The percentages were interesting for this Friday night affair between Montreal and Calgary.
If the Canadiens could beat the Flames, the chance of Calgary making the playoffs dropped to 11 percent. If the Flames won, then their chances of making the playoffs elevated to 31 per cent.
It was a rather big game, especially for Calgary, but they were unable to continue their run against Montreal as the Canadiens won a vital 2-1 contest.
The domination in this one was Calgary’s from the start to the finish.
Jake Allen and some posts kept it close. Allen was the reason it wasn’t a complete romp for the Flames. Allen has had a stellar campaign. He stopped 28 of 29 shots and finally got some goal support. Even if it was just two, it was enough.
Allen has been the better goalie this season in the net for Montreal. He is better in save percentage, and every analytic metric there is. That’s not an insult to Carey Price, it’s simply a compliment to Allen. GM Marc Bergevin read the tea leaves on this season. He knew with a compressed schedule that he needed a back-up goalie of a much higher quality than he has had in the previous four seasons.
He likely saved the season — not just for the great starts of Allen when he was the back-up, but also now when he is the primary because of another Price injury.
Only one line was at all competitive in this contest for Montreal. Nick Suzuki’s line did it all offensively for the Canadiens. Suzuki was intelligent in the first period covering for his defenders to break up what would have been a breakaway for Calgary. In the second period, it was Suzuki who made a terrific play to pass it to the wide open slot to Tyler Toffoli — a perfect shot upstairs from Toffoli to score his 20th goal of the season.
The third member of the line, Joel Armia, also was strong as his puck battling was excellent to help his mates find their success on that goal. In the third period, it was Armia with a centering pass that was tipped exquisitely into the top corner by Toffoli for his 21st goal of the season. The hand-eye coordination of that goal was amazing and it gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead late in the contest.
Many don’t understand the value of the puck-moving defenceman, so let’s take just one moment in time from this game and evaluate the value of the PMD and why the Canadiens sorely lacking in them is the root cause of their season going south.
When Montreal got off to a strong start to the season, they were able to dictate forechecking in the contest. They swarmed in the opposition’s zone to create havoc, and make sure that the bulk of the game was played in the opposition’s zone. That’s a winning formula, obviously.
Fast-forward to a moment in the first period when the Flames are continuing their usual dominance of the Canadiens doing their own terrific forechecking. Finally, Shea Weber has the puck on his stick and he is essentially on his own. He’s got time. He’s got space in front of him. He’s already been on the ice for 25 seconds, so perhaps he was feeling fatigue already.
Weber passes it weakly to the blue line, right to a Flames player. Weber is not a puck-moving defenceman. If it were not Weber in that moment, but a puck-mover, that player could have done one of two things: He could have skated the puck up-ice with his excellent stride, or he could have found a great first pass outlet after taking only two or three strides to back up the Calgary defence.
Weber exhibits neither of those skills.
He gets the puck on his stick. Does not skate it even one stride, therefore not backing up the Flames defenders to give up the blue line. Calgary gains possession and then is able to dominate the play for the next 40 seconds around Jake Allen. Their game plan is to cycle down low against the slow Canadiens defenders. Their game plan is to drive the puck to the corners and behind the net, and then forecheck hard against the plodding Montreal defenders.
Should a moment come that the Montreal defenders get the puck on the stick, the Flames maintain the zone, and do not retreat. This keeps the one talent that this Canadiens defence lacks at the forefront — their inability to move the puck. The Flames thinking is,’If you can’t get the puck out with your skating speed or a good pass, then we are not leaving this excellent space’.
Why don’t teams do this all of the time, then? Because it is extremely dangerous to not leave the zone, if you are facing a fast puck moving team from the back end. Suddenly, you are trying to cycle down low, and maintain zone pressure, but a talented puck mover has done a first pass out beautifully against you, and a fast moving transition team is already counter-attacking. But none of that happens to Calgary against Montreal.
That’s the problem for Montreal. The more that Calgary does this press, the more they see that it is wildly successful. That creates more and more pressure. The Flames are designed to give Montreal fits. They have some heavy bodies and some solid forecheckers.
What’s Montreal’s solution? There really isn’t one to this strategy, except different manpower. If you can’t move the puck, you can’t defeat this very effectively. Montreal needs a more well-rounded blue line corps to combat this. The stay-at-home defence corps can look like a stuck-at-home defence corps when exposed.
Shea Weber’s giveaway in the first period wasn’t just a single moment. It was the quintessential example of 50 seconds of a season in turmoil after a start that was so promising.
One has to wonder if Weber is suffering from an injury. He seems unable to get anything on any of his clearing attempts; they barely move off of his stick. His decision making has completely crumbled. On the 1-1 goal, Weber had the puck on his stick, and he tried an extremely weak pass of only three feet to Ben Chiarot.
Why he wouldn’t move it with any force himself is a complete mystery. He did not want the puck, and he didn’t think he had the ability to clear the puck. Something is not right with Weber. He didn’t want the moment. He didn’t instinctively think he could complete the play. Speculation is that it is simply age, but the mistakes in this one did not feel like age in terms of legs. It was his decision making that was poor.
He lacked confidence. His attempts lacked even rudimentary skills like snapping it 70 miles per hour out of the zone, or slapping it off the glass, or skating three feet forward to open ice to then clear the puck.
It’s bizarre to watch this at the moment. It feels like a mystery TV show and we only get to know what happened in the final episode.
There was much excitement in the air when Cole Caufield got called up to the big club for the pre-game skate on Friday morning. Hopes were from many in the fanbase that Caufield would make his NHL debut against the Calgary Flames.
However, it was only to join the taxi squad. This is a move designed, at least for the moment, to make sure that Caufield doesn’t just sit in his hotel room, but stays fresh skating in case he is needed. Caufield can’t get on the ice for the Rocket in a competitive situation much this month because all but one of their games has been postponed for the rest of April because of a COVIDa-19 issue with the Toronto Marlies.
After the skate in the morning, Dominique Ducharme told the media that the club was up against the salary cap, and could not use Caufield, even if they wanted to use him. However, when Carey Price is healthy, cap space will open allowing Caufield a chance to play his first NHL game.
So for now, it’s no Caufield, but when Price gets back in the net for Montreal which will mean Cayden Primeau goes back down off the cap, then Montreal can use Caufield.
Who would have ever thought that Price had that much control of the line-up? That’s a joke, of course.
When the cap room is there, then it’s up to GM Marc Bergevin and the head coach to decide, if they want to try Caufield at the NHL level. For now, he skates in number 22 for the Canadiens at practices.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.