The temptation, after blowing a two-goal lead to lose a game we thought well in hand, is to start looking for a culprit. Gomez was lost in space, we say. Subban completely blew his defensive assignment on the winner, we cry. The whole team stopped skating after the first and gave up the game, we grouse.
Sometimes, though, it's not as much a matter of what your team does wrong as what the other team does right. As much as we hate to admit it, the Canadiens can learn some things from the Flyers.
Last night, in the first, the Flyers fell back into their own zone and let the Canadiens buzz around. They recognized the Habs were carrying the puck into the offensive zone rather than dumping and chasing, so in the second period they adjusted and started sending three guys out to meet the puck carrier. On many Habs rushes, a simple poke-check ended the threat and turned the Flyers back the other way.
The team in orange always had someone going for the crease, and they were very effective in making short, accurate passes out of traffic on the boards. While their stars, like Carter and Richards, didn't have a lot to say about the outcome, their second and third lines provided everything they needed to push back.
The answer, for the Canadiens, should have been some good, energetic shifts by aggressive third and fourth lines of their own. The problem was, they didn't have the people to do it. Lapierre was playing hard all night, but Tom Pyatt's strength is in defending, not attacking. Pouliot and Halpern did their part on the scoreboard, but they're not the types of players who race around hitting and forechecking with abandon. Lars Eller has some jam, but his game isn't the crashing kind. And, it's safe to say the Yannick Weber experiment has been pretty bad. The kid's been thrown into a fourth-line role he doesn't play in Hamilton and onto a power play that's been struggling for most of the year. It's not helping him or the team to play him 11 minutes in that kind of situation.
The other option for the Canadiens to save that game was to switch to a dump-and-chase attack, once it became apparent the puck-carrying strategy wasn't working. Unfortunately, the Canadiens either weren't willing or able to pull that off either. When the team scores four goals in three games, with only one from anybody in the top six, there's a problem. It started when Martin began moving people on and off the Gomez line in order to get the seven-million-dollar man going. Instead, everyone who's ended up on that line has been stone cold as well. Now, the Plekanec/Kostitsyn/Cammalleri line, which had been so effective to start the year is broken up and nobody's scoring.
Jacques Martin wants to bring kids like Eller on slowly, but it may be time to consider playing the kid, who's winning his puck battles and trying futilely to set up his stone-handed linemates for twenty minutes, with good wingers. Let Gomez, who's helping nothing or no one, play with the pluggers. At least that's only one line screwed up instead of all of them.
In any case, Martin's got to stop trying to jump-start Gomez and put the Plekanec line back together. Kostitsyn's size helps create things for the other two, and something's got to give here.
The Canadiens couldn't beat the Flyers in the playoffs last year, for the same reasons why they couldn't beat them last night. The team has been susceptible to a strong forecheck for years now, and still is. It needs some people who can wreak havoc on those third and fourth lines, and it needs to move Gomez off the top-six for a couple of games. The speed/defence game works most of the time, but when the going gets tough, the Habs can't handle it. Somebody's got to start crashing, and somebody's got to start scoring. The Flyers showed the Canadiens how that's done. Over to you, Gauthier.