Timely goals against continue to be the dominant narrative

The Montreal Canadiens dropped a big game to the Tampa Bay Lightning that saw one of their negative trends rear it’s ugly head once again.

The NHL saw one it’s key ‘four-point’ games take place in Florida Saturday night with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning facing off. The Habs had steadily put themselves in a top-three Atlantic Division spot while the Lightning were hoping the Christmas break could spark something positive.

Hockey minds continue to bank on an eventual surge from Tampa Bay, considering their poor start to the season. However, their games in hand are making many reluctant to throw the towel on them completely. This brings us to Saturday’s game, where the Lightning welcomed the Habs into their arena with two games in hand. And the Montreal Canadiens lost.

The impact of the loss isn’t hard to miss. The Habs dropped entirely out of a playoff spot allowing the Florida Panthers to jump and to make matters worse, are below the Lightning and New York Rangers from having one fewer victory. If Tampa can win their game against Detroit, they may be back in a playoff spot for the first time all year. That is, of course, unless the Montreal Canadiens win their game against the Panthers.

That’s a discussion for later. The critical point ironically isn’t that the Montreal Canadiens lost, but how they lost.

The team was up 2-0 on Tampa Bay thanks to goals Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Max Domi. The Habs looked dominant outshooting the opposition 20-10 and forcing Andrei Vasilevsky to make a number of key saves. That was until Alex Killorn scored to make it 2-1. The goal came at 19:01 of the first frame. Another goal scored in the final minute of the period.

This has been Montreal’s Achilles Heel, even dating back to last season. An interesting article from Policy Viz was published in September detailing how goal scoring in the final minute of the frame has been on the rise over the last 25 years.

It makes sense for it to happen in the third period as most teams pull their goaltender for a fourth forward in order to tie the game and force overtime. The scoring in the first and second periods can easily be dialled up to a lack of care. Not to say teams stop caring, but it could be that there is a lackadaisical motive to finish the frame, especially when there is a “good” enough lead.

A two-goal lead doesn’t scream, “Oh, we so got this!” I mean, there is a reason why they say the two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. That said, the Montreal Canadiens clearly gear down when the clock hits 19.

Killorn scoring put Tampa Bay in the game and gave them something to work with, and they came out strong for the second. Killorn scored another one while Steven Stamkos and Mitchell Stephens capitalized to make it 4-2 for the Lightning. The Montreal Canadiens made it close, but the game was over ending at 5-4.

What will it take for the Habs to change this brutal tendency? According to Eric Engles, Killorn’s goal was the 14th time the Montreal Canadiens allowed a goal in the last minute.

This is a code red of epic proportions, especially with some of the losses in these scenarios coming against Atlantic Division teams. The only way the Montreal Canadiens make the playoffs is via one of those top-three spots – baring some incredible collapse from one of the two Metropolitan teams in the wild-card spot – and dropping points to Atlantic Division teams is brutal.

At this point, the Habs have to use and believe in every cliche available but, most importantly, play until the buzzer sounds.

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The team has a chance to come back with another big game against the Florida Panthers, and they need a win in regulation. The Montreal Canadiens have enough poor habits that are costing them games, but allowing goals late is something they must crack down on immediately.

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