The Montreal Canadiens made the crucial error of coming out completely flat against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, giving up four first-period goals from which they could never come back. The goaltending, or lack thereof, certainly didn’t help them early on, but neither did their overall effort level against a visiting team that had gone to overtime the night prior in Toronto.
Perhaps more concerning than the goaltending was play of Mike Matheson, which appears to be deteriorating by the game.
If you can ignore my caption about the potential offside, this was perhaps his worst play of the game. Rather than taking the body of his opponent, he opts for a half-hearted poke check, hoping to take the puck the other way. He misses, and instead ends up near the red line while Michael Eyssimont walks in and scores to make it 4-0. It was a shot Jake Allen should have stopped, and one that chased him from the game entirely, but also one that never happens if Matheson at least ties up his man instead.
He was on the ice for all four of the Lightning’s goals in the first period, even deflecting one in off his skate on the power play. He looked generally disinterested, and not at all like the player the Bell Centre faithful have grown accustomed to in his time with the club. It has caused many to wonder if he has been playing hurt, because this isn’t the first game where he’s been a liability.
It is important to note that there is no official word from the club that he’s dealing with an injury, but he’s looked like a different player ever since he left the October 28 game against the Jets, but didn’t miss any time. If this happens to be another case of a player trying to skate through something, it would cast some significant doubt on the notion that the club has learned anything from recent years. If he’s playing hurt, they need to put a stop to it immediately.
If he’s not playing hurt, this is either one of the steepest declines we’ve seen in recent memory, or a problem that needs to be solved by creative lineups and deployment. One thing is for sure, this team needs more from its most experienced defender.
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