Canadiens Takeaways: Lack of sharpness costs game, ground in standings

Brendan Gallagher knew.

When the assistant captain of the Montreal Canadiens was speaking with reporters at PNC Arena on Wednesday, after his team’s first practice in five days and ahead of it’s first game in six, he talked about how challenging it would be to play against a Carolina Hurricanes team that would be ahead in “getting the holiday legs out of the system,” as he put it.

“Normally, playing a back-to-back is a disadvantage,” Gallagher said, noting the Hurricanes were set to play the Nashville Predators Wednesday night while his Canadiens were cooling their heels. “I think for them, (on Thursday), it honestly might be a good thing. They might be a little bit fresher than us.”

His prophecy came true, with the Hurricanes pouncing on the Canadiens and scoring 1:25 into the game and taking a 2-0 lead less than 13 minutes into a game they were dominating to that point.

But if the Canadiens lost 5-3 in regulation and missed a golden opportunity to close the gap on a team holding a narrow edge on one of the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, it had much more to do with the way they closed out the game than it did with how they started it — particularly in failing to record a shot on net through two consecutive power plays at 4:19 and 6:40 in the third period and surrendering the momentum Josh Anderson gave them by blocking a shot in his own end and racing down the ice to tie the game 3-3 just 25 seconds into the frame.

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It was the power play that helped the Canadiens survive the first period, with Mike Matheson scoring on a wraparound with just over three seconds left to tie things up 2-2. But Montreal’s failure to get anything out of it in the third seemed costly in the moment and proved to be exactly that when Andrei Svechnikov scored his second goal of the game for Carolina just over five minutes later. 

He completed the hat trick into an empty net, with Joel Armia watching helplessly from the Canadiens’ side of the penalty box.

Bad start for his team due to rust. Bad finish for it due to special teams. 

A lot of good in between, though, with Anderson, Matheson, Sean Monahan and Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis all feeling proud of the effort.

“I would say we played a good game,” St. Louis told reporters.

We would say it wasn’t quite good enough.

The Canadiens will have to play better ones against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning to close out this trip on a high note.

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Expect Juraj Slafkovsky to help them

Slafkovsky was on the receiving end of a massive hit from Stefan Noesen with 5:26 remaining. 

It was the type of hit he was on the wrong side of too often over his rookie season, but the first one he was on the wrong side of in this sophomore year.

It looked like Slafkovsky got hurt on the play, but the Canadiens suggested he wasn’t as affected after the game as he appeared to be in the moment.

“I talked to him a little bit after,” said Anderson. “He said he’s ok, so we’ll see.”

Monahan said the same, and while St. Louis wouldn’t comment on his status, he said he believed Slafkovsky was pulled for the final minutes of action by a league-appointed spotter.

While there was obvious contact with Slafkovsky’s head on the play, the hit was deemed legal in the moment and we received word after the game that it won’t receive any discipline from the league.

That’s the outcome we expected because it’s pertinent to remember that even in cases where the head is the main point of contact — and it appears to be on this hit — Rule 48 for illegal checking to the head can only be invoked if that contact was avoidable.

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As the rulebook states, “In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered: (i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward. (ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable. (iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.”

The officials conferred and decided not to make a call and, ultimately, replays show they got it right.

Canadiens fans won’t like it, especially after seeing the first-overall pick in 2022 lying prone on the ice before being pulled from the game. Heck, plenty of hockey fans won’t like it either, as many would like to see the NHL adopt the International Ice Hockey Federation’s rule of penalizing any hit involving head contact. 

But, based on the rules the league currently has, there’s no debating the legality of Noesen’s hit.

QUICK HITS

– Monahan’s 21st point of the season, which came on Matheson’s power-play goal, was the 500th point of his NHL career.

– Anderson’s third-period marker was his fifth goal in his last five games. It took him until his 24th game of the season to score his first, and then he was blanked for another four consecutive games. But the puck’s going in for him now, and the confidence with which he made it go in for Thursday’s goal feels like it’s only getting reinforced. 

That’s great news for him, and for the Canadiens.

Jordan Harris’ first game back since suffering an injury in a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 18 saw him play 16:42 of solid hockey. No coincidence his partner (and fellow Northeastern University alum), Jayden Struble, ended up taking a season-high 22 shifts. 

Justin Barron played 27 seconds less than Struble did and made critical mistakes on Jesper Fast’s second goal, which made it 3-2 Carolina, and on Svechnikov’s game winner. We’ll see where it leaves him for Saturday’s game, with Johnathan Kovacevic itching to get back in after being made a healthy scratch for the first time all season.

#Canadiens #Takeaways #Lack #sharpness #costs #game #ground #standings

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