Thursday night's 5-4 loss in Ottawa can be blamed on any number of guys in uniform, but I choose to blame the guy wearing the suit behind the bench.
Bob Gainey surely consulted his coaching staff, but the final decision to start Carey Price in goal came down to him. I didn't understand it then, and I definitely don't understand it now.
But if the loss was valuable for one thing, it was to make it abundantly clear that Jarsolav Halak has become the new number one goalie in Montreal. Anyone who doesn't see that simply doesn't want to face reality.
In my eyes, Price crumbling under the pressure of Tuesday's shootout was a clear sign that he not only lacked confidence, but he's lacking basic mechanics right now. Allowing four goals on 15 shots in Ottawa is pretty solid evidence of that.
Starting Price was one thing, but sending him back out to start the second period after allowing three goals in the first was simply inexcusable for Gainey. The goal Price allowed to Jarkko Ruutu after the Habs had cut the deficit to just one goal was deflating to a team that appears willing to wilt at the slightest sign of adversity.
The only reason they didn't do just that Thursday was because Halak came in and stopped Christoph Shubert on a breakaway and Daniel Alfredsson on a great chance in front within five minutes of entering the game. You could almost see the Habs confidence growing.
If Price starts again this season, even if Halak has a bad game, then it will be clear that Gainey is suffering from an acute case of denial.
He has to be thinking that his master plan to build around this stud of a young goalie is falling apart before his eyes, but I don't necessarily feel that's the case. There's no reason why Price couldn't come back next year and get a fresh start on becoming a potentially great goalie. But it's not happening this season. Gainey needs to realize that and try to ride Halak into the playoffs, master plan be damned.
Something else Gainey would have done well to realize Thursday in Ottawa was that his worst line included Alex Kovalev, who seemingly decided the game wasn't all that important and figured he'd take a mental health day.
At a time when his team needs him most, and a time of year where he usually picks up his game, Kovalev was a total non-factor and Andrei Kostitsyn followed his lead. Tomas Plekanec was showing the same hard work he's been putting out since returning from his suspension, but when you're the only one on your line breaking a sweat, you're not going to produce too many results.
On the positive side of the ledger was the play of Saku Koivu, who had his best game in weeks and finally looked like he was physically capable of keeping up. His play to beat Mike Fisher in a battle behind the net and set up Alex Tanguay's goal was vintage Koivu, something we've seen very little of lately. Gainey will have to hope that continues.
The play of Maxim Lapierre's line with Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos was reminscent of the chemistry those three had before the Golden Boy hurt his shoulder, producing three goals and consistently hemming the Senators in their end. It's incredible to think that Lapierre was actually sent to Hamilton out of training camp only last year, and now he's emerging as an elite third line checking centre.
But that's about it in terms of positives for the Habs. The power play went 0-for-4, including a 33-second 5-on-3 in the second where they looked downright aloof, despite being only a goal down in a game they absolutely needed to win. The power play is now 3-for-34 over their last eight games. Ugly.
The Canadiens also allowed 39 shots, making it the fourth straight game they've given up at least that many, but they did top the 30-shot mark themselves for the first time in seven games. That's 15 times in 16 games the Habs have been outshot, in case you're losing count.
All the signs are pointing to this team being an abject disaster, including the ugly second-half standings provided by the venerable Pierre LeBrun that show the Habs are the third-worst team in the NHL over the past couple of months. But despite all their warts, I refuse to believe there is absolutely no way the Habs could surprise a very beatable Eastern Conference in the playoffs.
Except that idea is becoming harder and harder to defend rationally with each passing loss.