the game the same way. For example, look in Laval at players you would think would be able to excel just because it is a lower league. Josh Brook was a star in the WHL juniors last year, but this season he has only one point and is minus-6, one of the worst on the team. Karl Alzner entertained hopes of making the Habs this year. He is minus-5 and doesn’t have even a point. Jake Evans does not have a goal this season for the Rocket. Evans had a terrific camp in Montreal, but he can’t seem to get his legs at all in Laval.
You see, it’s not so easy. Only two players are overachieving so far. Otto Leskinen on defence has been spectacular and has the best plus-minus among rearguards. The other standout is Cayden Primeau, who has a stellar .941 save percentage. Primeau is on his way to a possible Rookie of the Year nomination in the AHL, if he keeps this up.
So keep Suzuki and Kotkaniemi up in Montreal where they are learning the game playing with the best players in the world… and not hurting the Habs at all with solid defensive play on nights when the offence maybe isn’t coming fast enough for fans liking.