On a night when Montreal had a golden opportunity to deal a crushing blow to the team chasing them, they played more like the team on its deathbed. Hosting a Calgary team that played the night before in Toronto and who would be left on life support with a loss, Montreal played like it was an exhibition game after a bachelor party. Where was the heart? Aside from Brett Kulak, evidently, sitting in the stands with a cast on his thumb.
In the early going the Habs created several chances on Jacob Markstrom who was starting on back-to-back nights after the Flames dealt David Rittich to the Leafs, perhaps signalling how they feel about their chances. Three consecutive lost own zone draws (two by Kotkaniemi and one by Suzuki) led to a goal on a point drive by Noah Hanifin to give Calgary a lead.
The trouble with having officials who “let them play” against Calgary is that it’ll inevitably favour the Flames who applied several hooks, holds and elbows that went uncalled. The rough rides were clearly getting to the Habs as the Flames took over the first period. Montreal was a step behind the entire time and hearing footsteps every time they touched the puck.
The first period was a statement by a desperate team. Calgary threw down the gauntlet and if Montreal has the character and drive Marc Bergevin thought he was accumulating, the second period would go a long way to proving it.
Unfortunately, the early signs were not positive as yet another lost draw led to chaos in Montreal’s end and another point man was given way too much room to unload. Mark Giordano blew one straight past Jake Allen to double Calgary’s lead. Montreal’s legs were not moving nearly as much as they needed to be in the first half of this one.
After flailing for most of the period along the periphery, a quick breakout saw Jonathan Drouin hit a breaking Brett Kulak who streaked in on a partial breakaway to beat Markstrom and get the Habs back in it. It was certainly not the pushback period you might expect after a dismal first though. Montreal started the third period with a minute of power-play time against what should be a Flames team that is running on fumes. This feels like a litmus test period for this hockey club.
The lack of puck-moving defencemen definitely showed up throughout the game and started to eat up the clock with added own zone time as a result. Stay-at-home defenders are valuable when you have a lead, but not ideal when you need a goal.
That was never more apparent than a wide-open lead pass by Shea Weber that was four feet in the air and behind his man. After Calgary regained the zone, Weber had the puck on his stick again and passed it directly onto the tape of Josh Leivo who took it to the slot and backhanded it past Allen to put this game away.
A Sean Monahan empty netter made the score as embarrassing as it looked. And like that, Montreal is back in the race for an early summer.
What was good:
Even though it didn’t score, Montreal’s first-period power play gave them some momentum and helped them right a period that was getting ugly.
The first Montreal goal was one of the few times in the last month that a defenceman has joined the rush with authority. Early on this season, that was driving the offence for them.
Maybe it was playing his former team or maybe it was sensing an upcoming threat to his job, but Brett Kulak was one of the only guys who looked like he wanted to win this game.
What was bad:
Early on, all of Montreal’s centers were getting chewed up on faceoffs and it got them completely off their game plan. They have to find a way to be better in that aspect. It has been years of this.
Five games against Calgary will exert a physical toll on Montreal, but it’ll be even worse if they continue to make it obvious how well it works against them.
Halfway through the game Montreal had not generated any slot chances, nor had they had a single shift with two quality shots on goal. The lack of chance generation and net presence is a huge unsolved problem.
There were several times when a chance was there for the taking if a player had simply put in that extra bit of effort to get to a spot, but the work ethic was lacking all night.
One player who needs to raise the level of his game is Tyler Toffoli who has not done anything that could be construed as energetic in a while.
Paging Nick Suzuki. He has had a rough go of late without making any tangible impression on this one either.
It was disheartening to see Eric Staal come over the boards with the goalie pulled. I know your GM surrendered two picks for him, but at some point, you have to acknowledge he’s your worst forward consistently and do what’s right for the team.
To sum it up:
I’m not going to post a redundant rant about Weber’s struggles or ooze negativity after another loss. All I will do is express disappointment in the effort level yet again from a team that could have made life a lot easier with one single win at home against a tired team.
I’m not sure how big the sample size has to be before we deem this team to just not have the right stuff? There have been far too many games where this team had every reason to come out flying and issue a statement where the only statement they made was “meh.”
The Canadiens are determined to make every game a grind, which over time becomes a grind for the fans to watch. At some point, they have to want to help themselves. It has been far too long since they have looked like they want to.