Jacques Martin said after his team got shut out by the Sabres last night that the Canadiens didn't go to the net "with authority." What he possibly meant to say was they didn't go to the net "at all." The definitive moment of the game, for me, was a sequence late in the third, when David Desharnais (the best Habs centre on the ice all night) had fought for and won the puck behind the Sabres net. Desharnais is a whiz at finding an open man in front when he's in that position, as we've witnessed before. He made a couple of little moves to evade Buffalo defenders and maintain possession for two...five...ten seconds. Both of his wingers were between the boards and the circles, and nobody went near the crease for what would have been an excellent scoring chance. Eventually, Desharnais tried a low-percentage pass through traffic and lost the puck with no shot on goal.
That was what the Habs looked like all game. They were a little less urgent, a little less quick and a little less opportunistic than a desperate Sabres team. Few guys in red were willing to sacrifice more than the visitors for that win, so they didn't get it. The temptation for fans is to curse them because the division title would have been up for grabs on Thursday with a win last night. From the players' perspective, though, it can be hard to get up for the Sabres on a Tuesday night when they're all but assured a playoff spot, they're dealing with nagging injuries and they're looking ahead to a huge game against the Bruins on Thursday.
This shouldn't be the time of year for excuses, but honestly? If it comes down to Brian Gionta getting hurt fighting for crease space because he nearly killed himself trying to beat the Sabres in March, or him being around to score on a tip in April, I'll take the loss in March and the goal in April. Sometimes, a tired, battered team will subconsciously weigh its options and save a little something for the more important game coming up. That's when your defence starts taking lazy penalties and your forwards are second to the puck most of the time.
Despite that, only a nice tip on a point shot beat Carey Price. If the team had been a little more motivated and Ryan Miller a little less sharp, there might have easily been a different outcome last night regardless of the Sabres desperation level. P.K.Subban and Desharnais both played their usual energetic games, and Andrei Kostitsyn was a physical force. The kids were trying.
The veterans, however, were a bit more of a concern. Whether it's because they're pacing themselves or because they're dealing with some kind of injury problems, Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri posed a very low scoring threat last night. Gomez did yeoman's work on the PK in the absence of Tomas Plekanec, but he's not paid seven million bucks a year to kill penalties. These guys have to be better in the big games if the team is going anywhere.
In the end, the team that needed to extend itself to win did so. The team that's comfortably looking forward to playing next month didn't meet that level of urgency. The only real shame about last night was for the fans at the Bell Centre, who paid a bundle to watch what they expected to be an exciting stretch-run game and got nothing for their money.