Must-win is an apt description for essentially every remaining game on the Montreal Canadiens’ schedule this year. After picking up a much-needed two points against the Detroit Red Wings, the Habs looked to get something of a winning streak going on Thursday against the New York Islanders, on the road in Long Island.
The early goings certainly left much to be desired. The Islanders spent the lion’s share of the first 10 minutes with the puck in the Habs’ zone. What offensive zone time the Canadiens had (if you could call it that) consisted of them dumping the puck in and trying to get it back from their opponents, with little success.
Near the halfway mark of the period, Scott Mayfield took an interference penalty, sending the much maligned Habs power play to work. This finally allowed for the visiting team to enjoy some offensive-zone time, and, frankly, it was a decent looking power play for the Habs until Andrew Shaw took an ill-advised holding penalty to nullify it.
Thankfully, the Islanders are only marginally more successful than the Habs with the man advantage, so no damage was done by the Shaw minor.
The difference-maker in the first perod was Carey Price. Outshot 15-9 in the frame, the Canadiens weren’t absolutely dominated, but it was clear that New York was the better side. Price made a number of quality saves, and looked his usual calm, collected self as he ensured the period ended with no goals being scored.
But it didn’t take long in the second period for the home side to break through. The Isles once again hemmed the Canadiens in their zone, and with a massive amount of traffic in front of Price, Adam Pelech found a loose puck and put it through to make it 1-0.
The Pelech goal seemed to be the smelling salts the Habs desperately needed, as they started to push back with some good chances of their own, but Thomas Greiss was equal to the task. A Brett Kulak high-sticking penalty took the wind out of their sails, and at the other end Price had to display some more brilliance to keep the score 1-0.
Price stayed strong, determined to keep his team in the game, and it paid off. The Habs were able to set up in the offensive zone, and Jordie Benn fired a good, low shot through traffic to make it 1-1.
The second period was inarguably a better effort from the Canadiens, and they were looking to build on that. They’d get another chance on the power play thanks to a blatant trip by Andrew Ladd, but unfortunately could not build whatsoever on the promising showing in their first attempt.
From there it was back and forth. Both teams had their chances, but both goaltenders were still keeping things interesting.
Then one bad giveaway at the offensive blue line sent Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee in on a two-on-one, and the latter made no mistake, giving a final score of 2-1 for the team that is essentially already in the playoffs.
There is no sugar-coating it: the Habs laid an egg on a night where their goaltender gave them every opportunity to win. They just could not give Price the run support necessary for his performance to get the result that it deserved.
And yet again it has to be mentioned that the power play is killing them. Yes, they looked good on the first attempt, but went the usual 0% on a night where they badly needed a win. If they had even a slightly useful unit throughout the season, they wouldn’t be fighting to take the last playoff spot; they’d be a seeded team in the Atlantic Division.
There isn’t much time left to figure it out. And, if yesterday’s game was a must win, Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks is beyond crucial. They need every point they can get if they want to play more than the requisite 82 games this season.