In the Habs’ Room: Power play is weak link against Leafs despite playoff atmosphere

The single point for overtime left the Canadiens in third place in the Atlantic Division with 69 points.

If Saturday’s game between the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs was a preview of the playoffs, we can look forward to some entertaining hockey in April.

An overtime goal by John Tavares was the difference as the teams battled on even terms for most of the night.

There was disappointment in the Canadiens’ room, but coach Claude Julien tried to put the result in perspective as Montreal completed a five-game homestand with a 3-0-2 record.

“I think it’s great that the guys are mad, but we picked up eight of 10 points and if we can do that for the rest of the season, we’ll be in good shape,” Julien said. “We had a chance to win and we wanted to win. We’re a confident team and we think we can win every game. That’s the right attitude because winning can be contagious and so can losing.”

The single point for overtime left the Canadiens in third place in the Atlantic Division with 69 points. They are one point ahead of Boston, but the Bruins hold a game in hand. If the current standings hold, the Canadiens and the Leafs would meet in the first round of the playoffs.

Canadiens’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen both try to keep an eye on the puck after being knocked to the ice in Montreal on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

There was a playoff atmosphere at the Bell Centre with a vocal contingent of Toronto fans showing their support for the Leafs.

“There was playoff intensity,” Julien said. “You talk about Winnipeg, but tonight there was a lot of emotion and the guys were really into it. We have a lot of guys who haven’t been there and it was a good sample of what you see in the playoffs.”

 The difference in the game was the failure of the Canadiens to capitalize on two power-play opportunities.

The first came in the opening period when Tavares was assessed a double minor for high-sticking Jordie Benn. What followed was four minutes of frustration. The Canadiens were able to set up only once during the advantage and that one moment of competency produced the lone shot by Joel Armia.

The second opportunity came in overtime. A delay of game penalty to Nikita Zaitsev late in regulation meant the Canadiens started the overtime with a 4-on-3 advantage for 1:29.

“On the 4-on-3 we have to move a little more,” Julien said. ”When you lose the draw, you have to get right on them. But we did score a power-play goal (Brendan Gallagher’s 22nd). We’re trending in the right direction.”

The Canadiens didn’t get a shot on goal in the overtime and lost all three faceoffs.

Carey Price expressed disappointment at the loss and, while he cited the failure of the power play in overtime, he also noted he should have stopped William Nylander on the tying goal in the third period.

Canadiens’ Max Domi gestures to a referee after his goal against Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen was called back in Montreal on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

One major plus for the Canadiens was the return of Andrew Shaw after missing 15 games with a neck injury. He scored a goal and displayed a lot of pent-up energy.

“(The legs) felt pretty good,” said Shaw, who played close to 18 minutes and had three shots on goal.

“Obviously, the stamina’s probably not where it needs to be. You can push yourself as hard as you want in the gym and on the ice for practice, but nothing compares to a game. 

“I think our line played really well,” Shaw added. “We worked for each other and we competed and we got some chances. But, obviously, the way the game ended it leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”

Shaw played with Tomas Tatar, who scored his 17th goal and Max Domi, who had two assists. 

“I think that game is ours in the third (but) I had a little turnover at the blue line and they go down and score. It’s the game of hockey. Those are little mistakes that bite.”

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