These Montreal Canadiens have made it a very interesting season. Now before you go and call the men with the white suits and butterfly nets believing that I have gone off the deep end (it was inevitable), let me explain myself. Just when you think you have this team figured out they go and surprise you. Before the season began I figured they would finish anywhere from 4th to 6th in the Eastern Division. Then they showed themselves not up to that. When things sent south quickly I began to believe that they were a bad team (Chalk that up to chemistry? Coaching? Conditioning? Talent?) and could expect a top 5 pick in the next NHL draft. They were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and 12 points out of a playoff position. Ok. Then they go on a 4 game win streak and play well enough to get themselves to 7 points out of a playoff position. Ok, so now I’m hopeful and thinking they have turned their season around. And then they come out against the woeful Carolina Hurricanes and have a stinker. Scratching of the head continues. Interesting though, no?
After amassing a four game winning streak (equal to their longest of the season) that saw them totally dismantle their long time rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0 in Toronto, you would think that the team would be on a roll and while they could not possibly win out the season a victory would put them a mere 5 points out of 8th place. It is thus inexplicable to me that the Canadiens came out at home under these circumstances to play a team they should defeat and were flatter than a crepe in the 1st period.
So flat that if not for Carey Price’s continued brilliance (he robbed Claude LaRose in close) they would have been further behind the visitors than the 1-0 deficit they went into the 1st period intermission with. The only shot that eluded him he did not even see. Hurricane defenceman Bryan Allen took a harmless looking shot from the blueline that changed direction when Jiri Tlusty deflected it. No matter as Price was completely screened on the play. In the 1st period the Hurricanes totally dominated and nowhere was that more clear than on the shot clock which saw them have a 16-6 advantage. The Habs were on the ice, but they looked like they were just going for a Sunday afternoon skate. Only the perfectly placed and thundering hip check by Alexei Emelin on Anthony Stewart was a blip on the flatline that was the home side’s performance. Emelin continues to be one of the few bright lights in a rather dark and dreary season.
It was shocking that a team that had dug itself out of the bottom of the standings through solid play and hard work would not show up on this night. Things then got worse when midway through the 2nd period former Hab and recent mocker of the team, Jaroslav Spacek (who was greeted on his first return with boos), scored his second goal of the season. The goal came when Carolina was on a power play with Raphael Diaz in the box for tripping. Spacek snuck in from his point position to one time a perfect backdoor pass from Jeff Skinner. It was 2-0 and things looked hopeless. The Habs were a team with no life.
Then the consistency continued. The beast willed itself to life and in 6 short minutes the Canadiens had a 3-2 lead. In the blink of an eye…ok, several blinks…they had awoken from their slumber and scored three straight goals. The first was due to a (surprise, surprise) smart pass by defenceman Chris Campoli off the boards in his own end that sprung the suddenly rejuvenated Tomas Plekanec on a 2-on-1 with winger Rene Bourque. Plekanec used Bourque as a decoy, kept the puck and wired a shot past Hurricane goaltender Cam Ward. Just a few ticks past 4 minutes later while on a power play former Hurricane Eric Cole did his best Alex Kovalev impersonation. Cole came off the boards on the right side, moved towards the net and wired a blistering and precise wrist shot off the post into the net. Then on another power play (only the third time this season Montreal has scored two goals in one game on the power play) just a few ticks less than 2 minutes later PK Subban took a slapshot that Ward got his glove on, but could not control the puck. David Desharnais jumped on the loose puck and after some nifty stickhandling had tucked it into the empty net.
Due to these mere 6 minutes the Habs’ fans were hopeful once again. Just like that! That’s all it takes in this town and with this crazy sport. But the story does not end there. Of course, if you have been paying attention while reading this story then you know that the Habs are nothing if not predictable in their inconsistency. Or putting a positive slant on it – interesting.
Everything seemed to have righted itself for the Canadiens as they had taken the lead by scoring three straight goals in the 2nd period, had pulled within 6 shots of equaling Carolina and now had a power play at the beginning of the 3rd period. If they could score a third power play goal it would certainly ice the game for them. Instead tragedy struck in the way of the soft play of another former Hurricane, Tomas Kaberle. While manning the left point for the Habs during the power play he fumbled and then coughed up the puck to none other than Eric Staal. Staal collected the puck and then sped towards the Canadiens’ zone. Now, Kaberle has never throughout his years in the NHL been known for his robust defensive play, but you would have to think he could do better than being merely a cone for Staal to go around on his way in on Carey Price. After he got around Kaberle, Staal tucked the puck underneath Price and it somehow trickled between his pads while he was on his knees and inched over the line. You could almost feel the air go out of the Habs’ tires. Then Campoli got a silly slashing penalty and Jamie McBain scored his 5th of the season on a slapshot.
The Canadiens did have their chances to tie the game up once again late in the 3rd period when referee Eric Furlatt generously gave them a power play on a dubious tripping call on Jerome Samson. They had a couple of glorious chances to score, but seemed determined to try one pass too many. At least twice Desharnais had the puck in the slot with no one on him, but instead of directing a puck on net he tried a pass that was blocked. Subban also had a chance to one time a pass, but chose not to and passed it.
Coach Randy Cunneyworth called a timeout with 1:28 left in the game after coincidental roughing minors were called on Bourque and Allen. With Price on the bench Staal sealed the deal with an empty net goal at 19:24. Another 3rd period lead had been blown, but this was a hard one to swallow as it was against a team that had never come back in the 3rd period so far this season. Disappointing!
It was a tough loss as not only do they remain 7 points behind 8th placed Toronto, but now the Maple Leafs have a game in hand on them. Plus 9th place Washington had lost on that day and it was a wasted chance to gain on a team ahead of them. This was game number 57 of an 82 game season and the roller coaster ride continues.
The Habs next game will be Wednesday night at the Bell Centre versus the Boston Bruins.
On-Ice Officials: Referees: Gord Dwyer and Eric Furlatt
Linesmen: Pierre Racicot and Tony Sericolo
-Goals: 1st Period:
3:09: Carolina – Jiri Tlusty assisted by Bryan Allen
9:41: Carolina – (pp) Jaroslav Spacek assisted by Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen
11:53: Montreal – Tomas Plekanec assisted by Chris Campoli and Mathieu Darche
15:57: Montreal – (pp) Eric Cole assisted by David Desharnais and Tomas Kaberle
17:53: Montreal – (pp) David Desharnais assisted by PK Subban and Max Pacioretty
3:15: Carolina – (sh) Eric Staal unassisted
8:50: Carolina – (pp) Jamie McBain assisted by Eric Staal and Jason Faulk
19:24: Carolina – (en) Eric Staal assisted by Jamie McBain
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 33
-Three Stars: 1) Eric Staal – Carolina
2) Erik Cole – Montreal
3) David Desharnais – Montreal
-Attendance: 21, 273
-Final Score: Montreal: 3