It's been a long time since the Canadiens outplayed an opponent at even strength, and judging by the overall shot count last night, you probably didn't realize how good they were. The reason why their great even strength play didn't show up very well in the overall totals is because Pittsburgh absolutely eviscerated them on the powerplay. 13 shots on goal, and 20 shot attempts, 2 goals, and to top it off they popped a shorthanded goal while the Habs had their own powerplay.
Peter Budaj had an off night, at least to begin with, which was to be expected in back-to-back starts. Those are difficult for elite goaltenders to handle, let alone a solid backup like Budaj. The goals he let in during the first period to James Neal and Deryk Engelland were extremely soft, but he pulled himself out of it while fans were wondering if maybe Dustin Tokarski should get some action.
Luckily for Budaj, there was a rested goaltender at the other end of the ice who just happens to be awful. Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't aided by the soft coverage his defense was providing, but an NHL goaltender can't be letting goals like Daniel Briere's first of the night get through him.
Speaking of Briere, I think it's high time we address his mistreatment by Michel Therrien. In a game where Briere somehow made a difference with Travis Moen and George Parros as linemates, and scored the game tying goal to send it to overtime, he got all of 9:06 of ice time, and not a sniff in overtime.
Briere isn't worth his $4M/year contract for this year and next, he's too one-dimensional, too old, too slow, too injury prone, and too small, but while he's been here, he's earned his ice time, and more. Briere's 21 points in 48 games may be disappointing to some, even though that's really all that could be expected of him at his age, but the totals ignore his usage.
Would you believe me if I told you that after Max Pacioretty, no player on the Canadiens scores as often as Daniel Briere? Per 60 minutes overall, Pacioretty scores 1.70 goals, Briere 1.07, Gallagher 0.91, Galchenyuk 0.89. Those are your top goal scorers on the Habs. We rave about three of them, and decry the fourth as a problem.
At even strength, Briere remains 2nd on the team in goals per 60 minutes with 0.91 to Pacioretty's 1.06. He has been extremely effective offensively this season in spite of terrible usage, which is a credit to him as a player, and honestly, as a professional. It would be very easy to gripe about what is clearly a rift between himself and Michel Therrien, but Briere hasn't, and we should give him some props.
Between Briere's three point game and Budaj getting better as the game wore on, it took Therrien benching three of his most skilled players in overtime to force a shootout that probably shouldn't have happened. Once again Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher were stapled to the bench in overtime, and this time they were joined by P.K. Subban, who made the mistake of being out of gas after a two minute shift on the powerplay.
Why is Subban taking two minute shifts on the powerplay? Because there are no other options. Michel Therrien drove Raphael Diaz out of Montreal, and they're letting Nathan Beaulieu rot in Hamilton. It's either Subban and Andrei Markov for the full two minutes, or some combination of Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin, Jarred Tinordi, and Douglas Murray on the powerplay, because we know Therrien will never use a forward there.
The Canadiens have whittled away the skill of their blueliners this season, not only with trades and demotions, but by hammering the creativity out of Markov and Subban. It might be hard to remember since we have the Olympic break in between, but when is the last time you saw Markov or Subban put an outlet pass on a player's stick? They don't do it anymore. It's not like they can't, they're just told not to.
Everything tiny bit of creativity has been abandoned in favour of chips off the glass and dump ins. Subban is obviously still injured, but if you want to understand why he's struggling, look no further than what he's being forced to do. He can't play that way, and he shouldn't have to.