On a Saturday night in late April, we’ve reached the point of the Montreal Canadiens’ first playoff series of 2016-17 that need never have come.
Entering Game Six, the Habs have held the edge in play for most of the series, but whether it’s due to the poor efforts they reserved for Games Four and Five, their continual disappearing act in the second period, some critical roster and lineup decisions, or just plain bad luck, the Tricolore find themselves looking for a way back from the brink.
Habs commentators, on this site and elsewhere, have praised Claude Julien for making the kind of changes that lead to success in the long run. Tonight, we’ll see if the Habs’ bench boss, his staff, and his team can nail down a very important result in the short run.
How to watch
Puck drop: 8:00 PM EDT / 5:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC (English), TVAS (French)
In the United States: NBC, MSG
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecentre Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|1.19||5v5 goal ratio||0.81|
The Habs have played their ugliest hockey in this series when they’ve failed to consistently clear their own zone with possession, leading to extended Ranger zone time and fewer offensive opportunities for Montreal.
That phenomenon was on full display in Game One, but the Habs largely overcame it in the latter part of Game Two and through Game Three. Games Four and Five were a return to that poor form, and it cost the Habs a chance to play Game Six in the driver’s seat.
Thankfully, if the Habs are looking for leadership in their bid to return to a winning recipe, their captain is setting a good example. Max Pacioretty has used his speed through the neutral zone to great effect, putting 14 more shot attempts toward Henrik Lundqvist than the next highest volume Hab, Brendan Gallagher. It’s only a matter of time until Pacioretty breaks through - it’s just that there isn’t much time left.
As tends to happen in competitive sports, teams like the Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, and Flames were blown out of their respective series without regard for how deserving an individual player might be of success, or the priorities of that player’s organization. The Minnesota Wild, despite their historic domination of the St. Louis Blues, are unlikely to emerge victorious from their first round matchup.
A loss tonight would mean a wasted season in which the Habs took hold of one of the poorer divisions in the NHL, only to release their grasp for the few weeks when it mattered most. And that wasted season would come at an apparently critical juncture, where the composition of the team’s roster makes it clear that the goal is to win now.
Each NHL season is full of harsh outcomes, and the first round of the playoffs especially so. As time runs short on their 2016-17 campaign, the Canadiens will need their wits about them to avoid their own unhappy ending tonight.