WASHINGTON - How would it feel if you could never make a mistake? Ever.
The Canadiens are facing a 3-1 deficit in their series with the Washington Capitals not necessarily because they are that much worse than them (though really, they are), but rather because the Habs have absolutely no room for error.
In Game 4, Hal Gill tried to make a play on Alexander Ovechkin as he entered the Canadiens zone, the same play the Canadiens have been executing so well the whole series. Ovechkin, as he crosses the blue line on the left side, almost always cuts to the slot to unleash his lethal wrist shot. But the Canadiens have pretty consistently thwarted that by taking that move away, meeting it with a well placed stick or simply getting in his way.
That's what Gill tried there. Except this time, he missed. Result? Game winning goal.
"It’s frustrating because I made an aggressive poke check and just missed," Gill said. "It’s a fine line. If I poke it away it’s out of our end. But I miss it and it’s in our net. That’s the frustrating part of playing hockey, you’re an inch away from making a good play and he’s the type of player that makes you pay when you miss."
That "frustrating part of playing hockey" has been the story of the series for the Canadiens, because the Capitals are not paying for their mistakes with goals the way Montreal is. And the Capitals are making mistakes, perhaps even more than the Canadiens are.
"We feel like we're the better team," Habs centre Glen Metropolit said this morning after the skate. "We do."
That is debatable, to say the least, but the point he was trying to make is that the Canadiens have controlled the play for more of this series than their opponents. In fact, if you take out the blowout in Game 3, the Canadiens have only trailed for a shade over 16 minutes in the other three games of the series.
But Metropolit quickly added a condition to his comment, that Jaroslav Halak will have to bring it tonight and match his Washington counterpart Semyon Varlamov.
"You need your goaltenders to play well, too. Varlamov's been so great for them. He's given them life," Metropolit said. "You need your goaltender to be your best player."
Before going all crazy about Metropolit's pretty candid comments, know this: he's a guy who sees the end.
Not that he wants to lose tonight, or lose the series, but Metropolit legitimately questions whether or not he'll be brought back next season. He also says that he's starting to think this might be his final season.
"It's in the back of my mind," he said.
The reason he thinks that way is the ice time he's been getting of late from Jacques Martin. He got five minutes in Game 3 and seven minutes in Game 4, with one shift on the power play.
"When you're 35 years old, it's hard to play five or seven minutes a night," he said. "It's hard to sit there and watch it, you want to be involved. Then when you do get on the ice, you're cold. It's hard to tell a guy to pass it to you when you've been sitting around so long."
Martin said Metropolit's production on the power play dropped off in the second half of the season to explain his reluctance to throw him out there. But Metropolit says he never head that from the coach.
"I really don't know what happened," he said. "There was no communication. It seemed like when I was out there I was generating chances."
Metropolit is clearly frustrated with the situation, but let's be honest, he is not a player that will win tonight's game or the series for the Canadiens. It's pretty normal for a player in his shoes to want to gripe a bit, though the timing of it is not ideal. But do his feelings reflect a wider malaise on the entire team?
I can't say for sure, but I think Metropolit's thoughts on this matter may be an exaggerated version of how his teammates feel about Martin's bench management skills.
If you were a player on that team, how would you feel when your coach chooses to ignore match-ups game after game, even at home? When the series has essentially turned on two shorthanded goals, and there was one player largely responsible for both, yet he still sees a regular shift? When a talented, young defenceman remains with the farm club when the parent club has a dire need for help on the blue line? When he appears to refuse making any in-game adjustments whatsoever, even though everyone in the building can see they need to be made?
All those things, and all these as well, make me feel that the coach doesn't necessarily have the confidence of his players.
And I can't say I blame them for feeling that way.
NOTE: I know I haven't been updating the blog much of late, and I've chosen the most interesting time of year to do that, but I'm overrun right now. For those who don't know, I'm blogging the series (anonymously) for CBC.ca. You can go here to see what I've been writing. Also, my regular work for The Canadian Press continues. I'll be covering Game 5 tonight for them and you should be able to see my story on most of the main sports websites tonight. Will it be a eulogy? We'll find out in a few hours.