If you'd told me before Tuesday night's game with the New York Rangers that the Canadiens would manage a point while losing in a shootout, I would say that's a pretty good result.
Considering just how poorly the Habs had played against the Devils and Islanders in their two previous games, finishing the New York trifecta by adding a point in the standings would seem alright, especially considering Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist's dominance in shootout situations.
But you know what? The Canadiens should have won that game Tuesday night, and they should have been able to do it in regulation. I'm glad that was Bob Gainey's reaction as well, because the Canadiens did a lot of things well Tuesday and it would have been easy to allow those positives to cloud the ultimate negative of a loss against a playoff rival in March.
If the Canadiens were "participants" on Saturday night against the Devils, they were spectators in the third period against the Rangers and Gainey's concern over his team's inability to take over a tie game in the third period at home is very well placed, though he shoulders a good portion of the blame for that as well.
No, not his bench management, because Gainey essentially went with three lies up front throughout the third, particularly after the Rangers scored to make it 3-2. And it wasn't the team's system that was lacking because Gainey did not trap the Rangers nearly as much as he did against the Devils on Saturday, and that was encouraging.
But really, how his team comes out of the locker room following the second intermission falls on the coach, no? Does the coach not have an impact on the players "emotional engagement" to a situation? I think so, and I believe Gainey does as well or else it would have been Guy Carbonneau behind the bench Tuesday and not him.
But even without looking at how the Canadiens should have been able to take over the game in the third instead of being outshot 16-5, if you would have told me the Habs scored twice on Lundqvist in the shootout with Carey Price in nets, I would have bet heavily on Montreal's chances of winning.
Except Price looked like the situation of having the team's playoff fortunes riding on his shoulders was too much for him in the shootout. Markus Naslund's goal was a pretty nice move (one made with extreme speed, which I wish more players would do in the shootout). But Price looked downright scared against both Nik Antropov and Chris Drury, and that should be scary to Canadiens fans.
If I'm Gainey, I start Jaroslav Halak in Ottawa on Thursday, not because Price played poorly against the Rangers, but because he looked like the situation got too big for him. A strange turn of events for a kid that won that epic shootout against the Americans in the 2007 world juniors. Price was great in regulation, turning aside 39 of 42 shots, but he wilted in crunch time and that is supposed to be one of his strengths.
Speaking of the shots on goal, the Canadiens were dead even with the Rangers until the third period, but anticipating another 40-shot barrage I decided I would try to count scoring chances. I've never done this during a game and now realize just how subjective it can be. For one thing, a scoring chance may not necessarily result in a shot on goal, and a goal may come out of a play that's not necessarily a scoring chance. In fact, both Nikolai Zherdev's and Andrei Markov's equalizer did not register as scoring chances in my book.
Anyhow, at the end of overtime I had the scoring chances even at 14 apiece, and I had it at 4-2 Rangers in the third period. But what the exercise taught me is that when coaches talk about how shots are less important than scoring chances in determining a team's play, it's not entirely true.
The Rangers weren't generating a lot of quality scoring opportunities in that third period, but what they were doing - and it's clearly demonstrated in the 16-5 shot margin -was keeping the play in the offensive end, which is exactly what Gainey wanted his team to be doing.
Despite that, and thanks to the largesse of Lundqvist, the Canadiens had a chance to grab a very big two points in the shootout and didn't because Price wasn't up to the task. The result is that the Habs will wake up Wednesday in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, three points clear of the ninth-place Florida Panthers.
But at the beginning of the week, I said the Habs needed four points this week to stay in the right mental frame of mind to make a run at a playoff spot, and getting one against the Rangers means they are a quarter of the way there.
All the Habs have to do now is not get too hung up on the point that got away.