When the most frustrating part of a loss isn't the injury of star player, it's been an irritating night. This was the case for the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
After an abysmal opening period, the Habs began to fight back, coming within inches of breaking the Ducks and taking the lead. Instead, the Canadiens lost their most dangerous forward, spurring a bizarre and impossible to justify sequence of non-calls and make-ups. Ultimately, the Habs could not overcome their fate, as they would earn only a tying goal. When it was all said and done, it was a 2-1 Anaheim final score in a game where Montreal deserved better.
Now, with only two games left before almost a week off, Montreal has a shot to go into Christmas in first place in the division. The first of those tests will take place at the Bell Centre this evening.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (French): TVA
In Canada (English): City
In the United States: NHLN-US
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|49.96||Fenwick % (Within 1)||44.66|
|1.12||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.89|
Know Your Enemy
It wasn't long ago that the Canadiens' opponents tonight, the Ottawa Senators, were regarded as a team on the upswing. With a deep pool of prospects approaching their NHL debuts, Paul Maclean providing a steadying influence behind the bench, and stars like Erik Karlsson already playing in Kanata, the Sens were a team to watch.
Only two years later, in a weak Eastern Conference, the Sens are looking like a team that will struggle to even make the playoffs. This begs the question: how does a playoff team, with one of the NHL's best prospect groups, go from contender to afterthought in only two years?
Of the 10 players identified in 2012 by Hockey Prospectus as the cream of Ottawa's crop, the top four are all NHL players. Look a little further down the list, and you'll find Patrick Wiercioch, another solid contributor. All of those players are improving at a reasonable pace, and are positive influences on their NHL teams. It's what's happened to the roster around them that's the cause of the issue.
Jakob Silfverberg, the #3 player in the rankings, was traded along with #7, Stefan Noesen, to acquire Bobby Ryan. While Ryan is scoring, his offensive zone push hasn't stopped him from getting murdered on possession. This has led to Ottawa's plight, as they can ice four balanced lines, but no clear-cut top six trio.
There has also been a considerable exodus of top-six talent over the last couple of seasons, it's easy to see how the Sens have ended up here. Daniel Alfredsson, while no longer able to function as a top-sixer today, was allowed to climb over the hill without having his all-around game adequately replaced. Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, who demonstrated chemistry late last season, also left without having their offence replaced.
The team is obviously unsatisfied with the early returns this season, and have responded by firing Maclean. But when a lack of talent up front is compounded with the absence of the reliable Marc Methot on the back-end, not to mention Chris Phillips' continued descent into senility, it adds up to a team that isn't adequately supporting their promising youngsters.
Over the same time two year time period, fans of the Montreal Canadiens have suffered while inferior veterans eat up minutes that should be going to the team's up-and-comers. The Ottawa Senators have something close to the opposite problem, and whether the team waits for their youngsters to grow into top-level players, or management acts to improve the roster in the short-term, the Senators aren't going anywhere without better talent. That's a problem that no head coach can be asked to fix.
Last Time Out
Two games back, the Canadiens and Senators played one of the most memorable games in the NHL's history. The Canadiens erased a three goal deficit in a matter of minutes, before winning the game in overtime. Last time out, in a less dramatic fashion, the Habs had to come-back again.
The Ottawa Senators put three goals past Peter Budaj before the game was six minutes old, chasing P.K. Subban to the Canadiens bench for his purported role in the ugly start. Thankfully for the Habs, their best scorer took over.
Max Pacioretty had a dominant five point night, turning virtually every Sens mistake into a transition goal. It was he and Thomas Vanek at their percentages-powered best, and while not sustainable, it was highly entertaining.
Tonight, the Canadiens will likely have to find a way to win without the benefit of their best winger, and no matter the opponent, that's a tall order. For all their confounding roster management decisions, however, the Canadiens have built themselves the type of talented squad that can withstand they set-backs. Tonight, they'll have to prove that the foundation they've built means that those percentages don't matter.