Playing just their third game in nine days, the Montreal Canadiens would have had a good excuse for a flat start versus the Colorado Avalanche; a team that had been playing well in a bid to get back into the playoff race in the tightly contested Central Division.
The layoff was even more pronounced for a couple of Habs. Greg Pateryn saw his first NHL action of the season after a three-game conditioning stint in the AHL last week, while Alexander Semin drew back into the lineup after a seven-game absence, slotting back into his original spot on Alex Galchenyuk's right wing.
That line picked up right where it left off several weeks ago, playing nearly exclusively in the offensive zone all night, with no member below a 73.9% shot-attempts-for percentage at even strength, with Eller leading all skaters at 81%.
The Max Pacioretty - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher line was even better, all above 75% in possession events, and had the best shift of the game about three minutes into the first. Combining with the newly paired duo of Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu, the five skaters strung together several passes and peppered Reto Berra with shots, the last of which was a slight misfire by Pacioretty on a one-timer that hit the Avalanche goalie in the pads and was corraled to end the barrage.
The miss proved costly as the Avalanche worked the puck into their offensive zone on the next shift, and Mikhail Grigorenko opened the scoring for the visiting team.
The Habs took back control of the possession game, hemming the Avalanche in their own zone for the next several minutes before a communication breakdown between P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov led to a Jack Skille breakaway. Mike Condon bailed out the top defensive pairing with a great save on Skille's backhand deke.
Unfortunately, that was the only positive for Montreal's replacement goaltender, as he allowed two goals within a 13-second span to Nathan MacKinnon soon afterward.
The Habs were unfazed by the three-goal deficit, keeping the pedal down through the end of the first period and to the midway point of the second, when Brendan Gallagher whacked away at the puck in front of Berra, refusing to give up until the puck was in the net, and the Canadiens finally got on the scoreboard on their 25th shot of the game.
Gallagher goal, Habs trail 3-1 pic.twitter.com/nsT9JtWxSu— Stephanie (@myregularface) November 15, 2015
A high-sticking penalty to Semin reversed the flow of play, but the same call to Matt Duchene at the end of Colorado's unsuccessful man advantage offered an opportunity for the Canadiens to get within one.
A determined effort appeared poised to do just that, but a back-hand spin-o-rama drop pass by Subban failed to reach its intended target and instead allowed Blake Comeau to rush the puck the other way. Comeau took a low-risk shot that should have been an easy save, but instead it beat Condon to put the Habs back down by three.
The Canadiens tried to get the goal back on the remainder of the power play, but the short-handed goal seemed to sap the energy out of the home team, and they failed to regain their dominance once the teams were back to five aside.
After going 6-0-2 in his first eight starts, giving up three goal just once (in Wednesday's game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins), Condon allowed four on 11 shots in two periods of play.
Dustin Tokarski came on in relief to begin the third, but didn't fare much better, allowing two goals on 13 shots as the Canadiens offered little resistance to the Avalanche on their way to a 6-1 win. It was Colorado's third-consecutive victory, and moved them to within striking distance of a wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Despite the similar shot attempt percentages, the Galchenyuk line and Plekanec's trio differed greatly in their ability to generate shots attempts that actually had a chance to become goals.
Pacioretty, Gallagher, and Plekanec combined for 14 shots — six each from the wingers — while the Galchenyuk trio had just three among them. With 15 minutes of play, and receiving all their starts in the offensive zone, the goal has to be higher than creating one shot for every five minutes of playing time.
Petry also had six shots, and he and Beaulieu looked good with about 65% of possession events in their favour, despite the most difficult zonal deployment of any pair. The duo led the team in ice-time, as well, with Petry's 24:00 and Beaulieu's 23:13 coming in at over a minute more than Subban's playing time.
Condon did not look good in the game, but it was also the first game he's lost in regulation in his young NHL career. It's important to remember that Carey Price let in five goals in a game earlier this season, as well.
Condon will most likely get a chance at redemption in the Canadiens' next game on Monday, against the team that put up those five goals on Price on October 27th: the Vancouver Canucks.
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