No surprise, then, that your Montreal Canadiens were outscored.
And if it weren’t for Carey Price, Columbus would have salted that one away a lot sooner.
As it was, there was a tick over three minutes left to play when the Canadiens saw a point they didn’t deserve slip away.
Jarred Tinordi was the goat on the winning goal. The Canadiens’ rookie defenceman coughed the puck up to Ryan Johansen, who broke away to beat Price.
Mike Weaver had called for the puck. Tinordi’s error was hesitating before padding it over to his defence partner. That moment of indecision was all Johansen needed to pounce like a hungry leopard.
But let’s rewind the tape a bit more.
With the lopsided game improbably tied 2-2, why was Lars Eller trying to beat three Blue Jackets in the Columbus zone?
Maybe Eller was trying to impress the general manager who believes in him.
And I don’t mean marc Bergevin.
Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was St. Louis’s head of amateur scouting when the Blues chose Eller in the first round of the 2007 NHL draft. Eller was picked 13th overall, just after the Canadiens drafted Ryan McDonagh – pause here for Habs fans to drink heavily and cry – and one pick before Colorado took Kevin Shattenkirk. Also nine picks before the Canadiens drafted Max Pacioretty.
Kekelainen has a keen eye for talent, especially European kids. He was scouting for Ottawa when the Senators drafted Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat. His St. Louis draft picks, in addition to Eller, included David Backes, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie , David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo.
In 2010, when the Canadiens decided Carey Price was their goaltender of the future, St. Louis was the dance partner in Jaroslav Halak trade talks. The Canadiens asked for Oshie. They were turned down and took Eller.
Why this long history lesson?
Because over the last two games, the Canadiens have faced three of the most promising young forwards in the NHL: Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, whose night at the office included a goal, a fight, two penalties, seven SoG, two blocked shots and 18 wins in 22 faceoffs.
Bell Centre fans, who know prodigies when they see them, were treated to brilliant performances by all three youngsters.
MacKinnon, Duchene and Johansen easily outshone the Canadiens’ Kiddie Corps of Eller, Alex Galchneyuk and Brendan Gallagher.
Now to be fair, Gallagher was picked in the fourth round of the 2010 draft – three rounds and 143 picks after Columbus selected Johansen fourth overall.
And Galchenyuk, picked third overall in 2012, shows flashes of the talent that justified his lofty draft status.
Eller on the other hand …
OK, the Canadiens didn’t lose because Lars Eller, for all the physical gifts that intrigued Kekelainen, is lacking in innate hockey sense. He’s neither a natural scorer nor a gifted playmaker, and almost every game includes examples of Eller’s tendency to hang on to the puck too long while taking laps around the offensive zone.
Against Columbus, his faiblesse proved costly.
Again, though, were it not for Carey Price and the penalty-killers – including Eller – the game wouldn’t have been there to slip away late.
In desperate pursuit of a wild-card playoff berth, the Blue Jackets were the hungrier team. They outshot the Canadiens in every period, outhit them 36-17 and played a relentless style that afforded the home team limited time and space to make judicious plays with the puck.
The Canadiens failed to match the visitors’ intensity. Chasing the puck from the opening faceoff – which produced a Cam Atkinson breakaway – the Canadiens took seven minor penalties – including a Too many Men call less than a minute after Thomas Vanek, new darling of the Bell Centre, had tied the game at 2-2.
So much for momentum.
And so much for keeping pace with Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division standings. The Lightning win pushed them two points ahead of the Canadiens with a game in hand.
If the playoffs began this weekend, the Canadiens would travel to Tampa Bay – which would be better than Columbus, on many levels.
I wouldn’t want to draw the Blue Jackets in the postseason. Although rarely called upon to display his talent against the Canadiens Thursday night, Sergeo Bobrovsky is a good goaltender. Johansen is an emerging star, and Columbus plays a disciplined, aggressive system that wears down their opponents.
The worn-down Canadiens have Friday to recover before facing the Leafs in a gargantuan four-pointer – stand back: Don Cherry’s head may explode – at the ACC on Saturday evening.