Coming into last night's game, the Montreal Canadiens were the best team in the NHL at home according to possession metrics. Meanwhile the Toronto Maple Leafs were the league's worst road team. Everything pointed to a big Montreal win, and look what happened.
I'm not sure why the phenomena happens, but it seems like for a decade now, when these two teams play, they reverse roles. Toronto becomes a good team, while the Canadiens turn to shit. Luckily the Canadiens have 34 games left in the season that aren't against the Leafs.
Perhaps the reason why the games go as they do between these two teams is the "rivalry" we always hear about. In Montreal, there is no rivalry between the Leafs and the Canadiens. They're a pesky team that plays us hard, but so are the Washington Capitals, and I would hesitate to call them a rival. Sure, the prices for tickets go up, so suckers from Toronto will pay extra, but I don't know anyone in this city who gets pumped for a game against Toronto.
No, that feeling is saved for the Bruins. And when they return, the Nordiques. Meanwhile in Toronto, the Canadiens are the Leafs' #1 rival, and with 7 straight seasons without a hint of the playoffs, beating the Canadiens is the highlight of their season.
There's a disproportionate feeling that goes on between fanbases. When the Habs lose to the Leafs, we don't think "Damn, losing to a rival sucks", it's more like "Aw c'mon! We lost to them???". It's an odd turnaround, because that's the way that Leafs fans feel about the Senators.
I guess I should talk about the actual game. There was nothing positive about that game.
From the drop of the puck in the first period, the Canadiens were asleep. Not only that, but Carey Price wasn't his usual self. There are games this season where the Habs will get away with a slow start because of his brilliance, but last night wasn't one of them.
I'm not entirely sure why Price was off, maybe it's because he didn't need the Buffalo game off, but he was having serious trouble tracking the puck. Not all the goals that went in on him were bad, but you could tell he was fighting it all night.
The Canadiens were shut out for the first time this season, and in doing so, their excellent goal differential on the season was nearly erased, now sitting at a meager +1. Getting shut out is going to happen, but getting shut out by a mediocre goaltender like James Reimer behind an AHL defense is a joke.
We could whine about officiating that was clearly in the Leafs favour over the first 40 minutes, but it really didn't matter. Tim Peel is a piece of shit, we already know this. Whether or not he changed the game isn't really a question, the Canadiens didn't come to play. They didn't deserve to be in it.
At the end of the game, blown out and subject to a myriad of cheap shots, the Habs lost their cool. Brandon Prust embarrassed himself while trying to fight everyone he could get near. There were a lot of fans freaking out about how "this is the new Canadiens" trying to goon it up instead of win, but those fans are ignoring that it started when the game was already lost. This game wasn't an example of a new strategy, it was a bunch of grown men, frustrating in a blowout loss, with Leafs taking repeated runs at people, snapping.
Remember when Mikhail Grabovski was a good player for a couple years and had cut out the sideshow stuff? I guess that's over and he's decided to become a cannibal. Or maybe he was turned into a vampire.
In the comments section JF pointed out that someone should remind Erik Cole that the premiere of The Walking Dead is today, not yesterday. Michel Therrien noticed too, Cole received just 11:09 in ice time, a low since Jacques Martin was coaching him at the beginning of last year.
P.K. Subban finally lead the team in ice time, which makes sense since he's the team's best defenseman. He was also the only one who didn't look asleep through most of the game. Unfortunately he's still saddled with Francis Bouillon. Therrien seems married to the Josh Gorges and Raphael Diaz pairing, and it's just not working.
Bouillon is also not working. Especially in the offensive zone. The problem with Bouillon isn't even that he's a bad player, it's that he's a bad decision maker. It's extremely rare that when Bouillon is on the ice, that he isn't the worst shooter the Habs have available, but he thinks shoot first, all the damn time. He's trying to be Subban and continually embarrasses himself. He took 5 shots last night, 5 of which were blocked and immediately cleared the zone, the other missed the net. All 5 he was better off passing.
His decision making is also suspect in breakout plays. Often he plays himself into a corner instead of using his teammates, then dumps it in. The problem being that he's impatient and ices it often. Icing doesn't have to be a disaster, but it is when he's playing with the Alex Galchenyuk line, who need to be kept out of the defensive zone.
I wouldn't mind seeing a shakeup on defense that looked as follows:
Gorges - Subban
Markov - Emelin
Kaberle - Diaz
Two tough minutes pairings that can dominate possession, one sheltered offense only pairing to slide behind the Galchenyuk line.
Colton Orr tried to go knee on knee with Tomas Plekanec, but I hope he isn't suspended. I'm hoping he's rewarded for it by Leafs management and signed to an 8 year, one-way contract with a no movement clause that stipulates that he can't be a healthy scratch.
For reaction from the gloating side, check out Pension Plan Puppets.
The Canadiens' next game is against the similarly struggling Tampa Bay Lightning, who are on a 3 game losing streak of their own.