The loss dropped the Canadiens into 15th place in the Eastern Conference. They have the fourth-worst record in the league, which augurs well for a top five draft choice in June.
But that’s not a certainty, because the Canadiens have developed the late-season/no-pressure/who-give-a-rip? habit of garnering points in all their games.
The team has not lost a game in regulation time since 11 days ago in Calgary. Since then, their record is 3-0-3.
What does it mean to avoid 60-minute defeat in meaningless games?
I think, draft lottery considerations aside, this has been a positive run for the Canadiens, offering a bit of encouragement for fans who have suffered since October.
Let’s chronicle the good news:
• Confounding the skeptics – myself included – Andrei Markov is back … and it’s the real Andrei Markov. He logged the most ice time yet, 21:49, against the Islanders and has resuscitated a power play that’s struggled all season.
The PP is 1-for-11 in games Markov has played. The goal came during a 5-on-3 in Vancouver, when Markov set up P.K. Subban.
But the stats don’t tell the story. With Markov on the left point exercising his vision and imagination, the power play is displaying puck control, creativity and confidence.
He still doesn’t trust his legs to rush down off the point à la vintage Markov. But that will come and so will the goals … but maybe not until October.
• Erik Cole plays as though he never looks at the standings. As the Canadiens tumbled out of the playoff hunt, there has been no let-up in his intensity and drive.
I lost count of the number of pucks Cole, having beaten an Islander Dman, fed into Al Montoya’s blue paint. Sadly, there was no Erik Cole there to convert them.
It is not an exaggeration to describe Cole as one of the best free-agent signings ever, in any sport. He is the diametric opposite of the UFA who cashes in and loses desire.
What a pro … and what an inspiration to young players such as Louis Leblanc.
• P.K. Subban played a ridiculous 28 minutes, filled with the kind of flamboyance that makes him the darling of the Bell Centre … if not necessarily of the dressing room.
I had an interesting chat with my great and good friend François Gagnon before the game. The La Presse columnist believes that the Canadiens desperately need a centre with size.
“To move forward, they need a forward,” Gagnon said. Had the deal been available, which it wasn’t, he’d have traded P.K. for Eric Staal in a New York nanosecond.
My great respect for Gagnon notwithstanding, I’m not so sure. Staal has some miles on him, and Subban is going to be very good for a very long time.
And he’s going to inspire the “P.K.! P.K.!” idolatry that sustains fans who have been paying major $$$ to watch too much bad hockey this season.
No one chants “Campoli!”
• Tomas Plekanec got a new right-winger: Lars Eller. There was some chemistry – enough that Pleks, Eller and Rene Bourque had 12 of the Canadiens’ shots on goal. And to the astonishment of many, Bourque scored in the shootout.
Against the Islanders, the Canadiens were a two-line team. Every forward wearing a white jersey had at least one shot on goal. Red jerseys who didn’t included Petteri Nokelainen, Brad Staubitz, Mike Blunden, Ryan White and, surprisingly, David Desharnais.
At least White celebrated his 24th birthday with five hits and a spirited fight against Matt Martin. Pacioretty had five hits and Campoli four – matching the defenceman’s giveaway total.
The Canadiens’ goal-scorers, Louis Leblanc and Aaron Palushaj, played 11:04 and 3:36, respectively.
I think the kids ought to be getting more ice time. Frédéric St. Denis played well enough Friday night in Ottawa to get a hometown start at the Bell Centre before being sent back to Hamilton late Saturday night. Blake Geoffrion was a healthy scratch again; and if he’s not playing, Baby Boom should be a Bulldog.
But Randy Cunneyworth has to go with the lineup he thinks can win games. This approach is both honourable and wise in terms of maintaining pride and dedication among the players who will be back next season.
After playing four games in six nights, the Canadiens are off on Sunday and return to the practice rink in Brossard on Monday morning.