With an extremely tough act to follow, Dustin Tokarski has fared quite well as a relief goaltender for the Canadiens this season. Coming in for Carey Price right now has to be a pretty tough job, and it is a great credit to Tokarski that he's done as well as he has. Thursday night against the Jets however, it wasn't his night, even with the team in front of him playing one of their better games in recent memory.
Image Credit: HockeyStats.ca
The opening frame was probably the best first period effort this year's Habs have put forth by a longshot. They put 20 of 30 shot attempts on goal while the Jets mustered a mere 13 shot attempts of their own. If not for some solid play by Ondrej Pavelec, the Jets could have found themselves in a pretty deep hole after only 20 minutes of play.
Despite being badly outplayed, the Jets would end up drawing first blood, right after a flurry of hits by the home team created some chaos in the Habs' zone. Dustin Byfuglien unleashed a point shot on Dustin Tokarski, who got a good look at it but couldn't get a hold of it as it squeaked through to open the scoring.
That flurry of hits wasn't exactly the cleanest streak of hockey you'll ever see, and set a bit of an unsettling tone for the night. Right before the goal, Andrew Ladd's hit on Greg Pateryn is something that most would likely define as a healthy charge, and an elbow to boot. It wasn't the only questionable hit in the first, a period in which it became evident that the Jets would be very liberal in finishing their checks, and the officials equally so in allowing this to occur.
Just over five minutes into the second, the Habs' misfortune worsened, as David Desharnais ran into Jeff Petry just below his own goal line, and the ensuing turnover allowed Mark Scheifele to bang home a rebound to make it 2-0. But that second Jets goal did little to slow down the Canadiens, as a few minutes later Andrei Markov made use of traffic to beat Pavelec with a nice floater from the blueline and cut the lead in half.
With the way the Habs were playing, it stood to reason that they would get themselves back into the game and take control. That was of course until Jim Slater kicked a puck in, and as it all too often does, it counted. Later in the period, Tokarski would let a fourth goal in, a shot from Blake Wheeler that the former probably should have been able to control. But forget being down 4-1, of possibly greater concern was the danger of injury with the way the game was going.
That danger was exemplified by the way Andrew Ladd played, charging from the neutral zone and hammering Jeff Petry from behind late in the second, then complaining when all he got was a minor penalty. This was by my count the second hit from him in the game that I think could warrant an ejection, and yet there was none. Nathan Beaulieu would go after Ladd after he exited the box, but pulled up at the last second. At this point, the distinct feeling that the refs were losing control of the game was hard to ignore.
Luckily, things calmed down in the third, and the rest of the game passed without incident. Brendan Gallagher got a bit of a comeback started around the midway point of the third, but the Jets answered back and killed it immediately, taking the game by a 5-2 final. I'll be honest, when the final horn went I was mostly happy that there were no injuries, because this was a game in which there could have been some.
A few observations
-David Desharnais had a pretty rough night. There was of course the brutal turnover that led to the second Jets goal, and he looked somewhat lost all night to say the least. Torrey Mitchell also had a pretty rough night, clocking in at a sparkling 9% even strength Corsi for. It wouldn't be overly surprising at all to see at least some minor lineup changes before the next game.
-It wasn't just Andrew Ladd taking runs, he was just the most obvious. The Jets in general were very liberal with finishing checks, and the response from the officials for the most part was to let it go. Nathan Beaulieu going after Ladd (but ultimately pulling up on the hit) is something that doesn't happen at all if Ladd is ejected, as I believe he should have been. It is incumbent upon officials to keep control over the game, and letting hits like that go with insufficient punishment or none at all does the exact opposite. It is fortunate that things didn't get totally out of hand, and that no players were hurt.
-Even with all the bad hits and the bad officiating, the biggest deterrent to a Habs victory in this game was admittedly Ondrej Pavelec. While he is not Carey Price, he made a lot of big saves, and the score at least would have been different if he didn't show up the way he did. Pavelec executed a solid impression of what Price does to other teams night in and night out, so in that regard, it was very much a taste of their own medicine for Montreal.
-That said about Pavelec, the biggest takeaway from this game should actually be a positive, despite the decidedly annoying final score. When you out-attempt a team the way the Habs did the Jets last night, you're usually going to win. Maybe if Price is in net it's different, and maybe a little more puck luck would have helped too. Either way it was a decent performance, and they probably owe the hockey gods a few losses like that, given the way this season has gone to date. Best to get those out of the way before playoff time, right?