The Montreal Canadiens welcomed the Los Angeles Kings into the Bell Centre, as the two teams faced each other for the second time in eight days. The Habs were looking to avenge a loss while the Kings, having had a great start to the year, simply needed to keep doing what they’d been doing.
In what could easily be a copy-paste of many of the Canadiens’ 10 games thus far, Montreal played well, and showed the ability to drive pucks on the net from key areas. But they couldn’t keep up enough sustained pressure, create enough speedy transitions, nor show the killer instinct to put goals — any goals — into their opponent’s net.
The first period was fairly evenly played, with both teams having periods of quality chances. The Canadiens came out hungry, firing many shots on Jonathan Quick, but the Kings’ goalie stopped everything Montreal sent his way.
One game after a stellar showing, Nikita Scherbak would encounter misfortune as he suffered a lower-body injury after having his skate awkwardly jam in the boards as he fell. Scherbak attempted to return to start the second period but did not stay long, bothered by his right leg.
The Habs kept the upper hand in terms of possession and shots until the 15:00 mark, when the Kings awoke and established their game. Montreal’s defence was effective enough with blocks and forcing Los Angeles’ shots to miss the net.
As has been the case too often this season, the Habs’ luck ran out, and the Kings broke the scoreless tie with 61 seconds on the clock. When Montreal failed to swing the puck out of their defensive end, Derek Forbort fired it back towards Carey Price, and Adrien Kempe tipped the puck into the net. Kempe’s goal was not only a fantastic display of hand-eye coordination but would also ultimately hold up to be the game-winner.
If one goal scored in the last minute of a period doesn’t deflate a team’s tires, a pair certainly would, and that’s just what the Canadiens had in store, when no less than eleven seconds after Kempe’s goal, Tyler Toffoli doubled L.A.’s lead.
Just as with the first goal, the second began with Montreal holding the puck in its own end. Victor Mete tried to push the puck up the boards but the clever Toffoli was well-placed to steal the puck, catching the Habs in transition going the other way. In the end, Toffoli had enough time and space to fire a perfect slapshot over Price.
While the first period would end with the Canadiens boasting 16 shots on net to the Kings’ 8, the two teams were nearly even for shot attempts.
The home team came out for the second like a club that looked past its two-goal deficit, hungry to score. Again and again, the Kings withstood the Habs’ attacks. Los Angeles also successfully killed three straight minor penalties in the second period, making it four in a row for the game.
Nearing the 35-minute mark, captain Anze Kopitar handed his team a three-goal lead when he sizzled a wrister over Price’s glove, a surgically precise shot which led to an all-too-familiar demoralizing feeling.
Kopitar raced into the Montreal zone from centre ice, a two-on-two situation with Dustin Brown; the pair had caught Montreal’s defence in a line change with Shea Weber up the ice and out of the play. Jordie Benn was forced to cover the play like a two-on-one in Weber’s spot on the right side while Artturi Lehkonen back-checked to cover Brown in what should have been Benn’s spot.
At the end of two periods, the scoring-challenged Canadiens were already in deep, losing 3-0. The second period, unlike the first, saw a closer shot total (13-10 advantage for Montreal) though in reality it was the Habs who began to dominate possession.
The mercy frame began the way the second ended, as less than four minutes in, defenceman Kurtis MacDemid scored his first ever NHL goal, Drew Doughty wired a pass to the rookie, who fired the puck towards the net, having it deflect off Andrew Shaw’s stick. Carey Price lost sight of the puck, which had tipped upwards from Shaw’s unintentional deflection.
All was over but the clock-watching for Montreal. The fans booed, they mock-cheered Price stopping a 200-foot clearing. The teams kept skating and the Habs kept shooting, but it didn’t take intense analysis to observe the guys in red sweaters just wanted to go home already.
It ended with the 4-0 scoreline, the Kings having twice whipped a four-goal loss into Montreal’s stats in just eight days. It was another case of the Canadiens playing a relatively good team game and coming up short on luck/finish/goals/magic/intangibles. Whatever it is they’re lacking that got them here, it’s now also responsible for a team losing confidence, despite their big Tuesday night win against the Florida Panthers.