The Montreal Canadiens did everything but score enough on Sunday night against the Vegas Golden Knights. It is said that a team should never give another life. However, one 77 second shift, according to Natural Stats Trick, wiped away what was an incredible night at the Bell Centre.
That being said, nothing should be taken away from what this Montreal is doing in these Stanley Cup playoffs. It is extraordinary. For better or for worse, Montreal has embraced an identity and they are extremely difficult to play against.
Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have been almost invisible in this series for large stretches. Neither one has a goal to this point. Carey Price has been excellent in net during what has mostly been a low-scoring series. Montreal’s special teams have been their strength — especially their penalty kill. We will get to that in a bit.
This series is still tied 2-2.
There are a few schools of thought here.
Montreal could very well be up three games to one or down three games to one depending on who you talk to. However, honestly, the Canadiens are about right where they deserve to be. This series has been mostly even.
Montreal Canadiens by the chances…
There were lots of things that stuck out. First off, we were quite thankful to be able to Dominque Ducharme the other day. He is currently battling COVID but his spirits were very good. The priority is that he will be another one that is counted as recovered soon enough.
Luke Richardson and Alexandre Burrows have done an excellent job in the meantime. Montreal played a dominating home game for the most part on Sunday night.
High-danger scoring chances at even strength were 17-0 for Montreal during regulation. Yes, regular scoring chances were pretty even at 24-21 Montreal. However, the quality stuff was all Canadiens all the time. That points out to how good Robin Lehner was in net for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Montreal had eight such chances in the third period alone. The first 16-17 minutes or so of that period were amazing. The Canadiens, by all rights, should have taken the lead at some point. Unfortunately, not everything goes as it is supposed to. Despite some amazing chances, the last few minutes of that period saw a subtle momentum shift.
Vegas started to at least get some chances. Now, they were not of the highest quality. On the other hand, the Golden Knights were getting closer to the front of the net. It proved to be telling of what was to come. Max Pacioretty missed one chance and Nicolas Roy almost had another. The last few minutes of regulation were too close for comfort for both teams.
Then, there were those 77 seconds when Nicolas Roy was on the ice. Vegas generated two high-danger scoring chances. The second was the Roy rebound that he potted into the yawning net. That gave Vegas the much-needed split and changed the momentum in the series.
The Montreal Canadiens’ Penalty Kill…
Again, it has been incredible. The Montreal Canadiens have killed off 26 straight chances on the penalty kill over the period of 11 games. The last goal they gave up on the penalty kill was to the Toronto Maple Leafs a long, long time ago in Round 1.
Carey Price has an otherworldly .944 save percentage on the penalty kill. He is seeing the pucks he needs to. The Montreal penalty killers are not screening him and fewer rebounds are being allowed. Vegas is 0 for 11 on the power play through four games this series.
Some of it involves a bit of luck. Vegas has hit three posts and a crossbar in this series while on the man advantage. The triumvirate of Ducharme, Richardson, and Burrows have these Montreal players in sound position so often. Vegas cannot get players where they want even when they outman the Canadiens. Let that sink in a bit.
Between the even-strength play and penalty kill, this is why Montreal has looked the better of the two teams in this series. On paper, that is not the case. However, they do not play hockey on paper.
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A few Game 5 notes…
The Montreal Canadiens may have more of an uphill battle for Game 5 if reports pan out…
— x-Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) June 21, 2021
This statement reeks of being a bit cryptic. What does “on the horizon” mean in DeBoer speak? Remember, the Vegas coach would not even confirm his goalie change to Robin Lehner even when everyone else knew anyway. It likely means a Game 5 return for the top-line center. That creates quite a problem for Montreal.
During Game 1, Vegas was able to get to the front of the net more often as the Golden Knights were allowed to play a mobile, physical game that perplexed Montreal a good deal. What did Montreal learn from that first game? It’s a great question. Can they apply what they did without Stephenson in the lineup? They have to if Montreal wants to win this series. It’s that simple.
Vegas is the better team with Stephenson in the lineup. They have scored 3.75 goals per game with their big three intact. (2.13 goals per game without). Stephenson gets to the front of the net, he creates space and creates opportunities in close.
The 1C is a difference-maker that helps the rest of the Vegas forward lines. This may also help take the burden off their defense, which is responsible for seven of their ten goals through four games.
It appears the storm is coming. Montreal best be ready. This will be a game to look forward to.