Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t have Brayden Point or Nikita Kucherov. But any fan would be lying to themselves if they expected a competitive game from a Montreal Canadiens team without $64 million dollars of talent in their lineup.
The Habs gave their visiting Atlantic division rivals all they could handle, falling apart in the final minutes of regulation to lose 3-2 to Tampa. The Lightning seemed to take the Canadiens for granted but that takes nothing from the home team’s performance.
They gave their fans in attendance something to cheer for. Something to be proud of. But the craptastic narrative of the team’s season reared it’s ugly head once again.
“They obviously beat us in the Cup Final last year and we wanted to take it to them tonight,” said Nick Suzuki post-game. “I thought we did a good job pretty much all game. Great job on the penalty kill. Five-on-five generating a lot of scoring chances. It was right there for us and it hits (Perry) in the knee and goes in and then another just rush at the end and they score and we lose the game. Just two little things and it’s kind of the bounces we’ve been getting so far.”
Suzuki’s goal and an assist on the night were his 99th and 100th points in the NHL. But that wasn’t his focus after the game. He couldn’t help but chuckle under his breath when asked about the bad luck the team has had so far this year.
“It’s been kind of crazy some of the bounces that have ended up in our net,” admitted the young centreman. “With all these guys out, guys are trying to step up. I could name a bunch of guys but a lot of our veteran guys are taking big roles, playing a lot of minutes and I think they’re doing a pretty good job.”
Here are your five takeaways from the Montreal Canadiens late 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night
Clague feels the curse of the Canadiens
Kale Clague played his first game as a member of the Habs last night. And he couldn’t even get out of the opening twenty minutes of his debut without falling victim to the vicious voodoo that has hung around this team all season long.
Clague tried to make a simple breakout pass from behind his own net to exit the zone. Instead, he flubbed it. Or fanned on it. Pick one. Patrick Maroon pounced on the loose puck and surprised Jake Allen with a quick wraparound just to the left of the Habs net. After a surprisingly fast start, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves down 1-0 at home before the midway point of the first period.
It was an unfortunate start to his Habs career. But credit to Clague because he didn’t seem to let it impact his game. The newest Canadiens defenceman played just over 17 minutes of ice-time, partly due to Alexander Romanov’s five minute major for not fighting in the second period.
In his one minute of power play time, Clague wasn’t particularly dynamic. But he did move the puck efficiently and kept the play ticking. At even strength he did more of the same. He particularly stood out breaking the puck out of his zone.
All in all, a solid enough debut from Clague. Apart from falling victim to the curse of the Canadiens.
A for effort
It felt as though there were plenty of players with something to prove last night. Clague, of course. Laurent Dauphin was playing his first game in the NHL in more than five years. Michael Pezzetta plays every game like it’s his last. Cedric Paquette was facing the team who drafted him. Not to mention the seven players in the lineup who lost to the Lightning in the Cup Final just a few months ago.
To a man, the Montreal Canadiens harassed and harried Tampa Bay all over the ice. They were the faster, more energetic team to the surprise of many. To put it simply, they were the better team for the majority of the game.
The penalty kill surrendered very little save for a Victor Hedman point shot that rang off the post. Jake Allen was still called upon to make some crucial saves but for the most part the shorthanded Habs hung in there with the Lightning.
With the season lost already and so many important veterans out of the lineup, the only thing that fans are asking for from their team is effort. If the Habs keep up the work rate they displayed last night, they’ll earn the respect of their fans.
Leave Suzuki alone
Nick Suzuki has rode the same rollercoaster as his teammates all season long. He has struggled for long stretches but has played some impressive hockey at times as well.
Last night was more of the latter. Suzuki’s skated better than he has in a while and put up a goal and an assist in the loss. He and his linemates Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Drouin appeared to find some instant chemistry together.
Now don’t touch it.
It’s easier now for head coach Dominique Ducharme with so many potential wingers for Suzuki out of commission. But maybe the reason why the Habs young centreman has been so hot and cold this year has been the crazy combination of players he has had to play with.
Drouin. Hoffman. Anderson. Toffoli. Gallagher. Lehkonen. Caufield. The revolving door on Suzuki’s wings has been constant through 27 games. Like Romanov last year, maybe part of the reason why Suzuki hasn’t been at his consistent best just yet it because he hasn’t had anyone to build any consistency with.
Just a thought.
The Evans experiment comes to an end
In a season filled with curious decisions by head coach Dominique Ducharme, trying to shoehorn Jake Evans into a role on the wing has been one of the strangest.
Ryan Poehling has emerged, to the delight of the organization and the fanbase. And the injury crisis hasn’t helped. But Evans has arguably lived up to expectations more so than any other Habs centreman so far this season.
He’s been one of the team’s most used players on the penalty kill. Not to mention one of their better faceoff men. Whichever wingers he has been forced to play with, his line has played with a hard-working identity.
Since being moved to the wing, he has been nowhere near as noticeable. Evans hasn’t been able to impact the game in any meaningful way. He has been held pointless in six straight games.
Evans’ role is likely to be a moot point after Christian Dvorak was forced to leave the game against the Lightning with an apparent left knee injury. But whatever happens the rest of the season, his best position is clearly down the middle of the ice.
Putting the whistles away late
Corey Perry sparked the comeback late in the third period against his former team and Ondrej Palat capped it off with less than 40 seconds left in regulation. But it was a sneaky Montrealer who made both plays possible, each time by illegal means.
Beaconsfield native Alex Killorn pulled off some spectacularly sneaky nonsense on both Tampa Bay’s game-tying and game-winning goals.
First, Killorn held the stick of Habs defenceman Ben Chiarot on Perry’s game-tying goal. Steven Stamkos’ cross-ice pass to Perry could have been intercepted by Chiarot if not for Killorn inter-locking his arms with the Canadiens blueliner.
Then in the build up to Palat’s winner, Killorn was in a one-on-one battle with Mathieu Perreault behind the Lightning net. Killorn fell over on to his back and in his desperation grabbed Perreault’s foot and tripped him up while he was fighting for a loose puck. He jumped on the loose puck in the neutral zone after David Savard’s attempted pinch at the blueline. Killorn centred the puck to Palat on a 2-on-1 for the win.
In fairness to the referees, they weren’t in a great position to make either one of those calls.
Kidding, of course. They were staring directly at both infractions.
In the NHL, you can get away with murder if it’s within the finals five minutes of regulation. It shouldn’t matter to Montreal Canadiens fans as each point lost is a step towards their goal of a better draft pick. But for the players who put forth a spirited effort last night, it’s unfortunate they had a better result taken away from them.