On Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens put together a fantastic three-period effort in a hard-fought loss to the San Jose Sharks. A few small errors, but nothing outwardly glaring against one of the NHL’s best teams. Playing the same way on Friday against the Anaheim Ducks should have led to a win.
Only they didn’t show up to play the same way, and looked like the team many people predicted they would be in the pre-season. Their play style seemed plodding and disjointed at the best of times, and posed no real threat to the Ducks for most of the night. Passes weren’t crisp, and above all else the Canadiens seemed content to just bomb the puck deep with stretch passes. None of it worked.
The Canadiens’ best games of the year have come when they carry the puck through the zones, attacking opposing defences with speed, and forcing them to defend on the back foot. Against the Ducks they played tentatively, and while they had played the previous night, this was like an entirely different team from the rest of the season. Playing to the level of teams like the Ducks has resulted in some of Montreal’s worst games of the year, and this eight-goal shellacking is certainly up there.
In a playoff race that shifts every single night, Montreal cannot afford to drop valuable points like this against lottery teams — especially if they gift you a half dozen power plays in a game. It was a perfect storm of bad things all happening at once, and it happened on a night when Montreal very easily could have given themselves some breathing room in the wild-card standings.
Montreal will face the Detroit Red Wings next, a team they last put a lopsided beating on after stumbling in New Jersey the game before. With Carey Price chasing Jacques Plante’s record and the Columbus Blue Jackets breathing down Montreal’s neck, it’s one of the most important games of the year. They’ll need to get back to their up-tempo style, because if the team from Friday night shows up, the playoff dream might slip away very quickly.