Shouldn't this game have been a cakewalk? After all the opponent was the lowly Carolina Hurricanes.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Hurricanes have the second best record in the Eastern conference (next to the Washington Capitals) in 2010. It's also hard to believe that Carolina has not lost in regulation time at the Bell Centre since December 2003.
Those facts should not be read as excuses.
A playoff team should beat a non-playoff team with six games to go playing at home, but the Canadiens should not have expected that 25 minutes of effort would suffice for the win.
So whose to blame?
If you would like to dump on Ryan O'Byrne with a perspective shaped by a year-old off-ice incident, I'm not interested in your nonsense.
If you are here to bash the Kostitsyn brothers, perhaps you would be better served by one of those forums where bigoted comments abound.
If you are one of the morons who booed Carey Price (the best Canadiens' player tonight,) during the announcement of tonight's three stars, you are not welcome.
In fact, the words of former general manager Bob Gainey are perfectly suited for this occasion.
Gainey said, “We don’t need those people. We don’t want those people. I think they’re a bunch of gutless bastards, to be honest.”
Gainey was responding to the booing of Patrice Brisebois during a pre-season game on Sept. 27, 2003. Perhaps the speech should be dusted off, are you listening, Pierre Gauthier?
O'Byrne, the Kostitsyns, and Price have been lightning rods this season, attracting ruthless criticism, with the majority being unwarranted. The unfair treatment of these players has gone well beyond fans expressing an opinion.
Sure, call me grumpy, but I'm tired of the verbal abuse with little attachment to reason. Before we get too far along this tangent, let's get back to tonight's game.
For just over a period tonight, the Canadiens attacked and dominated the Hurricanes. The home team won 72 percent of faceoffs, shots on goal were 12-2 for the Habs and they led 1-0 on the scoreboard.
Early in the second period, Brandon Sutter, with a burst of speed blew around Roman Hamrlik and drove to the net. Hamrlik went to the ice and slid into the net carrying the puck with him.
Once Carolina had their first goal, the fragile Canadiens' confidence bubble burst. Their aggressive play from the first period evaporated.
By the third period, the Canadiens had stopped skating, were losing puck battles and showed little interest in competing. Halfway through the period, they had managed only two shots on goal. By the end of the third, the Habs had allowed 17 shots by the Hurricanes. Those are hardly representative statistics of a team fighting for a playoff position.
Carey Price was the only player keeping the Habs in the game in the third period. 23 of Price's 26 saves came in the final 35 minutes. A brief flurry by the offense with 30 seconds was too little, too late, and only served to prop up the shot totals.
The Habs had squandered yet another fine goaltending effort and an opportunity to secure a playoff spot.
But what about the question of blame?
Coach Jacques Martin seemed to place some of the responsibility on O'Byrne who was benched for most of the third period.
O'Byrne was a split-second late on the the coverage of Eric Staal who scored Carolina's second goal. But was he any more to blame than Max Lapierre who failed to clear the puck on the same play or Mike Cammalleri who was parked waiting for an outlet pass?
Cammalleri had a minus two rating and contributed little offensively. His passing was off the mark and he made poor decisions. Cammalleri has not had the impact that was expected on his return tallying only two assists in four games.
So why bench O'Byrne? Was he anymore responsible than Hamrlik was on the first goal? What about Mathieu Darche? Is no shots and one hit a successful night's work for a player on the energy line?
Cammalleri, Hamrlik and Darche have each received praise on this site in the past, the three are not usual targets but none played well tonight.
What else went wrong?
While the Canadiens' power-play scored in the first, it was dreadful when they needed a goal badly in the third period. In fact, they gave up several short-handed scoring chances to the Hurricanes. Why is there still a reluctance to use a forward on the point?
With three minutes left in the game and the Habs trailing, why was the fourth line on the ice? The same question could be asked about Hal Gill. Another question comes to mind, is the Canadiens' bench aware of timeouts?
Poor personnel and tactical decisions, and a delicate team psyche, point to the incompetence of the coaching staff. While execution is also a problem, coach Martin and his assistants should carve out a large portion of the responsibility for the loss.
So when you get grumpy, before you follow the mob and pile on the popular targets, stop and think.
After all, you are supposed to be the best hockey fans in the NHL. Well, some of you, anyway.
Following the loss, the Canadiens have slipped to eighth place. They play next on Friday night in Philadelphia. Each game remaining should be treated as a playoff match.
"We all understand the urgency," said Carey Price, "There's five games left now. Our next game against Philadelphia is obviously a very big game. We just have to forget this one and get ready for that next game, individually and as a team we have to put all our energy and focus into that game."
Rocket's three stars
1. Cam Ward
2. Carey Price
3. Brandon Sutter
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
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