An 8-2 loss to the lowest-scoring team in the league, the Anaheim Ducks, suffered a night after a heartbreaking loss to a formidable San Jose Sharks team they dominated? It’s going to cost the Montreal Canadiens.
Exactly what? We’re not quite sure yet. If they’re lucky, it’ll just be the two-point edge they hold over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the race to one of the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. If they’re unlucky, well, you can figure it out.
With 13 games remaining in their season, currently sitting in the second wild-card position, we’re not yet prepared to say the loss against the Ducks Friday has effectively killed Montreal’s chance to participate in the post-season. But if the team can’t rebound immediately come Tuesday, against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre, its chances diminish significantly.
While the Canadiens rest idle until then, the Blue Jackets will play the two games in-hand they own. The Carolina Hurricanes, who are even in points with the Canadiens, will play their two as well. And the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are two points ahead of Montreal, will make up one of their two games in-hand.
In other words: The heat is on.
Looking back a week, a trip to California all but promised this outcome for the Canadiens, who were losers of 20 of their last 23 games in the state. Now that the prophecy’s been fulfilled, we’ll see what else destiny has in store for them.
Will they continue to be the team that has shocked the hockey world for most of the season by continuing to achieve results as soon as their backs get pressed up against the wall? Or will they fizzle down the stretch with more losses to non-playoff teams like the Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres before having to close out the year with games against upper-echelon teams like the Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs?
It’s all much more up in the air now than it was prior to puck-drop in Anaheim.
About Friday’s game, here are some takeaways from it:
The league’s worst power play fails again
The Canadiens, a night after tilting the ice in a losing effort against the Sharks, after traveling across the state in preparation for their third game in four nights, didn’t have the regular zip at even strength in this one. So, if there was ever an opportunity for their power play to bail them out, this was it.
But the woeful Canadiens power play, which came into the game having whiffed on all but one of its last 26 outings, failed on its first chance of the game.
A shift later, Daniel Sprong took advantage of a turnover by Nate Thompson and opened the scoring for Anaheim with a laser of a shot over Carey Price’s blocker.
Montreal’s power play got five more chances — most of them coming with them down by just a goal or two — and it converted just once, on a Shea Weber blast from the point that counted as the 200th goal of his career.
It was 62 seconds later that Troy Terry picked up a goal to make it 4-2 Ducks just over halfway through the second period. An easy goal, tipped from the middle of the slot without a Canadien in sight. The type of play Montreal hasn’t found a way to manufacture with the man-advantage all season long.
They have bounced back from the bad ones all season long. We’ll see if they can continue to do that.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) March 9, 2019
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s (un)eventful return to the lineup
The 18-year-old rookie with 32 points on the season was scratched from the 3-1 win in Los Angeles on Tuesday and scratched from Thursday’s loss to the Sharks.
You had to wonder how Kotkaniemi was going to respond to that. Without singling him out — because none of the Canadiens were good against the Ducks — it would be impossible to suggest he responded well.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien put Kotkaniemi on a line with Artturi Lehkonen and Jordan Weal and played him 10:51 at even strength. The kid finished minus-3 and didn’t appear to have his rhythm at any point of the game.
Kotkaniemi also took nine faceoffs and lost seven of them, and he was credited with two giveaways in the game.
Carey Price will have to wait for 315
If it was destiny for the Canadiens to struggle in California, perhaps it’s destiny for Price to seize the outright lead in franchise wins in front of his fans at the Bell Centre.
He remains tied with Jacques Plante after stopping only 21 of 29 shots in the game.
Friday’s game marked the first time all season Price was beaten for eight goals. He was hardly the reason they went in, but it’s not as if he was at the height of his abilities.
It was a night to forget for the 31-year-old goaltender and his Canadiens, intimated Julien in his post-game press conference.
“Hopefully we get a little bit of rest here and get ourselves ready on Tuesday,” he added. “Get back on track here.”