The perplexed look on Guy Carbonneau's face in his post-game press conference was a pretty good reflection of how most anyone who watched Thursday's 3-1 Habs loss to the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning must have been feeling.
How on earth can the Habs so thoroughly dominate a team in the Calgary Flames that should have given them loads of trouble, then fall flat on their faces against a team they should have skated right out of the building Thursday night?
The individual problems with the Habs during this game were too numerous to list here, but they all stem from something that has become a clear trend this season, and that's playing down or up to the level of their opposition.
The Canadiens have had some of their worst performances of the season against the worst teams in the league, even though they didn't all result in losses: a 5-4 win in Long Island and a 4-3 shootout loss against those same Islanders at home; a 6-3 loss in Toronto, Guy Carbonneau's most embarrassing game as a coach; a 3-2 shootout win in St. Louis; a 5-4 win at home against the Thrashers after blowing a three-goal third period lead in the span of 59 seconds; and finally Thursday night's complete no-show against the league cellar-dweller.
Yet this same team is able to waltz into Detroit and hand the defending Cup champs a 3-1 loss, completely spank the Rangers 6-2 and dominate the Flames 4-1.
Legitimate elite teams dictate the pace of their games, they don't rely on their opposition to do it for them. This is something that will definitely need to be corrected if the Canadiens have any hope of being a contender this spring, and it needs to be done soon.
However, the guy in the dressing room who can help the most in that area went down to injury Thursday night, and while Tomas Plekanec can't fill the leadership void that would be left by a prolonged absence for Saku Koivu, he can definitely do his part to try and provide a bit more of a spark in the captain's place.
Of course, it's possible Koivu won't be out for that long, and he might not even miss a game. But if he was too hurt to come back in Thursday, I would have to believe it must be something relatively serious.
This would be a chance for Plekanec to get his season on track, and he desperately needs to seize it. He only has two goals and an assist in his last 16 games, and if you take out his four-point performance in that comeback win on Long Island, he has only nine points all season while playing significant minutes with good linemates.
If Plekanec is able to find his game while eating up some of the minutes made available by a Koivu injury, then it might actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise because it would make the Habs a far better team in the long run.
But if Plekanec turns out not to be up to the task and Koivu's absence triggers a losing streak, that weird faceoff where he appeared to get hurt Thursday could wind up being the biggest play of the Habs season.
And Plekanec might just find himself playing elsewhere next year.