The Montreal Canadiens deserved a victory in Game One. For thirty minutes, the Canadiens mercilessly took the Senators to task, and with the help of a prolonged man advantage in the back half of the second period, the Canadiens had unleashed forty-one shots at Senators goaltender Craig Anderson by the end of the period. By the end of the game, the Canadiens would reach the half-century mark, only to come away with a loss.
The significant turning point came just past the middle of the second period, when a mangled Lars Eller lay prone at his own blue line. As a pool of blood formed beneath him, it became clear that Eller was likely seriously injured. While his condition has not been confirmed at the time of this writing, we do know Eller has suffered a broken nose and likely a concussion. While a bottom-pair defenceman may or may not have to sit out a game for the Senators, it appears that the Canadiens will have to make due without the services of one of their most effective centremen.
Regardless of whether or not Gryba's hit on Eller is suspension-worthy, the optics were terrible. The Canadiens were handed a period of significant advantage, in the form of five-minute major penalty and a subsequent minor, but could come away with only a one goal lead. That lead proved unmaintainable, as the energy, focus, and skill that the Canadiens demonstrated in the early going seemed to have dissipated.
If the Canadiens wish to draw even with the Senators in Game Two, they'll need to recapture this focus. The Canadiens were able to maintain a significant advantage in the first half of the game on the back of their depth, as a third line of Eller, Galchenyuk, and Gallagher rolled over the bottom half of the Senators line-up. With Eller, and now top scorer Max Pacioretty and Captain Brian Gionta unavailable, the Canadiens are going to have to spread the load even further, likely beginning with their top line.
Members of the Canadiens nominal top line, including Tomas Plekanec and Michael Ryder, will be counted to generate some scoresheet-level production tonight, as the Canadiens may not be able to count on the same level of production that they may have seen from their third line otherwise. While Plekanec and Ryder were somewhat scrambled at the end of Game One, they were left together long enough to generate the Habs poorest possession numbers while facing Ottawa's best players.
While part of facing the other team's best options, especially players of the ilk of Erik Karlsson, is the understanding that possession numbers may suffer, the Canadiens need better. The loss of Lars Eller, Pacioretty, and Gionta is the loss of the luxury of such substantial depth that the Canadiens can win when their top line does no more than hold steady. If the Canadiens are to earn a victory, look for Ryder and Plekanec to step up.
While the Canadiens will be counting on their top line to produce, their second line needs to improve as well. David Desharnais was abysmal in Game One, producing nary a single shot in nearly twenty minutes of ice time. While Rene Bourque played with passion and earned a goal, and Pacioretty looked dangerous on a few early-game rushes, the trio struggled at times as well, and will need to pick up the offensive slack if the Canadiens are to solve Craig Anderson. With the line's best player, Pacioretty, removed from the equation, the pressure on Bourque and Desharnais is amplified.
Prior to Game One, the Canadiens and Senators looked like a dead heat. The strengths of each team could be effectively muted by their opponents, and despite the Eller incident, and the subsequent loss of two other top-quality players, these realities still exist. A fifty shot game is nothing but an indication of success, and even against the indomitable Anderson, the goals will come. The Senators four-goal effort of Thursday night is their tenth in forty-nine tries in 2013, and despite what Erik Karlsson might have you believe, the Senators likely have not become an offensive juggernaut overnight. Heading into Game Two, stakeholders in the Canadiens success, fans and players alike, would do well to remember a simple idea. The series is far from over.
For the view of the winners of Game One, check out Silver Seven Sens.