Your Montreal Canadiens no longer control their own destiny.
If Tampa Bay wins their last two games – at home against Columbus on Friday night, in Washington Sunday afternoon – the Lightning will have home-ice advantage for their playoff series against the Canadiens.
Opening on the road might not be a bad thing.
The Canadiens have played three of their worst games this season at the Bell Centre.
• A 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 10,
• A 5-0 loss to the Washington Capitals, and the worst of the lot:
• A 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders Thursday night.
There have been two other home games in which the Canadiens were shut out: 2-0 to the San Jose Sharks in October and 1-0 to the Rangers in November.
That’s 300 minutes of scoreless hockey endured by Montreal hockey fans.
The latest home-ice goose egg might have been the worst.
L.A. and San Jose are Western Conference titans. The Rangers, who are at the Bell Centre on Saturday, are a playoff team; and Washington, on paper, should be one.
The Islanders, on paper, are bathroom tissue. They came into Thursday night’s game 25 points behind the Canadiens. They’d outscored the Canadiens, 216-214, this season. But the Islanders had allowed 60 more goals-against.
Moreover, the visitors iced an injury-depleted lineup. The Islanders were missing seven regulars – including the great John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner.
Their lineup included 12 rookies – including AHL thumper Brett Gallant who, in his two NHL games, has won fights against heavyweights Matt Kassian of Ottawa and the Canadiens’ George Parros.
The Canadiens were missing Alex Galchenyuk, who won’t be back until the second round of the playoffs. Or if you think the Islanders game was an accurate measure of where the Canadiens are at, we won’t see Galchenyuk again until next season.
I’m not that pessimistic … yet.
The Canadiens were putrid against the Islanders. But they were coming off an impressive performance in Chicago, and the team has a habit of rising – or falling – to the occasion.
If the bring down the curtain on the regular season by dialling up a stinker against the Rangers, there will be cause for concern. A three-game losing streak is not the ideal wave to be riding into the playoffs.
It was evident, from the opeing faceoff, that the Canadiens did not bring their A-game to the Bell Centre. The Islanders skated and passed their way to an early 7-2 shot advantage, and the final possession stats were telling:
The Islanders had 30 shots on Carey Price and fired another 18 that missed the net. The Canadiens blocked 23. Total shot attempts: 71.
The Canadiens had only 19 shots on Evgeni Nabokov. They missed the net nine times, and the Islanders blocked 18 (10 in the third period). Total attempts: 46.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story. The young and largely anonymous Islanders were the livelier and hungrier team, outhitting the Canadiens by a whopping 24-8 margin. The Canadiens coughed the puck up 12 times to only three giveaways by the visitors.
The David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty-Thomas Vanek line had a few good shifts. And Ryan White and Michäel Bournival played with the energy you like to see from fourth liners.
But Michel Therrien has to figure out how to get some secondary offence from his second and third lines.
Tomas Plekanec began the game centring two right-wingers, Brian Gionta and Brendan Gallagher. They were ineffective.
Playing with Daniel Brière and bumped-up plugger Dale Weise, Rene Bourque showed a few signs of life. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bourque with Plekanec and Gionta against the Rangers. If Lars Eller is recovered from the flu, he could play with Brière and Gallagher.
It’s not ideal to be juggling lines in Games 81 and 82 with the playoffs looming. At least the situation on the back end is more stable, although none of the defence corps was particularly effective against the aggressive Islanders.
Depending on your opinion of Douglas Murray, the fact he will not face a disciplinary hearing for his hit on Johan Sundstrom comes as either a relief or a disappointment.
P.K. Subban still hasn’t recaptured the mojo he had going before the Olympics. But Josh Gorges is an upgrade on Francis Bouillon as P.K.’s partner.
Paired with the lumbering Murray, Mike Weaver looked like … a Florida Panther.
The Rangers game will be a big one for the Canadiens. If Tampa Bay loses Friday night, a win would secure second place in the Atlantic Division. A lightning win and the Canadiens will have to get at least a point on Saturday to stay alive for home ice in the first round.
Whatever the Lightning do, the Canadiens don’t want to go 0-for against two New York teams.