What Went Wrong: Montreal Canadiens

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Much like how it was for the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, or Buffalo Sabres it’s tough to find a way to pick on a team that just went seven games in a series. Like how it was for the Blackhawks, it’s even harder to do when you take your opponent to seven games.

For the Canadiens, what ailed them was something not so easily found in the statistics but more in the manner of play and team philosophy. After all, when you’re going up against a team that’s a virtual mirror opposite, it’s tough to crack them to win four games.

Where did Montreal go wrong? It’s more of a matter of opinion than anything else.

1. Offensive pressure? What’s that?
Jacques Martin is known as one of the better defensive coaches in the NHL and for good reason. Look at what his defensive-minded stylings did for the Habs in last year’s playoffs against the two biggest offenses in the NHL. He was able to draw up a strategy to hold up the Caps and Penguins and frustrated them to no end. When they end up against a team with more of a defensive mindset, however, it doesn’t work out so well.

Think of it like a staring contest. They’ll throw the same kind of game at each other to see who blinks, or in this case takes a penalty, first. The plan of attack was similar for Montreal. Jump out quickly in the opening minutes to see if you can catch the Bruins napping. If the Habs scored, perfect. They could sit back and defend and pull out the soccer style of defense and essentiall y “park the bus” in front of Carey Price.

For a good part of the series, Montreal was great at that as the Habs blocked 144 shots through the series, one shot shy of the Lightning for the top mark. Considering that Boston sent 243 shots on goal through the series, they had ample time to pepper the goal.

2. Too reliant on the power play
Montreal scored 17 goals in their seven game series against Boston. Six of those goals came with the man advantage. Two of those six came on 5-on-3 power plays. Montreal went 6-27 on the power play in the series and while that’s all well and good, scoring more than a third of your goals on the power play is a tough way to live life. Penalties will happen no matter what but when you’re banking on them to generate your offense, it’s a high risk way to live life in the playoffs. Fortunately for Montreal the Bruins were totally inept on the power play which gave the Habs the leeway to be more patient. If the Bruins connected at a normal rate at all in this series, there’s no way it goes seven games.

3. Playing desperate only when it was a desperate situation
When Montreal got aggressive in their offensive game it generally only came with the team down a goal late in the game. When the Habs applied themselves like that they looked awfully tough. They could get offense from anywhere be it Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Cammalleri, Yannick Weber, or P.K. Subban. That kind of offensive desperation made the Habs exciting to watch because they do have great skill players there. It’s tough to watch guys like that have to play dump-and-change hockey most of the night only to see them get a “button” pushed late when they’re behind to finally start pushing the pressure. The Habs are a team that could’ve learned from the past that safe is indeed death.

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Montreal is a very talented team and Carey Price was outstanding throughout this series and all season long. There are many in Montreal who share my frustrations with how Martin coaches the team (All Habs did a two part series on it in February – Part 1, Part 2) and while that’s part of the problem, what Martin does defensively is what makes the Habs as good as they are.

Unfortunately, that only makes them good enough to make the playoffs and not a serious Stanley Cup contender.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson