With one last game before a five-day break for both sides, the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins could leave everything they had on the ice at TD Garden.
That’s exactly how the game began, with Andrew Shaw seeking retribution on Torey Krug for the hit earlier in the season that knocked him out of action for several games. He got his point across by engaging Krug in a fight that sent each off to penalty box before the game had reached the one-minute mark.
Shaw claimed the decision of the fight, and the Habs controlled the pace of the game early on, using their speed to get around the Bruins’ defence and into the offensive zone. The strategy allowed the Habs to get a substantial edge in the possession game , with Boston limited ot launching long-range stretch passes in an attempt to counter; not unlike what the Canadiens used to do not so many seasons ago.
In Shaw’s absence, Artturi Lehkonen saw double duty, taking a shift alongside Alex Galchenyuk and the newly returned Brendan Gallagher on that line’s next shift, and the trio had two good scoring chances around the net. Lehkonen came out soon afterward on his regular line with Tomas Plekanec, looking none the worse for wear.
The momentum was halted with a shot in the Habs’ end that Carey Price lost track of, but managed to smother nonetheless. He wasn’t so lucky on the ensuing play, as a faceoff win in his end allowed the Bruins to get control of the puck. Paul Byron’s missed assignment on Adam McQuaid allowed the defender to slide up into open space right near the net and accept a cross-ice pass from Peter Cehlarik. McQuaid easily beat Price’s lateral slide across the crease to open the scoring.
The Bruins found themselves in the Canadiens end on the next shift, but Brandon Carlo was a bit overzealous on his check and wound up hitting Andrei Markov in the face with his stick, sending the Habs to their first power play.
The Canadiens got set up in the zone and were tossing the puck around the perimeter at will, but were hesitant to either move around to change shooting angles or launch the pucks on target. Any attempts they did make went wide of the target, and that seems to be a main theme over their weeks-long slump.
Even a five-on-three later in the period didn’t elicit more offence, as the Habs spent the 100 seconds of their two-man advantage looking for a perfect shot, and seemingly never reaching the criteria needed to fire the puck. Their best chance to tie the game went by the wayside with little threat of a goal.
The second began with an effective shift from Gallagher, as the Habs’ sparkplug hunted the puck in the offensive zone and helped to set up Galchenyuk with a few good shots.
A Bruins power play shortly thereafter was negated by a penalty just seconds in, sending the teams to four-on-four. Just as the even-strength portion came to a close, Zdeno Chara took the puck from inside the blue line, deked around Alexander Radulov, moved uncontested into the slot, and beat Price on the short side to extend the lead to two.
Seemingly discouraged by the deficit despite their strong play, the Habs effort dropped off considerably after what was a nominal short-handed goal, allowing the Bruins to control the pace the rest of the frame.
With momentum fully in their favour, the Bruins got another power play about 10 minutes after they’d scored their second goal, adding a third with Radulov in the box for hooking. Another broken coverage in the defensive zone allowed David Krejci to move right down the left flank as McQuaid had in the first, and easily score on a pass from David Backes.
Killing off another penalty, this one to Nathan Beaulieu for spearing Chara, to open the third, the Habs seemed more determined to get some pucks on net in an attempt to claw their way back — a novel concept, to be sure.
The Bruins were quick to catch on to the tactic and countered with a flurry of their own. It didn’t take long for them to get rewarded for their push, as an awkward save from Price forced him to fall well outside his crease, and he was in no position to stop the rebound shot from Frank Vatrano on the opposite side.
The Habs got another power play later, and the players looked eager to break Rask’s shutout, but the barrier they’re facing to getting shots on net proved stronger than their will to get back into the contest. The result was an odd display of spirited forechecking in the Bruins zone and actively looking for passing lanes, but an inability to pull the trigger for a shot.
The play got a little scrappy in the final minutes, but the 4-0 score remained unchanged as the Bruins claimed their first home win over Montreal in their last 10 tries.
- The events last night played out in one game as the Canadiens’ epic collapse occurred over a period of months last season. It started off with strong play that went unrewarded, with the other team scoring against the run of play, and then the Habs seeming to get discouraged at what had unfolded and not able to recover, instead going through the motions as they resigned themselves to a loss.
- Carey Price allowed four goals for the 14th time this season. He has done so in nine of his last 18 games, and his last three overall. The only one last night that you can really peg on him was the fourth goal when he was down and out after falling away from his crease and unable to react to the rebound shot. The other three were perfect cross-ice passes or a point-blank shot from one of the hardest shooters in the game. Nevertheless, it is odd to see the usually steady Price get beaten with such regularity this season, and especially in the second half of the season to date.
- The bye week … well it could have come at a better time, say about a month ago with the Habs decimated by injury and struggling to string wins together, but it’s a much-needed respite given their recent funk. Luckily that play has coincided with a stretch of the schedule versus several non-division teams, the defeat in Boston the only four-point loss versus an Atlantic foe since mid-January.
- Even after the break, the Habs play a division rival only once in the next month of action, giving them time to figure out whatever is ailing them without handing points to those trying to surpass them.
- The leash likely won’t be very long for this current group when action resumes on Saturday. An afternoon game versus the Jets will be an indication of whether there are some serious problems that need to be addressed, or if the 25 games in 47 days since the Christmas break were the real culprit./