Jacques Martin needs, to quote Carey Price, to chill out. He was angry and frustrated after watching his team apparently sleepwalk through sixty vague minutes of hockey last night, but calling out Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec for losing to Nashville was a little over the top. Those two are a couple of the players who have kept the Canadiens rolling every night, and blaming them for a lacklustre loss to the Predators was unnecessary. They know they were -3 on the night, and they won't be as passive next game. They don't need the coach to embarrass them.
What really happened in that game was that the Canadiens were trying to measure the amount of effort they'd need to beat the Predators, and they miscalculated. This happens to all good teams that expect to be in the playoffs as they try to conserve some energy over the course of a long season. We know what the team is capable of doing. We saw it against Boston, Philly and Vancouver. The problem is, a team can't do that every night. Emotions can't burn that high or bodies push that hard all the time without burning out or breaking. We want the players to give everything they have, but if they do, they'll have nothing left in the spring. So, they try to lie back a little when they get a chance.
Last night, they looked at Nashville's dismal loss to the leafs earlier in the week and the Preds' overall unimpressive record. They also looked ahead and saw the big Philly rematch coming up on Monday, after the blood fued against TO on Saturday. Adding the two together, they thought...perhaps subconsiously, because pros don't plan to float...they could let their discipline slide and still come out with two points against the Predators. Snag an easy win in a tough stretch, if you will.
What they forgot to calculate was the fact that the Predators and their coach are pros too. They were angry and embarrassed after blowing a three-goal lead and losing to the leafs. They get up for games against the Canadiens, especially at the Bell Centre. They had no intention of lying back and agreeing with the Canadiens' plan to win the game easily. Naturally, the Preds came out skating and hitting and the Habs were nowhere near the same mindset. You could see the shutout coming from midway through the second. The Canadiens didn't lose that game as much as they conceded it.
Still, some Habs forgot to read the memo about last night's game plan. Lars Eller is going to be a damn fine hockey player if he ever gets a linemate with the ability to hit the broad side of a barn with a shot from the farmyard. He's got slick hands and size, but the best thing about him is his ability to protect the puck in close quarters. Most of the time, if he goes into the corner, he's coming out with the puck on his stick. He doesn't make very many egregious errors and he's so enthusiastic he stands out when the rest of the team is playing in low gear.
Carey Price, despite the third goal against him last night...which didn't matter in the end, considering the complete lack of offensive by his team...played well enough to give his team a chance it didn't take. Even with the general apathy his mates displayed, Price didn't break his three-goals-against barrier.
In the NHL, good teams learn to weigh their opponents' strengths and motivations, and measure what it takes to beat them. They conserve their energies and dole them out as needed, all while maintaining a steady course to the top of the conference. It's a delicate balance; a give and take of energy and effort. The Detroit Red Wings, experienced winners, know how to control a game and read in the other team's responses how much or how little they need to give. Teams that are only learning to be good, like the Canadiens, sometimes get that balance wrong. Last night was an example of that. They thought they could roll the Preds for two points like a bum for change, but the other guys had other ideas.
Sometimes it happens. The team isn't going to win every night, and there's little sense in apologizing for it after. If it happened four nights out of five, then, yes, players should be shamefaced and the coach livid enough to call out his best workers. Last night was one to forget for the Canadiens, and they and Martin need to drop it and move on.