Habs Lose 4th In A Row – Is This A Slump?

Photo: Paul Sancya / AP

Photo: Paul Sancya / AP

Habs Lose 4th In A Row – Is This A Slump?

The Habs went into Detroit on Thursday evening to try and break a 3-game losing streak, and ended up extending it to 4. When do we use the word “slump”?

I don’t believe there is a firm definition of the word, but I wouldn’t call this one serious. Sure, it’s 4 games in a row, and the Habs just don’t look like the same team we saw shattering old records and setting new ones.

But there are reasons for these losses, and we must examine those reasons in order to stop blaming the wrong elements.

First, the game.

First Period: Shots 10-7 Detroit

The first period began well enough; the Habs were a little disorganized, but Dustin Tokarski came up with solid saves. The confidence he showed was inspiring, especially as this was his first start for the Habs since last season when he held the role of back-up goalie.

While there were many chances on both sides of the ice, neither team scored. It should be noted, however, that the Habs seemed to allow an inordinate amount of breakaways. That cannot continue without goals being scored eventually.

Two penalty kills and one power play yielded no goal for either team.

Second Period: Shots 10-7 Montreal

Goals:

  • Detroit: Darren Helm ( Assists: Luke Glendening, Joakim Andersson)
  • Montreal: Sven Andrighetto (Assists: Charles Hudon, Andrei Markov)

The Habs stepped it up in the second, evening out the shot count by the end of the frame. But the opening goal belonged to Detroit.

Darren Helm, plucking the puck out of the air when it bounced up, scored on Dustin Tokarski for the first Red Wings goal. Here’s the video – tell me if you see his hand closing on the puck:

I see it – and while I’m not 100% cognizant of every NHL rule, I’d like to know if this should have been reviewed. In fact, the above tweet, from the NHL’s Twitter account got a lot of replies asking if a player is allowed to carry the puck as Helm did. I believe that was a missed call and had it been reviewed, would have been waved off, and a penalty doled out.

Almost exactly 2 minutes later, a beautiful tying goal from two AHL call-ups: Charles Hudon, who did all the work and got an assist, set up a perfect team-effort goal for his linemate, Sven Andrighetto.

Here is the video – you will see the goal from several angles. Each one a thing of beauty:

In post-game interviews, Hudon mentioned that Andrighetto apologized for tapping the puck over the line; somehow, though, I don’t believe it was problematic for him. Everyone could see he did the lion’s share of the work on that, and teamwork is the name of the game in this sport.

There were two penalties and two power plays on each team, again, none yielding success for either. There were close calls for the Habs – both in short-handed goal potential and power-play goals, but they didn’t capitalize.

Third Period: Shots: 12-8 Detroit

Goals:

  • Montreal: Tomas Fleischmann (Assists: David Desharnais, Daniel Carr)
  • Detroit: Justin Abdelkader (PPG; Assists: Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall); Darren Helm (Assist: Pavel Datsyuk)

The third period – a frame in which the Habs used to dominate, and either ensure their win, or come back to beat their opponents – was once again where it all went wrong.

At 4:30, Tomas Fleischmann took a beautiful shot from out in front, and beat Petr Mrazek with a perfect goal, bringing the Habs out in front to lead 2-1.

It was a short-lived lead. With Alexei Emelin in the penalty box, the Wings capitalized 18 seconds into the penalty to score a power-play goal and tie the game. There were almost 7 minutes left to play, and the Habs found themselves back at square 1.

But hope of a comeback began to dwindle when – just over a minute later – the Wings struck again, putting the Habs back against the clock to tie, and perhaps win, this game.

It did not happen. The cursed “delay-of-game” penalty was called on P.K. Subban, preventing the Canadiens from pulling Tokarski for an extra attacker, and settling for an empty net to allow for an even-strength battle against the clock.

Time ran out, and the Habs were defeated in yet another regulation loss.

Some Thoughts:

  • Is it bad? 4 in a row isn’t great. We’re frustrated – but likely not as frustrated as the team. Max Pacioretty expressed himself thus:

If we knew what the problem is, we could solve it but I know I have to be better.

  • The Blame Game went wild, on social media, and many misplaced their frustration. One such scapegoat was Dustin Tokarski.
  • Tokarski was already much maligned for his having been sent down to the St. John’s Ice Caps at the beginning of the season; fans took his reassignment as an indication that he was no longer a good goaltender, when nothing could have been further from the truth.
  • Thursday night, he showed those who were paying attention that he is still the same solid goaltender who gave the Habs an extended run when thrown into the mix against the New York Rangers, two seasons ago. He showed that his skills are as honed as ever, his positioning square to the puck, and his instincts spot on.
  • But Tokarski is the goaltender, and just as Carey Price could not be blamed last season for lack of goal production, neither Mike Condon nor Dustin Tokarski can shoulder the responsibility in this season.

Check out Tokarski’s moves, right here:

  • The Habs have allowed 3 or more goals in 10 of their last 14 goals, according to Arpon Basu. This is a huge indicator of the problem. Sure, there are teams which can be defeated with one or two goals scored, but not many. And the Canadiens cannot afford to allow that many goals no matter who is in nets (whether that is Condon, Tokarski, or Price).
  • Missing Brendan Gallagher, Torrey Mitchell and Carey Price leaves a huge gap. But never have the Canadiens used injuries as an excuse, nor should we even entertain the notion. Do those three players make a difference? Yes. A huge difference. But there have been winning games without them, and all the Canadiens need to do is somehow recapture what they did right.
  • The lines. Here’s where it gets reminiscent of last season. I’m never one to blame the coach. Michel Therrien has taken more flak from those on social media than he has deserved. I believe he’s done an incredible job this season, and I’ve believed that even before hearing Pierre McGuire state that Therrien is having the best season of his career (I heard it on radio – I am unable to provide a link, but it was just a couple of weeks ago. You know…before the “slump”).
  • McGuire is a smart, experienced analyst and hearing him praise Therrien validated my own admiration for the coach. I know Therrien is the butt of “#FireTherrien” campaigns but not only is that not going to come to pass, it shouldn’t.

However…

  • He has been messing with the lines way too much for anyone’s liking. Putting David Desharnais back on the top line for a while was bad judgment. Changing the lines so frequently has also been a bad call. One Twitter user put it very eloquently:

  • Look at the beginning of the season: until their first loss, not one piece was moved out of place. Therrien stuck with the winning formula.
  • Here’s the thing: you won’t always get it perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s broken beyond all hope. I believe he should have kept the lines the way they were when the Habs were streaking high, and maybe we would see some consistency on the team.
  • Another mistake: scratching Nathan Beaulieu. I agree that Greg Pateryn (despite his mistake that led to the winning goal) is effective. He is fierce, he is strong, and he is talented. But perhaps it’s time to sit Alexei Emelin, who may need some bench time. Nathan Beaulieu was a healthy scratch, for no punitive reasons at all. He should have been in this game.
  • Is it time to panic? No. The Habs built up a good bank of points early on, and though they must improve to get that back, they are still on top, and still a team that shows formidable talent.

They just have to find that groove again.

They play next, at home, on Saturday December 12th, against the Ottawa Senators. Puck drop is 7:00 p.m. Let’s hope the team is super-inspired to beat this rival team and get back into the Win column.

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