Still Talkin’ Habs: Canadiens must learn lessons from 4-1 loss to Golden Knights in Game 1
Published Tuesday, June 15, 2021 6:53AM EDT
MONTREAL -- Welcome to playoff hockey, folks.
The Montreal Canadiens started brightly, but faded down the stretch as the Las Vegas Golden Knights took their game to another level, winning 4-1 and taking a 1-0 series lead.
This opponent will be unlike anything the Habs have dealt with in the playoffs so far.
The intensity we were all crying out for from earlier series against the Leafs and Jets won’t be lacking here.
Everyone knew going into Game 1 that Vegas was going to try and physically bully the Canadiens in all three zones. But knowing and experiencing it in real time are two different things.
Credit to the Habs, they set and matched the tone of the game for long stretches.
They likely even gained confidence for the games to come from their performance in a losing effort.
But to be victorious in this series, the Canadiens will need to learn how to straddle that fine line between intensity and composure.
They’ll have to learn that lesson pretty quickly because they are going to have to play near-perfect hockey to beat this team.
The Canadiens had the chance to build off their impressive first period by taking their game to another level in the second.
But the team’s parade to the penalty box the first ten minutes of that period was the first misstep and changed the complexion of the game, conceding momentum to the Golden Knights.
The Habs, despite their best efforts, just could not find a way to get it back.
Predictably, the ripple effect of those penalties was felt the rest of the game.
The offense lost rhythm, especially on the forecheck, both because of their time on the bench and Vegas shutting down the neutral zone with a two-goal lead.
Specifically, the Canadiens bottom-six up front, who are supposed to be one of the few clear advantages for the team during this series, barely saw the ice.
It’s not the first time this has happened to the Habs this season, even these playoffs.
It also won’t be the last time that two young centreman lose two faceoffs that end up in the back of their net.
But if you compare the game of the Habs and Golden Knights last night, what stood out wasn’t that one team made four mistakes and the other only made one.
Vegas just seemed to know how to keep the momentum of the game within reach and snatch it back when they pleased.
The news wasn’t all grim from the visitor’s perspective.
The Canadiens proved to themselves that they can hang with this team, and if not for some unfortunate puck luck that led to Vegas’ third goal, the Habs could have been a shot away from flipping the script last night.
Cole Caufield finally got his first playoff goal and looked threatening throughout.
Carey Price continued to be terrific before being caught between two minds on the Golden Knights’ fourth goal.
Alexander Romanov took to the physical nature of the game like a fish to water.
The Russian youngster played the most complete game of the three defencemen who had to step up in the absence of Jeff Petry.
Erik Gustafson iced the puck and couldn’t clear the front of the net on Shea Theodore’s opener, while Brett Kulak’s poor defensive positioning allowed Mattias Janmark to tip in the back-breaking goal just a minute after Caufield had pulled the team within one.
Romanov coped the best with the Golden Knights pressure on the forecheck and it should lead to more responsibility and minutes for him as the series progresses.
Where can the team improve ahead of Game 2? The defensive zone coverage has to tighten up.
The Habs defencemen have to do a better job boxing out Vegas forwards in front of Price and their forwards need to be more aware of closing down shooting lanes on Golden Knights blueliners.
Better puck support all around wouldn’t hurt either. Other than that, there isn’t much else that needs to be adjusted for the Canadiens. Except for effort.
That’s not to say that the team lacked it last night. But Game 1 should be all the evidence the Habs need to understand that they are going to need to bring their collective game to an even higher level to reach the Stanley Cup final.
To get to the inside and create offense. To win one-on-one battles in their own zone. To fight through tight checking in the neutral zone.
The Canadiens can either learn that lesson now ahead of Game 2 or they can learn it when they look back on their playoffs in the off-season.
Carey Price – 8/10
That cross-ice save on Stone off the rush was one of his best of the playoffs and kept the game within reach for his team. Terrific push-off leg save on Marchessault to do the same. He did his job and ensured his team stayed in the game. Lost track of the puck on Holden’s goal. Winky face.
Shea Weber – 7/10
Led the blueline with six hits. His passes around the boards in the second and third were repeatedly cut off by Vegas wingers. Stood out clearing the front of the net and the puck on the penalty kill. Didn’t do much of anything offensively. His intensity on the blueline set the tone for the group. A mixed bag, but his good far outweighed the bad.
Ben Chiarot – 6/10
He can play much better than he did last night. His delay of game penalty to start the second period began the parade to the penalty box. When he exited the box he became the third forward, meaning he had to cover the point. Inexplicably tried to clear the front of the net and left the blueline open on Martinez’s goal. Played well on the penalty kill, but 5-on-5 was a chore. Non-factor on the powerplay. Needs to rebound in Game 2.
Joel Edmundson – 8/10
The plus/minus king of the Canadiens was the only defenseman who played evenly last night. Was the best at clearing the front of his goalie’s crease and was physical without being a glass-rattler. Didn’t back down from anyone on the Golden Knights who tried to impose themselves on the team down low. Continued to find outlets with smart, short passes to get his forwards to exit with control. Best defenseman on his team last night.
Brett Kulak – 6/10
Didn’t cope well with Vegas’ physicality on the forecheck, although was able to skate his way out of trouble a time or two. His passing was extremely wasteful and didn’t look the same after he took his tripping penalty in the second period. His positioning was baffling on the Golden Knights’ third goal. Brutal box out and didn’t tie up Janmark’s stick. Liked his combativeness, but had to raise his game in Petry’s absence and struggled to do so.
Alexander Romanov – 8/10
Thrived in the atmosphere of last night’s game. Had arguably the Habs hit of the playoffs with a terrific open-ice hit on Pietrangelo. Played largely error-free hockey, which was impressive considering it was just his second game of the playoffs. Moved the puck well and was calm with it on his stick. Picked his spots to jump into the attack well. Would like to see him do more of that in Game 2.
Erik Gustafsson – 5/10
Unlike Romanov, he seemed rattled by the pressure the Vegas forwards were putting on him. His icing and subsequent inability to move the screen out of Price’s way were the main reasons for Theodore’s first. His passes seemed to just barely miss their targets consistently. Didn’t like his decision making on the power play either.
Phillip Danault – 7/10
No surprise, he led the forwards in ice time. His line was fantastic on the forecheck early on and he created a glorious chance for Gallagher that Fleury stopped point-blank. More offensively involved than we’ve seen of late. Continued to be very good on the penalty kill.
Brendan Gallagher – 7/10
If his shot in the slot beats Fleury early on, the entire complexion of the game could have been different. Responded to missing that chance by repeatedly driving to the front of the net to the dismay of Vegas’ goaltender and defencemen. His style of play will need to lead the way for the Habs in this series where it appears they are going to struggle to get inside. Play dipped after the second but his effort led the way.
Artturi Lehkonen – 6/10
Wasn’t bad whatsoever, just not as impactful as his other two linemates. Had four shots on goal, but can’t remember any of them really troubling Fleury. Hard on the puck down low in the first, but couldn’t sustain it after doing some heavy lifting on the penalty kill in the second. Not much of anything in the third. Decent showing from him.
Nick Suzuki – 7/10
For such a seemingly mild-mannered man, his temper was on full display taking on the team that traded him away. Lost the faceoff clean that led to Theodore’s opening goal. Strange because he was the team’s best man in the dot last night. Was always in the way defensively. Led the team with three takeaways. Offensively, he wasn’t able to create much at even strength. Made quick plays on the powerplay in the build-up to Caufield’s goal. Good but not great, which is what the Habs need him to be.
Tyler Toffoli – 6/10
He seemed off the pace for long stretches of the game. Couldn’t find the dead spots on the ice to get open for a good look at the goal. The team’s most-used forward last night, but his impact at even strength was minimal. Great shot on the powerplay in the bumper spot nearly led to Caufield’s first, then shortly after did lead to his goal on the second try. But he’ll need to bring more for the Habs to progress.
Cole Caufield – 8/10
He has looked more dangerous in previous games, but was somehow never able to get his first playoff goal. It was not only his first of the postseason, but his first of what is expected to be many on the powerplay. Found the space and followed the rebound so well for his goal. His playmaking wasn’t as good as it has been. Made more than a few smart one-touch plays to relieve the pressure at his blueline. Led the team with six shots on goal.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 5/10
Made a clear physical impact in the first period. But his game seemed to suffer the most due to the lack of even-strength ice time in the second period. Much ado about nothing offensively. Lost the faceoff clean in the build-up to Janmark’s goal. His poor defensive coverage was punished on Holden’s goal. Coped well enough with the intensity of the game, but never seemed to get comfortable with the puck on his stick.
Josh Anderson – 6/10
Led the team with six hits last night. Had one memorable drive to the front of the net in the first period, but couldn’t cash in. Had another chance fall to him in the third, but his five-hole attempt was stopped by Fleury. In between, he was largely anonymous in terms of driving the play into the offensive zone. Only really stood out when he was taking runs at people. His team needs him to do more offensively.
Paul Byron – 6/10
Another guy who seemed to handle the pace of the game. Wasn’t intimidated by, nor did he back down from the hits that were being dished out last night. Did his job on the penalty kill. Pressured the Vegas defence deep in their zone. But he and his linemates have been better offensively and will need to be going forward.
Eric Staal – 5/10
Like Kotkaniemi, the long period of inactivity in the second surely didn’t help. Had a moment or two trying to drive out front of the net in the first, but nothing came of it. 50 per cent on faceoffs. Will be curious to see if he and his linemates can dominate down low with more consistency In Game 2. Heavy legs after the long layoff didn’t seem to help either.
Corey Perry – 6/10
Great one-touch pass to Toffoli to create the shot and rebound leading up to Caufield’s goal. Like Staal after the second, he couldn’t impact the game in any meaningful way. Tried hard to get to the front of the net, but couldn’t get inside. Will need him to have a big moment at some point in this series. It didn’t happen for him last night.
Joel Armia – 6/10
Gets his rating for leading the team in ice-time in the penalty kill, where the Habs surrendered very little to the Golden Knights. At even strength, it was a mixed bag. Created a couple of turnovers high up the ice, but nothing came of them. Could have done more to be implicated in the third period. Not anonymous, but didn’t stand out enough.
Dominique Ducharme – 7/10
What a terrific start from his team after all the talk about how Vegas would impose their will on the Habs in the first period after their long layoff between games. Powerplay looked poor for long stretches, but got them the all-important goal. Penalty kill pitched a shutout again. The team lost momentum in the second and was never able to get it back. The third period offensively was disappointing, considering what was at stake but the Golden Knights simply denied them the middle. Needs a few tweaks for Game 2, but better showing from his team than the scoreline would suggest.