Following a heartbreaking loss against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens looked to escape California with a winning record for their three-game trip by getting a win against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night. There were a number of lineup tweaks for this game, most notably a return to action for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Carey Price being back between the pipes.
The Habs seemed to be the better team early on, controlling most of the play. Unfortunately they earned the game’s first power play, which for them has been a momentum killer all year. They posed zero threat, and the Ducks were able to kill it off with unsurprising ease.
Very shortly after the kill, Daniel Sprong walked into the offensive zone, created some space toward the outside, and beat Carey Price to the far side to make it 1-0 Anaheim. It was a good shot by Sprong, but one that Price would definitely like to have back.
His team got a chance to even things up, as Nick Ritchie took an ill-advised roughing penalty to give the Habs their second power play. They looked a little better on the second try, but were once again unable to capitalize.
That momentum-killing power play struck again, as the Ducks went right back down the ice. Adam Henrique walked into the slot unchecked, and beat Price to make it 2-0. A disastrous start to say the least.
Thankfully, Paul Byron exists, and pounced on a John Gibson rebound with just over two minutes to go in the frame, making no mistake.
Brendan Gallagher and Jordie Benn both took late penalties — Benn’s being of the four-minute variety — to end the period. As a result, the Habs had to kill a five-on-three to start the second.
They escaped the two-man disadvantage, but the four minutes awarded to Jordie Benn were simply too much to handle. Devin Shore got a loose rebound with Price down and out, and it was 3-1 for the Ducks. Claude Julien challenged for goaltender interference — with a tenuous argument at best — but the referees upheld the goal rather quickly.
Halfway through the second, the Habs got their fourth power play of the game, as Artturi Lehkonen was taken down on a rush. The usually abysmal unit didn’t have to wait long on this try and it came in the form of a patented Shea Weber slapshot.
Unfortunately, it took barely over a minute for Weber’s work to be undone. Cam Fowler threw the puck out front, and Troy Terry tipped it over Price to make it 4-2 for the Ducks. One step forward, one step back.
Then it went south quickly. Corey Perry scored, then Rickard Rakell, then Henrique again, then finally Max Jones, bringing the final mark to 8-2 for a team that has a legitimate shot at winning the Jack Hughes lottery. It was an embarrassing loss for a team with playoff aspirations.
It was a comedy of errors. They were terrible defensively, so the fact that they controlled possession didn’t matter. Price had one of his worst outings of the year, so the defensive errors really hurt as he couldn’t bail them out. Worst of all, they had six power plays, scoring one goal, againt a team that has given up more than its share this season.
I opined after the loss to the Sharks that Antti Niemi could end up costing the team in the stretch run, but what has cost them the entire year is the absolute joke that they call a power play. What’s more frustrating is even if they had converted on 100% of their power plays, they’d still have lost the game.
The Ducks exposed every problem the Canadiens have. The Habs have looked better against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They gave their worst, and at the worst possible time.
There’s still time left, so they better figure out how to park these last two losses, and quick. To barely miss the playoffs after the promising season they’ve had would be a very unfortunate end to the year.
A much needed break is now on deck for the Tricolore, as we’ll next see them face the Red Wings on Tuesday in Montreal.