Carey Price, as Mike Farber observed, made the big saves Tuesday night against Ottawa – but couldn’t make the little ones.
And that wasn’t the half of it. Against an Ottawa team that is something less than the 1980s Oilers, Claude Julien coached not to lose, as he has far too often this season.
The Canadiens, once again, took a slew of penalties.
The power play was powerless. The penalty kill didn’t kill much except momentum.
The Canadiens have now lost six out of eight and they’re now 9-9 in the Real Record Department after a sensational start to the season that seemed to promise so much more. They have lost six of their last eight games, squandered their early-season momentum and appear a fair bet to miss the playoffs from a division in which four of the seven teams will make it.
But after the game Tuesday, all anyone could talk about was other grotesque call emanating from that mess known as the NHL War Room. Another bad call aimed squarely at Brendan Gallagher, one of the favourite targets of the War Room Warriors.
(Please note, we are not blaming this loss on the inane War Room. If the loss is on anyone, it’s Price. Handed a 4-3 lead on a brilliant goal from Tyler Toffoli – a lead he should have been able to protect – Price gave it right back on an anemic one-hander from Brady Tkachuk that traveled at the speed of a dial-up connection.)
The people who are screaming that Price is washed up are wrong. Big Surly came up with brilliant saves against the Senators, some of them in rapid sequence that required swift and agile movement across the crease.
But the fan boys who still believe Price is the god of goaltending are also wrong, because Price makes the highlight-reel saves night after night, and then he lets one like Tkachuk’s slo-mo softie creep through between his skate and the post. That has been the Price story through much of the past two seasons: come up with the spectacular save, then blow one that your Aunt Edna could stop without reaching for her spectacles.
Whatever the reason for the lapses on the part of the man who is now the most overrated goalie in the game, the controversy lay elsewhere. Once again, the NHL put itself in the spotlight. Once again, the league got it wrong.
As Gallagher and everyone else points out, after getting knocked down in the crease, he had time to get up, scramble out, get set and tip the puck – which means that Ottawa goaltender Matt Murray also had plenty of time to get set.
Once again, the on-ice officials got it right. Once again, with time and technology on its side, the War Room Warriors got it wrong.
For those who say this is more Montreal whining, back off a little and try to imagine the outcry in the NFL (a bettor’s league, with millions riding on some of these calls) if the following events happened:
Bob Kraft sold the Patriots to a group jointly headed by CBS and Fox, NFL rights holders, meaning that the league itself would have a direct interest in how the Patriots fare.
The league then moved its replay review operations to Foxboro.
And Bill Belichick retired to take over the war room.
That, in effect, is the situation the NHL has created, with conflicts of interest at every turn. It’s unimaginable that any such setup would be tolerated in the NFL, the NBA, MLB or even Major League Soccer, which is not and never has been major league.
Yet the NHL turns a blind eye as the War Room goes right on blowing calls year after year – and not just blowing them, but blowing them in a way that suggests some heavy-duty bias is coming into a play.
This setup has been a time bomb since at least 2010, when NHL senior vice president Mike Murphy was responsible for a terrible playoff ruling that went in favour of the Los Angeles Kings (a team he played for and coached) and against the Vancouver Canucks.
Yet Murphy was allowed to remain in place, the war room has kept cranking out horrendous call after horrendous call, and the league shrugs it off as though and obvious and outrageous bias does not exist.
This could be the year when the whole rotten system is blown to smithereens. The Leafs are good – very good. Feelings are intense, heightened by pandemic misery. It’s no stretch to imagine Toronto in the North Division final, the Stanley Cup semifinal, or on the verge of a Cup triumph that has eluded them since 1967.
Let’s say they’re in Game 7 of a final against Boston, the game is tied late, Brad Marchand appears to score a buzzer beater, but the goal is overruled by the Toronto War Room and the Leafs go on to win the Cup in overtime.
There is going to be hell to pay if that happens – and the NHL will deserve every bit of flak it gets.