I’d like to begin by urging Canadiens fans everywhere to keep calm. Losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs isn’t the end of the world, despite what Leafs fans will try to tell you. We don’t have a rivalry with the Leafs – largely because they’re usually terrible and we don’t have rivalries with teams that don’t ever make the playoffs. The facts are plain. The Canadiens do not show up for games against the Maple Leafs. To put it frankly, I’d be more worried if I felt the Canadiens were playing at full potential and getting pasted by the Leafs. The fact is, the Canadiens have a tendency to sleepwalk through 50% of the game against the Leafs and I’m not sure why. It’s something to think about for the coaching if the Canadiens face the Leafs in round one. And before Leafs fans inevitably crown themselves champions based on regularly beating the Canadiens, I’d like to gently remind them that they haven’t made the playoffs yet, and if Boston keeps losing, they’ll be facing a Boston team that will blow them out of the water in 4 games.
One thing is clear – the Canadiens did not play well defensively last night. Oddly enough, they spent 90% of the game in the Leafs zone, albeit it making pretty passing plays and not shooting. I didn’t think they were terrible offensively last night, but defensively they were sluggish and made bad decisions more often than not. It didn’t help that Carey Price was horrible and cost the Canadiens the game within the first period. He should have been pulled after the second goal, but by the time he did get pulled it was too late. I thought the Canadiens powerplay looked spectacular and that they created pressure in the Leafs zone on most regular shifts without being able to put anything in the net. The 4th and 5th Leafs goals were created by the Canadiens giving up odd-man rushes as they pushed for a goal, and were to be expected. I just didn’t think that the Canadiens overall game was as terrible as some would have you believe. The Leafs, particularly in the second period, looked quite beatable. There’s definitely some work to do defensively, but this is a team that has bounced back after every bad loss with a string of wins. And before Leafs fans get too smug, please recall that the last team you beat us soundly this season, we didn’t lose in regulation for 19 games.
All in all, this wasn’t a loss worthy of full blown panic. The Leafs will naturally have more desperation in their game, they still haven’t made the playoffs and there are several teams quite close to them. They also seem to feel like Montreal is a rivalry, despite evidence to the contrary. It might become a rivalry again if they make some noise in the playoffs, but until then, it’s not really any different than playing terribly against Ottawa or Buffalo. Not that important in the grand scheme of things at the moment – particularly when the Canadiens are leading the Northeast Division.
Regarding a potential first round matchup, I wouldn’t be so worried about facing the Maple Leafs. Beyond the reality that regular season records mean nothing once the regular season ends, I’m not sure I see this Canadiens team taking these defeats likely. They know as well as we do that the first round might end up being Habs-Leafs. I don’t think there will be any greater motivation than beating them soundly in round 1. On a practical level, our depth offensively, defensively and goaltending is much better than the Leafs. Despite Carey Price‘s performance last night, no reasonable hockey fan would ever take James Reimer in a series over Carey Price. Or Kadri over Plekanec, or Gardiner over Subban, or Phaneuf over Markov. This is a Canadiens team that has been resilient after big losses (which have been few and far between) and has incredible depth and playoff experience. I have no doubt in my mind that they will be ready for the matchup, if it happens.
What next? We can all take ourselves off the ledge and appreciate that clunkers will happen, and that it’s better to have them come after clinching a spot. The technical aspects can be worked on before the playoffs start, and now the Canadiens should just try to keep pace up top of the standings. Though to be honest, there’s no team I really fear to face in round 1 – we have a lot of depth, good coaching and playoff experience. This is a team that can make some noise in the playoffs, despite what was displayed last night.