Bad lineup decisions started the Habs on the wrong foot
Playing the last game before a three-day break, the Montreal Canadiens did not ice an optimal lineup.
Carey Price, Jakub Jerabek, and Charles Hudon were left on the sidelines with inferior options taking the ice, meaning the Canadiens’ chances of keeping any momentum going on the road trip were hindered right from the drop of the puck.
The Brett Lernout - Joe Morrow pairing
Being inserted into the lineup for a first game of the season versus a skilled team on a winning streak would be a tough assignment for any player. Rookie defenceman Brett Lernout was not only thrust into that scenario, but paired with the Habs’ weakest regular defenceman, Joe Morrow, as well.
It was the worst possible lineup decision the team could have made on the back end, and the Edmonton Oilers were quick to capitalize, using their last change to target the duo. There was little effort made to shelter either player, as the Habs kept putting them out on the ice together throughout the first half of the game before finally being breaking them up.
It shouldn’t have been a pairing put together at all, each paired with a more experienced defender instead from the outset, but it definitely should not have taken so long to realize that it wasn’t working. The game-winning goal had been scored before the coaching staff addressed the obvious issue.
Niemi did his part
While Price would always be the better option in any individual game, Antti Niemi held the fort as best he could in relief for the second half of the back-to-back.
He allowed his first goal on what was essentially a two-on-one that materialized right in front of him. He perhaps could have done a better job of fighting to see through traffic on Connor McDavid’s goal, but he had little chance of stopping Milan Lucic in the second period in what was yet another case of poor defending on the penalty kill that left a forward all alone in front of the net.
Niemi made several great saves on the night, and being pulled from the game in the final minutes for an extra attacker was only an option because of how he’d kept his team within striking distance.
Charles Hudon scratched again
I stated in my takeaways from Friday’s game versus the Calgary Flames that sitting Hudon for one game to accommodate the return of Artturi Lehkonen made the most sense, but not if it meant he was going to remain in the press box.
The Habs could have shuffled someone else out of the lineup, even leaving Lehkonen out with the explanation that they were easing him back into action and didn’t want him to deal with a back-to-back situation right away.
Sitting out one game isn’t going to affect many of the players on the roster, and a bit of PR to explain that it’s simply a rotation of healthy bodies would preserve the pride of any player who was forced to miss a game.
In the end the staff believed sitting the rookie again was the easiest solution, and that’s always been the sore spot among fans regarding how the coaching staff approaches young players.
Gallagher remains the bright spot
Brendan Gallagher came to play last night, as he does every night. Unfortunately for him, it seems the Oilers coaching staff built their game plan around him and he was always met with two defenders while he was on the ice.
The Plekanec line was given a heavily defensive deployment in last night’s contest, limiting the amount of offensive zone time Gallagher was able to see in the first period. But with the Habs down three goals, he was placed on the line with Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin in an attempt to give that duo a spark.
In the end the move didn’t pan out, but it was his work ethic that led to the switch being made in the first place, as the alternate captain continues to lead the team by example.