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Canadiens vs. Blackhawks Recap: Charles Hudon, Nathan Beaulieu shine in blowout loss

The Canadiens are winless to begin the pre-season after a dismal showing on home ice.

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With the Chicago Blackhawks sending few regulars to Montreal, it looked like the Canadiens had an opportunity to tune their offence against a punchless opponent. It became fairly obvious from the get-go that the Habs would be the ones getting tuned up.

The 'Hawks opened the scoring near the middle of the first, With Ryan Garbutt tipping a David Rundblad shot by Carey Price. Garret Ross and Kyle Baun each had a goal and an assist in the five minutes that followed to put the IceHogs Blackhawks up by three.

The Canadiens responded just seconds after the middle frame began with Zack Kassian receiving the puck in the neutral zone, launching a nice individual rush, and shoving a backhand shot that squeaked by Scott Darling.

Baun restored the three-goal lead less than three minutes later on a tip that fluttered short side over Price's shoulder.

The Canadiens ramped up their play about a third or the way through the final period, with every line getting some good looks, but were unable to capitalize, ultimately surrendering an empty-net goal for a 5-1 loss; their third consecutive defeat to open the pre-season.

Player evaluation

It wasn't all bad news from a Canadiens perspective. He outperformed all other blueliners, including P.K. Subban, on Thursday night, and in last night's contest Nathan Beaulieu was once again the best defenceman on the ice. His awareness and puck-moving have been on display in the early going, and he looks to be in contention for a top-pairing role this season.

Beaulieu's defence partner, Brett Lernout, had a relatively decent outing, I thought, making a few good reads and helping his team get out of its own end on a few occasions. He was also guilty of moving into a space already occupied by Alexei Emelin on the second goal, which opened up the far-side tap-in for Ross. Lernout's passes are often too far ahead of his intended target, and he underestimates the amount of time he has to make a play. These are all things that he can overcome with a year or two of high-paced action in the AHL

Emelin is a more complicated case. I thought he looked good in the pre-season opener on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and seems to be skating better this season than he did last. He judged his opportunities to make a hit well last night, making sure he had good body positioning before laying into his man. When trying to set up in the defensive zone, however, his awareness was extremely poor and he often set up in the wrong spot as a result, as seen on the third Chicago goal, where he floats into position in the mid-slot, leaving Baun wide open on the left side for the easy goal.

Devante Smith-Pelly also had a difficult time getting anything going. He did draw a penalty near the end of the first period and had a chance with the puck in his vicinity in the third-period flurry, but ultimately was one of the least-noticeable players in the game, and, if positions are handed out on ability rather than contract status, he will be hard-pressed to make the final roster to open the season.

I noticed Brian Flynn more often, but mostly for negative reasons. A poor giveaway in the offensive zone nearly led to a breakaway just after the second 'Hawks goal, and a no-look giveaway on the late power play in the first was the last play he made on a line with Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec.

Charles Hudon
Photo credit: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports

Flynn came out for the second on what I've been thinking of as the 'bubble line.' Thursday night Flynn played the whole game with roster hopefuls Sven Andrighetto and Charles Hudon. Friday night Hudon was initially lined up with Smith-Pelly and Daniel Carr in the experimental trio before Carr was moved up onto the Plekanec-Gallagher line.

Carr looked good in the top-line role, getting a good shot away that hit the post and not looking nearly as out of place and Flynn had earlier in the game.

But the star of the various bubble line iterations has definitely been Hudon, who hit a post of his own and had four shots on target; second only to the five that Gallagher produced on the night. Hudon's vision is great, his work ethic even better, and the fact that he's been able to stand out and make an impression while flanked by players who've looked awful in most settings is a noteworthy feat.

Hudon is letting the Habs know that he's ready to make the jump to the NHL. It's up to Marc Bergevin to honour his word and open up a spot for him.