Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien let his temper get the best of him in Colorado.
Therrien’s team had fought hard Wednesday night to redeem itself after an embarrassing 6-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes Monday.
They pounced on the Colorado Avalanche early, outshooting them 11-7 and outscoring them 1-0 in the first period. They continued to be the better team at even-strength through the second period, but a couple of special-teams goals against made it 2-2 heading into what proved to be a tightly contested third period.
The game was still tied with 2:17 remaining when Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban started on the type of play he makes countless times in a game. He received the puck at the offensive blue-line, quickly shifted it from his forehand to his backhand, stuck out his right arm to fend off his checker, and skated his way across the zone.
Only this time, Subban lost his balance as Colorado’s Mikhail Grigorenko stripped him of the puck.
The play turned towards Montreal’s net, where Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla — uncontested — parked himself and waited for the game-winning goal to arrive on his stick. The man who came into the game with 602 career goals wasn’t going to miss.
The Canadiens were down 3-2 with 2:03 remaining, but the game apparently ended right there for Therrien.
“An individualistic play cost us the game tonight,” Therrien told reporters in French thereafter.
It was 28 days ago that Therrien passionately defended the team’s longest-serving player, Andrei Markov, who was booed mercilessly at the Bell Centre for making plays that cost the Canadiens dearly in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.
“This guy gives everything that he’s got for this hockey team over the years,” said Therrien on Jan. 19. “This guy is a true professional.”
But Subban, who leads the team with 44 points in 58 games (20 points in his last 21 games), was thrown directly under the bus by his coach after Wednesday’s loss in Colorado.
On the bench is where Subban remained for the final 2:03 of the game. Captain Max Pacioretty, who had pulled up on the backcheck to allow Iginla the space to beat Canadiens goaltender Ben Scrivens on the winning goal, sat there with him.
Those weren’t the only punishments Therrien handed out in Denver.
On Tuesday, the Canadiens took to the ice for a 90-minute gruelling practice that started with wind sprints and continued with one-on-one battles that ranged the length of the ice.
Therrien told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that his old coach, Canadiens legend Jacques Lemaire, was famous for running these types of practices in the QMJHL.
“First time I’ve used it during these four years in Montreal,” said Therrien. “You’re like a boxer, one-on-one with no place to hide.”
One could argue this was a motivational measure from Therrien, but skating his team in this fashion at the elevated altitude of the Mile-High City reeked of retribution for Monday’s listless performance in Arizona.
Therrien was punching back. The event summary from Wednesday’s game revealed he wasn’t done.
Defenceman Tom Gilbert, who hadn’t played more than Subban in any game this season, played 24:42 to Subban’s 22:19.
Pacioretty was downgraded from a season-low 15:38 played in Arizona to 15:11 in Colorado. He had set up Lars Eller’s 2-1 goal in the second period. Both players ended up playing less than 20-year-old call-up Jacob De La Rose, who was technically centring the team’s third line.
These punitive measures proved more important to Therrien than winning the game did.
It was on Jan. 21 that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin pointed the finger squarely at himself and guaranteed Therrien’s job until the end of the season.
It was on Jan. 26 — after the Canadiens had suffered the second of consecutive losses to the 30th-placed Columbus Blue Jackets — that Therrien was pointedly asked about his role in the team’s 19 losses in its last 25 games.
“We all share the responsibility,” Therrien responded.
There’s no question who owned the biggest share in Montreal’s loss to Colorado Wednesday.