An inability to hold a two goal lead going into the third period ultimately cost the Canadiens a victory at the Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh this evening. The losing team got off to a quick start but as has been the case so often this season, a collapse in the final frame contributed to what must be seen as a demoralizing finale. The Habs, who have not successfully managed to use the defensive shell approach to sustain leads, nonetheless reverted to this old habit and fired a mere 6 shots on goal against Fleury in the last 20 minutes of play. I guess that calling this `play`might just be a bit of a stretch. Perhaps they were actually trying to repeat the history of the first period in which they actually scored twice on the same 6 shots. Such was not to be the case.
The Habs struck first just 34 seconds into the game when an undefended Lars Eller got his hands on a long, weird rebound, and made it count. Three and a half minutes later, Kris Letang in his 2nd game back after being injured by Max Pacioretty beat absolutely everybody on the ice including goaltender Peter Budaj. While i am not intending to discount Letang`s skill, the defensive coverage by the Habs on that particular play was deplorable. You couldn`t put the blame on anyone in particular (unless Price had been in nets and then everyone would have been calling for his head). It is my opinion that everybody wearing the CH blew it on that one.
A couple of minutes prior to the Letang goal, Max Pacioretty got into a fight but not necessarily in connection to the hit that levelled and concussed Letang around Thanksgiving. Cole was battling along the bards with Kunitz, he fell, and Max Pac came to his defense…it was inevitable that his gloves would drop tonight but i did not foresee it happening in that way. It was good to see it be put to bed early on.
A mere one and a half minutes after the meltdown that led to the Letang goal, Eric Cole, an awesome off-season acquisition for The Habs, got that one back for his team. How did he do it, you ask? He did it in typical Cole fashion: by rushing to the net and cashing in on an AK46 rebound. That`s how! If he can do it, what is taking Rene Bourque, another sizeable, skilled, and physical player so long to do it too? Hopefully he will get it going just like the Habs got it going on the power play tonight. It took the 3rd opportunity in the game to get it done, but AK46 scored early in the 2nd with Kris Letang sitting in the box for slashing. The team had gone 0-15 with the man advantage and had not scored a power play goal in its last three games. Relief at last! I am told, however, that you cannot have it all so it was unrealistic to expect that a power play goal and a victory could happen in the same game.
Dustin Jeffrey and Max Pacioretty rounded out the scoring for Pittsburgh and Montreal in the 2nd period. The Habs went in to the third with a two goal lead which is enough to make any knowledgeable fan cringe. Sure enough, Jeffrey scored his 2nd goal of the game and Malkin continued on the tear that he is on and tied it up with 2:43 left to play. From the headline, you know the rest.
Granted, they did not lose in regulation, nor in OT…it took a shootout for the Pens to seal the deal; but to walk away from a 4-2 lead and settle for only one point in a desperate situation is tough to take for the players as much as it must be for the fans. Montreal, which has difficulty in the shootout seems to be grasping at straws to change its luck. Cunneyworth`s decision to give Gomez a shot at leading the Habs to victory has been met unanimously with raised eyebrows, scorn, derision, and ridicule. A stop by Fleury on DD, Kostitsyn`s broken stick and another stop on Gomez were enough to hand the Habs their 7th shootout loss in 8 attempts. Can you guess who scored for the Pens? You got it: Malkin!!
I can imagine that Max Pac and Eric Cole must be, at least inwardly, questioning the coach`s shootout strategy. Cunneyworth was chastised, not to the same extent, but questioned nonetheless when he chose Kaberle as a participant in another failed shootout vs. the Senators. I can see, maybe, that Cunneyworth is trying to shake things in an efort to get his team out of a funk and i understand that coaches sometimes make difficult and unpopular decisions, but i do not see how even that rationale explains some of his instincts. I should add, so as not to be misinterpreted, that i do believe in his professionalism. I have no doubt that he means well, and supports and respects his players. He never calls them out publicly and he does a great job of indicating that the team is united (even if they are not).
Sure your Habs took the streaking Pens (they have now won 5 in a row) to a shootout, but can it truly be said that they played as if their lives depended on it? Probably not. Anytime a team manages only 6 shots in each of the first and third periods, something is missing. The Canadiens managed only 25 shots while they allowed the Pens to fire 36 at Peter Budaj. Shots on Goal, obviously do not tell the whole story but they do tell at least a part of it. A team truly committed to changing its own fortunes has to do better than that. They need to be outshooting the opponent every game. They need to turn the power play into something that is feared even if it means taking practice time away from other skills. They also need to send out their best scorers in the shootout.
Well, all together now: Ì get`knocked down but i get up again!`
Leafs and and 12th place Habs Saturday night.