Soil the linen on Fan Appreciation Night, as your Montreal Canadiens did, losing 5-1 to Washington at the Bell Centre Saturday, and you face the coach’s excoriation morning.
Michel Therrien has called an 11 a.m. Sunday practice at the Canadiens’ training facility in Brossard.
This may seem excessively punitive.
The Canadiens have played five games in eight nights.
They face a three-game road trip to wrap up the regular season.
But Therrien, who is no longer worrying about what suit he’ll wear to accept the Jack Adams Trophy, is running out of coaching strategies.
Therrien has shuffled his lines and his defence pairings.
He’s pulled his starting goaltender in successive games – the first time that happened in Carey Price’s career.
Nothing seems to help.
And if the Tampa Bay Lightning hadn’t hit two goalposts and a crossbar Thursday night, the Canadiens would be death-spiralling through a five-game losing streak.
What are they going to practice on Sunday?
The power play?
Most definitely. After scoring once with six man advantages against the woeful Lightning, the Canadiens were 0-for-5 against Washington … which came into the game with the NHL’s 28th-ranked penalty kill.
The Caps’ PP is a different story. It’s first in the NHL, and the Caps scored twice in three opportunities against the Canadiens.
So yes, the lads will be working on the PP – and probably the PK – on Sunday.
And over in a corner of the practice rink, goaltending coach Pierre Groulx will be trying to restore the bruised and battered confidence of his star pupil.
Fans who read Hockey Inside-Out regularly know I’m a big Carey Price fan. But there’s no sugarcoating what we’ve seen for the last two weeks. The numbers don’t lie: Price is 1-5 with a GAA of 4.91 and a save percentage of .868.
With the exception of a 32-save, goalpost-aided effort against the Lightning, Price has been awful. And what’s made it worse is he’s been awful early, setting a morbid tone for sad evenings.
Last Saturday in Toronto, Tyler Bozak scored two minutes into the game and Leo Komarov made it 2-0 six minutes later en route to a 5-1 Leafs romp.
Against Philadelphia on Monday, Wayne Simmonds and Erik Gustaffson had the Flyers ahead within six minutes.
The Canadiens were riding a 5-0 shot advantage against the Caps when Alex Ovechkin seized on a P.K. Subban wrister to snap one through Price’s pads. A few ticks over a minute later, Troy Brouwer made it 2-0.
OK, Price wasn’t beaten by a couple of pluggers like Travis Moen and Colby Armstrong. Ovechkin leads the Maurice Richard Trophy race with 30 goals and Brouwer has 20.
But a successful team needs big stops, especially at the stage when the tone of the game is being set.
Against the Senators Saturday night, James Reimer made 49 saves in the 4-1 that clinched a playoff appearance for the Leafs. Reimer made 18 saves in the first period while his teammates were directing five shots at Craig Anderson. Shots were 17-9 Ottawa in the second period, 15-8 in the third.
That’s clutch goaltending … and we’re not seeing it in Montreal.
The 2-0 deficits that are becoming customary – Peter Budaj was beaten early in Pittsburgh – have a deflationary impact on the Canadiens … the more so because they’re not used to it. Through their first 40 games, the Canadiens opened the scoring 28 times.
Ah, but that was then. And if what’s happening now is an indicator of what we can expect in the merry month of May …
What’s happened to the Canadiens?
As much as you’d like to see him stand on his head and singlehandedly drag the Canadiens out of the doldrums, you can’t hang the slump totally on Price.
The defence is a shambles. Andrei Markov is a liability at even strength, and Josh Gorges is is losing puck battles and making poor decisions.
The forwards aren’t helping their beleaguered D. We aren’t seeing the five-man backchecking swarms and the crisp, efficient zone clearances that carried the team to their dizzying heights of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Canadiens’ difficulties on the back end have sabotaged the speedy transition game that Steve Ott praised when the Canadiens beat the Sabres 5-1. The Canadiens rarely generate any speed through the neutral zone, and they’ve become an ineffectual perimeter team in the attacking zone.
The stat sheet says Braden Holtby faced 36 shots, as every skater except Rene Bourque had at least one SoG. But the Washington goaltender had an easy night. His teammates blocked 22 shots, and Holtby rarely had to handle the deep-slot, wide-open looks that Price and Budaj seem to confront in every game lately.
Every team goes through adversity, and the Canadiens have a week to get their poop in a group and build up some momentum heading into the postseason.
Imagine if playoff seeding comes down to next Saturday’s game at the Air Canada Centre. Price vs. Reimer, and the winner opens the playoff series at home.
Will the loser hold a Sunday practice?
• And to depress you further: