The Habs can't win at home. The Lightning can't win on the road.
So the Lightning won on the road. Simple enough.
In the variations of Habs losses of late, fans have been far too accustomed to shellackings or end of game collapses. This bout featured a different flavored defeat. A floral scent could be detected in the Bell Centre. A silver lining adorning a glass half full.
This time, the team may seek solace in the fact that they, for once, scored late in the third to send it to overtime. They pressed hard in the extra frame to come out of this home funk, but to no avail. The lack of true game breakers in Montreal is starting to wear on a team that has threaded through an infinite calculation of line combinations to come up with 3 goals a game.
The goals come in Montreal. That isn't where the issue lies. The problem is that it has become increasingly hard to predict the source of the offense on any given night. Coach Carbonneau stated at the start of the season that this is a 26-player deep roster.
He was dead wrong.
26-player deep translates into 4 balanced lines producing regularly with a couple of caged lions pacing feverishly, waiting to be summoned into action.
In Montreal, we have been accustomed to the rotation of the hot line. It will be the Kovalev line's turn to light it up, only to pass the baton over to a dead cold Koivu line. The Canadiens are not a four-headed python. It's an interchangeable head operation. One takes over, while the other one rests.
It doesn't work. As soon as the opposition cues in on the "performing line", they neutralize them and slowly take the game away from the Canadiens. Last night was a perfect example. Kovy-Pleks-Tits had a lot of jump. Kovalev created room for himslef, sent passes through narrow corridors, stick handled himself out of tight checking pressure. Alas, the rest of the team lacked the dedication. If Higgins tried to follow the Kovalev lead, his linemates were not as inclined. Dandenault on the first line is an experiment that baffles the purist. While he showed he can skate with Koivu, his presence on the line is a flagrant contradiction of the 26-man deep assessment in October; there are no forwards on the farm and no healthy scratches that can grab a spot on this team.
Defensemen are converted into forwards. Pure offensive minds (Grabovski) are quarantined on the fourth line. The balance has been sucked right out of the Canadiens.
Vincent Lecavalier's team may not be sitting atop the standings, but the Bolts make hockey sense. So much so that you have no difficulty foreseeing them mounting a surge during the second part of the season, when the truly gifted teams gel and come to play.
Last night, Tampa's road woes were not as apparent as anticipated. Then again, the opposition wasn't exactly the homecoming queen. Lecavalier fired a bullet from the point that sees him fighting Brett Hull for the best one-timer in the game title. Richards' shooutout winner was as good a direct strike you'll ever see on a penalty shot. There are so many options on this Tampa team that they can ride past the average goaltending in the regular season and make the playoffs.
Options. Montreal Canadiens. Running out of them.