Some free advice for your Montreal Canadiens:
Don’t give Detroit 40-plus shots on goal Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Carey Price is a great goaltender.
But Detroit is in a desperate fight for a playoff spot.
And the Red Wings aren’t the Senators.
The seven goals Craig Anderson allowed Friday night – on a mere 23 shots – brought Ottawa’s Goals-Against total to 259.
No team in the NHL has allowed more.
Not Edmonton (257).
Not Florida (256).
When they visited the Bell Centre on March 15, the Senators led 4-1 with 3:22 left in the game. The Canadiens tied it in regulation and won in overtime. The unlikely W keyed a streak that has seen the Canadiens win nine of their last 11 games.
Friday night in Ottawa, the Canadiens didn’t register a shot on goal until the home team had fired seven at Peter Budaj and jumped out to a 3-0 lead. But with their Norris Trophy winner sitting – I use the verb advisedly – at minus-2 after his first 37 seconds of ice time, the Canadiens tied the game before the first-period siren sounded.
Then they scored four more.
SEVEN unanswered goals. The embarrassing defeat, in their own building, just about eliminated Ottawa from the playoff hunt.
And it partially avenged the Canadiens’ ignominious five-game loss to the Senators in last spring’s playoffs.
I’ve qualified the degree of vengeance because the final score was misleading. The Canadiens were opportunistic and got brilliant hockey from their goaltender and top line. But they did not run the Senators out of the Canadian Tire Centre.
Ottawa had 43 shots at Peter Budaj. The Canadiens blocked 14, and another 21 Ottawa shots missed the net.
Corresponding numbers for the Canadiens: 23 SoG, Ottawa blocked 3 and four missed the net.
That’s 78 times pucks came off Ottawa sticks in the direction of Budaj – to only 30 directed at Anderson.
Again, if this degree of possession favours Detroit, it ain’t gonna be pretty at the Bell Centre – no matter how well Carey Price plays.
In his postgame media scrum, Michel Therrien described the game as “assez bizarre.” The coach used the word “character” at least four times in praising his team’s resilience. Therien also liked Jarred Tinordi and Alex Galchenyuk going after Ottawa players who had laid hits on their teammates.
Tinordi pounded out a solid decision over Eric Gryba, the Ottawa defenceman who knocked Lars Eller out of the playoffs last year.
Galchenyuk fared less well in a wrestling match with Erik Karlsson, whom the HNIC crew – taking a night off from Leaf-blowing to get in a little Sens-sucking – spent the night comparing favourably with P.K. Subban.
Karlsson did have more ice time: 22:33 to P.K.’s season-low 13:39. It will be interesting to see how Subban bounces back against Detroit on Saturday night.
To my rheumy old eyes, P.K. hasn’t been himself since the Olympics. But I can’t see why a slightly sub-par P.K. should have less ToI than Francis Bouillon, Mike Weaver and Tinordi – not to mention the stiffs patrolling that porous Ottawa blueline.
In an interview on RDS, Pierre LeBrun said he’d spoken on Friday to P.K.’s agent. Don Meehan told LeBrun negotiations on a new contract for Subban will not get down to brass tacks until after the Canadiens have played their last game of the season.
Fearless prediction: There’s going to be some tough talk between Meehan and Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin. And if another team comes in with an offer sheet for the restricted free agent, things could get really interesting.
P.K.’s contract is not the only dossier on the GM’s desk, which has more hot potatoes than a poutine stand.
Andrei Markov is the pillar of the Canadiens’ defence corps. Bergevin has to retain Markov through the apprenticeship of Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu.
And then there’s Thomas Vanek.
The deadline-day acquisition has joined David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty to form one of the best lines in the NHL. As good as Brendan Gallagher was with DD and Max, Vanek plays on a whole other level from the mighty mite.
Playing on a good team for the first time in a long time, Vanek has been spectacular. He scores goals, he hits – Chris Phillips was the victim on the vanek pass that set up Pacioretty’s first goal – and he’s unselfish.
Vanek has a sky-high hockey IQ. He makes his linemates better and has meshed beautifully with DD and Max.
On L’Antichambre, Gaston Therrien said if the Canadiens offer Vanek what the Islanders did – $50 million for seven years – he would sign tomorrow. Therrien’s theory is Vanek will recognize the allure of playing out his contract with younger linemates that are just coming into their prime.
I sure hope so. And a decent playoff run might persuade Vanek his future lies in Montreal.
July 1 is a long way off.
April 16 isn’t. Between now and the beginning of the playoffs, the Canadiens have to improve several aspects of their game – notably scoring by their second and third lines and a power play that is 0-for-13 over the last four games.
But your Canadiens will still be playing in late April – unlike the team that knocked them out last May.