Dominique Ducharme was dealt what he himself referred to as a “curveball” on Thursday morning, when it became clear that defenceman Sami Niku and franchise favourite, right-winger Brendan Gallagher, got held up in the league’s COVID protocol, and have since had confirmed results that they have the coronavirus.
It wasn’t all bad news pre-puck drop though. Former hat trick-hero Mathieu Perreault was cleared to return after missing the last 15 games with an eye injury that required laser surgery. The same was true for the defensive side, where Niku effectively could be replaced by either Brett Kulak or Chris Wideman; with both defencemen ready to strap on the gear after getting rid of their respective ailments. Ducharme opted to insert all three players into the lineup, with rookie Mattias Norlinder being the odd man out against the Stanley Cup-chasing Colorado Avalanche.
Apparently the game started with a first period which lasted 20 minutes. I say apparently, because there wasn’t a lot going on from either side during the opening third. Colorado looked complacent, like they already knew they wouldn’t have to go full throttle to get the win. Montreal, meanwhile, kept on displaying the slow and inefficient offence they’ve been demonstrating since the start of the season.
During four of these 20 minutes, the Habs were one man up, without creating any substantial pressure whatsoever. Instead, Jake Allen had to be alert to save a potential opening goal from the opposition during the second of the two power plays.
The highlight of that first period was the lead-up to that second man advantage. Alexander Romanov, who takes no prisoners, decided to skate across the ice to take out the Avalanche’s prodigy, Cale Makar. With the hit, he managed to take out not only Makar, but also teammate Ryan Poehling.
Cale Makar and Ryan Poehling get taken out by Alexander Romanov— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 3, 2021
Which means Aube-Kubel took a penalty for Romanov hitting his own teammate lmao pic.twitter.com/48lvtriCGf
This scene caused Avs winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel to lose his temper and throw his gloves to the ground, sending him to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct. Meanwhile, Romanov was quick to get off the ice, having been hit in the face during his own tackle, causing his now broken nose to bleed profusely.
Montreal started the second just as they finished the first. They drew an early penalty, which was positive and indeed a nice effort by the newly composed fourth line. Eleven seconds into the power play, however, Chris Wideman spilled the puck deep in his own zone, and one quick pass later Valeri Nichushkin had an open strada toward both Allen and the net. The puck slid over the line ever so slowly, just as an added insult to injury.
Shortly thereafter, Colorado were allowed to come two-on-zero while still being a man down, but that time Allen saved his team from further embarrassment.
When three power plays had come and gone, the home side had still to record a single shot on the Avalanche’s Swedish netminder, Jonas Johansson. But you know what wise people tend to say; the fourth time’s the charm.
Colorado continued to put its foot in its mouth, taking dumb penalties without evident reason behind them. Just a minute after Tyson Jost had rejoined his team for the latest penalty kill, captain Gabriel Landeskog decided to board Tyler Toffoli, sending him to the sin bin.
At this point, one could imagine the Avs players and coaching staff thinking that they had nothing to worry about while playing the penalty kill. In fact, they had thus far been the only team to record shots while Montreal were playing with the extra man. If you’re skilled enough, you only need one shot (do not miss your chance to blow) though.
Ben Chiarot has previously only reached five goals twice in his eight-year NHL tenure. That’s now three times in nine seasons, and this time he’s done so in just 25 games. If he continues at this pace, he may very well eclipse the 10-goal barrier for the very first time in his NHL career. Being in a contract year, Chiarot is making himself a sought-after commodity come the trade deadline.
Cole Caufield was credited with an assist on Chiarot’s equalizer, and at this point anything that can help thaw our frozen goal-scoring prodigy’s confidence is appreciated.
Landeskog redeemed himself later in the period by getting into position in front of goal and disturbing Allen enough to let a point shot from Makar sneak through. Whether Gabe himself touched the puck with his stick for the redirect or not, that is the question. Nonetheless, Colorado were a goal up heading into the third.
One goal up became two early on in period three. A pinball-like situation around Allen’s net ended up with Malmö product André Burakovsky whipping the puck through the legs of the flailing goalie and into the net.
If not for Jake Allen, this night would have been just as ugly on the scoresheet as it looked on the ice. The Canadiens’ coaching staff seem to have taken the phrase “open-door policy” and implemented it as the team’s defensive philosophy. Combined with an anemic power play, a leaky penalty kill, and a nonexistent offensive game plan, it is difficult from the outside to understand what actually is being worked on during the training sessions.
A Swedish singer-songwriter named Sabina Ddumba had a hit a few years ago which was called Effortless. In it you find lyrics like: “We don’t even try. Not at all. It’s effortless. So effortless.” During the final minutes of the game, I found myself humming this song while relating it to this year’s version of the Montreal Canadiens.
Landeskog eventually got his goal, as he fired in an empty-netter with three minutes remaining to make it a 4-1 score. There weren’t many players who stood out in the loss for Montreal, but Allen, Poehling, and Romanov were beacons of light on a dark December evening.
There may be something good waiting at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. But for now, Jeff Gorton certainly has his hands full.