Canadiens Takeaways: Power play requires radical changes

Robert Thomas scored just under two minutes into the game as the Blues went on the beat the Canadiens 4-1 Thursday.

The Montreal Canadiens took a hard loss in St. Louis on Thursday night and it had very little to do with their effort.

Not to say their effort couldn’t have been better, but their execution was abysmal. In just about every category.

The Canadiens couldn’t string a pass together to save their lives but were somehow only credited with seven giveaways. They also couldn’t win a faceoff before the third period started (they actually won seven of 31 through two periods while Blues centre Ryan O’Reilly drew back 17 of his first 19). And Montreal’s power-play, which has been the worst in the NHL for a fair portion of the season, somehow managed one of the ugliest goals you’ll ever see and still ended up being the worst it’s been in any of their 45 games to date.

More on that below.

Before we get there, it’s worth mentioning that if it wasn’t for goaltender Carey Price, who stopped several odd-man rushes and was only beat on three breakaways and a third rebound opportunity on an early Blues power play, the score would have been out of hand.

Instead, the game ended 4-1 Blues, knocking the Canadiens out of a playoff spot because the New York Islanders beat the New York Rangers 4-3 at Madison Square Garden.

The Canadiens have suffered losses to learn from this season. This wasn’t one of them. This is a game tape to burn if there ever was one.

We’ll give you the skinny on where things went wrong for them in our takeaways. If you’re a Montreal fan who missed the game, don’t bother watching the one-hour rerun…

Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin in matchup hell

Domi and Drouin drew the short straw of having to play against O’Reilly for most of the night, and they were stuck chasing the puck around as a result.

Bad night for it to happen—with Domi having come into the game with zero goals in his last 14 contests and Drouin with three over that stretch.

Montreal’s leading scorers were challenged by Canadiens coach Claude Julien on Wednesday to do more, and the threat of them being separated was floated if they didn’t abide.

“I think Jonathan’s had a good season,” said Julien to reporters. “The last little while has been tough for him. I see the same thing everybody else does. We know he has the talent. His compete level and how much he wants to get involved is what really makes the big difference in his game.

“Trust me: We work hard with all players and I think a good portion of it has to come from the player.”

When asked about Domi, Julien said, “It’s just a line (with Joel Armia) that’s going through a rough patch here and we’ve got to get them going.

“When you’re leading your team in scoring, those two guys, it’s not because they’ve had a bad year,” Julien added. “They’re going through a bad stretch right now. And we need them to be better. I agree with that part.”

The effort was there for both players, but the execution wasn’t. As was the case for their teammates.

Domi and Drouin were separated in the final five minutes of the loss, with Drouin moving to the left of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia and Domi centering Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen.

A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday.

The power(less) play

It gave up one goal and scored one.

On the goal given up, a 2-on-1 beautifully executed by O’Reilly and eventually finished by Oskar Sundqvist, the play started with a faceoff in the Blues’ end. Domi lost it cleanly to O’Reilly, Drouin pinched in from the point and whiffed while the play went by him, and the rest was history.

It was Domi’s third lost draw on that one power play.

On that front, the Canadiens took five faceoffs on the power play in the first period alone and lost all of them.

Establishing possession is a pretty important part of running an efficient power play, and the Canadiens failed to do that in the first frame. When they did finally get the puck, they gave it away.

The Canadiens finally won a faceoff in the offensive zone with the man advantage in the second period. It led to sustained pressure and two scoring chances before the second unit came on and created the lone goal of the night.

The goal ended up being Brendan Gallagher’s 17th of the season. A shot from a terrible angle off the cycle that banked off Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo and found the back of the net with just over half a game to play.

It was Montreal’s fifth power-play goal in its last 55 attempts. It made the score 3-1 St. Louis. It even generated some momentum for the team, which was something remarkable considering how much the power play stole away from them in the first period.

And then in the third period, down 4-1, Drouin took an end-to-end rush on the power play and got slashed by Joel Edmundson to give the Canadiens a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:12.

They had just over six minutes remaining to make it a close hockey game. Shea Weber practically dented the post on the only shot attempt the Canadiens managed over that 1:12. They didn’t record a single shot on net with that opportunity.

On the whole, Montreal’s power play hit a new low in this game. It was just hideous—and that’s saying something considering how bad it’s been all year.

When it struggled mightily out of the gate, Julien said the following on Oct. 12:

“Well, you hope it doesn’t take too long [to figure out]. If it’s going to take a while, I think, at the end of the day, it’s for us to work on to get the right people in the right places and make it successful.

“There’s still some tweaking that we do along the way as we watch games and we see what’s going on, and we’re trying to obviously make it better,” added Julien.

And yet, 45 games in, very little has changed about the (failing) strategy they’ve employed. The personnel hasn’t been mixed to any significant degree.

You really have to wonder how much longer the Canadiens can go on without making radical changes.

Take nothing away from Jordan Binnington

The 25-year-old St. Louis goaltender, who was a third-round draft pick of the team in 2011, made 25 saves to shut out the Philadelphia Flyers in his first ever start on Monday.

On Thursday, in his second start (and first at home), he robbed Gallagher on the first shift and settled in to make several other key saves throughout the night.

Binnington got a piece of a disrupted first-period breakaway for Nicolas Deslauriers and got the whole puck on Phillip Danault’s halfway through the frame.

His best save came on Victor Mete early in the third period, when he sprawled out to stop a one-timed shot that would’ve narrowed St. Louis’ lead to 3-2.

The Richmond Hill, Ont., native robbed Deslauriers moments later, stopped Drouin’s end-to-end rush with the right pad, and made one more quality stop on Gallagher before the game ended.

Binnington finished the game with 28 saves and now has 1.59 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in four appearances this year.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.