Everyone’s going to freak out about the goalie, because that’s just what people do in Montreal.
And yes, Carey Price’s .727 save percentage in his last two outings, which have totaled 50:25 of more or less complete misery, is awful and worthy of a full inquest.
True, he gave up two goals on the first five shots he faced on Monday against the also-ran Philadelphia Flyers, losers of four straight coming in.
It’s also a fact that when you combine the three on four shots in Toronto on Saturday – the shortest outing of his six-year career – it makes for harrowing reading on the cusp of the playoffs.
The thing is, Montreal still sits second in the conference. So exhale.
And it’s not all on Price, not remotely. Breathe by the nose.
“You lose a game, (the goalie’s) always the goat, they always blame the goalie because there’s no one there to bail him out. He’s there to bail us out, and he has time and time again. When things go like that we have to do a better job of helping bail him out. He’s been there to bail us out more times than I can remember, he’s won games for us when we shouldn’t have won,” is how defenceman Josh Gorges put it a few hours before the 7-3 debacle against Philly.
That, right there, is the scariest thing of all for Habs fans.
Price’s teammates vowed to support him in his hour of flagging confidence, they resolved to be better. And then they went and stank out the joint.
As Habs coach Michel Therrien, who has done an admirable job of holding his tongue and his famous temper this season, said afterward, tersely: “everyone involved in tonight’s game weren’t ready to play.”
Perhaps Price could have done better than bat the rebound of a Wayne Simmonds shot back onto his stick in the first period, but it was an odd-man situation in which rookie Nathan Beaulieu and journeyman Davis Drewiske were out against Philly’s second line.
Nevertheless, the puck ended up behind him just 2:45 into the game.
As it did three minutes later when Montreal’s Francis Bouillon coughed up the puck after a moment of indecision between he and partner Andrei Markov, and Erik Gustafsson’s stoppable point shot found Price’s five-hole through a crowd.
Never mind that Ilya Bryzgalov let in a brutal goal of his own at the other end, and got caught doing the breaststroke in his crease on Habs’ tying goal in the first minute of the second.
Bryzgalov doesn’t play in Montreal, and this is probably a good thing for all concerned.
After Bouillon’s gaffe, it was over to the normally steady Gorges to turn a puck over behind his net while being harried by Claude Giroux.
Jakub Voracek was on hand to slap a shot past Price, who had no chance on the play.
To no one’s surprise, that goal, coming as it did 24 seconds after Brendan Gallagher’s power-play marker made it 2-2, was a back-breaker.
Gorges would finish the night minus-2, so would Markov and Bouillon would end the evening minus-3.
The defence, quite simply, was a shambles.
Markov is minus-8 in his last nine games, and teams have started exploiting his mobility, which has been hampered by a pair of knee reconstructions in the last two years.
Asked after the game by veteran Montreal Gazette hockey writer Pat Hickey how his energy levels are, Markov said “I feel pretty good, you know.”
When Hickey then asked if he felt he could benefit from a rest, Markov replied “No. I could ask you if you need a rest.”
“Yes. But I’m a lot older than you are,” said Hickey, who is in his late 60s.
Jokes aside, Markov could well benefit from a game on the sidelines.
As could the 38-year-old Bouillon, and perhaps even Gorges, who may not have the excuse of age and injury, but does face harder minutes than anyone on the team.
“It’s hard to put a performance like that behind you, but we don’t have a choice. And we have a lot of character in this room,” Bouillon said.
The twin let-downs have come since the Habs clinched a playoff spot, and while captain Brian Gionta said that had “nothing to do” with salting away their post-season berth, Therrien clearly feels differently.
“Ever since we clinched, the level of intensity, the concentration level, the work ethic have all dropped. It’s not complicated,” he said.
More complicated: finding a way to bolster a defensive corps that started losing its shape a couple of weeks ago, and has fallen off a cliff since Alexei Emelin was lost to a season-ending knee injury.
Asked if Emelin’s absence has had an effect on his team, Therrien issued a one-word answer.
“Yes,” he said.
He didn’t expand on it, but didn’t really need to.
In any case, words are of limited use at this point. The imminent return of Raphael Diaz, who has been out for almost seven weeks with a concussion, takes on a new importance.
And now Price faces the appetizing prospect of trying to break out of his funk on the road against the conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.
The waters are already getting choppy, a stumble there will only roil them further.