The more I think about it and watch game tape, I'm just really not sure what to think about the Montreal Canadiens' first game in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the first time since last year's playoff series, the Canadiens actually outplayed the Lightning, forechecking hard and hemming them in for long periods. Their extreme aggression in the high offensive zone and neutral zone caused a ton of turnovers, and prevented the Lightning for doing much at even strength.
On the one hand, you need to tip your hat to Michel Therrien, who once again is pulling a rabbit out of his hat with a surprisingly competent system after two full regular seasons of lottery-level play and over-reliance on Carey Price. On the other hand, with last change at home, in overtime, Therrien iced his fourth line and third defense pair together against a mixed Tampa line of NIkita Kucherov, Brian Boyle, and Valtteri Filppula, along with Tampa's second defense pairing. Overwhelmed on the play, Greg Pateryn couldn't get the puck out of the zone, and received very little puck support, and just like that a great move from Kucherov produced the game winner.
To be fair to Therrien, both his fourth line and third defense pairing were fantastic all game long, but coaching 101 is you don't put all your weakest players on the ice at the same time. And you especially don't do that when you have last change, and your opponent puts a group of second line guys.
In double overtime, a mental mistake is what's going to cause the game winning goal, and the coach is the guy who isn't exhausted from playing, so he should be the last one to make it.
Had that been the only miscue from Therrien in overtime, I'd say that on aggregate he still coached a hell of a game, but it wasn't. During regulation, Lars Eller was matched heavily against the Steven Stamkos line, and to be frank, he owned them. Through 60 minutes of play, Stamkos was held to a 48% shot attempt differential in spite of pretty hefty offensive zone deployment. Then, in overtime, Therrien switched things up and began to match David Desharnais to Stamkos, which saw his shot attempt differential skyrocket to 57% in just a few minutes.
Desharnais, for his part, had a horrible game. While he generated two nice shot attempts, even hitting the post, the team was out-attempted 29-11 while he was on the ice, just 27.5% of possession, even with 69% of his shifts beginning in the offensive zone. Without Desharnais on the ice, the Canadiens controlled 62.1% of possession. A lot of people were blaming Alex Galchenyuk for the line's struggles, but it was Desharnais getting run over, with Galchenyuk's shot attempt differential being only half as bad.
Unfortunately for the Habs in this series, the Lightning are extremely deep down the middle, and while Desharnais is more talented than Brian Boyle, he clearly can't compete physically, and all of Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Filppula are more talented, faster, and better defensively. Desharnais at center right now is a sunk cost for Montreal.
I still think Therrien deserves a lot of credit for game one, but as always his decision making can get really confusing.
What to do about Desharnais
At this point in time, based on matchups, ice time, and performance, it's clear that Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller are the Canadiens' top two centers. Torrey Mitchell has been phenomenally impressive on the fourth line, so there's no reason to mess with that. But the Habs aren't scoring, at all.
Here's what they can do, move Desharnais to the wing, and Galchenyuk to center. Tell Desharnais to use his shot, which is severely underused and underrated, and tell Galchenyuk to play instinctually. If you're already going to lose the Desharnais matchup either way, letting Galchenyuk loose could allow the Habs to get some of the percentages back on their side.
The disallowed goal & the offside
Kucherov pushed Price into the net. The puck doesn't go in if Kucherov doesn't push Price in the net. How the puck entered the net is completely irrelevent because Kucherov's interference with the goaltender prevented him from making a save at all. There was a lot of consternation on social media about the call, with many believing the Lightning got the short end of the stick, but this call was obvious, beyond obvious.
Yes, Filppula was offside on the play that led to the game winning goal from Kucherov. But you know what? It doesn't matter. The Canadiens actually won possession of the puck back from Tampa Bay after this play, and failed to clear the zone. I don't really see how the offside is relevant to the goal anymore, in spite of Therrien's complaints post game.
Further, and I know this is just my opinion and not the rule, but I don't really care about this kind of offside not being called. The purpose of offsides is to prevent cherry picking, and preventing one team getting an unfair offensive advantage because of it.
Not being fully synchronized while crossing a line when the Lightning received absolutely zero advantage because of it, just doesn't matter. I understand if people want to be upset about it, but if anything be upset about the failure to clear the zone, or who the Habs had on the ice.
The Habs haven't lost more than three times in a row this season, they were in a playoff position all year long, and for most of the year, they had home ice advantage. While this team prides itself on silencing doubters and having strength of character, this is the first time all season that they've faced any sort of real adversity. It'll be interesting to see how they deal with it. While the team seems confident in spite of the loss at home, that's six straight losses to the Lightning, and in this one, the tired team coming off a game seven win two nights ago got better as they went along. By the time Kucherov ended the game, the Habs' possession advantage had all but vanished. You have to wonder if this was the Habs' best shot at a win in this series.