The Montreal Canadiens have a long road to travel to get back into a playoff chase this season. They can’t start a six-game winning streak until they start a one-game streak. So to the Bell Centre for a Tuesday night clash with the Los Angeles Kings.
The game marked the return of Philip Danault, who got a nice tribute on the scoreboard, then a strong and warm ovation from the Canadiens faithful.
After that, Danault’s Kings tried to keep their winning streak going, and they did, pushing it to six games with an overtime 3-2 win over Montreal.
The Canadiens lost 5-2 on Saturday night, and while the score looked awful, the play of the team for the most part was some of their best of the season. This isn’t to say the team is firing in any way, but they are better than their record.
The difficulty is the game lasts 60 minutes, and though it may sound like a cliche, they can’t put all 60 together, but only portions.
Tuesday’s game was another example of many strong shifts, and solid performances dimmed by egregious errors that make the overall story one too often of disappointment. Standing out in this one was the line of Jake Evans, Joel Armia, and Artturi Lehkonen.
It was this line that scored in the first period with fantastic pressure around the Kings net. Ben Chiarot was the pinching defender who ended up getting the goal on a rebound. Lehkonen and Evans did most of the work beforehand.
In the third period, the best line of the night continued the work to tie it at two. It was Evans with the best sequence of moves in his career: he inside-outed the defender twice, before ripping a shot into the top corner from the right face-off circle.
It was a huge goal for the Canadiens. Evans will remember that one for a long time.
Nick Suzuki, who has turned into a point-per-game player on a team that doesn’t score much, continued his outstanding play. Suzuki is more creative than anyone out there in red by a wide margin. Suzuki has the ability to break down seams and defenders’ schemes better than anyone on the club.
There hasn’t been a lot to love this season, but Suzuki perhaps becoming a point-per-game player in his career is a bright spot for sure.
It appears the club has the makings finally of a good power play. The first unit is nicely set up and they seem to be communicating well together. The main architect is Suzuki, who breaks down defences well.
He finds Mike Hoffman well on the other half wall. Tyler Toffoli is down low looking for screens and rebounds. Christian Dvorak sometimes joins him there. The only defender is Chris Wideman, who passes well and looks comfortable when pressured as the last man back. They haven’t really broken through yet, but the promise is there.
The only complaint would be Hoffman and Suzuki would get a better view of the net if they rotated sides with Suzuki on the left and Hoffman on the right. They wouldn’t get passes across their bodies, and they would have a better angle on their shot. It would at least be five players who seem to be reading each other well are out there together. That’s a good start.
In fact, the way the Canadiens played was a good start. Wrong result again, but some good to build on.
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Tight defensive hockey for the Canadiens ended midway through the second period. It doesn’t take much these days, it seems, for a half chance to turn into a full goal. It is a 3-on-2 that Alexander Romanov and David Savard seem to have covered well enough. However, a pass to the left wing leaves Savard flat-footed, allowing a shot from a bad angle.
That’s where a half-mistake from Jake Allen not covering the angle well leads to 1-1. These days, it seems the Canadiens get away with nothing without there being damage.
The third period was only six seconds old when the Kings took the lead. Sadly, Savard was the goat as his foot speed simply was not enough. He was turned at the blue line, allowing a clean look on Allen for Alex Iafallo for 2-1. Savard is simply not fast enough, and this is not a recent development.
Savard was a minus player on a cup-winning team last season as a third-pair defender. That meant he faced the weakest players of the opposition for Tampa Bay and he still managed a -8.
He was not ready to play hard minutes like this for Montreal. In fact, a deeper look at Savard’s analytics show that he hasn’t had a positive (above 50) Corsi since his rookie season in 2012-13. Savard managed to have a negative Corsi even for Tampa last year. Savard is able to show ability in front of the net when he gets to be physical, but on the rush, simply go to his side and skate quickly and you will turn him.
One of the disappointments of the season so far has been the difficulty Christian Dvorak has had on his new team.
Dvorak has some of the worst metrics in the league. For a centre, to be in a deficit situation in expected goals for, Corsi, and even plus-minus is hard to digest for a club that needed so much more from the replacement of Philip Danault. Though plus-minus is hardly the most accurate statistic in hockey, Dvorak is second worst in the entire league at -13.
Dvorak has a long contract, like Savard, and both will be a drag on any future Montreal success if they can not bring more to the ice than this.
There was a story that was bigger than the game today. Carey Price issued a statement about why he entered the NHL’s player assistance program. It was powerful and heartfelt:
“Over the last few years I have let myself get to a very dark place and I didn’t have the tools to cope with that struggle,” Price’s statement began.
“Last month I made the decision to enter a residential treatment facility for substance use. Things had reached a point that I realized I needed to prioritize my health for both myself and for my family. Asking for help when you need it is what we encourage our kids to do. And it was what I needed to do.
“I am working through years of neglecting my own mental health which will take some time to repair; all I can do is take it day by day. With that comes some uncertainty with when I will return to play.
“I appreciate all of the overwhelming support and well wishes. I please ask that the media and our hockey community continue to respect our privacy at this time. Your support and respect of this so far has been a critical piece to my recovery.”
As someone who was there when Carey first arrived as an 18-year-old a long time ago, and was there most of the days since, to hear that he was in a very dark place is difficult. It’s difficult because I have seen Carey be so kind to so many people. I have seen him show so much character to his teammates. Also, he has shown an abundance of kindness to children who have always wanted so much of his time.
I have seen such a good man doing his best always. He has always had a sixth sense when someone needs support. Sometimes a person, like Carey, who always takes care of others first has a hard time stopping that to take care of himself.
I hope the outpouring of love for Carey today will continue through the rest of his days. While he battles his addiction, that’s the challenge for us — that our compassion and support never wanes.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.