The Florida Panthers flew into Montreal in desperation mode as they try to claw their way back into the playoff picture. For the Montreal Canadiens, it was a game that had little meaning other than as a development tool for the six rookies who were dressed, including one on the top line and three on the blue line. That being said, there were several things to be learned from what unfolded in this matchup.
Canadiens’ (Lack of) Discipline
This game will likely be used by head coach Martin St. Louis as an example of what not to do moving forward. While the officials lost control of this game, the Canadiens’ penalties were deserved, while other plays that should have been called the refs let slide. Yet the most egregious penalties were the unforced errors that St. Louis took the blame for, especially the too-many-men penalties late in the second period. One is bad enough, but two in less than two minutes is two too many.
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One of the missed calls was the Mike Matheson reverse hit on Eric Staal. The NHL reviewed the play and decided to levy a $5,000 fine (the maximum allowed) for interference.
The frustration was clear all night, and Arber Xhekaj confirmed it, using the missed hit-from-behind as an example, stating, “Obviously, if they call Andy’s (Josh Anderson) penalty on Gudas, it’s a weak call. And then my neck into the boards like that? I get it., I’m a big guy. But you’ve got to call the game. That’s how it gets out of control there.”
The level of officiating doesn’t change the fact that the Habs played without any real discipline, and it cost them the game. After Florida scored their fifth unanswered goal, the rough stuff began. The third period looked more like a pay-per-view mixed martial arts event than a hockey game. For the first time this season, the Canadiens had three fights in one game, and all three came in the final period with Mike Matheson, Xhekaj, and Michael Pezzetta taking fighting majors. At least one thing the team can learn from this debacle is that they can rely on each other.
Canadiens’ Penalty Kill Non-existent
In this type of rebuilding season, the difference between blowout losses and competitive games comes down to special teams. Against Florida, the Canadiens’ special teams, specifically the penalty kill (PK), were not strong enough, which has been the case all season as they sit 27th in the NHL with a 73.7% success rate. Until their special teams improve, they will not be as competitive down the stretch as they were at the start of the season.
During the Habs’ parade to the penalty box, the Panthers scored four power-play goals in the second period alone, which put the game out of reach. In a rebuilding campaign, the team’s focus has been on developing their prospects and building a strong team culture, which seems to be progressing well. But there is also no rush for the coaching staff to fix what is broken right away. Even if special teams aren’t a priority, there’s no reason why they can’t work on that part of the game as the season wears on.
The Full Monty
When the Canadiens picked up Samuel Montembeault, aka “Monty”, on waivers, there weren’t high expectations. Last season, he put in his best efforts, all while playing injured, and ended up starting 38 games. This season, his numbers have improved from a .891 save percentage (sv%) to .905 sv%. To the point that he is one of a few players on the general manager (GM) Kent Hughes’s short list of untouchables at the trade deadline. Going into the matchup against his former team, Montembeault was on a streak, playing his best hockey this season, averaging a .953 sv% in his previous four games, but this game versus the Panthers wasn’t going to be his night, not because of his play mind you.
What this game has shown is that the Canadiens need all-world goaltending to cover up their mistake-filled games, and there will be many throughout the rebuild. While Montembeault at 26 years old is starting to round into an NHL-caliber goaltender, he isn’t all-world. The good news for the Canadiens however is that they may have found themselves an inexpensive yet solid backup goaltender for the cost of a waiver claim. The silver lining from this debacle of a game will be that “Monty” showed that he can be relied on to provide his team a chance to win on the nights they show up to play in front of him.
Canadiens fans should prepare themselves for more games like the one against the Panthers. The fact is, they are a rebuilding team filled with rookies and several other young players. There will be nights when they lack discipline, nights when their special teams fail them, and others when they try to send a message. Against Florida, fans saw all three, which is not a recipe for victory.
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Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 29 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist with the goal to be a trusted source of information and entertainment.