It’s not so much a case of which Montreal Canadiens’ team will show up on any given night. It’s more of a case of which Montreal Canadiens’ team will show up in any given period.
Two games into Bob Gainey’s return engagement as head coach, the Canadiens have picked up three of a possible four points, with a 4-3 overtime win against the Oilers Tuesday night, and a 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders tonight. Looks like a reasonable two-game stretch on paper, perhaps. But on the ice, it was a different story.
Against the Oilers, the Habs managed to play two very good periods of hockey, as Saku Koivu helped erased the memory of a disastrous second period against Edmonton, with the overtime winner, his second goal of the night. Against the Islanders, however, the Canadiens managed to play about 20 minutes of effective hockey: the opening 10 minutes, and the final 10 minutes. Once again, as was the case against the Oilers, the second period was a disaster against the Islanders: the team with the worst record in the NHL.
But last night, the Canadiens made guys like Mike Iggulden, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen look like Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier and Clark Gillies. In the process, the Canadiens left a very important point on the table as they attempt to solidify their position in the very tight Eastern Conference.
Can you even begin to imagine where the Canadiens would be in the standings, had the forgotten man, Jaroslav Halak, not stood on his head during that four-game winning streak at the end of February???
But the reality is, the Habs were lucky to even come away with a single point tonight. Carey Price gave them that opportunity, however, with a 36-save performance.
Tomas Plekanec opened the scoring with his 19th of the season on the power play, five minutes into this one, with the Habs outshooting the Islanders 7-1 in the early going. But then the wheels fell off as the Habs surrendered goals by Mike Iggulden at 11:33 of the first, and Frans Nielsen early in the third. Tom Kostopoulos tied it for the Habs midway through a third period which saw the Islanders outshoot Montreal 17-7 to send the game into overtime; with Kyle Okposo getting the winner just 26 seconds into the fourth period.
To add insult to injury: the game’s first star? Mark Streit. The game’s third star? Yann Danis; with Price coming away as star number two.
When this one was over, Gainey said there were times when his players looked like deer caught in the headlights. Let me add that, at other times, particularly in their own end, the Canadiens played like chickens with their heads cut off; scrambling every-which-way, trying to pin down Islander forwards.
As for the Montreal forwards, they blew a full two-minute, 5-on-3 opportunity, seven minutes into the third period, registering a whopping three shots on goal during the two-man advantage.
Thank goodness the Habs can count on Tomas Plekanec to put the puck in the net, as he continues to do so at a steady pace since his two-game suspension. But you know you’re in trouble when Tom Kostopoulos is your most effective forward on the night.
Andrei Kostitsyn? Zero shots on goal. Matt D’Agostini? Zero shots on goal. And although Max Pacioretty did put three shots on Danis and assisted on the goal by Plekanec, both Pacioretty and D’Agostini need to bring a whole lot more to the table. Especially on a night when Alex Kovalev was home sick with the flu.
D’Agostini has gone 12 straight without a goal. Pacioretty has gone 20 straight without a goal. That might cut it in Hamilton. But it won’t cut it in Montreal.
They’re not alone, of course. And they weren’t alone last night.
Win as a team, lose as a team. And this time, Guy Carbonneau wasn’t around to blame for the mess.