Canadiens continue to learn harsh lessons against their rivals

So close, yet not enough for the Habs against Toronto.

Every game this season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens has been up for grabs all the way, with two previous games heading to overtime, and last night’s affair being tied up until the final two minutes. In each game, the Canadiens have come away with a loss, and a harsh lesson as well. Saturday night was no exception.

Montreal played up-tempo, swarming hockey through the opening period. As a result, that had the Maple Leafs down on the canvas and the 10-count had begun. Then, inexplicably, that game plan went out the window and the Canadiens sat on their heels, opting to play defence in a game where they could have piled on more goals.

Toronto got up, and with Montreal playing conservatively, Mike Babcock unleashed his horses and never looked back from there. Every single line had dangerous chances while Montreal couldn’t shift out of neutral to quell the change in momentum. Toronto has the elite-level players to make teams pay for that sort of thing, and they did ... again.

Perhaps most infuriating of all was the continued ineptitude of the power play, made even worse last night by the fact they actually looked good and scored on the first of them. After that, however, the power left the power play, and with a chance to bury their opponents further, they could not. A late power play, presenting the ability to drive a dagger right into the hearts of their rivals, went for naught.

It’s not a new issue; the Canadiens’ power play has hovered around “abhorrent” for most of the year so far, and Saturday night was only slightly better. When it comes to a massive turning point in a crucial game, in a tightly contested playoff race, it has the world’s brightest light shone on it. It goes doubly so when Toronto managed to get back in the game entirely on the back of their own man advantage, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow in this loss.

The power play simply isn’t good enough, and the loss to Toronto showed that more than ever. It’s a brutally harsh lesson to have thrown back in your face, but if the Canadiens want to solidify their playoff hold, they’ll pay attention to what could be learned from Saturday’s loss. Play the full 60 minutes, and do something to make the opposition pay for trying to slow you down. It’s to the point that its low efficiency is costing the Canadiens vital points.

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