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Canadiens vs. Kings game recap: No clemency as losing streak continues

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Cammalleri returns to haunt Canadiens with two goals, two assists.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens continued their annual California road trip on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings on the heels of a loss against the San Jose Sharks the night before.

The Kings have been off since beating the Islanders in Los Angeles on Sunday, and looking to pounce on a team that may be gripping their sticks too hard and skating on tired legs.

Interestingly enough, as the Montreal Canadiens were off to one of their worst starts in franchise history, the Kings were actually off to the best start in franchise history. There would be no respite on this night, however, and streaks would not be broken, as the Canadiens fell to the Kings 5-1, extending their losing streak to six games.

Claude Julien pulled out the line mixer for the first time this season to really shake up his lineup. The purgatory for Alex Galchenyuk appeared to come to an end, as he was placed with the top line of Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin. The ripple effect of Galchenyuk moving to right wing was felt throughout the lineup as it bumped Artturi Lehkonen back down to a line with Tomas Plekanec and Ales Hemsky, while the fourth line counted on Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose, and Brendan Gallagher.

The idea was to spark some players and try to find combinations that show natural chemistry. Nowhere more was it true than with the new line of Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, and Andrew Shaw. The instruction from head coach Claude Julien was for the Canadiens to be aggressive on the puck and to get pucks on net, and that’s exactly what the Danault line of was doing: forechecking hard, being on the puck carrier immediately, and buzzing around Jonathan Quick’s net at all times, and at all cost. It was in fact this mentality that got them their first goal.

Crashing the zone hard and gaining possession of the puck, first Shaw flipped it at Quick from the side of the net, which missed, but Danault, first to the puck, recovered it and again flipped it back at Quick. The puck bounced off of Quick, and Byron came flying in to tap the puck to put the Habs up by one half-way into the first period.

The Habs had an excellent start to the period, but then Alex Galchenyuk got into some penalty problems. First he was called for hitting Tyler Toffoli with an illegal hit to the head.

The Canadiens killed it off, despite a long 90-second presence in the Habs’ zone by the Kings that included numerous saves by Al Montoya. Soon thereafter Galchenyuk took a second penalty, this time for slashing in the neutral zone.

The Habs weren’t as lucky this time around, as the Kings scored a power-play goal when Michael Cammalleri demonstrated his hand-eye coordination by batting a centering puck out of the air, and past Montoya to tie the game. The Kings were 1-for-3 on the power play in this game, as Montreal’s penalty kill continues to struggle, finding itself 22nd in the League.

Shots in the first period were 17 to 14 for Montreal in what was described as one of their best periods of play this season, with a strong 63.27 CF% at five-on-five, and seven HDCF versus only one for the Kings, but the Canadiens did not have a lead to show for it.

The Canadiens started the second period on the their first power play of the game, but in the image of their penalty kill, the power play struggled to produce results, and the team would not score with the man-advantage. They would go 0-for-3 for the game. The second period was controlled by the Kings, who outshot the Canadiens 17 to eight, and showed a tremendous 72.73 CF% at five-on-five, but it was the solid play of Al Montoya who kept the Canadiens in the game, making numerous important saves.

By the third period, mental mistakes began creeping into the Habs game as it was a tired group of players that hit the ice, desperately trying to cling on. First Jordie Benn was caught pinching too deep, and unable to catch up with the play up-ice, lead to a two-on-one play for the Kings which Adrian Kempe converted into a goal to give the Kings the lead. Then moments later the Canadiens were caught on a bad line change, which again lead to an odd-man opportunity for the home team, allowing Cammalleri to score his second goal of the game, and of the season, to give his side a two-goal cushion halfway through the third.

The Canadiens collapsed at this point, allowing Adrian Kempe to add another two goals within a couple of minutes to complete the hat trick. The Canadiens were completely running on empty by the end of the game, and the final result was not an indication of that, not of a bad performance throughout the game.

The Canadiens have not won in regulation time in California since December 2011. Perhaps they will finally break that long-standing streak on Friday when they play the Anaheim Ducks in their final game of this California trip.

Thoughts

  • Al Montoya deserved a much better fate on this night, as none of the five goals can be attributed to a mistake on his part.
  • The top line was awful. Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin were completely invisible all game long, to a worrying degree. I cannot recall a single dangerous rush or shot that either player was involved in. Pacioretty was credited with three shots apparently. Meanwhile Drouin had a single shot, and only won 33% of the faceoffs he took. Galchenyuk looked better, showing some fire in his game. He may have had a better result tonight if he had not been placed with Pacioretty and Drouin.
  • Tomas Plekanec played a strong game, winning 78% of his faceoffs, and generally played a spirited game, but it did not help his line produce too much offence. Artturi Lehkonen looked sharp, but any early chemistry with Plekanec looks to be gone. Ales Hemsky completed the line, and although provided strong positional play, contributed little.
  • Brendan Gallagher, shunted down to the fourth line, had the lowest time on ice of anyone, barely scraping past the 10-minute mark. Hudon and de la Rose made an interesting pairing and had a few scoring opportunities.
  • Joe Morrow was either still rusty, or is simply not very good; hard to tell at this point. It was surprising to see the Canadiens scratch Brandon Davidson who appeared to be on track finally. The mix will get even more complicated once David Schlemko returns from his hand surgery in a month. One has to wonder what kind of team he will be re-joining, and who will still be on it.