Rabid Habs

Postgame: Habs fall 4-3 to Toronto in OT

Undoubtedly, Montreal’s loss to Toronto on Saturday night was a step in the right direction.

But it still feels gross. A game that saw Montreal, once again, dominate possession; a game where they actually generated three goals; a game that finally saw the powerplay click – ends in an overtime loss. And while the point is much needed, two were almost necessary against a Toronto team that is climbing the standings.

So let’s get into it. Again.

The Bell Centre must give the Canadiens some sort of extra jump to start the game, because for the second game in a row, Montreal jumped out to an early lead. Jonathan Drouin created the opening goal by skating over the blue line and using his speed to push the Toronto defence back. He would stop at the top of the faceoff circle, and pass back to Jeff Petry, who would launch a one-time blast through traffic and behind Frederick Andersen.

The Habs second lead of the season would last for about five minutes. James VanRiemsdyk was the beneficiary of some good bounces, as he received the puck on a Drouin faceoff win and a bounce that jumped over Lehkonen’s skate. And in a familiar turn of events, Toronto would turn a 1-1 tie into a one goal advantage less than a minute later, as Auston Matthews would go end to end and beat an out-of-position Carey Price with a wrist shot over the glove. After the game, Price confirmed that he just lost an edge on the play and fell down. Puck luck moment number two for the Leafs. Oh well.

But then something new happened. Montreal didn’t retreat. Sure, there was a dull feeling in the Bell Centre, but the players kept pushing. They drew a penalty, and on that powerplay, Alex Galchenyuk got himself and the Habs powerplay off the schneid. Hudon created a rush from the faceoff just outside the Leafs zone, and Galchenyuk used one of his powerful wrist shots to beat Andersen off the post.

An exciting first period ended 2-2. A much tighter second period would slow the game down for a considerable period of time.

Nearly twelve minutes in, it happened. Karl Alzner managed to keep the puck in at the Leaf blue line, and he fired a slap-pass to Drouin, who tipped the puck behind Andersen to give the Habs a 3-2 lead. Drouin’s first goal as a Hab was his second point of the game. Unfortunately, the Canadiens still need to work on their play with the lead, as Patrick Marleau would tie the game up about a minute later. Price, who fought the puck all night, had the puck between his legs before swinging around and putting the puck in a dangerous spot. Alzner tried to control the play, but Marleau pushed the puck over the line.

The third started with the same sort of lockdown that began the second, but it opened up. Teams traded chances for a few minutes, and Montreal dominated the shot clock. Third period shots were 13-6 for the Canadiens, and 33-21 through regulation.

And that last caveat of “through regulation” is necessary, because this one would go to overtime.

And overtime was where Claude Julien put the game in a neat little box and handed it to Mike Babcock and the Leafs. With the Leafs starting three-on-three overtime with Matthews and William Nylander, Julien countered with Paul Byron and Tomas Plekanec. Auston Matthews got in on a rush and beat Price to the blocker side.

So much good undone by horrific roster management. The Habs are now 1-3-1 on the year, as the Leafs win their first game against the Canadiens in 14 tries.

Some trends:

Ales Hemsky Experiment is Over

It hasn’t worked. Hemsky’s short stint in Montreal has felt exactly like Alex Semin’s. Hemsky seems to just float around the ice, and is a complete non-factor in an organization that finally has NHL capable players in the AHL. The other two units on his line tonight, Galchenyuk and De La Rose, played a solid game (more on Galchenyuk later), making his game look even worse by comparison. There’ just no use playing him anymore. Guys like Byron Froese, Daniel Carr and Chris Terry are ripping it up in the AHL, and while they probably can’t be top six players in the NHL, they’re certainly better options than Hemsky. Like all these experiments, Hemksy’s signing in Montreal was worth a shot. But now we know. It isn’t working. His time with Montreal needs to end. Now.

Not Feeling Lehkonen on the Top Line

Artturi Lehkonen is undoubtedly one of Claude Julien’s favorite players. Julien leans on Lehkonen at key spots in games, and promoted him to the top line for Saturday’s game. It may be because of the Leafs desire to shut down Drouin and Pacioretty, but Lehkonen was not an impact player tonight. For what it’s worth, I haven’t been blown away by the play of Drouin and Pacioretty so far this year. They’ve been good, but the two of them shouldn’t be relying on a perfect right winger to turn it on. Maybe it’ll be Lehkonen. Maybe it will be Galchenyuk. No matter who it is, the two mainstays on that line will need to figure it out too.

Overtime Blunder

I already roasted Julien for his choice to start overtime, but let me explain why it’s bad. First of all, the Leafs started with Matthews and Nylander. I can understand the desire of a coach to create a matchup to counter them, but this was just horrendous. In three-on-three, throw matchups away. Julien did something that Marc Bergevin once backhandedly accused his players of doing. Julien didn’t play to win; he played to try not to lose. Plekanec and Byron weren’t going to win this game for Montreal, and Julien knew that. He was just hoping they would hold down the fort until Matthews and Nylander left the ice.

And second, you have your best players for situations like this. If you get to overtime against a division rival and you don’t put your best players on the ice, what are you doing? Why do you even have Drouin? He scored two points tonight. Galchenyuk? He had a goal and is lights out in overtime. Hell, I would have played Petry or Mete over Weber to start that overtime. Julien clearly played Byron to match the speed of the other two players. I don’t think Weber is a slow player, but Mete is an elite skater. A coach’s job is to put his players in situations where they can succeed. Julien failed his players in overtime against Toronto.

Defence Heading in the Right Direction

It’s hard to read this header on a night where the Canadiens surrendered four goals, but the structural play of the defence has improved dramatically over the past few games. Maybe Davidson’s influence solidifies that last pairing a little more with Benn’s play slipping, but Jeff Petry has really stepped up and Saturday’s game against Toronto was probably his best game of the year. Karl Alzner has come as advertised this year, and the top-pairing continues to be what it is. Three regulation goals to the Leafs is a decent night, and for the first time in a long time, it seems like Price may have the biggest negative impact on the team defensively. At any rate, the core in front of Price looks to be improving in a new system under Julien. Price needs to step up next.

Galchenyuk has Played Himself up the Lineup

This one is as obvious as it gets. If Alex Galchenyuk is playing with any combination of Torrey Mitchell, De La Rose, and Hemsky, he’s not going to succeed. His goal was assisted by Charles Hudon, and he’s played his best hockey on the powerplay and with skill players. There’s nothing for him to do on the fourth line except try to create offense on his own. That’s when he makes mistakes and takes unnecessary chances in every zone on the ice. He needs help, and I think Saturday’s game has given him a chance to get it.

Okay, I’m done talking. This team continues to baffle me. Tonight was better, but there’s still room to improve.

For everyone at, behind, or above the bench.

Follow Ian on Twitter @BoisvertIan, and follow @RabidHabs for more updates!