I don’t know much about hockey. A Montrealer to the core, I love the Canadiens whether they win or lose so long as they don’t lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I know that the object of the game is to get the puck into the net, that hitting and tripping another player with your stick is illegal, and that the refs will usually wait until the crowd has enjoyed a fight a bit before stopping it.
Having said all that, even a noob like myself can tell the difference between good hockey playing and bad hockey playing.
I saw both at last night’s game.
From first period to the third, the Habs stank of desperation. They clustered around the ice, trying constantly to crowd the net in the hope of getting the puck past a goalie who was definitely earning his ridiculous paycheque.
Every time the Canadiens had the puck, Nashville was there to take it away. Like a well-oiled machine, Nashville’s defense never faltered. They were coordinated and their moves spoke of a team that was well coached and went into the game with a strategy.
The Canadiens on the other hand played with the sloppiness of a team ready to give up. When the Habs had to pass the puck because of an onslaught of Nashville players, they passed it into empty ice because there was no teammate to take it.
From start to finish, the Habs proved they’d forgotten that they were just as responsible for a victory as their goalie. The game only went on as long as it did with a low score because Mike Condon proved his mettle by successfully blocking nearly every puck that came his way.
Though star goalie Carey Price is out for the season, his teammates aren’t picking up the slack. Instead of coordinating themselves to get as many goals as possible and block their opponents, they seem to ignore their net and hope that their goalie can do all the work.
The Canadiens’ only goal was scored by Brendan Gallagher in the first period. With a minute and fifteen seconds to the end of the period, he and Markov successfully got the puck past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, a man who spent the game plucking the puck out of the air like the Habs were aiming for his glove.
The second period was not as painful to watch. For the first five minutes it looked like the Habs had upped their game and adopted defensive strategies not unlike their opponents. For the first five minutes, thousands of watching fans had a hope that we’d win. And then those five minutes ended and the Canadiens were back to that same scramble of desperation. Even the Canadiens’ fan who attended the game with a paper bag of shame hid under it, watching the Canadiens lose through eye slits cut in the brown paper.
The third period came and the sound system played How Deep is Your Love by Calvin Harris & Disciples. Whoever chose the playlist knew that the Habs were truly testing their fans’ love by playing so badly.
In the mess that was the third period, a failed attempt at a goal against Nashville sent defenseman Nathan Beaulieu knee-first into a goal post thanks to Predators’ defenseman Colin Wilson. As Beaulieu writhed in pain on the ice, Alex Galchenyuk valiantly put up his fists to punish Nashville for his fallen comrade. Though the fans were out of their seats and screaming, the ensuing chaos kept the Habs from helping their teammate, who had to be pulled out of the ruckus by the refs so he could get the care he needed.
Beaulieu won’t be playing tomorrow against Washington as a result of his injuries.
Despite a major save by Condon in the final minutes of the third period, the fans were giving up hope. As the camera scrolled through the faces of spectators, it focused on one woman asleep in the stands, clearly tired of seeing her team screw up yet again.
The refs who saved Beaulieu spent the remaining game asleep at the wheel, failing to notice when a Nashville player tripped a Canadien in plain sight.
The last two minutes and thirty-three seconds were the Canadiens’ last real hope. The Habs shot on goal and the siren went off, driving the crowd wild, only to sink back into their seats when the replay revealed that Nashville’s goalie had stopped the puck before it crossed the line and defenseman Roman Josi scooped it clear of the net.
The game was tied 1-1 and went into overtime.
Despite the bravado of P.K. Subban and an epic save by Mike Condon, Nashville’s defense held firm against players who were clearly exhausted and sluggish. Nashville shot at the net and everyone was sure the game would end then and there…
But something miraculous happened…
The puck bounced off both goal posts and never crossed the line. It was as though Lady Luck herself knew how badly the fans needed a win and was willing to give the Habs one last chance to redeem themselves.
It was a chance the Habs never took, for despite the best efforts of Sven Andrighetto, Alex Galchenyuk, and Max Pacioretti, the Canadiens lost to Nashville in the shootout.
The crowd left the game with the slow somber gait of a funeral procession, off to bars to drown out their sorrows or home to scrub their minds clean of defeat with sex, sleep, and TV.
The Canadiens play the Washington Capitals tomorrow. Let’s see if they learn from yesterday’s defeat and up their game.