Overall, since Claude Julien took the reins, the Montreal Canadiens have been playing a very sound defensive structure. Last night, the wheels completely came off the defence. Or was it just one wheel?
After a little bit of a feeling-out process, the Canadiens were the first to falter, giving up a power play 7:29 into the first period, with Andrew Shaw sent off for tripping.
The Canadiens’ penalty kill was able to withstand a barrage, with four different defencemen blocking a shot to keep the Chicago Blackhawks from registering a single shot on net during the two minute man-advantage.
Though the Habs were able to thwart the Blackhawks on the power play, Alexei Emelin was beaten again one-on-one — this time twice in the span of 10 seconds — by Artem Anisimov, who first spun around Emelin on the pass reception in the neutral zone, then turned around him again in the offensive zone to find Patrick Kane. The winger was wide open, and beat Carey Price for the game’s opening goal.
The Canadiens responded by firing off 12 shot attempts after the Blackhawks’ goal while only allowing two more for the rest of the period, and four shots on net against in total in the first.
The Habs did not let up to start the second period, keeping the pace high and earning a power play just over five minutes in. Alex Galchenyuk found a lane crossing into the slot and took the puck to the net only to be stopped by Corey Crawford, who was putting on a dominant performance in his old hometown.
The Blackhawks would benefit from Crawford’s work on the penalty kill by adding to their lead with just over nine minutes left in the second period. After Emelin mistimed a hit near the Blackhawks’ blue line that took out teammate Paul Byron instead, Chicago took the puck up the ice on a two-on-one that was broken up by Jeff Petry, but in the subsequent confusion, Johnny Oduya took a shot that went off Byron’s arm and past Carey Price.
With a two-goal deficit to work with, the Canadiens kept pushing, maintaining a pace of at least one shot attempt per minute, and then with six minutes left in the second period they earned their second power play of the game.
On the man advantage, Galchenyuk was making a lot of things happen, but the Habs were stymied by Crawford, who stood in front of everything, including a Shea Weber laser beam he took right off the mask.
The second period ended with the Habs still trailing 2-0, but leading in shots 25-15.
The chances for a third-period comeback were dealt a huge blow 47 seconds into the third period after Emelin was exposed again, leaving his side of the ice completely wide open for Richard Panik to receive a pass all alone and break in to give the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead.
Despite being down by three, the Canadiens kept pushing the pace and were able to get on the board late in the third period with soon-to-be 20-goal-scorer Byron notching his 19th of the season.
Weber made things very interesting, scoring his 16th on the season off a bank pass from Galchenyuk by pounding home a one-timer to get the Habs back in the game with 3:28 left in the third period.
Though the Canadiens would keep the pressure on after pulling within one goal, coming close on the next couple of shifts to finding the tying goal, once the empty net was exposed the Blackhawks were able to take advantage, with Jonathan Toews icing it with 1:28 left.
- Alexei Emelin was truly the odd man out. While the rest of the team played cohesively, Emelin was in no-man’s land. I don’t know how hard it is for professional hockey players to learn new systems mid-season, but I don’t think that’s the cause of Emelin’s downfall. Whatever it is, after last night I think he’ll be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.
- Alex Galchenyuk was dominant on the power play. Not only did he control the play when the puck came to him, but it also seemed liked his teammates were looking for him to quarterback proceedings; almost as if they were directed to do so. It would be great for Galchenyuk’s talent to be recognized as a key component of this team’s success and utilized accordingly heading into the playoffs. This can only result in good things.
- The Canadiens have a big series of games coming up with a back-to-back series Saturday and Sunday against the Ottawa Senators. Thankfully, there’s time to prepare and make adjustments. Claude Julien is looking for answers, and if he’s proven anything so far, he’s pretty good at finding them.