The Montreal Canadiens, who suffered their 15th loss in 19 games since Dec. 2, can’t afford to settle for a moral victory.
This one, a 4-3 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues, was the most devastating game of Montreal’s season — even if they earned an extra point in the standings by the end of it.
The Canadiens notched a season-high 49 shots on net and scored three goals, including one on the NHL’s least successful power play since Dec. 1.
But it wasn’t enough.
The tortured offence of the Canadiens got goals on shots 26, 32 and 47 of their night. They were scored by defenceman P.K. Subban, captain Max Pacioretty and assistant captain Tomas Plekanec, who combined for 22 shots and 27 of the team’s 75 shot attempts.
Subban’s goal was just his third of the season, Pacioretty’s was his fifth in his last 18 games, and Plekanec’s was his second in his last 29.
But there was nothing for the Canadiens to celebrate at the end of the night. All they were left with was the lingering bitterness of failing to score more than one goal on the 15 shots the generated on seven power plays — two of which were short five-on-three advantages.
Outshooting a team by more than 15 shots total is supposed to be advantageous, but in the five times the Canadiens have managed to do that since the beginning of December they’ve lost four times.
“We’re making every goalie look amazing right now,” said Pacioretty.
Credit due to Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, who played out of his mind while former Blues goaltenders Mike Liut, Grant Fuhr and Curtis Joseph — who were honoured before the game — looked on from a luxury suite.
Meanwhile his teammates had as many shots as Subban, Pacioretty and Plekanec combined for and managed to help him win the game.
Blues forward Robbi Fabbri scored on his team’s second shot of the game, a mere 34 seconds into the first period.
And Blues forward Ty Rattie scored 44 seconds after Plekanec made it 3-2 Canadiens in the third period.
Centre Jori Lehtera won the game on St. Louis’s only shot in overtime. The goal was borne of an untimely giveaway by Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov, who played 26:05 of nearly flawless hockey.
Markov had broken up a play late in the third period with a desperate diving poke check to keep the ever-dangerous Blues forward, Vladimir Tarasenko, from getting a breakaway.
But Markov and his Canadiens were left searching for answers after the game.
“We have to win that game,” said Pacioretty. “[Up] 3-2 with five minutes left, it’s just — we cannot lose that game. You don’t point fingers, you don’t say why; we don’t know why.
“Good teams win that game. Average teams win that game.”
Good teams, even average teams have made the race for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference into a dogfight.
The Canadiens, who were once 11 points up on the next-best team in the Atlantic Division (who were leading the East with 41 points on Dec. 2) are now hanging onto the second wild-card spot by a thread.
It took 98 points to clinch a playoff spot in the East last season. The Canadiens need to win 24 of their remaining 37 games this season to hit that mark.
Moral victories just won’t cut it.