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Canadiens vs. Predators game recap: A joyless single point

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It wasn’t a hard game to watch, but it wasn’t easy as the Habs played 65 minutes to lose to the Nashville Predators in a shootout, handing Montreal its fifth consecutive loss.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Nashville Predators Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens haven’t won a game in regulation since November 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights, and rolled into Nashville sporting a four-game losing streak. Much more ominous, however, was the complete lack of confidence that seems to loom over the team.

The first period started off with a long power play opportunity for Montreal, thanks to back-to-back minor penalties to Ryan Johansen (for tripping) and Nick Bonino (for high-sticking) in the first two minutes of the game.

Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

The Habs spent nearly a full minute with a two-man advantage, and came away with no goals. They sit in 29th place for power-play efficiency in the league and failed to improve their special teams offence despite an early opportunity to do so.

After the penalties were both killed, Nashville took over puck possession, tilting the ice back in their favour. In his crease for his first start as a Canadiens’ netminder, Antti Niemi was up to the challenge.

With a shade more than seven minutes to go in the first, and nearly 10 minutes since the Habs displayed any offensive pressure, Jordie Benn opened up the scoring, capping off a solid team effort to put Montreal ahead 1-0.

Brendan Gallagher crashed his own body into the corner in an effort to disrupt Nashville’s puck-movers. Charles Hudon ended up with the puck, and the rookie fed Phillip Danault, who waited for the streaking Benn to arrive. Once Jordie Benn had the puck, he made no mistake firing the puck past Pekka Rinne.

Similar to the effect of the successful long penalty kill, Nashville responded to Benn’s goal by upping the volume of their attack. Finally, with just less than one second remaining in the first period, the Preds tied things up thanks to P.K. Subban and Filip Forsberg.

Subban led a rush through neutral ice and into Habs’ territory — something Montreal fans have seen many times before. This time the rush led to a wave of white sweaters converging on the former Canadiens’ defenceman, leaving Forsberg open in front of the net alone and unchecked. Forsberg received the puck and promptly made it a 1-1 game.

The good news about a goal with one second on the board is that it wasn’t likely the Habs would give up two in less than a minute. Indeed the first ended tied, with the Predators outshooting and outplaying Montreal.

The second period was more equal in terms of shot attempts, especially at even strength, but yielded not much action and no scoring to speak of. Nashville, the most penalized team in the league, took two minor penalties in the second but killed off both Montreal power plays.

The third period kicked off with Nashville mostly controlling play, gaining momentum after a hooking penalty to Andrew Shaw, his second minor of the game. With Shaw still in the box, Filip Forsberg would notch his second goal of the game.

After Ryan Johansen pushed the puck down low, Brandon Davidson was left to cover the space behind the net as Karl Alzner was not in position. Montreal took the puck but Nicolas Deslauriers lost it to Craig Smith, who set up Forsberg in the slot to give Nashville a one-goal lead.

The third period saw much more action; back and forth but still favouring the Preds. As the shots increased at either end, so did the intensity of the game overall. Eight minutes into the frame, Brendan Gallagher, Nicolas Deslauriers and Jacob de la Rose caused some irritation near Pekka Rinne, which brought the ire of Subban and his Nashville teammates.

Despite not breaking rules, and playing until the whistle blows, Brendan Gallagher watched the referees not only look the other way when Rinne shoved him to the ice, but hand him a minor for embellishment for his efforts.

The scrum escalated but nothing major came of it. Five penalties were handed out and the Predators once again landed on the power play. This time, however, Niemi and the Habs would seal the exits and keep the puck out of their net.

As the game clock wound toward a close, another loss was beginning to seem inevitable. Niemi was recalled to the bench and the Predators marched into Montreal territory. Viktor Arvidsson had, quite literally, a wide-open cage to shoot at, but missed wide right.

Colton Sissons also missed on a poorly aimed pass that could’ve pounded the final nail in the coffin.

In the transition, Joe Morrow got hold of the puck in Nashville territory and blasted it on net. He has a limited toolbox, but a blast from the point is one of his best assets, and it helped tie the game on Wednesday night. Finally a last minute goal that went in favour of the Habs.

Time for extra fun, where the Predators predominantly outplayed the Canadiens and earned three shots on net to the Habs’ single shot. Niemi held the fort, sending the game to a shootout.

After Fiala was stopped by Niemi to start the breakaway contest, Paul Byron beat Rinne but not iron, sending a puck high in the air ricocheting off the post. Filip Forsberg and Jonathan Drouin were both shut down on their respective shootout attempts before newest Predator Kyle Turris scored an important goal to give his team the edge. Finally, Max Pacioretty was unable to score, handing the Predators a 3-2 shootout win.

Thoughts

  • It wasn’t all pretty, but it wasn’t ugly either. It wasn’t a meltdown but it was not a win. Montreal kept it together to gain a point in the standings, but one cannot help but feel that a single point is one less than the Habs needed.
  • With the potential returns of key players soon, Montreal has to grin and bear it until they’re safely out of this funk (or until the season ends if things stay funky) and hope for the best at that point.