After last night’s game I think we can all agree to put a hold on the Stanley Cup parade up Ste. Catherine’s. Not that it proved that Montreal is a bad team, rather that they have a bit to go to be considered amongst the elite. That despite the fact that they are near the top of the NHL standings. Nor was last night’s thorough thrashing a reason to push the panic button either. I think the 5-0 drubbing that the Rangers laid on the Habs can be chalked up to several reasons.
One being that no matter how they are doing Montreal seems to have trouble against the Rangers. They do not match up well against them. New York’s combination of size, speed and defensive system seems to have the Habs scratching their heads trying to figure out how to solve the problem. At no point last night was the outcome of the game in question. I can count on one hand the number of times that Montreal exerted pressure on the Rangers and hemmed them in their own end. The Eller line did it a couple of times as did the Desharnais line, but other than that it was probably one of the easiest shutouts for Henrik Lundqvist over the course of the 54 of his career. I can’t even think of one difficult save he had to make.
Despite the fact that Dustin Tokarski had played well up to this point and there was no reason to question Michel Therrien’s routine of dressing his back-up goalie for the second game of a back-to-back series. Doing that so far this season Montreal had gone 4-0. This was their first loss in the second game of a back-to-back series; it was bound to happen. Unfortunately Tokarski did not have a strong game. That is not to say that it was his fault they lost as it is hard to win when you don’t score any goals. It is just that a couple of the goals were weak. On the first goal midway through the 1st period Tanner Glass took a routine shot on the Montreal goalie from the left wing. It should have been a routine save that found its way into Tokarski’s glove to stay there until the whistle went. Instead it unexpectedly bounced off his trapper onto the stick of the onrushing Dominic Moore, who just had to push it past the out of position Tokarski. Another weak goal was the last one by Rick Nash at 15:24 of the 3rd period. By that point the game was out of reach, so it really didn’t matter, but Tokarski was completely frozen on what seemed like a routine backhander by the Rangers’ leading goal scorer.
A third reason was the schedules of the two teams. The Rangers, due to their Friday night game in Buffalo being cancelled due to the storm, had not played since Wednesday and so were well rested. Montreal was anything but. They were finishing off 6 games in 9 nights or 8 games in 13 days. Montreal had played in Boston the night before (a nice 2-0 win) and had to travel to New York to play less than 24 hours later.
Finally, and this reason is tied into the last, the average age of Montreal’s defense is over 33 years old. That is old in NHL days. Several of the older players like 40-year-old Sergei Gonchar and 34-year-old Bryan Allen looked their age. There was no juice in those legs with tons of NHL mileage. That despite the fact that they went with 7 defensemen and only 11 forwards. It wasn’t enough and the result was that the Rangers seemed always first on the puck and were able to hem Montreal in their own end for long periods.
Tired mentally and physically the Canadiens committed several mistakes and turnovers. Two biggies spring to mind and they were P.A. Parenteau on the Rangers’ second goal and Alexei Emelin on the Rangers’ third goal. Parenteau gave the puck away at centre not realizing that Andrei Markov was peeling back not joining the rush. The attempted pass was intercepted by Chris Kreider, who played it quickly to Martin St. Louis. Using his exceptional vision St. Louis dropped the puck to an oncoming and unmarked Derek Stepan who wired a shot high above Tokarski’s shoulder. St. Louis continued his thorn in Montreal’s side act by pretty much sealing the affair with a goal at 15:33 of the 2nd period on a great individual play. He lifted the stick of Emelin just as he was about to play it out of the zone and went in alone on Tokarski. Again going high above the shorter goalie’s shoulder resulted in a goal.
At 2-0 there was still hope but once that third goal went in the air went completely out of the Montreal balloon. Coming back with only 24 minutes left in the game from a 3 goal deficit against a team like the Rangers with a strong defensive system was too much to ask for from the Habs’ tired legs.
Despite the fact that when they lose they tend to lose big, Montreal is still in first place overall in the NHL with a great 16-6-1 record, which is better than almost anyone could have hoped for going into the 2014-15 season. They also have a habit of bouncing back strong after a loss. We’ll have to wait a bit to see if that trend continues as Montreal’s next game is Friday night in Buffalo.
–On-Ice Officials: Referees – Frederick L’Ecuyer and Mike Leggo
Linesmen – Shane Heyer and Steve Miller
-Goals: 1st Period:
9:44: New York – Dominic Moore assisted by Tanner Glass and Jesper Fast
0:35: New York – Derek Stepan assisted by Martin St. Louis and Chris Kreider
15:33: New York – Martin St. Louis assisted by Chris Kreider and John Moore
1:40: New York – Carl Hagelin assisted by Anthony Duclair and Kevin Hayes
15:24: New York – Rick Nash assisted by Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 21
New York – 34
-3 Stars: 1) Martin St. Louis – New York
2) Chris Kreider – New York
3) Dan Girardi – New York
-Final Score: Montreal – 0
New York – 5