Thursday, 10 April 2014

Game 81: Canadiens 0, Islanders 2

What a clunker.  The Canadiens, knowing they were facing a trap game, approached it, peered at it, tested it by poking and prodding it dubiously with a toe for two periods, and sprang it on themselves.  The little surge of energy in the final five minutes were the proverbial dead-cat bounce.

How the Canadiens can lose 2-0 to an already poor team ravaged by injuries, icing a lineup composed of 11 AHL'ers, can't be explained rationally.  Sure, they were playing the second game of a back-to-back, after a longish flight back overnight from Chicago.  Yes, the lineup was a little jumbled after an injury to Alex Galchenyuk.  Um, bad bounces?...

It was actually a poor effort, and I couldn't shake the feeling that, even though the team might be fatigued, it was also maybe hoping to win the game without having to try too hard.  We did see blocked shots, which are usually an indicator of effort, but there wasn't this coordinated hunger, this determination that you see from the lineup.  The Habs could have won it with an early goal or two to pop the Isles' balloon, but individually the boys were looking to someone else to get the puck in the opposition zone, to win a puck battle, to get to a loose puck in the crease.

After the loss in Tampa Bay, I formulated the thought that the first line's effort wasn't acceptable.  It's one thing to rack up three or four goals when the whole team is flying, but it's quite another to get a crucial goal when things aren't rolling your direction.  Not to set the bar too high, but when the game was tight and the elbows were flying, Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt didn't sit back and think "Maybe this isn't our night."  They'd actually bear down, and this may be myth-making, but they'd get the hard goal that would get the team going.  As the Canadiens head into the playoffs, the top line has to produce.

The RDS crew mentioned that Thomas Vanek and David Desharnais are trying to feed Max for his 40th goal, passing up shooting opportunities for themselves, but I think the problem is more generalized than that.  The boys are still feeling each other out, and generally tend to try to make too many passes.  We thought that Thomas Vanek was another pure shooter, that he'd fire everything at the net, but we learned that he's actually pretty creative too.  Max has gotten into the act as well.

Erik Cole had a bit of a hunger to score, when he had the puck, he'd want it and take it to the net.  Brendan Gallagher, when he gets the puck near the goal line, doesn't look to pass, he makes a beeline for the net and tries to jam it in.  Our top line has to have a bit of that drive, not to make the perfect pass all the time, but to take the puck to the net, create a rebound and a scoring chance for their linemates this way.

And again, it's not acceptable for them to be shut out, not with the stakes such as they are, against the horrid lineup they were facing.  We critique Peter Budaj for a flubbed shot when he loses us the game, or Josh or P.K. when they lose their man in coverage, or Lars when he commits a giveaway.  Ryan White when he takes a bad penalty at an inopportune time.  Michel Therrien for showing up to work in the morning, still employed.  Tonight, we can criticize our top line for failing to do their job.  Their job is to score, and they shanked it.

With the Alex Galchenyuk injury, we'll probably see Brian Gionta move back up to the second line with Tomas Plekanec, and René Bourque and Daniel Brière fighting with each other to play left wing with them.  Losing Alex is painful, but it's not like his line with Tomas was clicking, so it's not crushing.  Brandon Prust coming back is no longer a luxury though.

So the Canadiens had a little cushion, they've spent it, they may need to win on Saturday to keep home-ice advantage from Tampa, and may need help from the Lightning's opponents as well.  Stupid Leafs, even facing elimination on Tuesday, they couldn't manage to beat the Lightning and help a brother out, now we have to do our own job.

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