In another time and another place the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens might have described his team’s performance in Carolina as “Soft. So soft“. But the 2015-16 version of Michel Therrien has come a long way. So instead of using the ‘S’ word a disappointed but clearly level headed Therrien said his team didn’t play with their usual “jam” after surrendering a pair of one goal leads.

It was obvious early on the Habs were not into competing hard. Because after they opened the scoring their game became sloppy, unfocused and uninspired. Or the complete opposite of Thursday at home against Washington. They once again played down to their opponent.

I’m note sure what the Habs did on Friday night (as the league leading Dallas Stars lost in OT to the last place Oilers) but if a few of them had an extra glass or two to commemorate an incredible first third of the season and a job well done against the Capitals, they earned it. As long as they’re back on track when the Bruins comes to town.

THE GOOD

  • Daniel Carr. He’ll always have something in common with Mario Lemieux – scoring his first NHL goal on his first shot on his first shift. And he did it was his parents and brother in the stands (not difficult to get a ticket). Taking the spot of an ailing Devante Smith-Pelly, Carr made the most of his opportunity. He looked like an NHL player.
  • Sven Andrighetto. Making a strong case that he is an NHL player. Three goals in seven games since his recall from St. John’s. For a split second he must have thought he was back in the American Hockey League after he gave Montreal a 2-1 lead from the lip of the crease with not a single Carolina player in sight.
  • Jeff Petry. Best of the Montreal defensemen. Carrying a bit of an extra load the last two games with his partner Nathan Beaulieu clearly playing injured (13:28 vs Carolina; 13:51 vs Washington). No, it’s not a concussion.
  • Max Pacioretty. Nothing on the scoreboard except more chances to score (a game high seven shots on goal). More importantly, we’re seeing the real Pacioretty emerge again with the return of his skating stride. There were a couple of more instances where we saw him burst through the neutral zone with speed, drawing a penalty (Eric Staal hook) and forcing a face off deep in Carolina territory. Pacioretty got nicked up again when he was caught by a Dale Weise high stick up around the eye. Once the playoffs start, the Montreal captain will have the look of a battle scarred veteran.

THE BAD

  • Other than Pacioretty, the Canadiens best players were outplayed by the best on Carolina. The best defenseman on the ice was Justin Faulk. The best winger was Jeff Skinner. The best centre was Eric Staal. Hurricanes coach Bill Peters sent a clear message out to the NHL – his team is going younger. Veteran forwards Kris Versteeg and Riley Nash were healthy scratches, replaced by Phillip Di Guiseppe (1st NHL game) and Brock McGinn (13th game). And if Peters had a separate message for his core players – Staal, Skinner and goaltender Cam Ward – it might have been something like, “There’s a strong chance you guys are going to get moved. Do you want to compete for a Stanley Cup? If so, show it tonight.”
  • David Desharnais. Could not have been happy to be matched up against Staal. This was the playoff-like Desharnais we’ve seen who has too many issues trying to create offense, especially on the road. Lost a key face off that led to Carolina’s tying goal. Took a bad penalty. His night was summed up on a Montreal power play in the second period when he had the puck inside the Carolina blue line but simply gave it away as he saw the 6’4″ Staal bearing down on him. Desharnais wasn’t the only Hab to shy away from physical contact. Dale Weise flinched along the boards, failing to control the puck which ended up in the back of the Montreal net when Joakim Nordstrom tied the game in the second period. And Alexei Emelin has to play with a lot more “jam”, especially with Greg Pateryn breathing down his neck.
  • Special Teams. Habs were 0-4 on the power play without mounting a serious threat. And their normally tough PK unit was scored on twice – both by Skinner. Lars Eller, who had taken a lazy tripping penalty, never made it out of the penalty box on the first goal after Brian Flynn failed to get the puck out at the blue line. (Since the puck went in exactly two minutes after the penalty it doesn’t officially count as a power play goal.) And Eller was beaten to a loose puck by Skinner (another face off Tomas Plekanec didn’t win but nor did he lose) who also finished off the play by batting the puck out of mid-air.
  • Face Offs. Becoming an issue? Habs were at 42%. To be fair, the Hurricanes, led by Eric and Jordan Staal and with a lot of help from assistant coach Rob Brindamour who was one of the best of his time, are atop the NHL in face off success rate at 55.9%. Alex Galchenyuk leads the Habs at 52.3% but Montreal’s other regular centermen are below 50%: Torrey Mitchell-49.4%, Plekanec – 48.4%, Desharnais-45.8%. Even Eller, who was so strong on the draw a year ago, is out of practice on the wing and struggling at 44.6%. Sometimes centre Brian Flynn is their best bet at over 55%.
  • Droughts. Desharnais has gone six games without a goal or, more troubling, a point. Tomas Fleischmann is pointless in six games. Weise is without a goal in eight games and has scored just one in 13. Plekanec hasn’t scored in 12 games. And P.K. Subban, as strong as he has been (but not in this one), is stuck on one goal for the season. No wonder Therrien started juggling lines. But by late in the third period he reunited Desharnais-Weise-Fleischmann and they had a very strong shift. We also saw Plekanec with Paul Byron and Lars Eller. Which meant we were about to see Galchenyuk with Andrighetto and Pacioretty. But then Eric Staal took a delay of game penalty.
  • Mike Condon. Too many rebounds. Too many goals. Has allowed three goals or more in seven of his last nine starts.

THE UGLY

  • Twenty years ago today. Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. Patrick Roy and Mike Keane to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibeault, Martin Rucicnsky and Andrei Kovalenko. I was numb when I heard it. We knew St. Patrick was being dealt but for this? I wouldn’t have traded Keane straight up for Kovalenko. (There were serious, knowledgeable people who actually thought the Habs did ok.) Rucinsky was a solid player for a long time and Thibeault was in a no-win situation but still – you move perhaps the greatest goaltender of all-time and don’t receive a single all-star player in return? Worst trade in franchise history (McDonagh for Gomez was brutal. But a distant second). Over the years Mario Tremblay and Rejean Houle have been vilified. They certainly deserve their fair share of abuse. But the biggest villain was Ronald Corey. One day early in the 1995 season Corey woke up and decided he knew more about how to run an NHL team than Serge Savard did. So, by appointing good company man Houle as GM, Corey became the De facto head of the Montreal Canadiens Hockey Operations Department. How’d that work out?

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