The Montreal Canadiens were one period away from a pretty long week.
Tyler Toffoli and Brendan Gallagher saved the Canadiens from more doom and gloom back in Montreal when they rallied their team in the third period to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Saturday. It was the team’s final game before they entered a six-day break.
Carey Price, who had been maligned by fans for his play, kept his team in the game and won it in his best effort of the year.
But what now? There is still a glaring problem that needs to be addressed. And it isn’t all on Price, who has a 5-2-2 record to go with a 2.64 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.
The Canadiens haven’t shown the aggression, speed and energy that led to them scoring and winning in the early part of the season. Some of that aggression may have resulted in an increase in penalties, giving more work to their penalty kill, but it was also a key reason why the offence was firing on all cylinders.
The Canadiens, as of late, look like a car stuck in a snowbank by comparison.
Montreal has eight goals in five games and hasn’t scored more than three goals in a game in over two weeks. This is a team that came out of the gates averaging more than four goals a game. Yes, many of them came against the Vancouver Canucks, but they have also scored four goals or more against the Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. A regression may have been expected, but the Canadiens showed they have forward options who are capable of scoring.
Now, there’s a chance the rest of the North Division knows how to quash them.
Montreal’s scoring struggles first began two weeks back against the Ottawa Senators, who held them to three goals over two games, including a shocking 3-2 win in which the Canadiens struggled to apply pressure on Matt Murray with their net front presence.
“I thought we played a really good road game,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said after that win. “We tried to limit them as much as we could. They had a real good push at the end but (Murray) held us.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 4-2 last Wednesday and the bleu-blanc-rouge once again were stifled offensively. The Canadiens experienced difficulty moving through the neutral zone and when they did shoot, many were harmless attempts from a distance.
Sheldon Keefe on #Leafs play vs. MTL: "Defensively today, we just didn't give them much at all. In fact, I had this as the lowest number of scoring chances we gave up in a game all season."
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) February 11, 2021
The Edmonton Oilers forced the Canadiens to the outside the following night in a 3-0 win.
— Michael Farber (@MichaelFarber3) February 13, 2021
Shooting from a distance might work if you’re Stephen Curry, but it does nothing for the Canadiens.
At the same time, the team expects more from their veteran players who’ve been relied upon to fill the net. This includes Tomas Tatar, who was a healthy scratch last Saturday against the Maple Leafs. He has four goals and eight points through 14 games.
“When you experience something like that in the regular season, it’s a little (shocking),” Tatar said. “But at the end of the day, it’s not my decision and I had to respect it.”
At practice Wednesday, Tatar found himself on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia. Unfamiliar territory considering he’s spent much of his time with the Canadiens on a line with centre Phillip Danault, who’s having struggles of his own, and Gallagher.
But he’ll be expected to produce all the same.
“This year, in order for us to have success, we're going to need everybody. That includes Tomas Tatar,” Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said. “Listen, he’s a guy who could really help us. You can’t read too much into the fact that he missed one game.”
The same expectations — whether from the fans, Julien or Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin — have also been placed on Danault. The centre has no goals and six assists in 15 games, which isn’t great for a player who has been mired in contract talks. Nick Suzuki and Kotkaniemi, two young players the team decided to lean more heavily on this year, are in slumps. There’s a list of Canadiens expected to pick up the slack.
But the team will need to find a way to return to that quick, overwhelming style of play that could make them a formidable opponent for anyone they face off against.
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