Dany Dubé, CKAC’s outstanding hockey analyst, had an interesting take on the game.
What killed the Canadiens, Dubé said, was the lack of an effective fourth line.
A team’s fourth line is supposed to contribute something: energy, physicality, nastiness, maybe the odd fluke goal … something that will wake up their teammates and perhaps generate a bit of momentum.
The Canadiens didn’t get that last night.
Andreas Engqvist, the Hamilton call-up, played 5:26, went 1-4 on faceoffs and did nothing productive in terms of feeding hs linemates.
With the exception of his shootout goal against Tampa Bay, Nigel Dawes has looked like what he is: an AHL scorer who can’t handle the speed of The Show.
And Tom Pyatt is Tom Pyatt: a good penalty-killer and excellent skater who doesn’t do much at even-strength.
Proof positive that the 8-1 laugher in Minnesota was an aberration: Pyatt scored his second goal of the season against the Wild.
Buffalo’s fourth line º Rob Niedermayer, Cody McCormick and Mike Brier– had almost double the ToI of their Canadiens counterparts.
And check out the stat sheet on Boston’s big win over New Jersey: Claude Julien got double-digit minutes from every forward except Shawn Thornton, and he played 8:31.
The failure of Engqvist et al to provide a spark or eat appreciable minutes meant more ice time for the top lines.
And this was a problem because, as Arpon Basu points out, the injury to Tomas Plekanec bumps Lars Eller and David Desharnais up one level on the depth chart. And the absence of Max Pacioretty has Travis Moen, a prototypical fourth-liner, impersonating a Top Six forward.
Eller didn’t do much last night, and his sub-par play rendered Andrei Kostistyn fairly useless. Mike Cammalleri was “promoted” from the Eller line to play with Scott Gomez, which did nothing to shake Cammalleri, who’s not 100 per cent physically, out of his slump/funk.
DD was probably the best of the forwards against Buffalo. Jacques Martin had him out taking the last faceoff in the Buffalo end, with Carey Price off for an extra attacker.
The gang at L’Antichambre were talking about DD as the second coming of Jacques Lemaire.
And hey, I love the kid. But there’s a reason DD was an undrafted free agent. I think he’ll be a solid member of this team, but on a Cup contender, DD is not a Top Six centre.
The Canadiens did not play a bad game last night. They outshot the Sabres 31-24 and were perfect on the PK.
Unlike what happened at Madison Square Garden and in Minnesota, this was late-season/post-season hockey. Hal Gill, a former high-school quarterback, called it a “field position game.” Ryan Miller made the comparison to a chess match.
The game was tight and tactical. And it turned on errors:
The Eller line failed to clear the Canadiens’ zone, and someone forgot to cover Nathan Gerbe.
In Gill’s analogy, Buffalo got close enough for a field goal. In Miller’s, they were up a pawn.
Marc Antoine Godin of La Presse Tweeted a good summary of the Canadiens offence, notwithstanding its 31 shots:
The team has played two games outside this season: outdoors in Calgary and on the perimeter of the slot against Buffalo.
You can’t beat Ryan Miller from out there.
And unless the Canadiens go to the net with more determination than we saw last night, they won’t beat Tim Thomas at the TD Garden tomorrow.
• Statistical oddity: The Canadiens have alternated wins and losses since that costly win over the Bruins on March 8. Buffalo’s W-L alternation goes back to March 6.