Rabid Habs

Postgame: Habs Streaking Backwards, 3-1 Hawks

 

Three losses, three very similar posts.

There used to be fun hashtags on Habs twitter like #AlmostBourque and #AlmostEller; fun jokes talking about two Habs players that always found themselves in offensive opportunities, only to miss somehow. Right now, the hashtag should be #AlmostHabs. So many chances, so many shots, not enough goals.

In case you missed it, here’s what the Habs 3-1 loss to Chicago felt like.

The first period went about as well as Montreal could have hoped. A quick goal from Tomas Plekanec gave Montreal their first lead of the season, and dominant play kept Chicago on their heels for the majority of the period. But 19 seconds were all the Hawks needed to turn the period from a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 lead. Rookies tend to score their first goals when they play Montreal, and Alex DeBrincat kept the trend going. A Jordie Benn clearing attempt hit the linesman and DeBrincat finished off a nice two-on-one pass from Patrick Sharp.

Before the Bell Centre crowd stopped booing, Brandon Saad tucked in his fifth of the year; a broken play that saw Victor Mete tasked with stopping three Hawks. The rookie managed to stop the first two, but some slick passing was too much for Mete. Weber had made a pinch at the blueline and missed; a trend noticed up and down the Habs’ roster of rearguards.

Another uncomfortable trend is the Canadiens unique ability to run in place, so to speak, while the opponent gets their legs under them. Somehow, Montreal can outshoot the Hawks 16-7 and still surrender a lead in the first period; a 2-1 lead, at that. While the 19 seconds of infamy will be looked at as a turning point in the game, the real turning point to me was Montreal’s inability to score on a lengthy powerplay that included a five-on-three. But I’ll get to that later…

In the second, Montreal showed a bit of desperation, as they tried long stretch passes regularly. Early on in the frame, Benn went for a long bank pass to Andrew Shaw that would have spanned the entire rink had it not been blown dead due to Shaw skating in offside. Montreal also iced the puck a ton, as they were trying to exit the zone and get the attack going. As you can expect, the pace of the game slowed dramatically.

The bleeding would continue for the Canadiens with Phillip Danault in the box. Artem Anisimov would score on the powerplay, extending the Hawks lead to 3-1. Again, a game of inches takes a foot from the Canadiens. Just seconds before Chicago padded their lead, Paul Byron was off to the races on a shorthanded breakaway before being stopped by Corey Crawford. Montreal would get some chances, but the second would end 3-1.

And so would the third. 3-1 Hawks final. Habs outshoot another opponent (this time by a margin of 42-25), and still lose.

I’ll try to draw some positives from this one, but it feels bleak. Here’s what I’ve got:

Davidson’s Return

Brandon Davidson came back against the Rangers, but his play was noticeable against the Hawks, and not for the reason it was noticeable in the preseason. Davidson was called on to help solidify the bottom pairing, and he was exceptional in that role. The first period saw him break up a two-on-one with a perfectly timed slide, and the defensemen had an all-around solid game. His partner, Jordie Benn, seems to change on a shift by shift basis. If Benn isn’t careful, he’ll find himself in the same spot as Mark Streit. But for now, Davidson continues to play for his next game; a constant “show me” player who will stay in the lineup as long as he’s better than the next best replacement.

Pathetic Powerplay

The Habs powerplay stinks. There’s no other way to look at it. The attackers are completely stationary, and they seem to just hope Jonathan Drouin can create something out of nothing on the half-wall. Shea Weber seems to be a non-factor; a complete change from last year where he was the fixture on the powerplay. He and Pacioretty are afterthoughts. Gallagher does what Gallagher does no matter what kind of strength it is. It needs a shakeup. I don’t think that means different personnel, but something has to give here. Maybe just throw strategy out the window and tell your guys to play the powerplay like they would a five on five cycle play. Either way, it’s bad, and it doesn’t show any signs of getting better. Zero for fourteen. Unacceptable.

Second Line Continues to Impress

The line of Plekanec, Charles Hudon and Artturi Lehkonen has been Montreal’s most consistent offensive weapon despite the lone goal tonight to show for their efforts. I think playing with youngsters Hudon and Lehkonen has revitalized Plekanec, and the line often has more jump than any other trio iced by the Canadiens. On several occasions, Hudon split through Hawks players using some impressive moves. Lehkonen had his best game of the year in New York and followed it up with a pretty decent effort against Chicago. It’s difficult to praise a line that has contributed just one goal in four games, but they’ve played very well. Like the rest of the team, expect more offense to come soon.

Top Line not getting it done

It was tough to criticize this line through the first three games. On the road, your opponent gets last change, meaning your top offensive guys are neutralized by their top defensive guys. But at some point, it has to work. Claude Julien made a tweak to that line when he replaced Gallagher with Artturi Lehkonen, but when these changes happen in the third period, it’s hard for them to stick. They need time to create chemistry. Speaking of changing things up…

Line Blender

Here are the lines we saw in the third:

Pacioretty – Drouin – Lehkonen

Hudon – Danault – Shaw

Galchenyuk – Plekanec – Gallagher

Byron – Mitchell – Hemsky

Again, the effort from the coach has to be appreciated. Down two in the third and on the heels of two bad losses, it should be exciting that Montreal has a coach who isn’t afraid to shake things up. The problem is the timing. In the third period, there’s not enough time for these lines to work, so they often get scrapped and the old lines return next game. The result is discombobulated, unorganized play in the short term, and painful stagnation in the long term. The Habs next game is Saturday against Toronto, so they have plenty of time to try some new lines at practice. Maybe something new will stick.

As Always, Hope

Some of you will read this as a cop out; like I don’t want to pick a side. That’s because there isn’t a side to pick. We know what has happened, not what will. It’s still only October; early October at that. Am I worried? I’m certainly getting there, but after cooling off, I don’t think it’s time to hit that “Deal or No Deal” style panic button. Slam the glass back down. Keep playing; keep your head up. What have you got to lose?

And with that, I think we’ve all earned a few days away from the madness that is being a Montreal Canadiens fan. See everyone on Saturday night.

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