Game 2 of the Montreal Canadiens-Pittsburgh Penguins series felt like a familiar tune for many Habs fans: their talisman goaltender stands on his head and makes saves, while their offence struggles to score goals and win games.
Carey Price was once, indisputably, the best goaltender in the world. While some hockey fans and pundits may think there may be more names to consider for that title in the present day, Price’s play through the first two games has been his way of reminding fans that he may very well still be the league’s best.
The issue is, the Canadiens’ offence has not done its part to give Price a sufficient amount of support.
“I think everyone knows, it’s not a secret that we have the best goaltender in the world,” Canadiens forward Max Domi said Tuesday. “He’s showed that the last two games and he’s really kept us in it. We’ve got to find a way to be a little bit better in front of him.”
“Price is bringing his A-game every night,” teammate Jesperi Kotkaniemi said. “We just need to help him and we need to put the puck in the net more often.”
Price has 74 saves through two games and has been his team’s best player, which needed to happen in order for the Canadiens to be given a chance as underdogs against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. But a familiar issue that has plagued the team from the regular season, and in seasons past, was on full display in Game 2.
Pre-pandemic, this year’s Canadiens team was in the bottom half of the league in goals per game at 2.93, while being second in the league in shot attempts (34.1) behind the Vegas Golden Knights. Since Price’s 2015 season which saw him capture the Hart, Vezina, and Ted Lindsay trophies, the Canadiens haven’t had an offence ranked higher than 13th overall in terms of goals for.
Yes, the Habs ended up being slightly better than their 2019-20 average following their Game 1 overtime victory thanks to the three goals they scored. But it took them until the latter stages of Game 2 before Jesperi Kotkaniemi put the Canadiens on the board for his second of the series. To make matters a bit worse, the Canadiens have also been outshot 79-62 through both games.
“On attack, we need more from everybody,” Habs head coach Claude Julien said.
“I won’t just point out one line... you have Kotkaniemi who’s scored twice. (Nick) Suzuki scored another. Our young guys are scoring. I think we need contributions from everybody. Without putting the blame on anyone, our group at 5-on-5 needs a bit more determination to create chances to score.”
Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault have picked up assists and shots on net, all the while they’ve had their hands full trying to contain Crosby. But their linemate Tomas Tatar, a first-line winger counted on for production, has just two shots on goal through two games.
It’s one more than Jonathan Drouin, the French-Canadian star who is constantly under the microscope among fans and media, in that same span of games. He is on a line with Suzuki and Joel Armia, but some are already disappointed with his output (or lack thereof).
But Drouin told the media Tuesday he was willing to put that pressure on his shoulders.
“I have to create offence,” Drouin said. “I have to get goals, assists, something. (Monday) we didn’t have any goals for 58 minutes. So, it’s on me and my line.”
There is also the curious case of Max Domi, the forward who started training camp a week after his teammates did after taking more time to consider playing despite being a Type 1 Diabetic. He has played back-to-back games on the fourth line, but some fans are already calling for him to be bumped up in the hopes of generating help up front.
Domi wasn’t too concerned about his placement in the lineup, however.
“We can all do better,” Domi said. “I know myself, personally, I can bring a lot more to the table and I’m looking forward to Game 3.”
There are conflicted Habs fans who probably wish their team could vault themselves into the lottery for a shot at prospective No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. The players, especially Price, surely don’t feel that way. The Canadiens will have put pucks in the net in Game 3 if they truly want to do right by their veteran goaltender.
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