Still Talkin’ Habs: Early mental mistakes too much to overcome as Canadiens fall to Jets 4-2
Published Friday, April 9, 2021 9:05AM EDT Last Updated Friday, April 9, 2021 9:07AM EDT
Montreal Canadiens' Brett Kulak (77) and Winnipeg Jets' Mason Appleton (22) go after a loose puck during second period NHL hockey action Thursday, April 8, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
MONTREAL -- Fatigue was always going to be an issue for the Montreal Canadiens last night in the second game of their most challenging back-to-back of the season against the Winnipeg Jets. But while the legs were willing it was mental fatigue that was the culprit as the Habs dug themselves a hole they could not crawl out of, losing 4-2.
“Well, we did it to ourselves with mental errors, especially early,” admitted captain Shea Weber post-game. “I don’t think it was lack of effort. I just think we made some mistakes and the mistakes were big. Obviously, those are chances that we can’t give up.”
If you didn’t happen to catch the game, it followed a similar script to the Canadiens loss to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night. The Jets were up by one within the first minute of the game courtesy of an ill-advised pinch by defenceman Joel Edmundson, putting the Habs on the backfoot from the get go. Phillip Danault responded shortly afterwards to bring the Habs level but it again highlighted a worrying trend for the team: it takes a goal by the opposition to wake them up.
It’s happened with more regularity than you think. The Canadiens have played 37 games so far this season. Nine times they have found themselves down by a goal within the first 10 minutes. Quick math will tell you that’s just under 25 percent of the games they’ve played this year. For a team that relies on offensive depth rather than star talent to score it is certainly not ideal to find yourself down by a goal that early for a quarter of your schedule. And their record reflects that. When their opponent scores first the Canadiens are 2-7-5.
After calling his first period “unacceptable”, goaltender Jake Allen dug further into his performance saying “You’ve got to give your team a chance, you know? I have very high expectations for myself all the time. No matter what, I always think that there should be a way to stop the puck. I was happy with the way I competed the rest of the game but disappointed in my first period, no question.”
Allen’s struggles in the first was actually not the starkest difference between the Habs loss to the Jets compared to their loss to the Leafs just 24 hours earlier. Without their captain Blake Wheeler in the lineup Winnipeg didn’t exactly set the ice alight. Unlike their game against Toronto the Canadiens actually had the majority of the territorial dominance after equalizing, ending the period with an 18-9 shot advantage. Yet due to a combination of their goaltender’s aforementioned issues and two momentary defensive lapses the Habs found themselves down 3-1.
“For me, a slow start is more the way we came out last night in Toronto where we were not moving,” said interim head coach Dominique Ducharme last night when asked about the differences between his team’s early effort against the Leafs and the Jets. “Tonight, I thought we were moving in the first period but we had three plays that we didn’t react well (to).”
The Habs continued to move well the remaining 40 minutes, better than the Jets in fact. But just like their game against the Leafs, the Canadiens didn’t do much to truly trouble Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Their forwards were mostly kept to the outside. On the rare occasions where they did get into a good scoring position the Canadiens were either unlucky (see Lehkonen, Artturi) or just not sharp enough to convert. Despite their 38-27 shot advantage, per Nautral Stat Trick, Winnipeg finished the game with a 9-8 advantage in high danger scoring chances at even strength.
Those numbers seem to indicate that while the Habs may have been in control of the puck more than Winnipeg last night, what they generated with that possession could be described as tame. The further the game wore on it felt like the Canadiens were going to need a sublime piece of skill or a moment of magic from one of their best players to tie the game. Instead their two most naturally gifted forwards, Jonathan Drouin and Nick Suzuki, were frustratingly ordinary, with the former being nearly invisible.
The Habs got their deserved goal courtesy of a blessing by the hockey gods via the stanchion in the second period. But in all honesty despite their superiority the team didn’t do enough to earn at least a point late. The coaching staff will be encouraged by the fitness of the team to give the level of effort they did last night. But skill was what was needed to top the Jets and there just was not enough of it from the Canadiens.
Jake Allen – 6/10
Appreciated his candor post-game. Should have done much better on Lewis’ one-handed tip as well as Ehlers’ goal off the rush. Rating may seem harsh considering his response the final 40 minutes, with big saves in particular on Stastny in front and Copp on the breakaway. But in the end his early mistakes proved costly.
Shea Weber – 6/10
No shots on goal and could have done better at playing the 3-on-2 that led to Morrissey’s opener where he ended up basically being a screen in front of Allen. Was just okay for large portions of the game but his passing did improve as the night wore on. Why he and Edmundson were on the ice with Allen on the bench late in the third made no sense.
Joel Edmundson – 5/10
His first 20 minutes were tough to watch. His pinch at the blueline led to the odd man rush for Morrissey’s goal. Shaky defensively and mishandled the puck the whole period. Looked nervous. Did grow into the game but the damage had been done. Defensive zone coverage was difficult for both he and Weber. Hustled hard to try and disrupt Copp on his breakaway.
Jeff Petry – 6/10
His drive down the middle created the space for Danault’s goal. It was his dump in that ended up on Byron’s stick courtesy of the glass to bring the team within striking distance. But it was his fumbling of the puck in the neutral zone that turned the puck over to Ehlers for his goal, although Allen should have done better. His wave of the power play struggled mightily. Figured he’d be more noticeable as the team pushed to even things up. But for whatever reason he wasn’t.
Brett Kulak – 6/10
For a guy who played 21 minutes it’s hard to remember much of anything he did positively or negatively last night. Got punished a few times on the forecheck by the Jets big forwards. But he looked like one of the few who was actually physically fatigued as his skating wasn’t at the level it usually is. It didn’t end up costing his team.
Alexander Romanov – 6/10
Did well on the penalty kill. Led the defencemen with three hits and did a solid job getting his shot through from the point. But had a night of rookie struggles, including a particularly egregious turnover to Lowry when he made a no look pass up the boards. He and Mete were hemmed in several times for extended periods in the first and second periods. Learning experience.
Victor Mete – 5/10
Had one great rush from behind his own net that led to a deflected chance off a Lehkonen pass. But he and Romanov were stuck on the ice for an eternity at least twice. Didn’t tie up Lewis in front on his goal. Looked physically outmatched for the first time in a little bit. Cut out of the rotation in the lineup as Ducharme shortened the bench in the third.
Nick Suzuki – 7/10
If only he could have elevated the puck over Hellebuyck on the power play where he looked like the natural playmaker he usually is. Felt like he had two or three half-chances but couldn’t create much offense for his linemates. Looked better when Toffoli was moved up with he and Perry. But consistency continues to be an issue. 70 percent on faceoffs is the best he’s been in a while.
Corey Perry – 6/10
Almost made a terrific play to set up Toffoli for a beautiful goal in the third but was foiled at the last second. Definitely brought the competitive juices as he had no problem getting under the skin of both Hellebuyck and the Jets defencemen. But despite his clear objective to get to the front of the net the puck just didn’t find him last night. Most used forward last night.
Josh Anderson – 6/10
Had his legs going and did well to use his speed to harass players defensively. Had one rush that he missed on the back hand. In the end though didn’t do much offensively. Really disappeared after he was swapped for Toffoli and moved down with Staal and Drouin. Uncharacteristically quiet.
Phillip Danault – 7/10
Looked crisp in his passing and driving of play into the offensive zone. Terrific stick lift and centring pass for Lehkonen which he pumped off the cross bar. Kotkaniemi has fit in pretty seamlessly with he and Tatar. He should get some credit for that. Disruptive on the penalty kill. His line looked most likely to do anything offensively as they actually cycled and generated offensive zone time. Buzzed around the net and got his deserved goal.
Tomas Tatar – 7/10
Did a lot of the little things last night that make him so effective. His body positioning to protect the puck is a skill that is often overlooked but it’s the reason why he wins the majority of his battles despite his size limitations. Looked dangerous in transition. Great job to get his one-timer off after a bullet pass by Kotkaniemi.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 8/10
The Canadiens most consistently dangerous forward. There was energy on the ice when he was out there. Seems to have developed some chemistry with Danault and Tatar on the wing. Fantastic pass to Tatar which Danault potted in on the rebound. Continued to be physical as he led the team in hits with four. But more importantly showed that he knows he can win one-on-one battles both offensively and defensively. Should be back at centre Saturday night for the good of the team though. Didn’t miss a beat when moved back into the middle as the team pushed late.
Eric Staal – 5/10
Nearly got on the end of a rebound after Suzuki’s shot was saved by a sprawling Hellebuyck. But that was the highlight of his night offensively. Looked pretty slow out there. Through three games he hasn’t really developed much chemistry at even strength with his linemates. Beaten up the ice defensively on Morrisey’s first goal. Really struggled in both games the past 48 hours.
Jonathan Drouin – 5/10
Felt like a case of tough love from the coach last night as his ice time was cut in the third period. Failed to do much of anything to impact the game. Had a shot from the point that nearly snuck under Hellebuyck’s pad in the first. That was essentially it. His teammates could have really used his playmaking.
Tyler Toffoli – 6/10
Nearly snuck one in near side on the Jets goaltender but it rang off the crossbar. Minus three isn’t ideal. Looked much better when he was moved away from Staal and Drouin. Made some deceptively sneaky plays on the power play that nearly paid off. Might have been able to have more of an impact had he been moved onto another line earlier.
Jake Evans – 6/10
71 percent on his faceoffs was a positive development. Looked better on the forecheck than Wednesday against Toronto. Played less than 10 minutes though. Again. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him out of the lineup on Saturday night.
Arttur Lehkonen – 6/10
The only man who could ring a point-blank chance in the slot off the cross bar. Had four shots on goal and seemed more confident than we’ve seen of late. Good on the penalty kill.
Paul Byron – 6/10
Scored the easiest goal of his life into an empty net off a nice bounce courtesy of the hockey gods. Did some decent work on the penalty kill. Looked lively and energetic. Played his role well.
Dominique Ducharme – 6/10
It seems rather obvious that the Staal-Toffoli-Drouin line is not working. Took too long to shake up his forward lines. Wonder what it’s going to take for him to consider re-arranging his defensive pairings as well. Has to figure out why his team seems to start games so slowly. Kotkaniemi is playing great on the wing but he’ll influence more of the game when he’s back in the middle.