The Montreal Canadiens may have exploded for five goals once upon a time against Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart. However, losing Game 4 by a second consecutive shutout, the Habs’ lone victory in this first-round series has never seemed so far away.
Now, trailing the Flyers three games to one in this best-of-seven affair, the Canadiens’ backs are against the wall. In effect, that wall is Hart and, considering their offensive flair for the non-dramatic in three of the four games, their backs may as well be to him, too. He also may as well be made of brick.
3. Power-Play Woes Continue… for Both Teams
In retrospect, you would have thought Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault would have understood. Vigneault had called out Canadiens interim coach Kirk Muller after Game 2 for putting on his first power-play unit in the blowout.
Maybe it ended up being bulletin-board material for the Flyers. Who knows at this point? When the Flyers have only scored three goals in the two games since, it hardly speaks to a statement having been made on their part.
What is crystal clear, though? Muller’s argument that he felt the need to give the opportunity to the unit to gain some chemistry should have rang familiar to Vigneault. His Flyers have a single power-play goal in 28 opportunities so far this postseason, including Game 4, in which Sean Couturier missed a tip into a wide-open net with Jesperi Kotkaniemi off for tripping in the first period.
The Canadiens haven’t been much better. They now have just three markers in 24 opportunities. Their best, or synonymously wasted, opportunity in Game 4 came past the halfway mark of the third period, when they could have pulled to within one and at the very least gained some momentum heading in to Game 5. They didn’t even register a half-decent scoring chance.
2. Domi Is Not Having a Good Playoffs
Technically, Max Domi (three asissts) has as many points as Nick Suzuki this postseason (one goal, two helpers). That’s where the similarities end, though.
If it’s shocking that Domi has three points and you find yourself wondering something to the effect of, “How?”: They all came in the Game 2 victory. Two of his assists were of the secondary variety. The third was on the 5-0 Kotkaniemi goal that changed very little in the outcome.
In effect, whereas Suzuki has been impressive from a play-driving standpoint, Domi has been relatively invisible, even when he has managed to get on the scoresheet. Case in point, Domi had one of the Habs’ best chances to get on the board in Game 4. Late in the first, receiving a pass from none other than Suzuki on his off side, Domi was wide open, but handcuffed himself instead.
Yes, Domi started training camp late, but that can’t be an excuse. It’s admirable that he wanted to be here when arguably all logic dictated he should have sat this one out, but he has rarely shown that competitive drive on the ice.
In his defense, he’s far from alone. Offensively speaking, the Habs have shown very little finish. He has the same three assists as Brendan Gallagher, who’s generally speaking the team’s heart and soul. Gallagher has just built up enough goodwill up to this point to have earned the benefit of the doubt. Domi is meanwhile facing restricted free agency, meaning you’d have expected at least something impressive from him at this stage.
Game 4 would have been the perfect opportunity. However, with the same 15:45 of ice time compared to Suzuki, he managed five fewer shots (one), even in spite of having received more power-play time. Of course, when the Habs only had two power plays, it’s hard to make any kind of meaningful distinction in that regard other than Domi had far from been benched in the game. Nevertheless, he failed to get much of anything going… again.
1. Shades of 2017 for the Canadiens?
It’s not meant to completely single out Domi, only point out he isn’t exactly making a good case for himself ahead of contract negotiations. In truth, the Habs as a whole are firing blanks, losing 3-1 to the Flyers who entered the game as the only team in NHL history to hold a series lead after three games with three or fewer goals. That’s a dubious distinction of which to be on the opposite end, especially now that the Canadiens’ chances have gotten significantly slimmer following the Game 4 defeat.
It’s enough to remind you of their last playoff appearance, in 2017. Facing the New York Rangers in Round 1, the Habs scored just 11 goals in six games. Despite a lackluster elimination-game performance, goalie Carey Price was otherwise stellar, having earned a .923 save percentage. He’s been even better this series, with a .951 save percentage.
In the here and now, Price admittedly allowed a soft goal to Philippe Myers to put Game 4 out of reach 2-0 at the end of the second period. However, the Habs skaters still failed to score a single goal that would have erased the initial 1-0 deficit. And, if you’re looking at a two-goal deficit entering the third as insurmountable, which is how it seemed based on the bounces the Canadiens are getting, maybe avert your eyes to the 3-1 series deficit they now face.
True, the Habs haven’t played badly, but it’s increasingly difficult to suggest they deserve a better fate when they haven’t scored in two complete games. Scoring is kind of the point of the sport. As was evident during the regular season, when they scored an 18th-ranked 208 goals, the Habs simply lack finish. Same old story as in 2017.
Expectations had understandably been greater for the top-ranked Canadiens (in the Atlantic Division). Losing to the wild-card New York Rangers was disappointing, but the listless manner in which the Habs faded away offensively after taking a 2-1 series lead was truly remarkable to watch in real time. Watching that series unfold, you still felt as though the Habs had a shot until the very end.
Technically, the Canadiens still do, here. They’ve come back from 3-1 deficits in the past… twice in fact… against the Boston Bruins in 2004 and against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in 2010. So, the deck’s been stacked against the Habs before. They can do it. They just need more than simple bounces to go their way to get to 11 goals in six games this time around, though. It’s no longer just about luck in this series. It can’t be.