Not much to add.
Your Montreal Canadiens were lousy.
Jacques Martin’s job is to make sure it doesn’t happen often.
He and his staff had plenty to think about on the flight back to Montreal. They have to figure out which buttons to push, which lines might work tonight against Buffalo, which is coming off a 3-1 win over the Leafs.
After that late first-period goal and early second-period penalty, the Canadiens suffered a precipitous decline in what Mike Cammalleri always refers to as their “compete level”. It means, in my reading, the players’ willingness to hustle and fight and sacrifice their bodies in order to win.
On the evidence of last night’s game, it’s what you have to do to beat Craig Ramsay’s new and improved Atlanta Thrashers.
It’s too bad there weren’t more than the announced (and probably exaggerated) 13,000 and change in Philips Arena.
That’s a nice post-Kovalchuk team they’ve got down there: fast, skilled, physical and well-coached in what Ramsay was good at: bottling up and frustrating opponents through aggressive forechecking and smart positional play in the neutral zone.
Arpon Basu wonders if the Canadiens are bi-polar: Crap against Nashville, dominant against the Leafs, crap against Philadelphia, dominant against L.A. and then crap again in Atlanta.
If the pattern holds, they should stomp the Sabres at the Bell Centre tonight.
But the inconsistency is troublesome, especially as a brutal December schedule looms.
There are causes for concern:
• The Markov-less D is slow, and Atlanta exploited it. Zone clearances were laborious, with litte help from the forwards. The Canadiens do not have a defenceman with the speed and puck-moving finesse of Tobias Enstrom. P.K. Subban has the potential, but he isn’t there yet.
• Tomas Plekanec is a mess in the faceoff circle, and let’s hope that ineptitude is not symptomatic of a slump by the Canadiens’ best player not named Carey Price.
I think it’s legitimate, at this point, to second-guess Martin’s decision to break up the Pleks-Mike Cammalleri-Andrei Kostitsyn line. They were fire on start the season, and none of them has been as effective since the shuffle.
Martin based the change on sound reasoning. The coach had to try something to shake Scott Gomez out of his lethargy, and Brian Gionta needed to get untracked.
The Canadiens continued to win after the changes, but their record camouflaged the failure of the top two lines to gel. And you have to believe Pleks is becoming frustrated, the only explanation for a cerebral player like he to engage in what would have been a suicidal fight with Evander Kane had Maxim Lapierre not intervened.
• The Canadiens have problems against physical teams. As Tony Marinaro pointed out on Twitter, they’ve given up 41, 45 and 47 shots in games against Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Jim Slater, Chris Thorburn and Ben Eager thumped their way through the Canadiens zone like Visigoths on a rampage.
This susceptibility to size and aggression does not augur well for the remaining months of the season, when hockey will become more intense and nastier.
In his customarily excellent game analysis in La Presse, Pierre Ladouceur points out the Canadiens are 10-1-1 when leading after two periods and 0-7-0 when trailing heading into the third. They’re 8-1-1 with a lead after the first period, 0-7-0 when trailing after 20.
Ladouceur’s explanation: the Canadiens are an effective team when they can play patient hockey hockey and wait for opponents to make mistakes – a style they are able to practice with the luxury of a lead.
But when they have to make things happen in order to erase a lead, the Canadiens struggle. As they begin to press, turnovers ensue and … well, you saw the W-L numbers. Through 23 games, this team can’t play catch-up hockey.
Last night Hal Gill mishandled the puck in the dying seconds of the first period, Rich F. Peverley pounced and the rest was history.
The Canadiens were outhot 23-4 during the second period. It was dismayingly reminiscent of the Philadelphia game, when the margin was 21-5 … the difference being a 2-0 Canadiens lead pissed away in that one, rather than the 1-0 deficit they faced in Atlanta.
Shall we talk about faceoffs?
Nah. Too depressing.
The urgent need to call up Max Pacioretty and sign MAB?
Nah. Too early to push the panic button
Buffalo at the Bell tonight.
Let’s see if there’s a bounce-back.