Whereas a game against Atlanta used to be viewed as a "gimme", last night's game was anything but. The Thrashers had just wheeled off three straight victories including 5-0 and 5-1 wins over the Capitals and Red Wings, respectively, so they were not a team to be taken lightly.
Not to mention that, prior to last night's game, they boasted the second best power play in the league.
With players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Rich Peverley and Evander Kane in front of strong performances from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, this was a team that was starting to make some noise.
I guess the Canadiens didn't get the memo, because aside from a stultifying first period that was about as exciting as the pin-drop quiet crowd at Phillips Arena, they just didn't show up.
The Habs played a good first period, but a lucky bounce with 18 seconds left to play in the frame allowed Rich Peverley to fire one past Alex Auld for a 1-0 lead.
Roman Hamrlik took an early penalty in the second period—the first of seven penalties the Habs would take on the night—and the Thrashers were able to grab the momentum and never let go. Atlanta proceeded to outshoot the Canadiens 23-4 in the second period and 47-25 on the night.
Needless to say, this was not Jacques Martin hockey, and the furrowed brow on the wise old coach's face during the third period was the closest indication you'll get that he was not a happy camper.
Atlanta goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, wasn't extremely busy but did have to make several difficult saves throughout the game to preserve his fourth shutout of the season.
Final score: Thrashers 3 - Habs 0
Habs' scorers: None
Thrashers' scorers: Rich Peverley (4, 5), Tobias Enstrom (3)
Three stars: 1. Ondrej Pavelec, 2. Rich Peverley, Tobias Enstrom
1. Alex Auld did his part.
Auld, who was making only his second start of the season, didn't look a bit worse for wear. It's amazing how similar he looks to Carey Price in the net, too. He is a big goaltender and, like Price, his game is based on using excellent positioning and size to give the opposition very little to shoot at.
Despite his best efforts, however, he did let in a bit of a softie on the second goal and that seemed to give the Thrashers all the momentum they needed to steamroll the Canadiens. To his credit, the puck was deflected down past his glove at the last second, so it was very difficult to stop.
Despite letting in three goals Auld held the fort for his team, but they were simply unable to mount any offensive thrust. Auld stopped 44 of 47 shots thrown his way for an excellent .936 save percent so don't look to fit him with the goat horns.
2. The PP continues to slide and the PK continues to work.
The Habs had three power plays on the night, including two in the first period, but were yet again unable to mount any pressure. In fact most of the time they had trouble even gaining the offensive zone. I still think that the Habs took Yannick Weber out of the lineup too soon because he is a player who can effectively play the position of PP quarterback.
If they do bring him back into the lineup tonight against the Sabres, I hope they put him on the right side, on not on the left like his first two games, because that is where he excels.
It's probably a good idea not to take a lot of penalties when you're facing the second best PP in the league, no matter how good your PK is. Someone forget to tell this to the Canadiens who gave the opposition seven man-advantages.
Fortunately for the Habs, their penalty kill continues to be near the top of the league, improving to 90 percent efficiency, as they killed off six of seven penalties.
The problem, however, is that whether you kill off the penalties or not, spending so much time in the box makes it difficult to create any momentum. Not to mention that your offensive players are not on the ice and not involved in the game. Add to that the fact that the Habs lost 34 of 55 faceoffs and it meant that they were often without the puck. And, well, it's kind of hard to score when you don't have the puck.
3. Uh oh, where did Gomez go?
To be fair, no one on the Canadiens, except for Auld, stood out in any way. But Gomez in particular looked like the lost puppy of a few games ago again.
This is utterly disappointing since he had started to take a few baby steps forward over the last few games, and you would have hoped that he would continue to move in the right direction.
Hopefully this was only a temporary setback for Gomez and he will start doing good things again on the ice as early as tonight, against Buffalo. I'm willing to wipe the slate clean and forget about last night's game. Let's just hope the players are too.
4. Josh Gorges and Hal Gill had a rough night.
The Thrashers are a team not dissimilar to the Flyers in that they are big and strong and can attack with speed. While the Habs have a lot of experience on the back end, aside from P.K. Subban and maybe Gorges, they are not the most fleet-footed group.
The Thrashers took advantage of the Canadiens slow defense and attacked Gorges and Gill with speed all game. These two, in particular, seemed to have a lot of difficulty dealing with it. Gill is a notoriously slow skater to start with and we have to remember that Gorges took a therapy day the day before the game, so he was likely not 100 percent.
But, again, this comes down to size and the Canadiens as a team seem to have much more difficulty playing against skilled teams that also have size.
With 19:37 and 19:32 of ice time for Gorges and Gill respectively, they were both minus-2 for the night. This duo is counted on to be defensively reliable for the Habs, so they will need a better effort out of them tonight against the Sabres.
5. The Thrashers looked like they got to Subban.
Subban started to get rattled by the constant physical abuse he was taking from the big, aggressive, crease-crashing Thrashers forwards. He was clearly targeted by the Thrashers from the start of the game and you could see they by the second period they were starting to get under his skin.
His frustration reared its ugly head when he took a tripping penalty on Eric Boulton at 14:48 of the second period. It was a late hit by Subban and it looked like a sign of frustration.
After that penalty, Subban started to make bad plays and get himself out of position. He was running around trying to make hits and stop players who were already covered instead of staying in position. Fortunately, he seemed to calm himself down a bit before getting into a fight with Atlanta's Zach Bogosian.
It wasn't really much of a fight. Bogosian was the first one to drop the gloves but then just held on to Subban so neither player could throw many punches.
If Subban is going to become an elite defenseman in this league he is going to have to learn how to keep himself a little more even keeled. The Habs are better served with Subban on the ice than in the penalty box, something that the young gun is sure to learn soon enough.
I think Dave Stubbs from the Montreal Gazette, put it best when he said on Twitter:
Word clearly seems to be out in NHL: test #Habs Subban at every turn, in every way
It sure does, and Subban better get ready because without Andrei Markov out of the lineup, Subban is the No.1 target for the opposition.
Standings and Next Game
The loss drops the Habs' record to 14-8-1. The Boston Bruins, 3-1 losers to the Florida Panthers, failed to make up any ground the Habs. With 29 points in the standings, the Habs have a three point cushion on the Bruins who still have two games in hand.
The Canadiens are back home today to take on the Buffalo Sabres who are coming off a 3-1 win against the Leafs, in goaltender Ryan Miller's return from injury.
The Canadiens have only lost back-to-back games once this season and seem to do an excellent job of rebounding from a bad performance. With two games in 48 hours, it will be interesting to see if the Habs are able to keep that trend going.
Carey Price will get the start for the Canadiens with the puck dropping around 7:05 pm.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)