Still Talkin’ Habs: Canadiens humiliated in 5-0 loss to Jets

Montreal Canadiens' Josh Anderson (17) collides with Winnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme has been gifted the opportunity to hit the reset button after his team started well but capitulated the final 40 minutes, losing 5-0 to the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell Center.

The Montreal Canadiens are currently mired in their first three-game losing streak under their new bench boss, capped by a lethargic performance to the Jets that brought to the forefront issues that have been plaguing his team for some time.

To be fair to Ducharme, his players deserve the brunt of the criticism that is sure to hit the airwaves and papers on Monday. The Habs looked utterly lifeless after the second intermission. Their effort level was nowhere near what it had been on Thursday night against the same opponent, on the second night of a back-to-back. Combine that with a few diabolical mental mistakes that could be best described as self-sabotage and you have a scoreline reflective of the team’s performance.

But last night’s humiliation might have been exactly what Ducharme’s men need to allow the man behind the bench to truly put his stamp on this team.

“We came out a little bit on our heels, scared to make those mistakes” said Ducharme post-game. “But being smart doesn’t mean that you need to be passive… Scoring the first goal in that game would have probably given energy to our guys.”

What was alarming was the way that the Canadiens plummeted after squandering a couple quality opportunities in the first period. They absolutely could and should have opened the scoring. Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Jeff Petry and Jake Evans all had either grade A or B scoring chances that went begging and left the game scoreless. Unlike their last couple of games, the Habs began the game brightly. The team may have been guilty of over-passing in the first but they showed no inclination that they were headed for a nosedive the second half of the game.

“I think it was just a huge wake-up call,” said Jake Evans, one of the few players who showed any consistency on the night. “We can’t win on skill, we can’t win playing a run-and-gun game with some of these teams. We’re a team that’s built on depth. When everyone’s going I think we’re an unbelievable team.”

With all due respect to Evans, the Canadiens mustered only 19 shots on goal so his claim of a run-and-gun game with the Jets might not hold water. But his wake-up call comment should not only be felt in the dressing room but in the coach’s office as well. And it has nothing to do with his coach’s challenge for goaltender interference last night that didn’t go his way.

There have been several glaringly obvious issues that have been ignored for the last little while that finally came to a head against Winnipeg. At the top of that list is the defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson. While the Habs might have come out of the blocks on time, within the first minute both defencemen failed multiple times to get the puck out of their zone, leading to a penalty against. Later in the first, after the Habs had failed to make their early chances count, it was again that pairing that got hemmed into their zone and gave the Jets their first real extended offensive zone time. The Jets just grew in confidence after that while Edmundson and, in particular, Weber’s games went to hell.

Shuffling the deck on defense would be the boldest change that Ducharme could make. Next, the coach needs to admit he has made a few mistakes. While trying to get Eric Staal settled in the lineup, he has disrupted the chemistry throughout the rest of his forward lines.

Since separating Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin, both players have looked lost. By re-uniting both players with Josh Anderson, the Habs would at least have a line that has proven it has worked before. Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar as a duo haven’t missed a beat with Jesperi Kotkaniemi on their wing. The trio was the only line that looked threatening against the Jets. But, with all due respect to Brendan Gallagher, there are plenty of players who can play the same gritty game he does, albeit without his level of success. Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron and Jake Evans can be effective stand-ins while not limiting Kotkaniemi’s effectiveness at his natural position. The obvious beneficiary of the continued growth of the young Finn down the middle would be Tyler Toffoli with Corey Perry riding shotgun to clean up the garbage in front. Staal can then center the fourth line and take advantage of weaker opposition.

Ducharme needs to start coaching with the desperation that the interim tag implies. The Calgary Flames crushed the Edmonton Oilers by the same score the Jets beatdown the Canadiens. The Habs have three games in hand and a six-point lead on the Flames. The two teams meet twice later next week. The Canadiens better find some confidence between now and then. Starting Monday night against the division leading Maple Leafs.

 

PLAYER RATINGS

Goaltender

Jake Allen – 7/10

Could have done better on Forbort’s goal. But didn’t have a chance on the other four, mostly due to defensive calamities. Continues to get hung out to dry by his forwards as they seemingly can’t score when he’s between the pipes.

 

Defencemen

Shea Weber – 4/10

Ouch. Tried and failed to clear his zone three times the first shift of the game. Didn’t get much better from there. The puck was a grenade on his stick all night long. He and Edmundson hemmed in again and again, an all too familiar sight of late. Then gifted Perreault his goal with an egregious turnover in front. Playing him with Romanov would alleviate some of his puck handling problems. Led the team with six hits.

Joel Edmundson – 5/10

Wasn’t as obviously bad as his partner but still struggled mightily. Beaten to the front of the net by Perreault, who provided the screen for Ehlers’ goal. Far too many times stuck for extended periods in his own zone. Silly penalty when down 3-0 was swiftly punished, but in fairness to him the game was gone by then. Went on a revenge tour the final 10 minutes of the game.

Jeff Petry – 6/10

His blatant turnover to Stastny for his goal wasn’t his finest hour. Wasn’t nearly as bad as his other defencemen though. Had he converted off a gift from Hellebuyck in the first it could have been a very different game. Skated well. Passing was better than most. But that’s not saying much.

Brett Kulak – 5/10

His night could be summed up in two plays. The first one was inexplicably icing the puck on a power play. The second was him tripping over his own feet at the blueline that sent Stastny in on a partial break. Lost more than a few battles along the boards in his zone. Just off.

Alexander Romanov – 6/10

Should have done better in trying up Copp on his power play goal. Not as aggressively physical but some Jets tried to hit him on the forecheck and simply bounced off of him. When the game was out of reach he removed the shackles. Did well pushing the pace offensively and getting some shots through on goal. Yet another new defensive partner for the Russian rookie. Not exactly being set up for success. But handling it as well as he can.

Otto Leskinen – 6/10

Fumbled the puck a few times early on but soon settled. Did better in one-on-one battles than expected. Kind of surprising he played over 16 minutes although clearly got more ice time in the third. But didn’t look out of place and most importantly didn’t make any egregious mistakes. Not much offensively from him but an okay season debut.

 

Forwards

Phillip Danault – 7/10

One of the few who could hold his head high. His line looked lively every time they rushed the puck up the ice. Set up Tatar for a tap in that the Slovakian somehow tipped wide. Only 38 percent on draws wasn’t ideal, especially losing it clean moments before Ehlers’ goal. Solid on the penalty kill.

Tomas Tatar – 6/10

How did he miss that tap in right on the goal mouth? No shots on goal is a concern and part of a particularly disappointing power play. But his passing was crisp and his line tried to make something happen off the rush or on the cycle consistently. A welcome sight compared to the rest of his teammates up front.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 7/10

His coach finally saw the benefit of putting him back in the middle. Too bad the team was down by three when he did it. Earlier on the wing continued to have some impressive chemistry with Danault and Tatar. Still needs to get his shot off quicker and with more accuracy. Doesn’t make sense that he only has five goals on the season. The Habs most consistent forward of late. And he only played 15 minutes.

Nick Suzuki – 4/10

Whole lot of nothing from the young centerman. Stat line says no shots on goal and no hits to go along with the goose egg in the points department. Hardly noticeable at all after the first period while playing with two of the team’s best goal scorers. Struggled on the power play as well. His slump continues.

Corey Perry – 6/10

Might not have made much happen on the scoresheet but one of the few who played with an appropriate amount of anger. Received a 10-minute misconduct late for who knows what but he was trying to start all kinds of nonsense on the ice in both the second and third. The Jets were not a fan of his. Led the forwards in the shots on goal department with three. Which says a lot.

Tyler Toffoli – 5/10

Finishing the game with a single shot on goal is a rarity for the 19-goal man. Led the forwards with five hits, which doesn’t happen often. His line looked decent for a few shits on the first but what was it. Rather anonymous for most of the game and created very little offense. Nothing on the power play again.

Eric Staal – 4/10

Skates of stone last night. Couldn’t get his feet moving and remained a few paces off the speed of the game throughout. Zeroes across his stat line including hits, blocks, shots etc. A complete non-factor but continued to play with two of the team’s best offensive players. Perhaps chemistry and speed will come but not at the expense of the rest of the team. Best faceoff man on the night at 56 percent.

Jonathan Drouin – 5/10

Didn’t deserve 17 minutes of ice time. Others were worse but not by much. Skated better than we’ve seen of late. Had a glorious chance in tight early that somehow didn’t go in. But faded badly after a decent first period. Can’t remember a play he set up or a chance he created. Reuniting he and Suzuki can’t be worse than what’s happening to both of them now.

Josh Anderson – 5/10

Kind of shocking to not see him do much last night. Until he tried to pick a fight with Stanley in the third period he had done almost nothing. Looked a bit better on the power play for a guy who has struggled there. His skating was off and had no shots on goal. Very quiet.

Jake Evans – 6/10

Had his skating legs last night. His line was one of two that looked like they were at least trying to make something happen. Missed wide at the near post on a 2-on-1 chance early. Beaten clean on the faceoff that led to Copp’s power play goal. Got into a skirmish with Morrissey to cap off a feisty evening. Fit in well when bumped up along with Tatar and Danault. Could be a temporary home for him.

Artturi Lehkonen – 6/10

Set up by Perry for a half decent chance which… he somehow fired out of play himself from within five feet. Like Evans at least skated with a purpose and forechecked well, creating turnovers high up the ice that other lines just didn’t do. Better from him.

Paul Byron – 6/10

Looked pretty fast last night. Made a few costly turnovers at the Jets blueline that turned into odd man rushes. Nearly beat Hellebuyck with a sneaky backhand in the slot. Couple nice passes as well, best of which was to Evans that the centerman put wide. A step in the right direction. One of the few who had an okay night.

 

Coach

Dominique Ducharme – 5/10

Power play? Sputtering. Penalty kill? Surrendered two goals. Shutout on the night and ineffective at 5-on-5. Team had almost as many giveaways as they did shots. The time to ring in the changes has come.

 

P.S

Trade deadline wish list? Clearly a puck-moving defenceman. Montour was a candidate but was traded to Florida earlier yesterday. Only one name on the list then and his name is Vince Dunn. Left-handed puck mover who can skate like the wind and play up and down the lineup.

What a dream debut weekend for top prospect Cole Caufield down in Laval. Hobery Baker winner. Three goals in two games including two game-winners. Add a gorgeous play that led to an assist for good measure. Looked fast at the AHL level, which is the thing that seemed most intriguing. Will make his NHL debut in the next month. No doubt.

  

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