The biggest fear going into this first round for the Montreal Canadiens probably should have never been Carey Price. That remains a paramount fact through three games. Tonight’s Game 4 is the back end of a back-to-back. This expects to present its own problems.
However, the smaller self-inflicted wounds lead to bigger gaping problems for the Montreal Canadiens. That has been so prevalent in this series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even Game 1’s win does not happen without a glaring mistake by Toronto. This series could easily be 3-0 as the Maple Leafs just match up that well against the Canadiens.
That is the cold reality. This reality is exacerbated by the decision-making of Dominique Ducharme and the Montreal coaching staff. It is more than not playing Cole Caufield then barely playing him in critical stretches. It is not just the roster construction and development from Marc Bergevin on down. This is more about the little things. The littlest things make a difference in playoff hockey.
Game 2 featured problems from lack of discipline and poor positioning in simple situations. Monday night showed one play in particular and why a better puck-moving defenseman makes a difference.
Montreal Canadiens and what led to the second goal allowed…
Again, this has been something talked about all season. Shea Weber is not the player he once was. It’s not even close. Weber is approaching 36, his first stride is painfully slow, and father time is catching up. That is inevitable. The decision-making and spacing in the last year or so, in particular, has infuriated fans and media alike.
Watching Game 3 and seeing how Carey Price battled and battled, no one likes to see a game come down to the littlest and simplest of things. Matching up Auston Matthews against Shea Weber can never go well. Remember, Ducharme has the last line change. Yet, this happened all too often again and again.
Understand the context of game flow for a second as Montreal had just tied the game on a Nick Suzuki goal. Two shifts later Matthews is out there against yes, Shea Weber. There is a quote from Weber that is telling.
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber: “Obviously tonight, the second period wasn’t great… The first period was pretty even I thought. They took momentum and played a lot better in the second and ultimately that was the game.” #GoHabsGo #THW
— Ryan Szporer (@rszporer) May 25, 2021
Again, Toronto controlled the second as seen here from Natural Stats Trick. Weber had some giveaways at even strength. Two were noticeable enough. There are well-documented power-play issues. However, it is the decision-making that kills.
Weber iced the puck late in the second period when he had options. Skating a couple of extra strides instead of making the lazy play. It is easier said than done when Auston Matthews is on the ice. However, this is not the first time Weber has done it in this series. The difference here is it cost Montreal a goal against and the game.
The icing resulted in a Morgan Rielly goal on the next shift. If that icing does not happen, the defensive-zone faceoff does not either.
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Consequences of the goal yielded…
Again, maybe Montreal does not go on to win the game on Monday night. But 1-1 going into the third period looks a lot better than being down 2-1. Yes, Montreal had a much better (score-effect laden) third period but it was not enough. The Canadiens are a downhill team that thrives on playing when tied or up on an opponent. That’s especially true against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Montreal is 4-8-1 this season (1-2 in the playoffs) against Toronto for a reason. It is the little things that give you away. These margins decrease even more during the second season. Decisions create consequences. Continuing to repeat these same poor decisions lead to poor results.
When will the Montreal Canadiens learn? The answer appears all too familiar that it will be too late yet again