Now I am getting a little worried. Not because the team has lost 5 out of their last 7 games. Not because the usually solid defense pairing of P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov was a combined -5 on the evening and were eventually separated by Michel Therrien. Not because the goaltending for Montreal has been subpar since Carey Price went down the second time with his lower body injury. Mostly I am worried due to the sudden drying up of the offense. For a team that exploded out of the gate in all respects scoring a lot of goals and going for long stretches undefeated now they are notching less than 2 goals a game over the past dozen or so. In my estimation the GM of this team is going to have to do something as the window to a team being good enough to win a Stanley Cup in the day and age of salary cap closes quickly. The 2015-16 edition of the Montreal Canadiens is a good one – one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference at least.
In the off season Marc Bergevin tried to address his team’s lack of scoring by trading for right winger Zack Kassian and signing free agent Alex Semin. A mere 32 games into the season both have been waived by the team (for very different reasons), so the search for some scoring from the right side continues. This deficiency has really been apparent since Brendan Gallagher’s injury. This has left Dale Weise and some rookies to carry the load and it has become painfully obvious that it is not sufficient. Teams have now started really blanketing players like Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Tomas Plekanec. Bergevin has his work cut out for him because many teams will be looking for that impact forward.
Many might think that the turning point to the game was the terrible play of the Subban-Markov duo or the poor goaltending of Dustin Tokarski for Montreal versus the solid play of Martin Jones for San Jose. I think the play that made the difference in the game was the hit of recent call-up Barclay Goodrow on Subban behind the Montreal net which was not penalized (and surely warranted being) and then the subsequent fight that happened between the Sharks player and Torey Mitchell, just back from missing 11 games due to an injury. It almost completely changed the tone of the game. Montreal had been dominating the early portion outshooting San Jose 9-1 at one point, but that hit announced to the Habs that they were going to have to pay a physical price in the game against a much bigger opponent.
That brings me to another issue with the team. Yes, because of Montreal’s great start to the season Michel Therrien’s name has been bandied about in regards to the Jack Adams (Coach of the Year) trophy. They say that a good record can cover a lot of the warts of a team and while some credence has to be granted to a team that has managed a 20-9-3 record, I do agree that it has covered up some of Therrien’s weaknesses. A big one is his in-game ability to adjust to what the opposing team is doing. Throughout the game, though Montreal did dominate in regards to puck possession, the home side rarely had sustained pressure in the Sharks’ end or created high percentage scoring chances. And this is because they insisted on dumping in the puck rather than trying to gain the zone using their speed. The smaller Montreal side was never going to win that battle against a much bigger and decent skating San Jose side. Yet they kept it up for three periods. There was no indication that in between periods Therrien instructed his side to change it up.
The San Jose Sharks came into the game mired in a 6 game losing streak. In other words, they were due for a win. It seemed like they were on their way to losing number 7 based on the first 15 minutes of the game as they had only managed to direct one shot (by defenseman Brent Burns) on Habs’ starter Tokarski. Whereas Montreal had 9 shots on goal and seemed in complete control. The closest Montreal came to opening the scoring was when winger Max Pacioretty rang one off the left post on wrist shot from the high slot.
Suddenly once the first goal went in it was almost like the air went out of Montreal’s balloon. Before they could gather themselves it was 3-0 and pretty much based on Jones’ solid play and their lack of offensive creativity it was game over. It hurts when you give up bad goals and pretty much all 3 of San Jose’s could have been avoided. All 3 were borne from mistakes made by the Subban-Markov duo. Giveaways they don’t usually commit.
The first was an ill-advised pinch by Subban that led to a 2-on-1 in which Tokarski looked badly out of position. Early in the 2nd Markov gave the puck away in the corner and Joe Pavelski deflected a point shot by Justin Braun past a surprised Tokarski. Then Subban was not able to clear a puck that resulted in a Dainus Zubrus goal. From that point on pretty much Subban and Markov were separated with Subban playing with Nathan Beaulieu and Markov with Tom Gilbert. It will interesting to see if Therrien keeps the usually solid defense pairing apart in the next game.
There was a faint glimmer of hope when Weise scored his first goal in 11 games towards the end of the 2nd period. But really the atmosphere was gone from the building and seemingly the life from the team. In the 3rd period Montreal did have two golden scoring chances, but Sharks’ Jones showed his mettle by besting Nathan Beaulieu and Plekanec with big saves
After the 3rd San Jose goal Tokarski was replaced by Mike Condon, who saved all 6 shots directed at him over the remaining period and a half. Tokarski did not have a good night giving up 3 goals on 12 shots. Now Therrien is going to have to mull over who gets the start in Montreal’s next game on Thursday at the Bell Centre against the Los Angeles Kings.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Kelly Sutherland and Marc Joanette
Linesmen – Tim Nowak and David Brisebois
-Goals: 1st Period:
17:34: San Jose – Patrick Marleau assisted by Joel Ward and Justin Braun
00:36: San Jose – Joe Pavelski assisted by Justin Braun
9:19: San Jose – Dainus Zubrus assisted by Joe Pavelski and Joe Thorton
17:24: Montreal – Dale Weise assisted by P.K. Subban and Nathan Beaulieu
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 27
San Jose – 18
-3 Stars: 1) Martin Jones – San Jose
2) Joe Pavelski – San Jose
3) Nathan Beaulieu – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal – 1
San Jose – 3