It's the start of arguably the toughest stretch of games the Canadiens will face this season as they'll see the defending Stanley Cup champs again this weekend, in addition to the St. Louis Blues and the plucky Columbus Blue Jackets.
The ice tilted heavily in favor of the Blackhawks early, as they generated a number of dangerous chances while the Canadiens struggled to exit the defensive zone. Some good work down low by Patrick Kane led to a Chicago power play, which the Habs were able to kill. But the potent Hawks offense would not be denied, as Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Toews combined for an early 1-0 lead and put even more pressure on the struggling Habs.
To the Canadiens' credit they pushed back after the opening goal, and a great feed from David Desharnais combined with some lucky bounces as the puck went off Brent Seabrook's stick, Corey Crawford's pads, and ultimately off Paul Byron's shin pad for his eighth goal of the season.
The Habs poor breakout strategy came back to haunt them yet again, with Ryan Garbutt intercepting a board clearnace and wiring a laser past Mike Condon to restore the Blackhawks' lead late in the opening frame. Outside of a Lars Eller chance in close the Habs failed to make much of an impact following the Blackhawks second goal
The second period was a complete role reversal, with the Canadiens forcing the issue early and often. Led by the line of Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk. and Sven Andrighetto, the Habs hemmed the Hawks in their zone and generated their best offensive pressure of the night. Unlike the first period, it was the Habs who owned the offensive zone with every line generating a multitude of scoring chances. Alas it was not to be for Montreal as the goaltending of Corey Crawford, and a bit of poor shooting luck from Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec, kept the Blackhawks leading after 40 minutes.
Despite easily putting in the best period of work since the Winter Classic, Michel Therrien chose to turn on the line blender to begin the final 20 minutes. Results were mixed as the Hawks owned the flow of play in front of Mike Condon for the early going. However, a poorly timed penalty from Niklas Hjalmarsson swung the momentum back into the Hawks' end for the remainder of the game.
With plenty of scoring chances from Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk (who shot the puck hard enough to stagger Crawford), the Habs deserved a better fate than their 2-1 loss.
The biggest question of the night is why Therrien chose to mix his lines after a period where the Canadiens controlled the play the full twenty minutes. This included shifting Galchenyuk back to wing alongside Desharnais, which ignores that fact that Eller and Galchenyuk were two of the Habs best forwards on the night.
- The team got outstanding goaltending from Mike Condon once again, but their inability to score more than a single goal cost them.
Alexei Emelin receives a lot of flack when he plays poorly but it is worth noting he played a strong game, mixing in several big hits and creating scoring chances in the offensive zone.
Alex Galchenyuk was a man possessed out there, dangling through the Chicago defense and creating havoc all over the ice, he deserved at least a goal last night for his efforts.
Hockey is a brutal game of inches sometimes, and Crawford kept the Habs from earning those few inches tonight. It's not fair to toss 40 pucks at the net and score only once, but that's the way she goes.
There will be no rest for the wicked as the Canadiens travel to St. Louis to face the Blues on Satuday, then meet the Blackhawks for a rematch in Chicago. Now we'll see how this team fares with their playoff spot in jeopardy and matched against two Western Conference powerhouses.