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Bottom Six Minutes: Special teams sink the Habs against Carolina

Mar 30, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault (35) stops Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dmitry Orlov (7) with the help of teammate defenseman Jordan Harris (54) during the first period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Through two periods against the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves in a very tight 1-0 game. In fact, there were extended moments in that game where they were outplaying the second-best team in the Metropolitan division, and looked like they could pull off another upset win. Unfortunately, a power play marker in the third period for Carolina, as well as an empty-net goal late in the game, would extend the final mark to 3-0, an important loss for the Habs on a night where the Ottawa Senators pulled away from them in the lottery standings.

And some good news for the Habs, if they could make some adjustments to their special teams, a game like this could be very winnable for them next season.

I don’t want to dump on Mike Matheson here, as he had a relatively decent game outside of this one mistake, but it seemed to snowball into ineptitude for the Canadiens on their powerplay thereafter. Against two pressuring Hurricanes’ forwards, the best play for him would have been to throw the puck deep, but he tries to get cute with it at the blue line, and it ends up in his net seconds later. That one is on him, but what wasn’t his fault was how bad they looked on their power play attempts later in the game.

They received two more chances, and looked progressively worse on both, to the point where the Bell Centre crowd was booing them on their last outing in the third period. They looked terrified to make any mistakes with the puck, leading to very tentative attempts to enter the Carolina zone at all, and very little in the way of scoring chances on the rare occasions that they did. It’s almost like that one mistake by Matheson had them gripping their sticks far too tight, because their first power play looked great up until that mistake saw them give up a shorthanded goal. Everything they had done in the early goings of that power play seemed to be thrown out.

We’re seeing this team give better rosters a run for their money pretty regularly in the second half of this season. It’s very encouraging, and if they can their special teams working more consistently, games like these could go from losses to wins in short order. It will be one of the remaining hurdles to clear in completing the rebuild, because in a close game like that, a couple of power play goals – or simply one without giving up a shorthanded marker – could have completely changed the result.

Right now, these things don’t matter. As mentioned, the loss, coupled with Ottawa’s win, help them in the grand scheme of the draft lottery. But that loss just goes to show, this team could be in a much better position at this time next year if their special teams are up to par.

Click the play button below to listen to your full Bottom Six Minutes, also available wherever you typically get your podcasts. We have a couple of days off now, but will return when the Canadiens face the Florida Panthers this Tuesday at the Bell Centre.

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