Thanks to injury and illness in their ranks, it was an extremely challenging night for the Montreal Canadiens.
Three of the Canadiens top forwards were out: Tomas Tatar back in Montreal with an upper-body injury, Brendan Gallagher out with the flu and Jonathan Drouin out with a lower-body injury. That meant the club dressed seven defencemen trying to tame one of the best teams in the NHL — the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The result? The dullest game of the season by a long mile as the Lightning completed a four-game sweep of the Habs, shutting them out 4-0.
The Canadiens have been playing well, but in this one, they really managed nothing.
It’s difficult to find anyone that stood out in a powerful way. It wasn’t like they were horrendous, they were just vanilla.
There was just nothing in this game for Montreal. They were able to create nothing and could not break down the Lighting defence at all. One stat did stick out, which was Phillip Danault winning 14 of 20 face-offs for Montreal.
The only moment that had any fire in it was when something enraged Shea Weber as he suddenly took on Mikhael Sergachev at the end of the second period. They had a fight and Weber threw a right so ferocious that if it landed, Sergachev’s head would have flown off and landed in row 19.
Thankfully, it did not land because, no joking here, it would have put Sergachev in the hospital.
At the end of another lost season for the Canadiens, it’s normal to place blame. The theory here is always that talent wins hockey games. People look for excuses like injuries, puck luck, goal posts, or bad refs, but at the end of all of it, nothing matters like talent.
Therefore, the blame has to go to Marc Bergevin first as he assembles the talent — or in this case, the lack thereof.
The players can only do what their abilities allow them to do. However, this mess is also on the head coach. Claude Julien has to get the most out of the players. With that in mind, let’s land on the first goal for assessment.
The game is in the first minute with the Canadiens hemmed in their own zone. They somehow have five players chasing the puck on the right side of the ice in the corner to the right of Carey Price. All five Habs look like they’re roasting marshmallows around a campfire, leaving Victor Hedman alone to receive a pass at the point.
The positioning on the ice of the five players was so weak that Hedman had time to skate right in to finally let his shot go between the dots. It was a ridiculous amount of time and space that Hedman had to score.
So who is this goal on? Who is to blame?
Surely, it’s the five players who had no idea how to position themselves on the ice. But is it not also on the coach? This is the end of the season? Shouldn’t the coaches have been able to establish knowledge in their players of such a rudimentary task as the positioning on this goal?
Yes, it was the players who failed. It’s their responsibility, ultimately, but when something this simple is not executed, then attention also has to be focused on Julien for not being able to teach basic defensive zone coverage. The Canadiens aren’t 24th in the league in goals against for nothing. They are that terrible because they are that terrible.
The Laval Rocket are trying to earn a rare playoff spot themselves but are also running into injury issues.
They’ve basically lost half their team. Ryan Poehling, Noah Juulsen, Jesse Ylonen, and Cale Fleury were all out with injury. Ylonen just arrived with the team from Europe, and he arrived with a slight injury. Playing in Cleveland, the Rocket need absolutely every win that they can get. They started the night out of the playoffs, but only three points behind fourth-place Syracuse. It’s easy to get on a roll and steal a spot, but with the injuries, it certainly becomes more challenging.
The Rocket put in a solid effort, though, to win in Ohio 5-2. Jesperi Kotkaniemi continued to play well in the American Hockey League as he picked up another assist on a gorgeous feed. He also scored into an empty net. Kotkaniemi now has 13 points in 12 games in Laval.
Keep in mind that Kotkaniemi is the youngest player in that league. If he had just come over from Finland to play this last quarter of the season in North America at 19, everyone would be raging about how amazing he is.
Give him time; he clearly has the AHL in his grasp. Give him time to continue to develop to get to the NHL level. One of the best two-way centres in the Habs organization in the last 20 years was Tomas Plekanec. He spent three years in Hamilton for the Bulldogs.
Players need time to develop. Considering the difference of effectiveness for Kotkaniemi between the AHL and NHL, it’s clear that he is in the correct place right now.
Just a quick reminder that the college playoffs start on Friday. Follow @bwildeglobal on Twitter for updates and highlights of Cole Caufield playing for Wisconsin as they take on nationally-ranked Ohio State.