Your Montreal Canadiens will have to wait until next season to put the puck behind Antti Niemi.
Unless, of course, they meet the goaltender and his San Jose teammates in the Stanley Cup final.
OK, that wasn’t even funny.
Hard to laugh after a road trip like that.
As we turn the clocks ahead, is there any point in looking back at what transpired in San Jose?
Or in Phoenix?
Or Los Angeles?
Suffice it to say the Canadiens haven’t won a game with Thomas Vanek in their lineup.
Or with Dale Weise out of it.
The schedule has been brutal: seven games in six cities over the span of 11 nights – including transcontinental air travel.
But credit a tired team with some resiliency. After Peter Budaj gave up that ludicrous shorty to Tommy Wingels less than three minutes into the game Saturday night, they regained their composure and outshot the Sharks 9-7 in the first period.
But when Wingels’ second chased Budaj 1:54 into the second period, the chances of a rally began to fade. And when Lars Eller’s turnover resulted in Matt Nieto beating Dustin Tokarski … well, we might as well have turned our clocks ahead to the final buzzer.
As was the case when he beat the Canadiens 2-0 at the Bell Centre in October, Niemi was rarely tested. Over their two meetings with the Sharks this season, the Canadiens were outscored 6-0 and outshot 68-49.
The Canadiens’ power play was 1-for-18 on the road trip, the only goal coming during a 5-on-3 advantage during a 5-2 loss in Phoenix. The power play was so inept in San Jose that Therrien began one man-advantage with a forward line of Daniel Brière, Alex Galchenyuk and … wait for it … Rene Bourque.
Nothing clicked. And a sputtering power play is a mortal weakness for a team that struggles to score at even strength.
The acquisition of Thomas Vanek was supposed to help. It still might – once Michel Therrien finds linemates for a sniper who played with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo on Long Island.
With all due respect to the Canadiens’ best 200-foot player and the team’s gritty captain, Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta are not Tavares and Okposo.
With the game in San Jose out of reach in the third period, Therrien moved Vanek onto a line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. The coach also reunited the EGG line, using Brendan Gallagher with Lars Eller and Galchenyuk.
When the Canadiens traded for Vanek, some of the more excitable fans suggested the acquisition made the team a Cup contender.
The general manager was more circumspect. Marc Bergevin’s line was Vanek would help the Canadiens in what remains a very tight race for Eastern Conference playoff spots.
While the Canadiens remain second in the Atlantic Division – a point ahead of the Leafs, who have a game in hand – and six points clear of the cutoff for playoff spots, postseason hockey is not a sure thing in Montreal. The team has completed the toughest part of the schedule – in terms of travel, quality of competition and frequency of games – but challenges remain.
Starting with Boston at the Bell Centre Wednesday night.
Let’s hope Carey Price is ready to face the Bruins – and that he gets better protection than the defence corps gave Budaj and Tokarski.
The Canadiens were a mess in their own end all through the road trip. They lost puck battles, blew coverages, yielded too many high-percentage scoring chances from the slot.
P.K. Subban hasn’t been himself since before Sochi. Alexei Emelin looks dazed and confused. Josh Gorges is injured. Jarred Tinordi is raw. Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver are spare parts.
RDS analyst Marc Denis said the Canadiens’ defence lacks mobility. He thinks Nathan Beaulieu should be brought up from Hamilton, if only to bolster the second wave of the power play.
Vanek prefers playing left wing. But he’s a righthanded shot, and using him with DD and Pacioretty might be the best way to get the proven sniper untracked in bleu-blanc-rouge.
Or play Vanek with Brière.
There are a few days – minus one hour – for the Canadiens to get their poop in a group.