That was ugly.
“Disappointing” also fits, according to head coach Michel Therrien.
“We didn’t compete,” he told reporters after the game. “It’s as simple as that.”
It’s a fact that’s somewhat perplexing.
The Canadiens, who came into the contest with the healthiest roster they’ve had since the puck dropped on the 2016-17 season, put up a season-low 16 shots on net and had no more than three quality scoring chances by this scribe’s count.
Fresh off a much-needed break thanks to all-star weekend—and following a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday—their lackluster performance was anything but expected.
“We’re certainly a different team when all our players are healthy,” Therrien had said in French before the game got underway. “Firstly, it gives me more options to work with, which I see as important. The other thing is that, even during this two-month period that we’ve been missing so many key players, we were still able to show what kind of depth we have. Our guys did a great job maintaining a high quality of play. We’re very happy to get our injured players back and I think it’s given us an energy boost, which was also very necessary.”
Things appeared to be going swimmingly for the Canadiens when Alex Galchenyuk—who returned in Philadelphia after missing 21 of the last 26 games with a knee injury—set up defenceman Nikita Nesterov with his first goal since coming over in a trade with Tampa Bay one week ago.
The team carried momentum into the second period before gifting it to the Flyers with a haphazard power play that began at the 6:27 mark of the frame.
Four times they carried the puck up the ice and failed to set things up in the offensive zone. When they finally broke in, they came nowhere near registering a shot on Philadelphia goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
The ice might as well have been tilted towards Montreal’s end of the rink from that point on.
“There was practically nothing working,” said Therrien.
So when Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw decided to tangle himself up with Flyers forward Nick Cousins at the offensive blue line, with just over three minutes remaining in the second period, you could sense Montreal’s coach was beginning to lose patience.
When Philadelphia tied the game 1-1 within a minute and four seconds of obtaining the man-advantage Shaw gifted them, Therrien had seen enough.
He moved Galchenyuk up to a line with Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov to start the third period, he bumped Phillip Danault to one with David Desharnais and Brian Flynn, and he parked Shaw on the bench for the rest of the game.
“I want to see results from every line,” Therrien said on Wednesday. “When I don’t see results, when I don’t see tempo or us creating chances, this is where there’s a red flag and I have to make adjustments.
“I’ve got a vision and I hope it’s going to work. If it works—fine—I’ll leave it like that. If it doesn’t work, we have to make adjustments.”
You just didn’t expect the coach would have to be going down that road as early as Thursday’s game.
Therrien was admittedly excited about finally being able to balance things out up front. After all, the Canadiens had suffered more injuries to key players than any other team in the league through their first 51 games, according to ManGamesLost.com.
The coach’s vision was to keep Pacioretty, Danault and Radulov together after they had worked well in Galchenyuk’s lengthy absence. A seven-point performance for the line against Buffalo Tuesday made it an easy call for him to make.
Therrien was also hoping his new line of Desharnais, Galchenyuk and Shaw would show more of the stuff that led to Montreal’s first goal of the game, which was generated by each player doing exactly what they’re best known for.
But when the Canadiens popped into automatic-mode; when the legs stopped moving and things became disconnected; when the mistakes began to pile up, Therrien’s had no choice but to abandon his plan.
“I wanted to change the attitude with some adjustments to start the third, but nothing came of it,” he said in French. “They’re a team battling for a playoff spot. Us too. They competed way more than we did. It wasn’t a good game, at all.”
Montreal had just four shots on net after that.
Call it a reality check for a team that faces a monumental task with the league-leading Washington Capitals and explosive Edmonton Oilers visiting Montreal for back-to-back matinee games this weekend.
Whatever it was, it was anything but pretty.