Cautiously, like someone wandering into a minefield, the Montreal Canadiens crept into Wednesday night’s affair with the Chicago Blackhawks on a two-game winning streak. They had knocked off the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames on the back of two incredible performances by Carey Price, but the net last night belonged to Charlie Lindgren, making his third start of the season.
While Joel Armia did practise with the team, he didn’t make it into the lineup against Chicago as he worked his way back from an upper-body injury. Also still missing was Brendan Gallagher, who is feeling better after his not-at-all-concussion-related headaches had subsided, but he had yet to be fully cleared to play. The Blackhawks had their own walking wounded as well, with Brent Seabrook, Brandon Saad, Calvin de Haan and Andrew Shaw all sitting on the sidelines, with Shaw battling a concussion of his own once again.
After two quick starts against Ottawa and Calgary, the Canadiens came out of the gate sleepwalking against Chicago. Ilya Kovalchuk was one of a few Montreal players with ill-advised passes that ended up on Chicago sticks.
Cale Fleury was sent to the box for hooking. The penalty was killed off, aided by a drawn call against Kirby Dach, putting Montreal on a power play of their own. However, poor communication and indecision on the part of Lindgren led to him turning the puck over to Drake Caggiula, who laid it in front for Zack Smith to score a short-handed goal.
It didn’t take much longer for the Blackhawks to add to their lead. Before the halfway mark of the period, Olli Maatta fed a pass to Slater Koekkoek, who let a shot fly towards Lindgren. On its way to the net it was Smith again getting a stick on the shot, deflecting it by the Canadiens netminder. The goal gave Chicago two goals before Montreal had managed two shots, a disheartening start for a Montreal team coming off consecutive wins.
While Montreal managed to climb back into the game with some chances of their own, a defiant Corey Crawford kept them off the scoreboard. Lindgren made up for his earlier gaffe with a big glove save after looking like he was down and out in a net-front scramble. The horn still sent Montreal into the locker room trailing by two, and in immediate need of an answer to start the second period.
The team got that fast start. Under a minute into the period the Canadiens’ top line went to work, as it so often does. Ilya Kovalchuk worked behind the Blackhawks’ net, down to the half-wall where he flicked a backhand pass into the slot. Tomas Tatar faked a shot, but Phillip Danault stepped up and fired his 12th goal of the year by Crawford to cut into Chicago’s lead.
Kovalchuk continued his strong work, drawing a high-sticking call and sending Montreal to another power play. It was as ill-fated as their first, failing to find any sort of meaningful attack and ended early when Max Domi took a selfish, poorly timed roughing penalty against Matthew Highmore.
On the ensuing power play, a scramble around the net stripped Lindgren of his blocker and stick, and sans his protective equipment he tried to stop a blistering shot from Alex DeBrincat to no avail. Despite the protests of the Canadiens about why the play wasn’t blown dead, the goal stood, putting Chicago up by two goals once again.
Another late power play failed to do much of anything for the Habs, with the most noticeable part of it being who wasn’t on the ice. Max Domi was stapled to the bench after his roughing penalty led to the third Chicago goal, and he was replaced on the power play that followed. When all was said and done, Montreal again trailed by two goals heading into intermission.
Domi’s stint in the doghouse came to an end on the second shift of the third period, and with the Canadiens trailing they needed something from the offensive player. A too many men on the ice penalty sent Chicago back to the man advantage, and it looked like it took under 15 seconds for them to score again. A quick review made it clear that Jonathan Toews had in fact swept the puck in with his foot, however, so Montreal caught a small break to keep the deficit at two goals.
It didn’t take long for another careless turnover to end up costing the Canadiens. This time Jordan Weal was left without an outlet and Drake Caggiula took the puck away from him. Caggiula broke in alone, rifling one over Lindgren, off the bar and in to all but seal a loss for Montreal.
There were a few small moments where Montreal looked to have created something, but Crawford snuffed them out, or in the case of Marco Scandella, the chance bounced harmlessly away off the goal post.
The horn sounded to end an impotent performance by the Canadiens in a 4-1 defeat, snapping their brief run of wins and once again leaving Julien looking for answers.
There is no time for rest though, as Montreal now has a game against Philadelphia on Thursday night. While Carey Price has been great lately, the team around him hasn’t come close to that same level, and they’ll need to if they want to avoid another losing skid heading into All-Star Weekend.