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If Carey Price can’t play better, it doesn’t matter who coaches the Canadiens.
Scotty Bowman couldn’t win as coach with a goalie who has a 3.13 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage.
Those are Price’s stats after the Canadiens’ 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night in Dominique Ducharme’s first game as head coach. Price’s record for the season is now 5-4-3, while the Canadiens’ record fell to 9-6-4. The Canadiens are 2-5-2 in their last nine games and they are winless in their last four (0-2-2).
Price allowed five goals on 29 shots Thursday night in Winnipeg (the sixth goal was into an empty net). It’s the fourth time in his 12 starts this season that Price has allowed five goals and he has given up 14 goals in his last three games while going 0-2-1. He is 1-4-1 in his last six games.
Going back to last season, Price has allowed at least four goals in nine of his last 17 regular-season games.
This is obviously not what the Canadiens are expecting from a goalie in the third season of an eight-year, US$84-million contract with a $10.5 million salary-cap hit.
Ducharme didn’t have to start Price on this night, but he made the right decision in doing so. As Ducharme said several times after Thursday’s morning skate it was a “new start” for everyone with him taking over as head coach from Claude Julien, who was fired by GM Marc Bergevin on Wednesday.
Everyone starts with a fresh slate is a smart approach for a new coach, but the slate is no longer clean and Jake Allen has to be back in goal Saturday night in Winnipeg when the Canadiens play the Jets again. Allen has a 4-2-1 record with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. The Canadiens were shut out in both of Allen’s regulation-time losses.
This marked only the third time this season Price has started two straight games and the first time since the end of January.
When asked following Thursday’s morning skate what this opportunity to play two straight games meant for Price with a new head coach in charge, Ducharme said: “Like everyone else … we want to have a strong start. We want to have a strong game. For everyone, I think it’s the same. I don’t see him being different than the others on that side.”
But Price is different than the others as the highest-paid player on the team. He needs to be better — much, much better.
This loss wasn’t all on Price as the Canadiens blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads, but he certainly didn’t help.
Joel Armia scored twice in the first period — his first points in eight games since returning from a concussion — giving the Canadiens a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission.
Kyle Connor scored a power-play goal for the Jets at 5:37 of the second period, but Tomas Tatar restored the Canadiens’ two-goal lead with a power-play goal of his own at 7:33. Connor scored his second goal of the game at 11:50 and Blake Wheeler scored at 14:31 and the teams headed into the second intermission tied 3-3.
Price then allowed two bad goals in the third period that cost the Canadiens the game.
First, former Canadien Nate Thompson scored the game-winner on a soft shot from in close that somehow went through Price’s legs at the 6:37 mark for his first goal as a Jet. Pierre-Luc Dubois then scored at 12:37 after Price gave up a big, juicy rebound following a giveaway by defenceman Jeff Petry. Mark Scheifele added an empty-netter for the Jets.
“I just think maybe I’m over-thinking things,” Price said after the game about his struggles this season. “That’s all I got for you.”
When asked if he can figure things out on the fly with the Canadiens’ hectic schedule for the rest of the season, Price said: “You don’t have a choice.”
Ducharme does have a choice now on who his No. 1 goalie will be going forward.
When asked about Price’s performance after the game, Ducharme said: “Like the team … like the team. That’s it. I mean, he’s part of the team. For me it was the same thing.”
When asked if it might be time to give Price an extended rest, Ducharme said: “Like we do with all our players, we’re going to look at every possibility. We want our guys to be playing their best and find solutions for every one of them, from the forwards to the Ds to the goalies. So we’ll find a solution.
“Carey’s a competitor,” Ducharme added. I’m not worried.”
He should be.
Ducharme did make some changes to the lineup for his NHL head-coaching debut.
He reunited Tatar with his regular linemates Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher and made centre Jake Evans a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Paul Byron moved into Evans’s spot as the fourth-line centre and Artturi Lehkonen returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous two games.
Defenceman Victor Mete was a healthy scratch.
As for scratching Evans, Ducharme said: “It’s a new start. I have nothing against Jake. I spoke to him. He understands what we’re doing. It has nothing to do with his play. It’s just a new start.”
As for putting the Tatar-Danault-Gallagher trio back together, Ducharme said: “One thing we know is those guys can play well together and we expect them to bring their best game tonight and carry that throughout the season.”
Gallagher was happy about the move.
“We have to be good for our team,” he said about his line. “We have to be consistent. I think night after night, hopefully Dom’s going to be able to rely on us and that’s the goal. Build that trust. I think he puts a lot of trust in us to begin with and we don’t want to let him down.
“As a line we know how effective we can be,” Gallagher added. “We’ve done it in the past, it’s just about getting back to that and doing what we can do. It’s not about any one player doing too much. I think as a line we’re really effective when we all work together doing that and hopefully earning that trust that I think the coaching staff is going to instill in us.”
Tough day for Weber
It wasn’t a good game for the Canadiens’ No. 1 defence pairing of captain Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot, who both finished minus-2. Petry was also minus-2 with two assists.
The day got off to a bad start for Weber when the Canadiens said he forgot he was supposed to do a scheduled video conference with the media after the morning skate to talk about the coaching change the previous day and that he had left the arena. As a result, the only player made available to talk about the coaching change was (who else?) Gallagher, who is always there to answer media questions whether things are going good or bad.
Weber didn’t speak with the media after the game, either.
Weber is a team-worst minus-3 this season, while Chiarot is minus-1.
The Canadiens’ Josh Anderson left the game after falling backwards awkwardly from what looked like a slew-foot from Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo late in the first period and he did not return.
“We don’t know much … we don’t think it’s too serious,” Ducharme said after the game when asked about Anderson. “We need to do more tests, so we’ll know tomorrow. But we’re confident so far.”
Losing Anderson disrupted the lines for the rest of the game.
“Losing him, he’s a pretty good player, for sure,” Ducharme said. “And the pace of our game it has an effect on what he brings and also in numbers.”
The Jets outshot the Canadiens 30-21 and won 60 per cent of the faceoffs, while the Canadiens led 19-15 in hits.
The Jets went 1-for-4 on the power play, while the Canadiens went 1-for-2.
Chiarot led the Canadiens in ice time with 24:14, followed by Weber wth 22:37 and Petry with 20:55. Danault, who is still looking for his first goal this season, led the forwards with 21:56 of ice time, followed by Nick Suzuki with 19:09 and Jonathan Drouin with 17:54.
Danault had a team-leading four shots, while Danault, Drouin and Joel Edmundson had three hits each.
Lehkonen and Tyler Toffoli were both minus-3.
Suzuki was the best of the Canadiens’ centres on faceoffs, going 7-6 (54 per cent). Danault went 9-12 (43 per cent), Byron went 2-3 (40 per cent) and Jesperi Kotkaniemi went 1-6 (14 per cent).
The first meeting
Ducharme met with the players for the first time as a group Wednesday night in Winnipeg.
“He sat down with us last night and put together the plan,” Gallagher said after Thursday’s morning skate. “We have structure, we have areas we need to follow as players. We have expectations, which I think are important. And when we do that we all believe in the end goal and I think that’s what he brought to us. When you put together those things and you believe in the plan, you all buy into the plan, hopefully at the end of the day we’re standing where we want to be. But I think it’s a long process and tonight is just a good opportunity to start the building blocks.
“I think he’s very prepared for this opportunity,” Gallagher added about Ducharme. “I think when you look at what he’s been doing as a coach, the way he’s been able to learn from his time with us as an assistant coach, his time in junior. He’s coached at the national level. He’s gathered this experience. I think he’s been preparing for this opportunity and he came into this with a plan.”
Gallagher said Ducharme was very confident in what he had to say to the players and that when a coach has confidence in himself it instills confidence in the players.
“He creates a belief (that) it’s going to work and I think that’s huge for us,” Gallagher added. “I think it helps players buy into what he’s saying. And then when you buy in and you see results and you see it continue to happen over and over again, that’s where that process comes from. That’s definitely a strength of his. I think he has a very good knowledge, a very good brain. He understands a lot of the Xs and Os and little areas, little details of the game that are going to help us and take us a long way.”
A message from Claude
Ducharme was asked Thursday morning about the phone calls and text messages of congratulations he must have received after being named head coach and if there was any specific one that stood out.
“I haven’t had much time looking at my phone,” he said. “Probably it’s Claude (Julien). But I got people reaching out that helped me along the way throughout my coaching career and it’s always nice to see those guys reaching out like that. Many people … I haven’t seen everything yet, but it’s nice.”
Bergevin said one of the reasons he decided to fire Julien was that his message no longer seemed to be getting through to the players.
“In terms of the message being lost, it’s kind of part of the sport where maybe over time that stuff happens,” Gallagher said. “I haven’t really put a whole lot of thought into it, to be honest. I think when change like that happens you’re a little bit in shock because it’s not really something that’s on your mind. As athletes, I think you just focus on the present, you focus on what you have. If there’s a coaching change, OK, how are we going to work with the new coach? How can we make it work for him? How can we make his job easier? When you think about those things as players, hopefully we can execute and simplify it and get back on track here.
“It’s not something you go through a whole bunch as players,” Gallagher added about the coaching change. “You put the blame on yourselves. Obviously, change happens around here when you don’t get results. We weren’t getting the results that we wanted, weren’t meeting expectations, and change happens. As players you look in the mirror and I think we can all ask a little bit more of ourselves and do a little bit more here.”
Burrows makes debut
Alex Burrows made his debut as a Canadiens assistant coach Thursday night after spending the last three seasons as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Laval Rocket.
Burrows joined the Rocket coaching staff under head coach Joël Bouchard after enjoying a 13-year career as an NHL player, including 12 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks before joining the Ottawa Senators. In Vancouver, Burrows played on the same line with the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik.
“I’m really excited to work with Burr,” Gallagher said. “I do remember him with the Sedins, watching him (while) growing up in Vancouver. Obviously, he was the big talk of the town when he slayed the dragon there, all the people in Vancouver will remember that goal.”
That goal was an overtime winner in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011. The Canucks ended up going all the way to the Stanley Cup final that year before losing in seven games to the Boston Bruins, who had Julien as their head coach.
“What he did for that team as a player, he just competed,” Gallagher said about Burrows’s days with the Canucks. “He was a pain to play against, but he was very smart. He understood his role. He played with two of the best players in the game. So he obviously spent a lot of time picking their brains and he was very effective at what he did.
“As a coach I think he’s probably taken that same mindset into Laval,” Gallagher added. “I’ve got a chance to speak with a lot of players that have had him down there and nothing but positive things to say. He loves the game of hockey. He’s very intense, he’s very competitive and he’s very excited for this opportunity. When you talk about both Dom and Burr, I think the excitement level, the emotion, the passion … if as players we’re able to match that level I think we’ll be just fine.”
Burrows will take over Muller’s responsibilities of handling the power play.
Tough challenge ahead
Thursday night’s game was the first of 18 in 34 days for the Canadiens through the end of March.
That won’t give Ducharme much practice time to implement any system changes he wants to make.
“It’s going to be a challenge for that,” Ducharme said. “But we’re aware of that. We talked to the players about it. Right now, we have many tools that we can look at our games and make things better here and there. So we’re going to use every possible way. At times it’s not going on the ice …. it’s video here, it’s a small group video with specifics. So there are many things. At the same time, we got to take it step by step.”
The Canadiens and Jets will play again Saturday night in Winnipeg (10 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
Next week, the Canadiens will play three straight games at the Bell Centre. The Ottawa Senators will be the visitors on Tuesday (7 p.m., TSN2, TSN5, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), followed by two games against the Jets on Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Saturday (7 p.m., SNE, SNW, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
The Canadiens have a 3-5-0 record at the Bell Centre this season.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021