No one wants to hear about defence when a team has failed to score in two consecutive games, but it’s maybe when the need for exemplary play away from the puck needs to be most reinforced.
The Montreal Canadiens didn’t fail to score because they lean too much on the defensive side. They failed to score because they lack game-breaking talent or at least chemistry between multiple game-breaking talents, and they face a well-coached, disciplined Flyers team with a high level of buy-in. The five-goal game was an outlier; the last two games is closer to how the matchup was supposed to look from the start.
I think Montreal will find the back of the net in Wednesday night’s Game 5. At some point, even if they play an inefficient style of offence that relies way too much on Shea Weber’s shot, one of those cannon balls fired from almost a zone away will slip past Carter Hart. The Flyers themselves have gotten the help of Lady Luck in the past games.
But there’s a real risk that the frustrated Habs will cheat offensively slightly on Wednesday and end up undoing successful offensive efforts.
If anything, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki have earned a little more latitude with their play since the start of the playoffs. But even if the team has asked a lot out of them, they need to stay the course. They can’t drift away from what has made them so effective — and that is strong offensive bursts to complement sound defensive play. In Game 4, both of them had a tendency to step towards the offence at times or at least not complete their defensive recovery in situations where acting as the safety net was the preferred choice. It led to a couple of odd-man rushes against.
Why am I singling out the two Habs protégés? I know others were just as guilty of plays like these or even more so (even in those exact sequences). They also played below the level of the two centremen.
But it feels like the Habs are Nick Suzuki’s and Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s team now.
Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi seemed to have one good showing in them, Game 2. They now faded in the background. And the once-top line of Philip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and Tomas Tatar look like shadows of their dominant regular season selves.
Maybe all those players need is one goal to get going, but most likely a victory in Game 5 will only manifest itself if the two young centers can find it in them to elevate their game once more — offensively and defensively. At this point, it’s best to load up their respective lines and hope for the best. Even if the plan fails, big minutes and better chemistry with offensive line-mates will only help them gain experience.
This might feel like a sink or swim time for the two youngsters. But it’s not. They have already soared past expectations; they’re sailing in front of the rest of team, carrying them in their tow. And because of that, no matter the result tonight, the organization took a big jump forward.