Whatever happened to the Montreal Canadiens during the Christmas break, it wasn’t good.
This team had won three of four games in Western Canada and closed out the pre-Christmas schedule in the third place in the Atlantic Division after having responded to an 0-5-3 run with wins in seven of its last 10 games.
But 5-4 and 6-5 losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers on successive nights have put them back in a precarious position ahead of their final game of 2019. The Canadiens are in fifth place in the Atlantic Division, two points behind the Lightning (who have two games in-hand) and three points behind the third-place Panthers (who own one game in-hand).
And it’s not because Montreal didn’t battle in these two games. They fought as hard as any team possibly could in having to chase down multi-goal leads in the third period of both contests. There’s nothing bad to say about the character of this group and about its sheer will to fight for every point.
But there’s something that needs to be said about the focus of the group when — on back-to-back nights and against two teams they’re battling tooth-and-nail with in the playoff race — they beat themselves.
When you look at the mistakes the Canadiens made in these two games, it’s hard to see it otherwise.
DEFENSIVE LAPSES, GOALTENDING, PENALTIES LEAD TO TRAGIC TRIP TO FLORIDA
Here’s what Brendan Gallagher had to say about the Canadiens stringing together key wins prior to this weekend’s action:
“I think we learned how we needed to play as a team, how we needed to really tighten up and what was going to lead to success. We kind of found a little bit of a formula, and now it’s on us to not fall back into the trap that we did before.”
Boy, do those words ever resonate right now.
Gallagher took two of five offensive-zone penalties the Canadiens were charged with in the loss to Florida, and he made an egregious error on Aleksander Barkov’s goal to tie the game 3-3 in the second period.
Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak were caught out of position on the play in question, but it was the most reliable pair of Canadiens defencemen through December — Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber — that got burned on four of the goals the Panthers scored.
And for a second night in a row, Carey Price was beat on at least two shots he’d like to have back.
Knowing him, he’d probably like to have back all six goals he gave up to Florida on the first 22 shots he faced.
Gallagher, Chiarot, Weber, Price… If those are the guys making the most glaring mistakes in the game, the Canadiens have virtually no chance of winning. No matter how hard they fight.
Meanwhile, getting back to the theme of mental errors, taking five penalties in the second half of a back-to-back situation — and against a team that had scored on seven of its last 17 power plays — is asking for trouble. Taking all five in the offensive zone is completely inexcusable, and it’s as clear an indication as there is that the Canadiens weren’t mentally sharp enough to win this game.
Granted, the Panthers scored all their goals at even strength, but they likely beat the Canadiens in that category because of the momentum they gained on the power play and the energy the Canadiens burned on the penalty kill.
That would at least in part explain how the Canadiens allowed Florida to score in bursts. The Panthers got their first two in less than two minutes and scored another two later on in 35 seconds.
The bounces factored in — they always do — but they weren’t the difference in the game, even if Gallagher and Nick Suzuki both hit the post and the Canadiens missed several golden opportunities to score while pucks bounced off Chiarot and Weber on separate occasions for goals against.
“When you score nine goals in two games, you should be able to gain some points in the standings,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien told reporters after the loss to the Panthers. “Unfortunately, we’re playing what you call pond hockey, we’re exchanging chances with the other team, and we’re not in a position to play that way. Especially with the injuries we have and all that. It’s important for us to play a much tighter defensive game than we have lately.”
When Julien was asked if Price was given a good enough chance to win the game, he responded by saying the goaltender was as much to blame as anyone else.
“We lost the game, and I think everyone can be a lot better than they were,” Julien added. “If we’re here to accept roses when we win, we’ll take the criticism, too, when we lose. I’d say everyone can be better defensively.”
• Jonathan Huberdeau recorded the first four-point game of his career on Dec. 16. Then he notched another one in his very next game. And on Sunday, Huberdeau set up the second and third goal the Panthers scored and then put in two of his own to give his team a 5-3 lead.
The Saint-Jerome, Que., native, who scored 92 points a season ago, now has 16 points in his last six games. Huberdeau now has 16 goals and 53 points in 38 games.
Only five players have more points. Their names are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Nathan MacKinnon, and yet it’s rare to hear Huberdeau’s name lumped in with these others.
It’s fair to say that he’s the most underrated forward in the NHL.
• Canadiens rookie Suzuki registered his first three-point night in the NHL and has points now in five consecutive games (one goal, seven assists).
The Canadiens will play the Hurricanes in Carolina on New Year’s Eve.
Virtanen signs two-year, $5.1 million contract with Canucks – NHL.com
Jake Virtanen signed a two-year, $5.1 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. It has an average annual value of $2.55 million.
The 24-year old forward was a restricted free agent and avoided a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for Oct. 28. He scored 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 69 games with the Canucks last season and three points (two goals, one assist) in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“Obviously there’s a bright future with the Canucks organization, so many young, talented players coming in and the moves that we’ve made, I think it’s going to be just a brighter future for our team moving forward,” Virtanen said. “I’m excited to see how it all pans out and how our team’s going to do and super excited to get things going.
“[Contract negotiations] felt like a long time but obviously super excited to get this done and be back with the Canucks for two more years. Just happy to get it done and get it over with and just focus on training and skating and the whole thing, being ready to go.”
With forward Tyler Toffoli signing a four-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 12, it opened up a spot on one of the top two lines, and Virtanen is hoping he’ll get a chance to play there.
“Obviously I’d love to play top six and have a bigger opportunity, more responsibilities,” Virtanen said. “That’s what I really hope I get. I want to be able to prove that to the team and my teammates that I can play up there and be consistent every night, making sure that I can play night in and night out. It’s an opening for me to try to jump up there. I’ve got to make sure I’m coming to camp ready to go.”
Selected by Vancouver in the first round (No. 6) of the 2014 NHL Draft, Virtanen has scored 95 points (50 goals, 45 assists) in 279 regular-season games and three points in 16 playoff games.
“Jake has continued to make progress on his two-way game and remains a contributor offensively, using his speed and size to generate chances,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “We look forward to him taking additional steps in his growth this year to help our team be successful.”
NHL.com staff writer Tim Campbell contributed to this report
NHL postpones Winter Classic, All-Star Game – TSN
The NHL has announced the postponement of the 2021 Winter Classic and the All-Star Game. The annual outdoor game was scheduled for Jan. 1 at Target Field in Minnesota. The All-Star Game was scheduled for Jan. 30 in Sunrise, FL.
The postponements were expected as the dates were scheduled prior to beginning of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The NHL concluded the 2020 playoffs in September — over three months later than originally scheduled — as part of the league’s negotiated Return To Play format. The regular season concluded on Mar. 11, after the league was forced to its season on pause due to the pandemic.
“Fan participation, both in arenas and stadiums as well as in the ancillary venues and events that we stage around the Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend, is integral to the success of our signature events,” said NHL Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer. “Because of the uncertainty as to when we will be able to welcome our fans back to our games, we felt that the prudent decision at this time was to postpone these celebrations until 2022 when our fans should be able to enjoy and celebrate these tentpole events in-person, as they were always intended. We are also considering several new and creative events that will allow our fans to engage with our games and teams during this upcoming season.”
Both events will be rescheduled, according to the league.
The NHL also announced that the postponement of the events doesn’t change their target date of Jan. 1 to begin the 2020-21 season.
Thursday Night Football Picks: Philadelphia Eagles vs New York Giants NFL Predictions 10/22/20 – Sports Chat Place
New York Giants (1-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1)
NFL Football: Thursday, October 22, 2020 at 8:20 pm (Lincoln Financial Field)
The Line: Philadelphia Eagles -3.5 — Over/Under: 44
Click Here for the Latest Odds
The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles meet Thursday in week 7 NFL action at Lincoln Financial Field.
The New York Giants have a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since December of last year. The New York Giants have lost eight of their last nine road games. Daniel Jones is completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 1,223 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. Jones has one touchdown pass in his last five games. Darius Slayton and Evan Engram have combined for 583 receiving yards and three touchdowns while Golden Tate has 19 receptions. The New York Giants ground game is averaging 87.8 yards per contest, and Jones leads the way with 204 yards on 27 carries. Defensively, New York is allowing 25.3 points and 342 yards per game. Blake Martinez leads the New York Giants with 64 tackles, Leonard Williams has three sacks and James Bradberry has two interceptions.
The Philadelphia Eagles need a victory here to rebound from a rough 1-4-1 start to the NFL season. The Philadelphia Eagles are winless in five of their last seven home games. Carson Wentz is completing 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,401 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. Wentz has two or more touchdown passes in six of his last 11 games. Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward have combined for 475 receiving yards and five touchdowns while Zach Ertz has 24 receptions. The Philadelphia Eagles ground game is averaging 122.3 yards per contest, and Miles Sanders leads the way with 434 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, Philadelphia is allowing 29.2 points and 355.2 yards per game. Nathan Gerry leads the Philadelphia Eagles with 49 tackles, Brandon Graham has five sacks and Alex Singleton has one interception.
The Giants are 19-7 ATS in their last 26 road games, 17-5 ATS in their last 22 games as a road underdog and 0-4 ATS in their last 4 Thursday games. The Eagles are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 Thursday games, 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games as a favorite and 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games overall. The over is 9-4 in Giants last 13 road games. The under is 8-2 in Eagles last 10 home games. The road team is 4-0 ATS in their last 4 meetings.
The New York Giants continue to compete, as five of their six games this season were decided by 10 or less points, and they finally were able to close the deal last week with a win over Washington. The Philadelphia Eagles have just one win this season as well, but they went toe-to-toe with the Steelers and Ravens in back-to-back weeks and have to feel better about the way they’re playing. The Eagles are the better team, they’re playing the better football and they’ve won each of the last seven meetings against the Giants. While they won last week, the Giants still feel like a bottom feeding team that’s going to be climbing uphill most weeks. There’s still flashes of promise with the Eagles and you feel like they can climb out of this whole with the roster they have.
I’ll take the Eagles in this game by a touchdown.
Philadelphia Eagles -3.5
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