Still Talkin’ Habs: Canadiens can’t clinch again in 3-2 loss to Leafs
Published Sunday, May 9, 2021 12:57PM EDT
Montreal Canadiens defenceman Joel Edmundson (44) gets tripped up as Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joe Thornton (97) looks for the loose puck during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
MONTREAL -- So we wait... We just keep on waiting.
The Montreal Canadiens are leading their fans through an unnecessarily cruel wait for the playoffs as they blew a two-goal first period lead to lose again to the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 Saturday night.
Perhaps Habs fans aren’t particularly worried or scared that their team won’t qualify for the postseason. Maybe exasperated is a better way to describe their feeling at the moment.
On Monday night we will go through the same song and dance about how the team only needs a point against the Oilers to get in. With his team firmly locked in to the second spot in the North division, maybe Connor McDavid won’t have much to play for having hit the 100-point plateau last night. Then for one night at least Habs nation can have some reprieve from the stress of their fandom before it all kicks off again in a few days time.
Regardless of when it happens, it should happen, but one thing has become crystal clear and was simply confirmed again last night.
The Habs will lose in the first round to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Ben Hutton (55) gloves the loose puck as Montreal Canadiens forward Cole Caufield (22) and Canadiens forward Eric Staal (21) watch during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Let that wash over you. It really does seem inevitable at this point. Centreman Eric Staal tried to explain last night that despite the Canadiens only winning three out of the 10 meetings between the two teams, regular season records don’t matter in the playoffs.
But let’s not lie to ourselves. It’s not even necessarily how much more talented the Leafs are, which is undoubtedly true.
It really comes down to this: Who on the team makes you believe they can prevent Toronto from winning their first playoff series since 2004?
Usually, that would be goaltender Carey Price, but he has been secretively sidelined with a concussion and we have no way of knowing where his game will be at when he does eventually return. It’s not like there’s a lot of racetrack to test out the car, to work out the kinks.
Price may be able to play in the season finale on Wednesday and even that is looking like a stretch. Just look at Tomas Tatar the last two games. Kudos to him for getting back as soon as possible but he is either still dealing with the lower-body injury that kept him out or he is still trying to get back up to game speed.
The diehards have been clamoring that the reinforcements are coming for the playoffs, but will you be getting the best versions of Price, Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber, Jonathan Drouin and now Phillip Danault when they return?
Or is it more likely that several of them will look like shadows of themselves for at least a game or two? Those three to six periods could be more than enough for a team like the Leafs to chew the Habs up and spit them out, just like they have all year.
Put those injuries aside though.
Although much has been made about the walking wounded on the Canadiens, it’s not like the Laval Rocket have been copied and pasted into the NHL. Through all their struggles over the past month, the Habs have still had their best centreman, their two top goal scorers, their best defenseman and their best goalie, who looks to be struggling with fatigue for the first time this season. Their top prospect has scored three goals through six games with the team.
It is truly down to their lack of consistency, not their talent, that the Habs will back their way into the playoffs with the worst record of any playoff team and, per StatsCentre, the most losses in the league since April 7th.
Does the toughest schedule in the league have something to do with this? There’s no question. But this should have been wrapped up a week ago.
What were your expectations for the team this season?
Personally, I thought the Canadiens had to take another step and win an actual playoff series. Despite my belief that this was and is a transition year for the club as young players grow and old players fall off, it felt like for them to have a chance to win with Price and Weber in the not too distant future, they needed to take a step this season.
It’s not going to happen.
The Habs could have qualified for the playoffs last night with a third period comeback against the Leafs. Per Natural Stat Trick, they generated a single high danger scoring chance against a Toronto team with not much to play for. Imagine what will happen when everything is on the line in a week’s time? It could get ugly. So just sit back and enjoy the final two weeks of hockey, Habs fans.
Jake Allen – 7/10
Yes, he can’t let that Engvall goal beat him along the ice from the blueline, but made huge saves on Marner in the first, Kerfoot in the second and Matthews in the third. If you think he should have stopped Marner’s game-winner, maybe you should try and track a perfect shot through three bodies off the faceoff. He doesn’t look as sharp as he has, though.
Jeff Petry – 6/10
Rang one off the crossbar in the second. Other than that, he was just okay. Thought his decision making and passing on the power play were really poor. Should have seen more from him chasing the game in the third but didn’t. Did alright defensively.
Joel Edmundson – 7/10
Thought he was back to being quietly good. Was patient and poised getting out his own zone. Did his job well on the penalty kill. Led the blueline with four hits. Managed well enough.
Ben Chiarot – 7/10
Did a perfectly adequate job. There were some iffy moments but all in all he did a good job limiting the Leafs best players. Still struggles at times with getting beat off the boards into the middle of the ice. Led the team in ice time.
Brett Kulak – 6/10
Started brightly and with a lot of energy. Nice movement along the blueline to set up his deflected goal. But while his energy stayed high he seemed to lose his passing composure in the second. His over-eagerness put him into bad spots. Struggled to make something happen in the third.
Alexander Romanov – 5/10
Tried to throw a few hits but missed the mark. His whole game seemed off. Was a step behind the play the whole night. Didn’t have his same level of energy. Should have done a better job tying up Nylander in front on his goal. Not great on the power play.
Jon Merrill – 5/10
Got skated around frequently again. Did enough to disrupt Engvall on his goal, just a bad one let in by Allen. But beaten to the front of the net by Tavares on Nylander’s goal. He and Romanov continue to look off and unsure together as a pair. Can’t get beaten along the boards as much because that’s the main feature of his game.
Nick Suzuki – 8/10
Thought he looked extremely creative going forward. Was playing with some serious swagger, trying to make some slick plays happen all over the ice. Thanks to Jack Campbell for his goal going in. But struggled in his own end when it came to defensive coverage, namely on Nylander’s goal and Matthews’ slot chance in the third.
Tyler Toffoli – 6/10
Lovely little bank pass to spring Suzuki for his goal. Had a decent chance in the third when his drag and shot into the slot was stopped by Campbell. Really quiet the rest of the game though.
Joel Armia – 5/10
Another no-show from the big Finn. Got beat to the net by Kerfoot in the second for a point blank chance. Didn’t do much of anything offensively.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 6/10
Sure, he had a decent chance to tie things up in the slot in the third. But fell over way too much again. Was given a chance with better players and failed to grasp it. As has happened far too many times this season, started well and slipped into obscurity. Lucky for him, he’ll have two more games to try and get something going before the playoffs. But his confidence is at rock bottom right now.
Josh Anderson – 7/10
Not sure what has happened to his shot but his accuracy has been way off for three weeks now. Robbed by Campbell’s toe off a great slot pass from Caufield. Won a ton of board battles. Drove hard to the net several times. But still looks out of place on the power play. His typical physical self.
Tomas Tatar – 5/10
Tried hard but with little success. Passed up a couple solid shooting opportunities, indicating his confidence is pretty low at the moment. Can’t understand him being out there chasing a goal in the third with under two minutes left. Continues to either deal with or work his way back from his injury.
Eric Staal – 4/10
Absolutely owned in the faceoff dot. His legs are totally gone. Tough to watch at times. Nothing offensively. Didn’t get scored on which is a plus. But his line got owned in their zone for long stretches. Looks like the schedule has really drained him of his energy.
Corey Perry – 5/10
Never shies away from the front of the net and never lacks effort. But as the game wore on, you could tell he was a couple steps behind the play. He and his teammates did nothing on the power play. He can’t be the third most used forward on the team at his age. Did as well as he could have.
Cole Caufield – 7/10
Continues to look more and more at home. Could have changed the course of the game on a partial breakaway in the second but Jake Muzzin’s stick prevented that from happening. Terrific set up to Anderson for a high quality slot chance in the second. His low shot was stopped by Campbell’s toe on a 2-on-1. Looks dynamic and confident out there.
Jake Evans – 6/10
He was decent enough. His line did their job cycling the puck low, moving it back to the blueline and crashing the net. Not as obviously quick as he has been of late but you can tell he keeps growing into his role. Needs to be trusted more by his coach than Staal. It’s pretty obvious.
Alexandre Belzile – 6/10
Love his story. First regular season NHL game at 29 based purely on effort and effort got him his first regular season point on his first shift, working hard along the boards and getting to the net. Kept working his tail off in the first and second. Not much in the third as his ice-time was slashed.
Artturi Lehkonen – 6/10
See Belzile and Evans. Worked very hard but couldn’t get much in terms of clear cut chances after Kulak’s early goal. Was moved around to try and provide a spark in the third with limited success. Maximum effort.
Dominique Ducharme – 5/10
Staal was having a brutal night but played more than Evans and any other center at 5-on-5, per analytics guru Jason Paul. Caufield looked dangerous but gets the second least amount of ice time amongs Habs forwards. Trusts his veterans way too much even when their play doesn’t deserve the minutes he gives them. Power play was atrocious again. Less Ducharme 1.0 and more Julien 2.0. He’ll be back next season and hopefully, with a full season and a less condensed schedule, we’ll get to see who he is. Or maybe this is just who he is.