Still Talkin' Habs: Canadiens embarrassed early, limp to 5-2 loss to the Leafs
Published Friday, May 7, 2021 6:54AM EDT
Montreal Canadiens' Ryan Poehling celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, April 6, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Graham Hughes)
MONTREAL -- Let’s try to keep this short and sweet.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are not a team you want to start slowly against.
The sleepy Montreal Canadiens were pounced upon and rag-dolled by their likely first round playoff opponent, surrendering four goals in the opening 20 minutes and eventually losing to the Leafs 5-2.
The Habs abysmal defensive zone coverage in the first period was completely unacceptable.
The Canadiens were the senior citizens easing their way into the shallow end at the public pool while the Leafs were the rowdy teenagers ignoring the lifeguard’s pleas to stop running before unleashing a cannonball right in the old folks faces.
It has been a hallmark of the team’s play all season long, the inability to start on time. The difference of late has been two-fold.
Secondly, the team puts together long stretches later on where they push the opposition back on their heels. But firstly, they’ve relied on some quality early saves to allow them to wake from their slumber.
Defenseman Ben Chiarot acknowledged post-game that the loss was certainly not on goaltender Cayden Primeau, who was pulled in the first intermission after giving up four goals, which is the go-to line after a team gets embarrassed on the ice.
Absolve the goalie of any blame. But, as with most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the young netminder being the reason for the loss and the victim of his teammates’ brutal play.
Last night’s shellacking shouldn’t do anything to shake the confidence of the fanbase or the organization in Primeau’s abilities.
He is the heir apparent to Carey Price, thrust into a strange situation after Price’s apparent trip to join up with his teammates for last night’s game was cancelled in favour of further rehab in Montreal.
Depending on when he received the information of his star goalie’s whereabouts, the decision to start Jake Allen against the Senators and then Primeau in the second night of a back-to-back against one of the best offensive teams in the league was at the very least curious by interim head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Primeau was honestly not very good and was directly responsible for one goal and partially responsible for another one. In between those moments the Habs were cut wide open repeatedly by the Leafs size, speed and skill. Essentially dominated in every facet of the game.
It’s hard to say whether there was a genuine response in the second and third periods by certain players on the team or if Toronto just knew that a comeback from a team that struggles to score would be unlikely.
The way the Leafs shut everything down after Artturi Lehkonen made it 4-2 would seem to support the latter of those two statements.
All last night did was confirm that the Maple Leafs have the skill to embarrass you if you’re not ready to go from the first drop of the puck.
Oh, besides shake the confidence of the Habs fanbase likely preparing for a first-round playoff series against Toronto for the first time in more than 40 years.
Cayden Primeau – 4/10
Left hung out to dry by his entire team in the first period. But his poor rebound control led directly to Tavares’ goal and was solely responsible for Engvall’s bad angle rebound goal. Nothing to worry about. He’s 21 and was sabotaged by some diabolical defending on the other two goals. Pulled.
Jake Allen – 8/10
Came in cold and looked like the same old Jake. Steadied the ship to some extent although the Leafs did call off the dogs. Made some important saves in tight in a meaningless game. Acrobatic glove save on Muzzin was the best of the bunch. Only Habs player who can hold his head high after that disaster.
Jeff Petry – 5/10
The gaps between he and Edmundson were way too big. Way too casual in his own end when it came down to both his battle level and positioning. Didn’t activate into either the rush or the offensive zone particularly well. One of the few who could complete a pass out of his zone.
Joel Edmundson – 5/10
Skated around far too easily several times. A couple steps behind the play. Wasn’t as egregiously bad as other blueliners though. His passing was erratic and just getting out of his own end was a chore. Pushed back far too often in transition.
Ben Chiarot – 5/10
Beaten to the front of the net by Tavares for his goal although Primeau’s loose rebound control was the main culprit. He and Kulak played together like they were on separate planets. Miscommunication with Caufield on Marner’s goal. He’s been much better recently. Didn’t do much going forward.
Brett Kulak – 4/10
A nightmare from him. Consistently lost battles along the boards. In front of the net refused to play the man and instead of boxing players out simply retreated from the fight. His gap control with Chiarot was terrible. Worst game he’s played in quite some time.
Alexander Romanov – 5/10
Led the team with seven hits. Only Habs defenceman who was a plus on the night. Really struggled making passes on the power play. Better than pretty much everyone on the blueline except Petry at making passes out of his own end. But he’s played much better.
Jon Merrill – 4/10
Statuesque. The Leafs blew past him multiple times to great effect. Not involved enough physically. Looked completely out of gas.
Nick Suzuki – 6/10
Better on faceoffs. Didn’t take his chances, including a prime slot shot he put right into Campbell’s belly. Wasn’t able to create much for either he or his teammates. Liked his emotion and the way he upped his physicality after his team got obliterated in the first. Most used forward.
Tyler Toffoli – 7/10
Looked like the Habs most consistently dangerous offensive player and he was having an off night. Picked up an assist on Lehkonen’s goal. Had a couple half-chances that wouldn’t go in. At least he competed even when the game was totally out of reach.
Joel Armia – 5/10
A no-show. Missed a glorious chance in front on an odd-man rush but skied his tip over the bar. After that, nothing. One of those game where he was hardly noticeable for large portions of it. Not engaged as much as he usually is along the boards. Just didn’t have it. Anonymous.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 5/10
Confidence is clearly very low at the moment. Had a decent chance in the third that he hastily threw towards the net with zero accuracy. He was a step behind while trying to be physical which just led to him being out of position. Bad night in the faceoff dot as well. Had a chance to step up with Danault leaving injured but failed to take it. His struggles continue.
Josh Anderson – 6/10
He’s snakebitten in a big way right now. Point blank shot off a turnover in the first stopped by the shoulder of Campbell. His other chances didn’t even hit the net. Did try to drive to the net well and his competitiveness wasn’t affected by the scoreline. Cameras captured him encouraging Primeau after he’s been pulled. That goes a long way. Leader.
Artturi Lehkonen – 6/10
Stood out in that he was one of the few who looked like their normal selves. Great pass to Armia on a 2-on-1 should have been a goal. Drove to the net and justly rewarded off Toffoli’s shot for his goal. Looked good on the penalty kill. Kept the effort level high even when the game was out of hand. Consistent work ethic.
Tomas Tatar – 4/10
Tried to get involved but his lack of match sharpness was pretty apparent. Puck was jumping off his stick repeatedly. Was a couple steps behind the play all night long. Not directly his fault but minus three with no shots on goal isn’t him. Gets somewhat of a pass as he works his way back from injury.
Eric Staal – 5/10
His stick lift on Sandin created the turnover that led to Caufield’s goal. Very quiet offensively. Did work hard along the boards but his transition game is brutal due to his lack of foot speed. Not entirely sure what he did to earn two more minutes of ice-time than Kotkaniemi but neither were very good so basically a wash between the two.
Corey Perry – 7/10
Threatened a few times off both the cycle and the rush in the first period. Terrific pass to Caufield for his tap-in goal. Went to the net repeatedly and caused some havoc in and around Campbell’s crease. More of a reflection on the rest of the team that his limited opportunities stood out so much.
Cole Caufield – 6/10
Good offensive instincts to drive to the net for his goal off a great pass by Perry. Defensively needs to do a better job taking care of the puck in the middle of the ice. His turnover led directly to a Nylander breakaway. Completely vacated the front of the net on Marner’s goal as he opened up the lane for the Leafs winger to walk right down main street. But was the most dynamic Habs forward as they pushed to get within one in the third. Tried to make something happen and played with confidence. Led the team with five shots on goal.
Jake Evans – 5/10
Less noticeable than he has been recently, when he’s been playing some of his best hockey to date. Didn’t skirt on effort even with the game out of hand. Did a solid job on the penalty kill. Went to the net repeatedly but the puck just wouldn’t fall for him.
Phillip Danault – N/A
Played just over three minutes and was minus three. Should say everything about his game last night. Inexplicably turned the puck over directly to Muzzin for Tavares’ goal. Leaves a big hole if he’s out for any considerable length of time.
Dominique Ducharme – 5/10
His team wasn’t ready to start the game for the second straight night. Has happened a plethora of times this season. The team has only recently been able to score their way out of their anemic first periods. Probably should have taken Primeau out earlier but good on him for getting him out of the net to preserve his confidence. But man, was that ugly. Might be forced to actually count on Kotkaniemi if Danault is out long-term.