With a little over six minutes remaining in Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Montreal Canadiens were enjoying a 3-0 lead with little reason to work up a sweat up until that point. Amazingly, for the fourth time this season, the Habs managed to turtle and cough up yet another third period lead. Montreal managed to salvage the game from complete disaster with a 4-3 shootout win, however, this did little to quell questions about a team which has had numerous issues finishing off opponents this season.
One has to begin to wonder if this team has been properly prepared to play for an entire 60 minute game. Blowing a big lead late in the third period appears to be an issue related to coaching and preparation more than anything else. If it were not for the Habs soft schedule during the early part of this season, the improvement this season from last may not be as pronounced.
Understandably, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien is coming under fire for his perplexing management of ice time for one of the top players on the team, defenseman P.K. Subban. How can it even be justified that fellow blueliner Andrei Markov received eight more minutes of ice time than Subban against the Bolts? Apparently, Therrien is giving the young buck a rest (as if he did not have enough of a rest with the lockout and contract holdout), while running to the ground the veteran returning from knee surgery.
As he played against Tampa (one goal, one assist), Subban’s game has been rather solid and has helped the team a lot more than he has hurt it. Of course he has made a few mistakes, but the fact he is a defenseman will mean his mistakes are more magnified, as some lead to goals by the opposition. Subban has only played six of the Habs twelve games this season and needs more ice time to shake off the kinks, not less.
What kind of arcane message is Therrien trying to send to Subban and the team? Do your job, help the team win and get rewarded with less ice time? Maybe it was the same message Therrien was sending to Carey Price when he left the goalie in for the entire game in the 6-0 embarrassment to the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday?
If this continues, the players will need a decoder to figure out these mysterious messages. How exactly does sitting your best player on the bench for virtually an entire five minute overtime period help your team? One has to wonder if Therrien is putting politics in front of sound coaching because of his need to curry favor to the management. Lower ice time numbers for Subban obviously will not help his bargaining power for his next contract.
This season, Montreal fans have been sold a ball of wax about how this is a much different organization than last season. Considering the team did not blow any three goal leads with six minutes left in a game last season, this latest sales pitch may be true.
Throwing points away to teams which are contending for the same playoff spot is not exactly an ideal formula for long term success. Since the Habs are touring Florida on this road trip, one can adopt the viewpoint of a sunshiner and state the team showed character for hanging in and winning the game. Unfortunately, they showed a lot less character and discipline in blowing the lead than they did by winning the NHL’s equivalent of an NBA jump ball.
The Canadiens clubhouse mantra this season is “no excuses.” If the Habs keep up the third period collapses and keep Subban’s ice time down, no other excuses should be needed.
The Habs narrow escape in Tampa broke their three game losing streak and extended the Bolts slide to five. Montreal is in Broward County Thursday evening to face off against the Florida Panthers, whom they soundly defeated earlier in the season.