After the Edmonton Oilers scored four goals in the final 9:11 of the third period in their 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, both the players and interim head coach Dominique Ducharme said that the team played more defensively and on their heels.
They say it wasn’t a directive, or even necessarily a conscious decision.
The instinct is to say that the Canadiens played scared to lose. I would phrase it a little differently. I think they played like that because they are desperate for a win. Either way, the result was the same.
When he said that 90 percent of the game was mental, and the other half was physical, Yogi Berra was talking about baseball. However, it also applies to most sports. And there’s no denying that the issue with the Canadiens right now is mostly mental. This is a team that has lost seven of their last 10 games. They are a few more losses from being in a dog fight for a playoff spot.
In the eight games without Brendan Gallagher, the Canadiens have 12 goals. One of those was into an empty net. There are physical reasons for that, sure. Montreal’s best players need to be better offensively. That’s not up for debate. There are also mental reasons. Ducharme shut down the notion that it was a confidence issue, and he may be right, but there is some kind of mental block on this team right now.
Instead of playing their game, they are trying to push through a win. It’s why in the third period they tried desperately to hold on to what little offence they had managed. It wasn’t even a team afraid to lose as much as it was a team trying to force a win.
This team is down right now. They are saying the right things. It wasn’t a horrible game on Monday, either, despite the last 10 minutes. After a few games in the last week where there was no urgency, Monday night’s game was a refreshing change. They may have not channelled the urgency and the energy in the right way, but at least it was there. They are playing for a result rather than playing the game and letting it happen.
They have a day without a game on Tuesday, when Jon Merrill will join the team for the first time. He’s not a player who will necessarily help the team’s offence himself, but maybe knowing he’s back there will allow some players to push more offensively.
On Wednesday, the Canadiens have a chance to make some adjustments. It’s not easy to try to outscore the Oilers, but they’re going to have to dictate the play to improve their chance to win.