The Montreal Canadiens did not look completely overmatched Wednesday night in a 2-1 series-opening loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. But once again, their offence is in need of a jumpstart.
Despite 29 saves from Carey Price, including one where he deflected a Scott Laughton shot with his stick while on his his stomach, the Canadiens could only muster one goal past Carter Hart. While there are many Habs players who could draw blame for not pulling their weight in the attack, the majority of vitriol and disdain has started to be pointed towards forward Tomas Tatar.
The 29-year old has never set the hockey world aflame with his goal scoring, but he’s been a reliable option in the regular season. In his second full season as a Hab, he had 22 goals and a career-high 61 points in 68 games before the league stopped play due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he’s been firing blanks in postseason (and play-in games) ever since.
The Slovakian forward remains on the first line even if he hasn’t picked up a point in his first five games in the Toronto bubble. In fact, through 30 career playoff games, Tatar has been anything but a premier performer with only four goals and nine assists.
While the Habs weren’t badly outshot by the Flyers (31-28), Montreal may still rue the missed opportunities it had. The Canadiens had fewer chances, but had more shot volume in high danger areas than their opponents, per Natural Stat Trick.
The same can’t exactly be said for Tatar in Game 1, who was left without a shot on goal and had two shooting attempts blocked.
It may be time for the team to move Tatar to another line and let another forward take his place. Some feel Max Domi, who continues to start on the team’s fourth line, should be considered.
Domi started the game alongside Alex Belzile and Dale Weise before he found himself with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin in the third period. The move allowed him to skate and help create chances with faster and better players, albeit in a smaller sample size.
“It’s a guy that we know we can move up at any time,” Habs head coach Claude Julien said about Domi. “He gives us depth when we’ve got him on the fourth line centre, whenever I can use four lines. At the same time, he’s a guy you can move around.”
Julien has already tinkered with his lineup from their previous play-in series against the Penguins. He broke up the team’s top line of Tatar, centre Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, which was a consistent and reliable presence throughout the regular season. But it wasn’t like Tatar was producing with the line at the start of the Penguins-Habs series.
Danault is now alongside Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen on the team’s third line where his talents as a defensive forward continue to shine while helping to generate scoring chances. Gallagher might not have any goals in his 2020 postseason account just yet, but he has two assists and he’s still putting up shots on net. The forward had seven Wednesday night against Philadelphia.
Tatar and Gallagher are now flanking a young Nick Suzuki on the top line, even if the youngster doesn’t consider himself a true No. 1 centreman just yet. He was close to being a hero, had the Flyers’ crossbar cooperated.
Nick Suzuki was this close to tying the game with the net empty. pic.twitter.com/XHYMdEmS7Q— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) August 13, 2020
“We generated a ton (of offence), pucks just weren’t going in,” Suzuki said. “Give their goalie credit. He made a couple of nice cross-crease saves on us. The last shot, I didn’t really see. I heard it hit the crossbar.”
Julien, once again, won’t show his hand on which lineup changes he’ll make ahead of Game 2 Friday afternoon against the Flyers.
“It’s always hard to sit here after a game where we haven’t watched it a second time, we haven’t gotten around to talking about changes and adjustments,” Julien said. “These are things we’ll get to down the road. We still have two days before the next game. I’m certain we’ll make little adjustments that we hope will help us.”
The hope is that Julien will find a way to get Tatar going. Because if he doesn’t, the Canadiens will continue to have trouble scoring goals against the Flyers.
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