"Canada's team" has a country full of disappointed fans.
Tuesday night marked the beginning of the centennial week celebrations, creating a noticeable buzz in the air. In addition, there was the presence of not only the Stanley Cup in the building but also the Grey Cup and members of the Montreal Alouettes, the CFL championship team. Last but not least, with the ink barely dry on the sale agreement, the Canadiens' new team owners, the Molson brothers, were in attendance with an eye on their prized acquisition.
In the midst of all this positive energy, the Canadiens decided to offer up one of their weakest efforts of the season. Was it the worst game this year? It was not as bad as the Nashville game, but it was close. And given the excitement in the Bell Centre, the mood of the faithful had further to fall.
The Canadiens actually out-shot the Maple Leafs 8-to-1 in the first eight minutes of the game. Who wouldn't be buoyed by the spontaneous pregame chant of the CFL champions? "Go Habs Go! Go Habs Go!" was led by the Alouettes.
An early hit and the building erupted as Ryan O'Byrne levelled Mikhail Grabovski. Then Toronto's Wayne Primeau took a boarding penalty for a hit from behind on Ryan White, and the Canadiens had the man advantage and a chance to further unnerve the shaky Leafs.
But when the anemic Habs' power play couldn't score on the worst penalty killers in the league, the tide started to turn. Two and a half minutes later, tough guy Colton Orr was left all alone to knock in a rebound after Carey Price's initial save on Tomas Kaberle. Josh Gorges was caught well out of position.
As the period progressed, the Canadiens stopped skating, weren't winning battles for the puck, and had trouble connecting on passes.
In the midst of a line change, Kyle Chipchura turned the puck over to Phil Kessel. Kessel fed Jeff Finger, who's point shot found the net with Matt Stajan screening in front. The Canadiens were guilty of a sloppy line change, a giveaway by Chipchura, Marc-Andre Bergeron off for a skate in the corner, and a goal that Carey Price would like to have back.
Price was solid after that including stopping 14 shots by the Leafs in the second period. But there would be no comeback on this night. The team that never quits, quit.
As Ryan O'Byrne said, "We got behind and we never answered the bell."
It was a total team failure with some notable standouts. Bergeron was credited with six giveaways. How does Chipchura have less than two minutes of icetime and be minus two? Glen Metropolit had one of his worst games of the year.
Let's give credit to Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara and Roman Hamrlik who combined for 12 blocked shots and to White with six hits. Scott Gomez played well for his first game back from injury.
Jacques Martin summed it up this way, "Tonight, we had trouble finding one guy who was playing to his potential."
Does that include the coach?
So far, Jacques Martin has mostly escaped scrutiny. But it's fair to demand accountability from the coach too, especially in those areas that he can have an impact. The following team components are coachable:
- Power play: The Canadiens are tied for the fewest power-play goals in the league. They continue to struggle and look disorganized.
- Faceoffs: Looking at the four centers, only Gomez was better than 50 percent at 63 percent. Tomas Plekanec was 46 percent, Max Lapierre was 33 percent and Metropolit did not win a faceoff all night.
- Preparation: The Canadiens have been forced to play come back in most games. They have been outscored 20-to-13 in the first period this season.
Toronto won their first game against a divisional opponent this season. The Maple Leafs shutout the Habs, their first since October 19, 2003. The score in that game was 1-0.
The Canadiens continue to play to the level of their opposition. Tonight, that was not a good thing.
The Canadiens head to Buffalo for a game on Thursday and return for the centennial game on Friday night vs Boston.
Jay Leach was claimed off waivers by the San Jose Sharks.
Joey McDonald replaced Jonas Gustavsson in the Leafs goal at the beginning of the second period. Gustavsson had an elevated heart rate and was taken to hospital for precautionary reasons. He will remain in a Montreal hospital overnight.
Rocket's three stars
1. Tomas Kaberle
2. Phil Kessel
3. Mat Stajan
(photo credit: Getty images)