It's a common expression that blowouts are when you learn the least about a hockey team, but draw the most attention. That couldn't be more true of Tuesday night's game against the Los Angeles Kings. Going into the game I felt like it was going to be a rough one, and I said so in a conversation with Robert from Jewels From The Crown before the game:
@RobertJFTC Mainly tonight I'm hoping for that, and not a Kings blowout, which is what I fear is going to happen.— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) December 11, 2013
He responded with this:
@AndrewBerkshire the kings hardly ever blow anybody out, so i think you'll be good there.— Robert P. (@RobertJFTC) December 11, 2013
Robert you filthy liar.
The first period was fantastic hockey, with the Canadiens applying pressure early Drew Doughty was forced to take a penalty, and on the ensuing powerplay Montreal peppered rookie goalie Martin Jones with 7 shots, and about a billion scoring chances. He closed the door, and it didn't hurt that the Habs couldn't seem to raise the puck.
At even strength the Habs played the Kings even for the first period, but a huge defensive error by David Desharnais allowed Jordan Nolan to find open space and rip home a goal for a 1-0 lead, and a quick set play in the dying seconds of the first off a faceoff made it 2-0. It was far from out of reach at that point, with the Habs being killed by the same kind of luck that had them on a winning streak, but the second period was a whole other matter.
With Montreal coming into the game on a 9-0-1 streak I find people crapping on them a tad unsavoury, but if there's anything you can criticize them for, it would be their reaction to a terrible call to begin the third period. 1:45 into the second, Alec Martinez scored a goal that shouldn't have counted due to obvious, blatant interference on Carey Price by Kyle Clifford, and the Canadiens completely collapsed. Under four minutes later Tyler Toffoli scored another goal that shouldn't have counted, with Kyle Clifford again interfering with Price.
Ray Ferraro ripped the officials pretty viciously, and the TSN intermission crew just shook their heads in disbelief at the lack of calls, but the response from Montreal was embarrassing. At the end of the first period the Fenwick attempts were 25-15 in favour of Montreal, and 18 minutes into the second period they were 32-27 for Los Angeles.
Michel Therrien pulled Price after four goals, which was a mercy pulling, let's be honest here. and the effect on the team was to record 1 shot attempt in about 13 minutes. One.
A combination of the Kings sitting back a bit and Therrien likely stripping the paint off the walls in the second intermission saw a really solid third period from Montreal, which is a good thing. You never want to see a team just roll over and not have any fight in a blowout. Montreal almost did, and it took 18 minutes to pull out of it, but they did pull out of it.
Unfortunately, they didn't get any results for their solid effort, even with a gift of a powerplay when the refs finally called Kyle Clifford, only this time for not really doing anything as he lifted Josh Gorges' stick and got called for hooking.
The minuses were spread pretty well around the entire team, but many players actually put up great performances. Lars Eller for example, held the Kings to just 5 shot attempts while he was on the ice, but got burned for two goals against. He was also on the ice for 14 Habs shot attempts, but as we already know, none went in.
In the third period Therrien went back to the EGG line, and they generated a bunch of chances right away, which makes me hope that they might go back to it.
This is far too simplistic to be relied upon that heavily, but while Lars Eller was getting more minutes than Desharnais this season, the Habs were humming along at about a 53% Fenwick close against the tougher Western conference while dealing with a litany of injuries. Ever since the focus has been on "getting Desharnais going" and he's had more ice time than Eller, the Habs have been around 47%.
But that's the good side of a blowout loss. Losing like this allows Therrien to reevaluate freely without worrying about mixing up a winning lineup. I would like to believe, based on last season, that Therrien knows that the recent winning streak had some major faults. This loss should allow him to break up the black hole that is Gorges and Alexei Emelin, and re-promote Raphael Diaz. It may result in the EGG line being reunited, and depending on who Therrien puts on the top like with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, three lines that can dominate possession, especially when supported by a competent top two defense pairings.
The Canadiens actually have a pretty weak group of teams until the holiday break, which should provide a nice buffer for Emelin to find his game and solidify the defense. If he doesn't though, it could get ugly.
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