The Montreal Canadiens have a long way to go to return to the playoff chase this season. They cannot start a six game winning streak until they start a one game winning streak. So to the Bell Center for a Tuesday night clash with the Los Angeles Kings.
The match marked the return of Philip Danault, who received a handsome tribute on the scoreboard, followed by a loud and warm standing ovation from the Canadian faithful.
After that, Danault’s Kings tried to maintain their winning streak, and they did, taking it to six games with a 3-2 overtime win over Montreal.
The Canadiens lost 5-2 on Saturday night, and while the score looked terrible, the team’s play was for the most part one of the best of the season. This is not to say that the team is shooting in any way, but they are better than their record.
The difficulty is that the game lasts 60 minutes, and although it may seem like a cliché, you cannot put the 60 together, but only portions.
Tuesday’s game was another example of many strong changes and solid performances tempered by egregious mistakes that make the overall story all too often disappointing. Standing out in this was the line of Jake Evans, Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen.
It was this line that he scored in the first period with fantastic pressure around the Kings’ net. Ben Chiarot was the pinch defender who ended up scoring the rebound goal. Lehkonen and Evans did most of the work beforehand.
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In the third period, the best line of the night continued the work to tie it at two. It was Evans with the best movement sequence of his career – he threw the defender inside out twice, before firing a shot into the top corner from the right facing circle.
It was a great goal for the Canadiens. Evans will remember it for a long time.
Nick Suzuki, who has become a game point player on a team that doesn’t score much, continued his outstanding play. Suzuki is more creative than anyone in red by a wide margin. Suzuki has the ability to break through defenders’ seams and schematics better than anyone else at the club.
There hasn’t been much to love this season, but Suzuki perhaps becoming a career point-per-game player is a bright spot for sure.
It seems that the club finally has the ingredients for a good power play. The first unit is well configured and seems to be communicating well with each other. The main architect is Suzuki, who breaks the defenses well.
Find Mike Hoffman well on the other half of the wall. Tyler Toffoli is downstairs looking for screens and rebounds. Christian Dvorak sometimes joins him there. The only defender is Chris Wideman, who has a good time and looks comfortable when pressed as the last man to back down. They haven’t really broken through yet, but the promise is there.
The only complaint would be that Hoffman and Suzuki would have a better view of the net if they rotated sideways with Suzuki on the left and Hoffman on the right. They would not receive passes through their bodies and would have a better angle of fire. It would be at least five players who seem to read each other well. That is a good start.
In fact, the way the Canadiens played was a good start. Wrong result again, but something good to build on.
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Tight defensive hockey for the Canadiens ended midway through the second period. It seems like it doesn’t take much these days for a half chance to become a complete goal. It’s a 3v2 that Alexander Romanov and David Savard seem to have covered quite well. However, a pass to the left wing leaves Savard off guard, allowing a shot from the wrong angle.
That’s where a half error by Jake Allen by not covering the angle well leads to 1-1. These days, Canadians seem to get away with no harm.
The third period had just six seconds when the Kings took the lead. Sadly, Savard was the goat, as her foot speed just wasn’t enough. He turned on the blue line, allowing a clean look at Allen for Alex Iafallo 2-1. Savard just isn’t fast enough, and this isn’t a recent development.
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Savard was a negative player on a cup-winning team last season as a third-pair defender. That meant he faced the weaker players in the Tampa Bay opposition and still posted -8.
He wasn’t prepared to play tough minutes like this for Montreal. In fact, a closer look at Savard’s analysis shows that he hasn’t had a positive Corsi (above 50) since his rookie season in 2012-13. Savard managed to have a negative Corsi even for Tampa last year. Savard is capable of showing net skill when he gets to be a physicist, but in a rush, just go to his side and skid quickly and you’ll spin him.
One of the disappointments of the season so far has been the difficulty Christian Dvorak has had in his new team.
Dvorak has some of the worst metrics in the league. For a center, being in a deficit situation in expected goals for Corsi, and even more-less, is difficult to digest for a club that needed much more than the replacement of Philip Danault. While plus-minus isn’t the most accurate stat in hockey, Dvorak is second-worst in the entire league at -13.
Dvorak is on a long contract, like Savard, and both will be a drag on any future Montreal success if they can’t bring more to the ice than this.
There was a story that was bigger than today’s game. Carey Price issued a statement on why she entered the NHL’s player assistance program. It was powerful and sincere:
“In recent years I have allowed myself to get to a very dark place and I did not have the tools to face that struggle,” Price’s statement began.
“I made the decision last month to enter a residential substance use treatment center. Things had reached a point where I realized that I needed to prioritize my health for both myself and my family. Asking for help when you need it is what we encourage our children to do. And it was what he needed to do.
“I am working for years to neglect my own mental health, which will take some time to repair; all I can do is take it day by day. With that comes some uncertainty about when I will play again.
“I appreciate all the overwhelming support and good wishes. I ask that the media and our hockey community continue to respect our privacy at this time. Your support and respect for this so far has been a critical piece to my recovery. “
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As someone who was there when Carey first arrived at 18 a long time ago, and has been there most days since then, hearing that she was in a very dark place is difficult. It’s hard because I’ve seen Carey being so nice to so many people. I’ve seen him show a lot of character to his teammates. Additionally, she has shown an abundance of kindness to children who have always loved so much of her time.
I’ve always seen such a good man doing the best he can. He has always had a sixth sense when someone needs support. Sometimes a person, like Carey, who always takes care of others first, finds it difficult to stop to take care of herself.
I hope the outpouring of love for Carey today continues for the rest of her days. As he struggles with his addiction, that’s the challenge for us – may our compassion and support never wane.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after every Canadiens game.
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