TORONTO — It seems painfully obvious, but it’s worth repeating.
Granted, penalties are inevitable. But taking seven of them—including two within 28 seconds—and offering the Penguins a penalty shot should have cost the Canadiens Game 1.
Also, most of them were entirely avoidable. Six of the seven were for obstruction—interference, hooking, holding and tripping—and Ben Chiarot certainly didn’t need to crosscheck Sidney Crosby in the head.
Chiarot knows. He says he’ll adjust.
“After four or five months off, there’s gonna be mistakes, not just with the puck or what you’re doing out there,” Chiarot said on Sunday. “But it’s going to be getting your stick up when you shouldn’t, even just finishing a check—if you get your hands up too high—those are all things that, through a regular season, you get out of your game before the playoffs. So there’s going to be a lot of things that you’re figuring out on the fly and kind of trying to tighten up your game on the fly.”
That’s what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about. Adjustments.
Let’s take a look at four more the Canadiens are going to have to make in order to prevail in Monday’s game.
Get Max Domi on the ice more
This one is intrinsically tied to discipline because Domi doesn’t kill penalties and the fact that the Canadiens took seven of them cut into his ice-time on Saturday.
It didn’t help that Montreal was only able to draw two power plays of their own through four periods.
But a team that struggles to score goals isn’t going to manufacture enough of them if a player like Domi—who’s among the top three Canadiens in goals, primary assists, secondary assists and points over the last two seasons—is limited to being the eighth-most used forward.
And it’s one thing that Domi played just 15:33 in a 74-minute game, but it’s another that he wasn’t able to get into the rhythm of the game due to all the penalties.
Rhythm is such a key factor for this team. It’s what Canadiens coach Claude Julien is most focused on achieving with his lines assembled as they are—with youth and experience balanced on each unit, with offence and defence balanced, with skill and grit balanced, and with speed featured on every line.
“You’ve got to believe in your approach you’re going to take, and the players gotta believe in it,” said Julien on Sunday. “We feel that we’re four lines deep, that we think by getting them all involved and playing at a certain pace… Throughout the series that’s what’s going to give us a chance because there’s a lot of things I can’t control and that’s their experience versus ours. There’s nothing I can do about it. But what I can do is find a philosophy here that’s going to maybe give us the best chance to win this series.”
That philosophy is to balance out the minutes and roll the lines out so that everyone is involved and everyone is in rhythm.
Top line needs to hit the board
It was all well and good to see 20-year-olds Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi help carry the Canadiens to a win in Game 1, but the line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher has to be the straw that stirs this drink.
Not that they had a bad Game 1, but it wasn’t good enough.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan knows they’ll be a line to watch out for in Game 2.
“They’re a very good line,” Sullivan said on Monday morning. “They’re a good 200-foot line, they play on both sides of the puck, they defend hard [and] they’re competitive guys. I thought the guys that were on the ice out there against them did a pretty good job, but certainly they’re a real good line. We’re going to have to be aware when they’re on the ice.”
Let’s start with Tatar. Montreal’s leading scorer in the regular season needs to bury his opportunities in these playoffs. He had two golden ones on a first-period power play on Saturday and he missed the net with both of them.
In the 18:11 Tatar spent on the ice, he registered zero shots on net, which is four less than he missed the net with. That can’t happen again.
Danault taking three penalties is something that absolutely can’t happen again. He’s too vital for the Canadiens at both ends of the ice to be spending that much time in the box.
And Gallagher has to find a way to steady himself in the scoring areas. He led the Canadiens with nine shots and 11 attempts. It should have been enough for him to score at least once.
And boy, does it ever matter when Gallagher scores. The Canadiens went 18-3-1 in the games he registered at least one goal in this season.
Jonathan Drouin needs to be better
Discipline aside—and it’s a big aside when you consider he took two penalties within five minutes of each other and one of them cost the Canadiens a goal—Drouin needs to settle into this series quickly.
He did some good things to stimulate possession on his line with Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia. He was skating well and moving the puck decently, but he needs to be more involved in the dirty areas of the offensive zone.
This was Drouin’s focus in his off-season video work with Canadiens assistant coach Dominique Ducharme. They broke down a lot of film and came away with two conclusions; that he needs to keep his feet moving and that he needs to get to the inside of the ice.
It was clear in Game 1 that Drouin could have done both of those things better. He’d have registered more than one shot on net and three attempts total if he had.
We won’t put too much stock into a bobbled penalty shot to win the game, but it could certainly be read as a sign that Drouin’s confidence needs a boost.
Better start on time
We’re not sure if the start of Game 1 was on the Canadiens for not being prepared or just a credit to the Penguins being ready to show what they were all about. It was probably a mix of both.
Either way, most people would agree that if the Canadiens allow 10 shots—and several quality scoring chances—in the first six minutes of Game 2, they won’t be escaping that situation unscathed again.
And this is probably the key for Montreal if they hope to avoid another wonky start:
“There are certain times where they probably came through our neutral zone with a little bit too much time and space and it put us on our heels a little bit. And that’s when they’re good,” said Gallagher. “As the game went on, I thought we did a better and better job of limiting that time and space, limiting that opportunity for them to make plays. Once we started doing that I think we, as a group, we started to feel more confident in everything that was going on.”
The Canadiens are going to have to carry that confidence and that game plan to the start of Game 2.