"The Canadiens didn't lose the game because of referee Chris Lee's blown call."
You will hear that a number of times in the next 24 hours. There is some truth to the statement.
After the game, the Montreal coach was his matter-of-fact self. Jacques Martin said, "That's the rule—if the referee intends to whistle, the play is dead. The puck was there, but there's nothing you can do."
The players, too, were toeing the party line. Scott Gomez came closest to criticism, saying, "Maybe he blew it a little quick, but you don't want to be in that situation. I'm not going to say anything bad about the refs. They've got a job to do and they do it well. Call it mistake or what, but these things happen."
What else could they say? Both players and coaches wanted to avoid saying anything that would earn them a fine or retribution in a future game.
Media and hockey analysts alike will tell you that Chris Lee was not responsible for the Canadiens being out-shot 41-21. Lee had nothing to do with the Habs' sloppy play that caused them to commit 27 turnovers.
Someone may even try to tell you that referees are human and therefore fallible. And over the course of a season, these things have a way of evening out.
We all witness on a nightly basis phantom penalties that shouldn't have been assessed and missed calls that should. Tonight, we even saw Mike Cammalleri beat out a touch that was incorrectly called icing.
These are examples of the types of calls that tend to balance, and where human error can be tolerated to a degree.
But Chris Lee disallowed the tying goal with less than six minutes left in a game against an Eastern Conference contender. Lee was not properly positioned to have a good view of the play.
And he got it wrong.
It is the kind of call that changes the outcome of a game. And in Lee's case, he has done so against Montreal on more than one occasion. Do you remember the Boston game last season?
Gary Bettman got his panties in a knot over the Canadiens' mistake when filing the paperwork for Ryan White's call-up from Hamilton on Tuesday.
Upset that one of his procedures wasn't followed to the letter, it has been reported that Bettman would like to make an example of the Canadiens by handing them a six-figure fine.
Ryan White played just over three minutes in the game against the Senators and his appearance was completely inconsequential.
Tonight, one of Bettman's officials made a major error than cost the Canadiens at least a point. In a just league, what should be the consequences for that action?
The above criticism does not absolve the Canadiens for the game that they played tonight.
The Canadiens had too many shots against, too many turnovers and too many penalties.
Once again, we witnessed a very passive Habs team who were content to rely on their goaltending and penalty killing, and wait for their opportunities. Again, we watched a team that suffered defensive breakdowns while under constant pressure.
Carey Price was spectacular and kept the Canadiens close. In the goaltender duel, Price looked to be the more aggressive and more poised than the much-hyped Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury has been getting a lot of press as a potential Olympic team member, despite his less than stellar statistics.
Fleury is ranked 30th in the league in save percentage (goaltenders with 11 or more games played). Tonight, Fleury gave up two goals on his first 15 shots.
Roman Hamrlik continues to excel at both ends of the ice. He scored a power play goal and logged more than 25 minutes ice-time.
Hamrlik, Ryan O'Byrne, and Jaroslav Spacek combined for 16 blocked shots. Spacek was playing with leg pain and committed 11 giveaways.
The Habs have now successfully killed off 27 straight opposition power plays. Tomas Plekanec, Travis Moen, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Scott Gomez, along with the defense and Price excelled again tonight.
The Canadiens now prepare for a visit to Atlanta on Saturday night.
Rocket's three stars:
1. Carey Price
2. Sergei Gonchar
3. Roman Hamrlik