How to watch
Start time: 10:00 PM EST / 7:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet, CityTV (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the United States: NHL Network
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
It started with a bang. It ended with a whimper.
For 20 minutes at least, it looked like Dominique Ducharme’s appointment as head coach would shake the Canadiens out of their stupor. The team looked fast, aggressive, and energetic as they took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
The forecheck was renewed, pressuring the Jets into transition turnovers in much the same way as the Ottawa Senators had done to the Habs. The attack was varied, creative, and always looked to create rather than hope. The defence sought to destroy and disrupt, rather than simply absorb. As a result, they didn’t have all that much to do in their own zone (the Jets had only one high-danger chance in the frame).
Tale of the Tape
|54.8% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||48.7% (23rd)|
|3.37 (7th)||Goals per game||3.53 (3rd)|
|2.95 (19th)||Goals against per game||2.68 (11th)|
|19.3% (18th)||PP%||22.9% (13th)|
|76.3% (22nd)||PK%||79.2% (18th)|
Then it came tumbling down, and as has been the trend this year, it started with special teams. When Kyle Connor jammed home a loose puck in the crease early in the second period, it sowed seeds of doubt and gave the Jets hope. Later on, while the scoresheet may count Nate Thompson’s game-winner and Pierre-Luc Dubois’s insurance marker as even-strength tallies, these goals were created for all intents and purposes by the ill-discipline of the Habs and the inability of the penalty kill to recapture the initiative.
Sure, Tomas Tatar’s immediate power-play reply to Connor’s first stemmed the tide a bit, but upon closer inspection, the goal was more a product of Nathan Beaulieu than any Canadien. This would be confirmed by subsequent PPs when Beaulieu was not as generous. Without any underlying foundation for building momentum, the Canadiens retreated into old habits bit by bit as the Jets kept pushing.
As Ducharme put it post-game, they “cracked.”
The game wasn’t a complete disaster though. The reunited big line found the same spark that drove the Canadiens forward in previous seasons. The second line continued their stellar play even after losing Josh Anderson early on (his status for the rematch is unknown at this point). And while the offence only put 19 shots on target, they generated 12 high-danger scoring chances after tallying only 10 in the last two combined. It seems perhaps strange to say after a 6-3 loss, but with a little more discipline, the Canadiens could have won that game.
That said, if the Habs are going to get a better result, they’re going to need more from their two foundational pillars (assuming both of them get the chance). Carey Price is definitely fighting the puck at the moment. He’s been unsteady when facing shooters, sitting too far back in the crease, and constantly looking around. Whether it’s a problem of mistrust, overplaying/overthinking, or just bad fundamentals, Price’s play needs to get better, if only in terms of making that first save. Given the situation, Ducharme may opt to start Jake Allen instead, using the context of the natural rotation as a reason.
Thursday night was also arguably Shea Weber’s worst game this season. The Man Mountain looked slow, tentative, and generally unsure of himself. Most worringly, Winnipeg actively and deliberately attacked Weber’s side when he was on the ice, something that would have been unthinkable in years past. Price’s problems are linked to Weber’s (and vice versa), and the problems of the Canadiens’ two most important defenders inevitably trickle through the rest of the defence corps. As such, one has to imagine that this (and the penalty kill) has to be Ducharme’s top priority moving forward.
From an opposition perspective, Montreal seemingly did reasonably well against both of Winnipeg’s big lines. However, Paul Maurice was able to exploit several matchups to his advantage. When Phillip Danault’s line was able to shut down Mark Scheifele’s trio, Maurice simply pivoted the matchup to Scheifele vs. Nick Suzuki, which tilted heavily in the Jets’ favour. Similarly, Suzuki’s trio had the better of Paul Stastny’s second line, so Maurice, again taking advantage of last change, shifted the matchup to Stastny vs. Danault, yielding a better result for Winnipeg. The common denominator here though was that both of Winnipeg’s top two lines performed far better against Weber and Ben Chiarot than they did against Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson, and that they were able to tilt the ice against Montreal’s bottom six in a way that relatively few top lines have done so far.
As he enters game two, the Canadiens new head coach already has a full plate. He needs to make a decision about the goaltending situation, try to fix fundamental issues with the defence, address the penalty kill, and see what he can do about the matchup situation without last change. All this without disrupting the good things already in place.
Welcome to the NHL, Dominique Ducharme.