The Montreal Canadiens lost five straight games in 2018-19 at exactly this point of the season to turn what was a terrific start that a playoff spot seemed guaranteed, to a dubious proposition for the rest of the year.
Fast forward to 2019-20 and the losing streak has happened at exactly the same time. Saturday was a night when Montreal needed to put a bandage on a cut that is opening up again. Make it four straight losses, though, and this one really stung.
Montreal was in total command against the New York Rangers with a 4-0 lead before eventually losing 6-5.
Max Domi and Nick Suzuki need to be in a long-term relationship. It might not even be important which one is the winger and which one is the centre; they switch the roles so often, with the defensive responsibilities going to the one who gets into position first to handle the centre duties. On offence, it’s nearly completely irrelevant. These days a player simply takes the lane that opens up. It’s not as if a left-winger is going stay on the left if the middle opens up. Modern hockey is changing rapidly, and not too much should be made about who is where. What is more vital is that they are together because they seem to have some outstanding chemistry together. Domi with two goals in the first period to move to six goals on the season. He had not scored in November, so this was a huge night and you could see in his enthusiasm after the goals that he was feeling it. His line-mate Suzuki seems to be improving not even by the week, or the game, but the shift. The progression for Suzuki is impressive. He looks so comfortable. He is trying moves, passes, and shots that are reminiscent of playing at the junior level last season. He should not be able to attempt and succeed using these moves in the NHL yet. Suzuki is looking like he is going to be a strong NHLer. He needs to stay with Domi — they bring out the best in each other.
Artturi Lehkonen is always producing, but oftentimes he is not producing on the scoreboard, so there is a sense that he is not adding to the bottom line. The truth is Lehkonen is always adding to the bottom line. He is always defending the net with great talent. That’s not flashy, though, so many don’t see it. However, this was one of the first nights that everyone found a way to praise him. Goals and assists will do that and Lehkonen had two goals and one helper. If you ask any high-level hockey men like scouts, GMs and coaches, you will hear the same thing — extremely high praise for Lehkonen. Trust the best minds in hockey… Lehkonen is valuable. Add to that he seems to have some excellent chemistry with Suzuki and Domi. That line dominated.
The Habs are a high-event team. That they are involved in high-scoring games should not be surprising to anyone. The Habs are top five in the league in goals. They are bottom third in goals against. They know how to score goals. They’re one of the best in the NHL at it. They do not know how to defend well. When you can’t defend well, no lead is safe. The reaction to the Rangers comeback is as if no one could see this coming. Everyone should have been able to see this coming. The Canadiens can not keep the puck out of their own net. Carey Price often keeps the Habs defence from being horrendous, because it could be, though he can’t hold the fort every game. Price faces an elevated level of high-danger chances as a goalie for this poor defence. If Price would be putting in a .890 save percentage, the Habs would be bottom five in the league in goals allowed, and many high-scoring wins would be losses. The club needs more talent on the blueline. This has been known for a long time. But what would you rather have? A team that can’t score at all, or a team that can’t defend very well. In one scenario, the score is 1-0, and in the other scenario, the score is 7-5. Take the 7-5 until GM Marc Bergevin gets some talent moving in on that blueline. It can be frustrating, but it also sure can be fun. It depends if the fifth-best goals or the 20th worst goals allowed wins the night. In the end, though, it should be obvious to everyone that a team 20th in the league in goals allowed is going to have some rough nights, and is going to give up some big leads. This is who they are.
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It would be easy to pick apart defensively pretty much everyone in this contest, but one player draws the ire on the 5-5 goal when the Rangers tied it. It was a shorthanded marker. Suzuki knocked down a clearing attempt by the Rangers just enough for New York to start on a rush. When it began, Suzuki was even with the New York forward, but then he dogged it the entire way. Suzuki wasn’t even close to defending the two-on-one when it concluded. Two Habs back checkers gained 15 feet on Suzuki. He’s got to learn that that is not acceptable. The score was 5-4. You win the game with that score. So do everything in your power to make sure it stays that score. No matter how great you are as a player you have to play both ends of the ice. You have to do this even more with a one-goal lead. Suzuki is going to be a major talent, but he better learn how to hustle on the other side of the puck, or the goals and assists won’t mean much when he doesn’t defend with any interest.
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That’s four straight losses for the Canadiens as they continue to duplicate their season from 2018-19. It’s a carbon copy. They jumped out to an outstanding start last season and at the quarter mark of the campaign ran into a five-game losing skid. Jump ahead to this year, and see that the Habs had a great start to the year, and now the losing skid is four games. They are essentially the same team as last season. They even streak and slump at the same time. What is going to be interesting though is this could be a crushing game psychologically. To be leading 4-0 but lose the contest? That is the kind of thing that crushes confidence. They have a big challenge in front of them now. They need to consider it as just one game and not carry it into the next one. Stay tuned. This could get difficult, or if they recover, it could be a turning point to show maturity and resolve.
The Laval Rocket split a weekend series with the Utica Comets. The win had Cayden Primeau in the net. The loss had Charlie Lindgren in goal. The rookie has seen his save percentage drop in the last two weeks, but it is still an outstanding .926. Primeau has played ten professional games and has been the brightest spot on the Rocket this season.
Cole Caufield was on the losing side of the ledger Friday night in Minnesota for the Wisconsin Badgers. Some bad habits have crept into his game. The natural sniper has lost a little confidence. Caufield had some high-quality looks where normally you would just see him use that world-class one-timer, but instead he didn’t take the shot. That’s just not like Caufield at all. Other times, he was carrying the puck, and there was an instant where he had won space, and could have fired his shot, but chose to hang on longer only to be ultimately poke-checked. Finally, the worst moment was when there was traffic in front of the net where Caufield should have been hunting for opportunity in a loose puck. Strangely, Caufield moved to the side of the net behind the goal line. As we all know, not a lot of goals are scored on shots behind the net. He did make one solid play winning the offensive zone then fed a gorgeous pass for an assist. All in all, though, the word regression came to mind considering where he was the first two weekends of the season. There’s no reason to be alarmed. All it takes is to look at some tape at his changing habits, then he will change them right back to his normal game. He has to know his normal game is firing pucks, and getting in position to fire pucks. Not passing up opportunities and also heading to behind the net. It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks how he sees his own game.
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