In a game that was billed as a big test for the Canadiens, the results were quite underwhelming. Not only did the Penguins put an end to the Habs' six-game winning streak, but they did so without much opposition.
All good things must come to an end, but the reality is that once again the Habs were blown out of the water by a legitimate contender, a worrying pattern that has played out on several occasions this year.
The Penguins got off to a great start, helped along by a bouncing puck that ended up on Beau Bennett's stick. Nathan Beaulieu attempted a risky pass, and when Dale Weise couldn't corral the puck, Bennett was left all alone, easily finding the top left corner.
A few minutes later, another defensive meltdown gave the Penguins a two-goal cushion. A missed check by P.A. Parenteau, combined with failed coverage by Max Pacioretty allowed Beau Bennett to find a streaking Kris Letang. Letang showed great patience, and eventually found an uncovered Steve Downie, who had all the time in the world to place the puck in a wide open net.
Bennett, who was scoreless so far this year before facing the Habs, almost made the game 3-0 late in the first period, although Carey Price came to the rescue, as he seems to be doing with much more success during breakaways this season.
The second period started much like the first - defensive breakdowns by the Canadiens, capitalizing on offensive opportunities by the Penguins. A botched rush gave way to what seemed like an innocuous rush by the man of the hour, Beau Bennett. Bennett drove wide, and by doing so caught the attention of Brendan Gallagher. The useless double-team coverage cost the Habs dearly when Bennett found Brandon Sutter in the high slot. Sutter had Carey Price at his mercy, and beat him high blocker side, to put the Penguins up by three.
The Habs did manage to put together somewhat of a respectable push back, but whenever Marc-Andre Fleury was called upon, he shut the door, usually without any rebound opportunities. Any hopes for a late game comeback were put to rest shortly thereafter, thanks to the best player in the league, Sidney Crosby, who cashed in on a goalmouth scramble during the powerplay.
If there was one lone shining silver lining for the Canadiens, it was once again the strong play from Jiri Sekac, Lars Eller and Brandon Prust. Sekac provided the Canadiens with their best scoring chances, putting together a great end-to-end rush that culminated with a good shot on net, something the Habs struggled to achieve. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea from the coaching staff to give their current best line some powerplay opportunities, although Habs fans know better than to hold their breath in that regards.
In essence, what happened last night was that the Canadiens were completely outmatched and outplayed by a strong NHL club that is considered a legitimate contender. Montreal gets outworked by opposing teams that have a strong system in place, unless Carey Price is named the first star.
As I alluded to earlier in the recap, this isn't the first time the Habs were obliterated by a top-notch team. Both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning have had their way with the Canadiens, which is probably a very healthy reality check for team, and fans alike. Relying on Carey Price to save the day isn't a foolproof plan, as was evidenced last night.
With the St.Louis Blues, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers on the docket, the Habs will have to be better if they hope to hang on to the first place in the league. Those teams, like the Penguins, are very good when it comes to capitalizing on defensive errors.
While this emerging pattern against quality teams should worry fans, we should probably remind ourselves that it could always be worse. In fact, it could always be much worse.
Let's face it, the Habs were due to have a bad game, let's just hope the next match up versus a top tier team doesn't end up with the same type of result.