It sure didn’t look like the Montreal Canadiens got the kick in the pants that typically comes from changes like what we witnessed on Sunday with the firing of Marc Bergevin. They stepped onto the ice the same disconnected group of players who had started the season with just six wins. The Vancouver Canucks came out with all the momentum despite playing a day earlier, jumping out to four shots early and only being denied a goal by some point-blank saves from Jake Allen.
Allen was no stranger to such an onslaught, facing 50 shots the game before and being the deciding factor in a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was prepared to hold his team in at the start, doing so with little help on the defensive side.
Michael Pezzetta injected a bit of life in his team and the Bell Centre crowd with a big hit in the opening minutes, but it wasn’t enough to turn the tide on its own. The Canucks very nearly found a goal by keeping the puck out of Allen’s reach in a scramble in front of the net, but the referee lost sight of the puck and bailed out the home side with a whistle just before the puck was put in.
With shots 10-1 for Vancouver, another attack earned a power play when Nick Suzuki was called for tripping up Elias Pettersson. Pettersson took the punishment into his own hands by scoring 12 seconds into Suzuki’s sentence, a rare goal for the 23rd-ranked power play versus the league’s 29th-ranked penalty kill.
Don't blink. Even in slow-mo. pic.twitter.com/Teu2q0ek9H— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) November 30, 2021
The Canadiens earned a sarcastic cheer when Tyler Toffoli registered the team’s second shot after the goal, but it did herald a shift in momentum starting from the midpoint of the period. It was followed soon afterward by a blue-line shot off the post from Ben Chiarot as the Canadiens slowly began to even up the shot counter by shifting the play to the offensive zone.
Fittingly, in a period that was a story of two halves, Montreal got its happy ending. With 80 seconds to go, Jonathan Drouin carried the puck into the zone on a turnover, and while the defencemen drifted back toward their net at his pace, Ryan Poehling was racing to the post at the other side. Poehling’s stick blade was the closest thing to the goaltender when Drouin was ready to pass, and he simply needed to hit it with the puck to tie the game.
The Canadiens picked up where they left off in the second with a quick chance at the side of the net for Josh Anderson, taking advantage of some good work from Artturi Lehkonen along the wall to keep possession. A shot from a similar spot on a later shift from Christian Dvorak also had promise after a cross-ice pass, but he took a bit too long on his release, focusing on accuracy rather than speed, and that allowed Thatcher Demko to get across to make the save.
With that, the game abruptly shifted in favour of the Canucks as the cycle of trading momentum continued. The Canadiens had gotten the shots nearly even after their large deficit earlier, but Vancouver started building up their advantage again.
Following a brief chance for Montreal on offence, Vancouver collected the puck and started up ice. Their zone entry was far from dangerous, going three-on-three with Habs defenders in proper positions, but that structure quickly dissolved with miscommunication between the players. Josh Anderson tokk the puck away along the boards, where Jeff Petry had gone over for support, while Sami Niku skated to the opposite corner to serve as a breakout option. Anderson decided to play the puck back in the direction he had come, and right onto an unfriendly stick. Conor Garland had continued on his path to the net while Niku had peeled off, and the defenceman was therefore in no position to cover the Canucks forward, who had plenty of space to put his team back on top.
Yet again, the Canadiens started playing better in the second period while being down a goal. They spent several shifts in the offensive zone, with their best moments coming with Drouin, Lehkonen, and/or Cole Caufield on the ice, but Demko was able to deny their chances to prevent another late tying goal from the home side.
The Canucks netminder probably expected to have to show more heroics when the third period began with a power play for Montreal, but the Habs couldn’t get any sustained pressure and gave him an easy two minutes to deal with.
Vancouver looked much more dangerous on its attempt to play a man up when Pettersson caught Jake Evans flatfooted in the neutral zone, drawing his second call of the night. Both units were getting the puck to the front of the crease where they wanted it, but the shooters just failed to get their sticks on very dangerous pucks in close.
It was Evans’s turn to be spilled to the ice a minute after he exited the box. His teammates didn’t seem to be eager to take advantage of the odd-man situation he’d earned them, however, keeping the puck along the boards for nearly the full duration of the power play. At the very end, Nick Suzuki decided to move the puck to the middle, deked around a defender who came out to meet him, and sent the puck to the net. He and three teammates lunged in looking to knock home the rebound, but after a few seconds of bashing away in front of Demko the whistle blew and the chance was gone.
In the final moments, desperate for an equalizer, Lehkonen was doing his best to win the puck and set something up, but to no avail. The final desperate attempt came with a half-chance off the rush in the dying seconds, but no goal came of it as the Canadiens fell by a 2-1 score.
It was the sixth failure in six tries to follow up one win with another. At the very least it wasn’t a lopsided score as the other five had been, but they all get recorded in the loss column just the same. With the defeat, they broke a tie and fell two points behind the Canucks in the standings, now fourth-worst by points and third if you go by the better metric of points percentage given that they’ve played more games than any other team in the NHL. The top odds for the draft lottery aren’t so far out of reach, and that’s probably the best outcome the team can hope to glean from this season.