RECAP | Canadiens – Penguins: Habs Running Out of Racetrack

Canadiens Lineup

Forward lines

Tomas Tatar – Phillip Danault – Brendan Gallagher

Ilya Kovalchuk  – Nick Suzuki – Joel Armia

Jonathan Drouin – Max Domi – Nick Cousins

Artturi Lehkonen – Nate Thompson – Jake Evans

Defence pairings

Ben Chiarot – Victor Mete

Brett Kulak – Jeff Petry

Marco Scandella – Xavier Ouellet

Goaltenders

Carey Price – Charlie Lindgren

Scratches

Jordan Weal, Dale Weise, Christian Folin

Injuries

Paul Byron, Shea Weber

Game Report

In their two most recent games, the Canadiens were matched against the top team and the fourth place team in the NHL. And in both games, they lost by identical 4-1 scores. For a period of time, they were in each game but once their opponent took control, Montreal was no longer a threat to win.

In tonight’s game, the turning point occurred with 18 seconds left in the middle frame. Jason Zucker scored his second goal of the contest, his first two goals as a Penguin. His late period goal came just 36 seconds after Tomas Tatar had put the Habs on the board with a power-play marker.

Claude Julien was quick to point to Zucker’s second goal as the point the air came out of the balloon for his team. Post-game the Habs coach said, “That third goal really hurt us at the end of the second (period.)”

And then, as if to emphasize that it was the kill-shot, Julien added, “That was a pretty good dagger.”

It was such a key moment, that the Canadiens official Twitter account, tweeted it a short time later in both languages.

(Image via screenshot – @CanadiensMTL)

Strangely, that tweet was deleted from @CanadiensMTL. Why would they do that?

Well, perhaps someone in the Habs communication bunker had a notion that I was about to ask the following question:

Who was the genius that made the decision to send out a struggling third line at that crucial point in the game?

You guessed it. The same person that stood behind the microphones insisting that it was the final dagger in this game. (The season?)

It was a colossal coaching blunder and it cost his team. 

Anyone who has watched the Canadiens this week will tell you that Max Domi is lost and Jonathan Drouin is simply going through the motions with minimal effort. They aren’t working as a pair.

For tonight’s game, Julien thought that the remedy was to dump the assiduous Artturi Lehkonen to the fourth line adding his favourite son, Nick Cousins, to the impotent Domi-Drouin duo. (Another coaching mistake.)

It was worse. Much worse. 

And yet this was the trio that Julien sent out for the final shift of the second period after the Canadiens had cut the deficit to one. 

Carey Price, who played a brilliant game, was not amused when Zucker, Sidney Crosby  and company exploited the Habs weak third line. Price might have been thinking what we all were wondering, “What was the third line doing on the ice?”

In post-game interviews, when asked about the playoffs, the players spoke about sticking together and narrowing their focus to the next game and two points.

It was only the coach who chose to address the issue of the Canadiens playoff chances. Julien said, “We’re going to have to get on a really good winning streak if we plan on getting back into this hunt.”

But if we are being honest, we have to ask this question: What does this coach know about coaching a team to a playoff spot in recent history?

Julien has missed the playoffs five of the past six seasons.

His only playoff appearance in that time, you ask? It was three years ago. Julien was hired exactly three years ago on February 14, 2017 for his second tour of duty with the Habs. 

When Julien arrived, the Canadiens were already solidly in a playoff spot. He coached the remaining two months of that regular season and then on to a first round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers.

So it has been seven years since Claude Julien guided a team, start to finish, to a playoff position. In the 2013-14 season, Julien coached the Boston Bruins to a President’s Trophy winning regular season. His Bruins were dispatched from the playoffs in the second round by Carey Price and the Canadiens.

Eight head coaches have been fired this season in the NHL. Bruce Boudreau was the latest to get the axe this week by the Minnesota Wild. Only two of the teams who fired coaches sit lower in the standings than the Canadiens. Will Claude be next?

The Canadiens head home to meet the Dallas Stars on Saturday night at the Bell Centre. 

Plus / Minus

▲  Carey Price

▼  Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, Jeff Petry, Ilya Kovalchuk