Still Talkin' Habs: Canadiens open the door for Calgary in 4-1 loss
Published Thursday, April 15, 2021 10:21AM EDT Last Updated Thursday, April 15, 2021 10:21AM EDT
Montreal Canadiens' Brett Kulak (77) and Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi (15) tie up Calgary Flames' Dillon Dube (29) during first period NHL hockey action Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens continued to baffle their fans, their coach and likely themselves as their inconsistent play struck again in last night’s 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames that has made their road to the playoffs that much more difficult.
Going into the game, the messaging from interim head coach Dominique Ducharme to his team should have been remarkably simple: win these two games against the Flames and essentially guarantee yourselves a playoff spot. Even matching Calgary’s desperation should have been straightforward considering the Flames were playing the second night of a back to back.
Instead the Habs put together a rather dreadful effort against the team directly chasing them in the North division standings. Their passing was inaccurate, leading to a complete lack of flow and rhythm on offense. The team managed a grand total of four high-danger scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick.
The easy excuse for the Canadiens would be to say they were outworked by the Flames, who know that these final five games against the Habs are essentially their season. But there’s a difference between not matching Calgary’s intensity and not having a pulse. The lack of effort from the team was disturbing considering the magnitude of the game and it again called into question the character of a team that has many veteran leaders who are supposed to ensure that games like last night don’t happen.
“Nothing surprised us,” said Ducharme after the game. “We knew what we were facing and I thought we just didn’t execute. There was nothing surprising in the way they played. We just didn’t react the right way.”
But why? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Anyone who has watched the Flames play since Darryl Sutter took over as head coach would know that they would try and play a grinding game down low while clogging things up in the neutral zone. That’s exactly what they did. Did they create anything that was all that threatening off the cycle? Not particularly. Calgary went up 2-0 off of two lost faceoffs that ended up in the back of the net off screened shots from the point.
But even after Brett Kulak scored to bring the Habs within one, where was the response? Where was the pushback? Where was the fight? The Canadiens played as though last night was a meaningless, mid-season matchup while the Flames played with the appropriate desperation to match the significance of the game.
When Habs general manager Marc Bergevin made his off-season signings, he spoke about how he felt that the Canadiens could play any style of game the opposition would throw at them. In theory, that seemed correct. The team finally seemed to have the size and grit to handle a physical game. The talent to handle a game where both teams trade chances. The speed to handle a run-and-gun game. But that hasn’t been the case so far. The coach has preached supporting the puck and moving up the ice in a block of five. Yet when that isn’t working, the Habs should have the different kinds of talent to adjust to the style of a particular game. Far too many times the team has looked devoid of offensive ideas when the primary game plan hasn’t been working.
Down 2-1 with the game still very much up for grabs, the Canadiens mustered absolutely nothing to trouble Flames goaltender Jakob Markstrom. The Habs were actually outchanced six to one in the third period. You can talk all you want about Calgary clogging up the neutral zone to counter-act the Canadiens speed. But this team is supposed to be able to attack in different ways. However it requires a level of intensity and focus that was just non-existent against Calgary.
“We need to come out on top, points wise,” admitted Nick Suzuki post-game. “We really need to be desperate if we want to be in the playoff run and these games against them are going to be really big for us.”
The good news is the sky isn’t falling, no matter how disheartening the Habs performance was last night. The Canadiens still hold three games in hand over the Flames and a four-point lead in the standings. But what last night’s result did was not only give Calgary life heading into tomorrow’s rematch but also make the Habs path to the playoffs that much more difficult.
Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield likely won’t receive call ups to assess their games at the NHL level. New additions Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson will not have the chance to settle into the team in a non-pressure environment but will rather be thrown into the fire of a playoff race. Key veterans won’t be able to get a break to recharge before the postseason. Ducharme will likely not have as much freedom to tinker with his lineup that still seems to be lacking chemistry with only 16 games left in the season.
The Habs had the chance to dash Calgary’s hopes last night. Instead they let them off the mat. Now we’ll see how the Canadiens handle being hunted. They are officially in a playoff race.
Jake Allen – 8/10
More of the same. No run support for the Habs backup goaltender once again. Made timely saves on Lindholm in the slot in the second and Gaudreau on a breakaway in the third. One of the very few who was decent last night.
Shea Weber – 4/10
Ducharme spoke post-game about how the team spent too much time in their own zone. Happened too many times when he was on the ice. His form this season has been one of the most worrying aspects of the team’s future. Led the blueline with four shots on goal. Gifted Leivo his back-breaking goal with a brutal turnover directly in front of his own net. Struggled breaking out of his zone again. He’s the captain and it’s an indictment of his leadership when the team plays so poorly in a crucial game.
Brett Kulak – 6/10
At his best when jumping into the play, as evidenced by his goal. But he and Weber looked unsure of what the other was supposed to do in their own zone, both offensively and defensively. Led to long periods of being hemmed in. He’s doing his best in an uncomfortable role. Lost too many one-on-one battles.
Jeff Petry – 6/10
Passing was off last night. Missed both intermediate and stretch passes too many times. Did activate well in the offensive zone but made the wrong final decision when it came to creating a chance. Needs to do better boxing out players in front of his net. Probably the best defenceman on the night but can play so much better.
Joel Edmundson – 5/10
Not particularly noticeable at all. Usually a good thing for him but like nearly everyone on the blueline could not pass the puck out of the zone with possession. Seemed like a game that would be perfect for his strengths but physically outmatched too many times in his own zone. An off night for him.
Xavier Ouellette – 5/10
Led the defencemen with 6 hits on the night. But his play was erratic in his own end and did little to inspire confidence. Knew he just had to get the puck out of his own zone but his clearing attempts off the boards ended up in the neutral zone and right back in his own end. The result was far too many long shifts for he and Romanov. His passing was brutal but in his defense he’s an AHL player doing what he can.
Alexander Romanov – 6/10
Had a couple of big blocks to go along with five hits. Did what he could to try and help break the puck out well but got hemmed in for long stretches in his zone. The most accurate passer on the back end but didn’t have much competition. Would have liked to see him be more aggressive while chasing the game late.
Phillip Danault – 6/10
His line didn’t look as lively as they had the last couple of games. Miscommunication with Byron led to an open point shot for Giordano on his goal. Struggled to do much of anything offensively. Best of a bad bunch in the faceoff department.
Tomas Tatar – 6/10
One of the few players who looked comfortable with the puck on his stick, both in the offensive and defensive zones. Had a big chance off a turnover in the slot in the Flames zone but stopped by the left pad of Markstrom. Led the forwards in ice time.
Paul Byron – 6/10
Kind of shocking to see he was tied for the forward lead in hits. Didn’t have as much of an impact offensively as he did on Monday night against the Leafs. Not many chances to show off his speed. But one of the few Habs players who looked like he cared.
Nick Suzuki – 5/10
His faceoff woes continued as he was beaten clean off the draw on Hanifin’s opener. He’s never been the fastest but it’s hard not to wonder if he’s nursing an injury based on his lack of foot speed lately. Can’t really understand the decision to move Toffoli and Anderson up with him when he was struggling so much. Best moment was a shot from the point on the power play that was nearly tipped in by Toffoli. But didn’t consistently threaten.
Tyler Toffoli – 6/10
Hit the post with a terrific tip off a Romanov point shot. His second tip was a change-up that nearly fooled Markstrom. With just those two chances he was one of the most effective offensive players. But that was about it from him. Not sure if it was he or Armia who was supposed to cover Hanifin on his goal but either way a free shot from the point is not ideal.
Joel Armia – 5/10
His line with Suzuki and Toffoli lacked pace, which is why Ducharme switched things up half way through. When he was with them he did have some decent moments of offensive control of the puck in the opponent’s zone. But kind of disappeared when he was put next to Danault and Tatar. Some flashes but not much consistency in his first game back.
Jesperi Kotkaneimi – 6/10
Made a couple of smart defensive plays to cut out a few potentially dangerous chances off the rush. 30 percent on faceoffs is forgivable because he’s been much improved in that department of late. Whistled a decent slot chance high and wide. But failed to create much offensively at 5-on-5. Unconvincing on the power play as well. Brought it physically though and competed hard in one-on-one battles.
Jonathan Drouin – 6/10
Might be time to reunite he and Suzuki as both have looked way off since they’ve been separated. Thought his effort left a lot to be desired after he played with the appropriate competitiveness on Monday night. But his skill created the two best chances of the night for the Habs. One which Anderson rang off the bar and the other a slick backhand pass to send in Kulak for his goal. But surely knows he can give more.
Josh Anderson – 6/10
If his shot goes in and not off the post early on it changes the entire complexion of the game. One of the few players who skated well and looked to try and push the pace when the puck was on his stick. Tied for the lead amongst forwards with six hits. But no shots on goal from one of the Habs best goal scorers is a problem with the team chasing the game.
Eric Staal – 4/10
Other than his overtime winner against the Jets he has really struggled. Can’t seem to cope with the pace of the team yet. Thought his skating was better in the first but faded badly as the game wore on. Confidence is clearly very low and highlighted by him double-clutching a potential slot shot that became not much of a scoring opportunity. No real chemistry with anyone yet.
Corey Perry – 5/10
Consistently went to the front of the net which is more than you can say for the rest of the forward group. But didn’t get any rebounds to feast on and couldn’t carve out any real chances. Brutal turnover in the neutral zone led to a Gaudreau breakaway. One of those nights where it felt like he didn’t have the energy to make much happen.
Artturi Lehkonen – 5/10
Skated well but that’s about it. Tried to get in on the forecheck but wasn’t exactly supported by his teammates. One shot on goal and not much else. Least used forward.
Dominique Ducharme – 5/10
How much is coaching and how much is his players not performing? Not sure. Like Weber though when the team is so casual in an important game it reflects pretty badly on him. Power play was anemic once again. His line juggling didn’t do much to change the way the game was going. Has to find a way in-game to correct the recurring problem of the team spending far too much time in their own zone.