The Canadiens fell apart in their game against the Blue Jackets, who – in case you forgot – are the worst team in the league. Greek myth tells of Sisyphus, a man doomed for eternity to roll a giant boulder up a hill only to have it fall just before he reaches the top. The sensation of failure when success seems to be within reach is certainly a familiar one for fans of the Canadiens of late. The Habs came off a win on Saturday (albeit by the slimmest of margins), and pessimists might have felt that the Canadiens’ luck was bound to falter even after one meagre win.
Image Credit: HockeyStats.ca
Montreal pressed hard out of the gate, were the beneficiaries of an early 5-on-3, and Brendan Gallagher put the puck off a defender and past Joonas Korpisalo to open the scoring. Montreal would continue to press on the powerplay to no effect, though Lars Eller had a tremendous opportunity to build the lead when he put a shot off the post moments later.
When Cam Atkinson tied things up on yet another broken Montreal breakout, Montreal began to retreat and started to look like the fragile team fans have come to know over the past two months. Shot attempts for the remainder of the period were dominated by the Blue Jackets, as the home team pressed for the lead.
I like Mike Condon. I really do. But as much as his inability to make the big save was obvious, he allowed quite the softie in the second. Granted, Montreal was unable to clear the zone, but the whimpering backhand from Cam Atkinson beat Condon with remarkable ease. That’s a ball hockey goal.
The Habs have sorely needed to get some luck as of late, and haven’t gotten much help at all in the injury department. During the first it looked like several players went down with injuries, most notably Daniel Carr. He took a very awkward fall into the boards, left the game, and would not return
Then, something crazy happened. P.K. Subban wired a shot from centre that miraculously beat Korpisalo, tying the game. it was the kind of play that Montreal has needed for ages, and it somehow ended in a Columbus power play. Subban appeared to take a chirp from Brandon Dubinsky, shoved him, and was promptly handed a ridiculous unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Little shoves like that happen dozens of times during every hockey game you’ll ever watch, and they very rarely draw penalties. No, it wasn’t necessarily a smart move by Subban, but it was a terrible call, and serves to illustrate the horrible luck the Habs have had to go along with their lacklustre play.
Though they entered the third tied, there is not much you can do when your team is seemingly cursed. A point shot bounced off defenseman Jeff Petry and to a wide open Brandon Saad, who made no mistake sliding the puck past a helpless Condon.
Columbus would then play a thick neutral zone, slowing the game to an oozy pace. Saad would add an empty netter, and then Cam Atkinson would finish a 3-on-1 for a hat trick after Condon had been sent back out. The game would end 5-2, and a month ago I would have said the Habs deserved better, but by this point the line feels tired.
Lars Eller’s strong play continued, as the Dane has thrived since being moved back to centre. The Canadiens controlled 68.42% of even-strength shot attempts when he was on the ice, despite starting only 33.33% of his shifts in the offensive zone. If there was a silver lining last night, it was definitely Eller.
The goalies at both ends were okay. Condon made a few big stops, but let in a softie, and timing remains an issue. Korpisalo recovered to play a solid if unspectacular game. For Columbus, a cellar-dwelling team who can barely see the playoffs from their position, this isn’t a major bone of contention. For Montreal, it remains a concern, if not the primary one.
Some out there will call me overly negative, but I’ll be blunt: there’s no excuse for Montreal to be this bad in their own end. Not with this defense corps. No excuse at all.
Mark Barberio, though, shouldn’t be faulted for doing too much. He rightfully jumped into the rush in the final 30 seconds, although that allowed the Columbus 3-on-1 and led to the last goal. He was the victim of a bad Petry pass on the first Columbus marker, and it would be hard to fault him on it.
It’s been hard to be optimistic about the Habs for some time now, and those who thought the low point was losing against Boston last week must be yearning for the days that the Habs were losing to playoff bound teams. A mediocre effort against bottom-feeding Columbus is a heavy body shot to a team that truly appears on its way to the mat.
Hands up if you thought the Habs would be in this position at the All-Star break. Put your hands down, liars.
Montreal is back home to face Columbus again tonight, their last game before the All-Star break; a welcome break for the fans as well as the players, I’m sure.