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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs 5 Takeaways: This defence is not cutting it

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Montreal allowed a goal deficit to snowball into another humiliating defeat.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens had a chance to put an awful game against the Arizona Coyotes behind them with a solid effort versus the up-and-coming Toronto Maple Leafs. Early on the Habs’ play suggested that they were going to do just that.

Chemistry forming between Charles Hudon and Brendan Gallagher

A lot of the Habs’ good play in the opening minutes came from the neutral-zone transition of Charles Hudon and Brendan Gallagher, launching each other up the ice with stretch passes, or dropping it to each other to keep possession moving toward the offensive zone.

Passes from Hudon to a streaking Gallagher were particularly effective, with the latter simply racing headlong toward the goaltender and collecting the puck in the process. The duo has discovered a way to gain the offensive zone with possession while the team generally struggles in that department.

The two combined for the first goal of the game versus the Coyotes, and came close to replicating that feat with their early rushes.

Victor Mete stood out early with his play

There have been times in recent games when Victor Mete has been overpowered along the end boards. It seems that whenever he’s put under phyisical pressure he’s unable to have much of an impact at this stage of his career, and can be targeted by the other team to gain possession.

When not under pressure in his own end, as was the case to start last night’s game, his skill set can really shine. His confidence with the puck between the blue lines is the greatest of any member of the Habs’ defence corps, and that must be quite a surprise for teams that set their game plan around what is largely a stay-at-home group.

Mete can also stand up against onrushing forwards at his blue line, using his stick to break up any potential attempts at controlled zone entries. Given the nature of his physical game, the chip-and-chase method can be effective against the rookie who doesn’t have the size or strength to deal with forwards in a one-on-one situation.

Once he figures out his strategy for dealing with those situations, whether it be more quickly moving the puck to his partner or using his speed to recover the puck and turn the play toward the middle of the ice (conservative coaches/fans look away) to avoid being pinned on the boards, like a boxer making a conscious effort to stay off the ropes, he will be a very good player.

Karl Alzner is not making progress

At the beginning of the season, Karl Alzner stated that the issues he was having defensively were the result of having to adjust to a new system. A quarter of the way in, with no improvement in his play, that explanation is no longer valid.

It’s all too common to see Alzner, and his defence partner Jeff Petry, on the ice when a goal is scored or a prime scoring chance is allowed, often gliding back into the frame after having lost track of the opposition.

The main problem seems to be Alzner’s positioning on the ice, usually taking up station within the circle in his own end and ignoring the forward behind him. He tries to get his stick on a shot coming from the defenceman in front of him, but if he misses, or the shot comes from a different angle, he’s essentially allowing an odd-man situation in the low slot, and those are being converted with regularity.

For a player who was targeted in free agency solely for his defensive game, having his pairing at the bottom of the list in goals surrendered, seeing a negative expected-goals differential with every partner he’s played with for 15 minutes or more, and sporting the worst expected goals against per 60 minutes mark on the penalty kill of any Habs defender, it’s quite clear that Alzner isn’t the defensive stalwart Marc Bergevin thought he had locked up during the off-season.

Canadiens failed the character test administered to them

After the loss against Arizona, Claude Julien publicly stated after Friday’s practice that Saturday’s game would be a test of the character of his team; a chance to get redemption for an embarrassing performance — a common utterance from coach and players alike in recent games — in what should have been a comfortable win.

The 6-0 scoreline serves as the grade for that examination.

The team has lost faith

The Canadiens managed to play quite well through two periods, but the 3-0 goal early in the third was the back-breaker.

Another defensive lapse off a faceoff loss, with Petry, Alzner, and centre Phillip Danault all losing their assignments and leaving Connor Brown unmarked at the side of the net, allowed for an easy goal by the Leafs. Knowing that “easy” isn’t a word that can be used to describe their own offensive production, the game was essentially over for the Habs at that point.

Image credit: Natural Stat Trick

The Leafs were allowed to walk right in on goal from that point on, and the 4-0 and 5-0 goals came from odd-man opportunities right in front of Charlie Lindgren, who wasn’t given much of a chance on any of the final three goals he allowed before getting the hook.

A 2-0 deficit was turned into a 6-0 drubbing in the final period thanks to the defensive miscues. With Bergevin focusing most of his recent efforts on acquiring defencemen who are supposed to limit the opposition’s offence, and swapping out more offensively inclined blue-liners in order to achieve that, such a debacle should not occur with the regularity it has this season.