Still Talkin’ Habs: Late Toffoli goal saves Canadiens in 2-1 win over Calgary
Published Saturday, April 17, 2021 8:03AM EDT
Montreal Canadiens' Tyler Toffoli celebrates his goal past Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom during second period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
MONTREAL -- The Calgary Flames were dealt a crushing blow in their chase for the playoffs as a heroic performance from Jake Allen, two goals from top scorer Tyler Toffoli and desperate defending rescued a 2-1 victory for the Montreal Canadiens.
Make no mistake, the Habs didn’t deserve two points last night. The Flames at least earned one point based on both offensive zone time and clear-cut scoring chances.
However, the hockey gods were smiling down on the Canadiens as Calgary hit three posts including one off a drive to the net by Matthew Tkachuk that will give the Flames forward nightmares.
But, in the end, a win is a win.
The Flames were aggressive in their offensive game by forcing turnovers on the forecheck and hemming the Habs in for long stretches.
But credit to the Canadiens. Through a combination of luck, timely blocked shots and another sensational performance by their backup goaltender, they eeked out a victory when they needed it most.
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen clears the puck away from Calgary Flames' Brett Ritchie during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Did that performance inspire a lot of confidence going forward? Not particularly.
The Habs continue to have massive problems in the turnover department, particularly in their own zone.
Ben Chiarot came back from just over five weeks on the shelf so he gets a pass as he continues to work his way back into game shape. But there were far too many times that what should have been a simple outlet pass or a chip off the boards instead resulted in a turnover and an extra 30 seconds to a minute in the offensive zone for the Flames to work over a tired Canadiens group.
Those issues won’t change overnight based on both the personnel of the team and their usage by interim head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Your perception of what last night’s win says about the Habs depends on what your expectations were going into this season. Was it a playoff appearance? Was it winning a round once you get there? Was it a conference finals appearance? Are you the most diehard of supporters and believed that a parade down Ste-Catherines Street was possible?
Perhaps it took these two games against Calgary to crystallize exactly who the 2021 version of the Montreal Canadiens are, but it is now clear.
They are simply a slightly above average hockey team. Maybe success will come down the road when the young influx of talented blueliners reshape the Canadiens blueline. It could come even sooner up front if Cole Caufield lives up to the hype surrounding him and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki continue to gain confidence with each passing season.
But right now, the Habs would be fortunate to win a playoff round the way things are going.
Thanks to their fantastic start and the shortened season, it appears that Calgary are going to run out of racetrack to catch the Canadiens, but there are far too many areas of concern on this team to inspire much belief within the fanbase that the Habs will make noise in the postseason once they get there.
It starts on the blueline with their second-most expensive player on the roster.
Shea Weber has become a liability both offensively and, most alarmingly, defensively. At what point is it piling on with the captain or just cold, hard facts? No one wants him to turn over the puck repeatedly in his own end. No one wants him to be second to loose pucks in his own zone. No one wants him to struggle to ‘kill the play’, one of Ducharme’s go to phrases to describe stopping the cycle in the Habs’ end and something that should be one of Weber’s strengths.
Yet those problems persist.
Over and over again the head coach threw the man mountain over the boards. Based on what? Reputation? A lack of trust in his other options? Granted, you would imagine that Ducharme is in quite a tough spot with the club’s leader. In this case the interim tag must feel like a weight on his shoulders, giving him very limited power to challenge one of the most important players on the roster.
Or maybe that’s just not Ducharme’s style. Maybe Weber is dealing with another injury that we don’t know about. But something must be done to rehabilitate the game of someone the team is financially tied to for just under $8 million for the next five seasons.
This may seem rather negative after a huge win by the club that almost essentially guarantees them a spot in the playoffs if they play even .500 hockey the rest of the way. But expectations for the Canadiens this season should have been more than edging out a victory in a crucial game over an average Flames team.
The pressure is effectively off now. Ducharme now has 16 low-pressure games to fix the numerous problems that continue to plague the team. But can he get his inconsistent team to peak at the right time?
Jake Allen – 10/10
Outstanding. Without him, the Flames win. Simple as that. Best of the bunch was a terrific diving save with the tip of his stick on Lindholm. High tips, jam plays at the net, numerous shots from the slot, shots through traffic. All stopped. Shutout busted by a deflected puck off Chiarot in front. Considering what was on the line, his best game of the season.
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen makes a save on Calgary Flames' Matthew Tkachuk as he is covered by defenceman Ben Chiarot during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Jeff Petry – 6/10
Most consistent passer on the blueline. One of the few defencemen who supported the attack with much regularity. Struggled at times to clear the front of his net. But all in all, had mostly clean zone exits and limited the amount of time he spent in his own end.
Joel Edmundson – 6/10
Along with Petry didn’t get hemmed in as much as his counterparts. Another very quiet, not particularly noticeable game on the back end. Had trouble coping with the Flames forecheck at times, but so did everyone. 20 minutes of relatively error free hockey. Some key blocks on potential high-danger scoring chances.
Shea Weber – 4/10
Made one desperation save on a 2-on-1 in the first. His best moment of the game. Soft pass behind the net quickly resulted in Calgary’s equalizer. Lucky that didn’t happen more often. Attempted passes either resulted in turnovers in his zone or icings. Too slow to defend kill the cycle as well. Walked around multiple times on the penalty kill. Needs to pick up his game in a big way down the stretch.
Ben Chiarot – 5/10
Rating is kind because of his lengthy layoff due to a fractured hand. Fumbled the puck lots but not as many egregious turnovers as his partner. Slowed down as the game wore on, which is understandable considering the injury. Spent way too much time in his own zone. Struggled mightily on the penalty kill. Expect he’ll get better with more game time.
Alexander Romanov – 6/10
The only Habs defenseman without a giveaway. A couple tough shifts in his own zone early as he tried to cope with the Flames physicality. Settled in and looked confident though. Plays with so much enthusiasm. Makes so many smart, little plays and passes to get out of trouble in his own end. Not nearly as physical as usual. Did a good job moving players in front of Allen.
Brett Kulak – 5/10
Several times his pairing got stuck in their own zone and it was due to his play. Put a lot of his forwards in tough spots with inaccurate passes. Struggled to contain the Flames in his own end. Not nearly as active going forward and didn’t get a real chance to roam. Picked up a secondary assist on Toffoli’s opener.
Phillip Danault – 6/10
Played with an appropriate level of desperation defensively. Struggled along with everyone else not named Allen on the penalty kill. Beat consistently on draws despite Ducharme insisting to have him on to take defensive zone faceoffs. Led the forwards in giveaways with three. Not much of anything offensively.
Tomas Tatar – 6/10
His unit of the power play was particularly sloppy last night. Could have done better with a tip on Markstrom in the first but one of the few offensive chances in the period. His line didn’t really threaten much but did a decent job defensively in his own zone.
Paul Byron – 6/10
His most noticeable impact on the game was shoving Hanifin into his own net. Earned a few jabs in the mouth for it. Supported the play well with his linemates and ensured no turnovers in the neutral zone. No real chance to show off his wheels last night but like Tatar and Danault competed well defensively. Led the forwards with five hits.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 6/10
Physically dominated Flames players in his own zone, both down low and in transition. Took care of business defensively. One terrific pass to Anderson at the end of the first should have been a goal if not for a hook and a sprawling Markstrom save. But offensive chances were few and far between. His power play unit is usually the best but not last night.
Josh Anderson – 7/10
Always gives maximum effort. One great drive to the net earned the Habs a power play. Robbed at the last second of the first by Markstrom and should have earned another power play. Did a great job backchecking multiple times to put pressure on the Flames. Most used Habs forward. You know what you’ll get from him every night. Still searching for his role on the power play.
Jonathan Drouin – 5/10
More competitive than we’ve seen of late. Made some high risk plays but did backcheck hard to make up for his mistakes. The team could have really used a moment of skill from him that never came. Next to nothing offensively and it’s hard to notice him if he’s not doing much in that area of the ice. Tough night on the power play.
Nick Suzuki – 7/10
Terrific pass to Toffoli for his opening goal. Picked up a secondary assist on the game-winner after his attempted pass deflected into the corner. Led forwards with three blocked shots. Only took six faceoffs but won half of them. Did a really good job in his own zone supporting the defense. Showed off his defensive quality with several well-positioned plays. Better.
Joel Armia – 8/10
Started a little slowly. Then deked through about three Flames for a chance that just slid off his stick. Dominated the boards and one-on-one battles. Did all of the heavy lifting to gain and maintain possession for Toffoli’s opener. Was a physical force all night long in one-on-one battles. Won the race for the puck and made the pass for Toffoli’s game winner. Considering it was his second game back from three weeks on the sidelines he was hugely impressive.
Tyler Toffoli – 9/10
21 bloody goals on the season. Simply ridiculous with 16 games left to go. Hard to understate the impact he’s had on this team. Accurate snipe to beat Markstrom for the sucker punch the Habs needed. Led the team with five shots on goal. Puck seemed to follow him all game long. Picked up a roughing penalty for good measure. His game winner was all instinct, surprising Markstrom with a perfect shot over his shoulder. He and Allen won the Habs the game.
Eric Staal – 4/10
Another really tough night and he knew it. Looked skyward more than once. His skating has to improve to stay in the lineup. Won three out of four draws. But made some egregious turnovers at his own line. Still struggling to find chemistry, consistency and his role on the team. Hope for his sake it improves. Least used Habs forward.
Corey Perry – 5/10
Uncharacteristically quiet night from him. Highlight of his night was trying to troll Markstrom by grabbing the puck out of the back of his glove after the play had stopped. Doesn’t look like a fit on the right of Staal and Lehkonen. Not much to write home about at even strength or on the power play.
Artturi Lehkonen – 5/10
Skated fast. Along with everyone struggled on the penalty kill. His line didn’t make anything happen at 5-on-5.
Dominique Ducharme – 6/10
His team was thoroughly outplayed for large portions of the game. Can thanks his goalie and top scorer for the win. The good news is he can now tinker with the lineup without having to freak out over results, except maybe the last three games against the Flames. Has to be ruthless with his veterans if they aren’t getting the job done. Must start coaching with the urgency of the interim tag. Not much has changed between he and Julien in terms of results. Special teams continue to struggle.