When do you panic about a team that is obviously in a slump? After three consecutive losses? Is it when a team has lost five of its last seven? When a team has not scored in over nine periods? When a team is shut out three games in a row for the first time in over 60 years? It’s hard to know when to push the panic button. While I would say that it is a little early I cannot deny that my hand is hovering over it.
What I do worry about is not that the team is losing, but how they are losing. They are doing very little right. And what they are doing wrong for me comes back to the basics and effort. Not supporting the person with the puck, not being first to the puck and not exerting the effort you need to win games in the NHL.
After being shut out the last two games versus Boston and Buffalo you were looking for Montreal to come out strong at the beginning of the game. Their confidence obviously was not at its highest, so the first 5 to 10 minutes of the game would tell us much about how the game was going to go for the Habs. When Marco Sturm batted a Nicklas Backstrom rebound out of the air beyond Carey Price a mere 1:24 into the game it did not bode well for the home side.
Throughout the game Montreal was not able to generate very much offensive pressure. In my opinion that is partially due to Jacques Martin’s very conservative style of play. He does not use his team’s speed to put pressure on the opposition in their own end. The Canadiens, as everyone knows, is not a big team, so they way they have to put pressure on opposing defencemen and create turnovers is to use their speed to get on them fast. Instead Martin insists, even late in games with his team down a goal or two, on just sending in one forechecker. With little to no pressure on them, the Washington defence was able to easily move the puck out of their own zone disallowing Montreal from keeping them hemmed in or cycling the puck.
Finally taking a risk when the score was 2-0, after Washington defenceman Marcus Johansson was assessed a delay of game minor for putting the puck over the glass in his own end, Martin pulled Price with 3:11 left in the game. Even up two skaters Montreal was not able to generate much pressure and it was Washington who had the better scoring chances with players like Brian Gionta having to sprawl to stop shots from going into the empty Montreal cage.
Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby earned his second shutout of the season. Actually, more precise would be to say that the Canadiens gave Holtby his second shutout. They don’t come much easier than this one. He only faced 18 shots over his 60 minutes of play. That is only a shot every 3 minutes. What is difficult for a goaltender in games like this is for them to stay focused because they are not that busy. Holtby did just that and did make a couple of decent saves, but nothing extraordinary. Steady was all that was demanded of him.
Carey Price, the team’s most consistent performer over the entire season, had been pulled in two of his last three starts, so it was interesting to see how he would react to that. He played a strong game stopping 31 pucks including 14 in the 2nd period. He gave his team a chance even after they had gone down a goal by making some big saves in the 2nd period. Neither of the goals were his fault. The first one he made the original save and the second was off a 2-on-0.
Washington has pretty much owned the Habs this season winning three out of four games against them. They are a team who is on a hot streak right now as they have won 14 of their last 17 games. That is even more impressive for they have been doing this without their superstar Alex Ovechkin, as he has been out with a nagging injury for the past week or so.
Montreal’s play is worrisome. They are not generating any offence and to put it simply are just not playing good hockey. The 186 straight minutes of scoreless hockey has gotten to the Habs’ fans. Over the last period and especially the last few minutes of the game boos rained down from every part of the Bell Centre. The fans were not very understanding of the home team after having paid top dollar to see them play. The biggest boos were reserved for centreman Scott Gomez. Patience has worn out for the man who makes over $8 million dollars and is minus 16.
Though they are almost (unless there is a colossal collapse) guaranteed a playoff position Montreal really has to be careful over their last games. The team who had been behind them previous to this game, the New York Rangers, won their game (1-0 over Boston) and so moved ahead of Montreal into 6th place in the East Division. Both teams have 87 points, but the Rangers have won more games. Now in 7th place Montreal has to worry about the 8th place Buffalo Sabres, who are just two points behind them. And there is also the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes to worry about. Thankfully, they lost tonight as well, so Montreal can pretty much guarantee a playoff place if they beat Carolina in Raleigh on Wednesday. First up though is the Atlanta Thrashers at home on Tuesday. Here’s to hoping that the goalless drought does not go on too much longer or the boobirds will really go to town.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Dan O’Rourke and Kelly Sutherland
Linesmen: Steve Miller and Derek Nansen
-Goals: 1st Period:
1:24 – Washington – Marco Sturm assisted by Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin
16:19 – Washington – Alexander Semin assisted by Marco Sturm and Nicklas Backstrom
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 18
-3 Stars: 1) Carey Price – Montreal
2) Braden Holtby – Washington
3) Marco Sturm – Washington
-Final Score: Montreal: 0