Rabid Habs

Postgame: Habs get Steamrolled in Caps Home Opener

Deep breathe in. Deep breathe out. That game is over. Time to move on.

No team goes undefeated. Montreal was going to lose eventually. We can all take solace in that. What we need to hope for are fewer nights like this. On a more systemic field, we need to hope these aren’t your Montreal Canadiens.

Let’s just get into it.

20 seconds in, Washington got on the board with a spinning one-time blast from Alex Ovechkin that beat Carey Price over the glove side. Before a minute was in the books, T.J. Oshie would find a rebound and put it behind Price on the only goal you could really fault the Habs MVP on. Before the game was five minutes old, Montreal would surrender a powerplay goal to Ovechkin with Ales Hemsky serving a slashing minor.

And before the period was over, Ovechkin would complete the hat-trick.

For what it’s worth, Montreal took the play to the Capitals in the second and outshot Washington 20-6. Unfortunately, Braden Holtby stayed in the game and only allowed one goal; a shorthanded tally for Brendan Gallagher.

And unfortunately for Montreal, Price was replaced by Al Montoya to start the second. Montoya would give up two goals; Ovechkin’s fourth of the game, and Australian native Nathan Walker’s first of his NHL career. I wouldn’t read too much into Price getting the hook. Claude Julien probably wanted to keep him fresh with Montreal playing in New York Sunday night. I think that’s all of them? One, two, three… Yeah. There are six goals here. Neat. How hot is Alex Ovechkin right now? 

Holtby improves to 11-1-2 against Montreal in his career, and the Habs fall to 1-1-0 to start the year.

That was what happened. Now, how it happened.

Defensive Struggles

Look, we all knew this was going to be a work in progress this year. This blue line doesn’t have the talent it has had in other years, and it has shown this season. They only gave up two goals to Buffalo, but they gave up a ton of chances. Tonight, they paid for all the chances they gave up. Realistically, the Capitals first three scoring chances ended up in the back of the net. That’s not going to happen to Carey Price often, but still, you can’t give Ovechkin any space. Especially this year.

On a more specific note, Jordie Benn and Mark Streit were absolutely horrendous. Both seemed out of position all night, and Benn made about three or four bad pinches at his own blue-line that resulted in excellent chances against.

Maybe it’s because he was paired with Streit, but Mete looked ok. I understand the desire to shelter the 19 year-old’s minutes, but what has he done so far that has deserved that? Maybe it would have resulted in the same score, but it had to be a better option than putting Benn with Weber, right? When Mete has to carry a pair, who is sheltering who?

Yeah, Montreal gave up six goals and only scored one, but the one on their side of the scoreboard has more to do with the defense than the offense. Montreal’s rearguards got filled in, and when they spend most of the game chasing the puck, the forwards can’t really do much. That’s why it’s so important to have defenders who can transition the puck well. Jeff Petry is usually good at that, but he’s struggled so far. Mete has been good at moving the puck, but it can’t just be one guy. The whole group needs to be better.

Second Line

If there was a bright spot tonight, it was the second line of Tomas Plekanec, Charles Hudon, and Artturi Lehkonen. They didn’t score, but they created several quality scoring chances and were the only line going at even strength. At one point Hudon slipped three Capitals defenders and forced them to crash into each other “Three Stooges” style before feeding Lehkonen with a perfect pass. Hudon is a slippery little player, and he makes that line go. Any team in the Habs way better keep an eye on them moving forward, because when the dam breaks, there might be a flood of goals.

Optimistic Take

Under Michel Therrien, the Habs always exploded out of the gate. Montreal would finish October towards the top of the standings, just to be torn down by the wasteland that is December and January. Sometimes I’ve wondered if Canadiens teams of the past have burned themselves out before the hockey “mattered,” for lack of a better term. That’s not to say they should take their foot off the pedal this early in the year, but maybe it’s better they take their lumps now, learn what needs fixing, and get it done before the trade deadline.

Fitting analogy: Remember the Bruce Boudreau Capitals? Remember 2010? Washington clinched a playoff spot in March (maybe I’m exaggerating, but they did finish with 121 points in a division where the closest team had 83). They just buried teams early on in the season and into the beginning of spring, but when the playoffs came, they were lost. The Canadiens, who had been playing “playoff” hockey for about a month to secure a playoff spot, were battle tested. They were ready.

No, the best strategy isn’t to squeak into the playoffs, but something has to change for the Canadiens. Having everything work out for them in October hasn’t worked out in December and January.

Or in April.

Take this score. Remember it. Use it to make yourselves better.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Go Habs Go.

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