A 5-1 win over the Boston Bruins in the Winter Classic Friday was supposed to be a springboard to a good start in the new year for the Montreal Canadiens.
Instead, the club took an unexpected nosedive in their first game back, losing 4-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday and the game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.
How did Montreal squander the emotional boost Friday’s win at Gillette Stadium gave them? It’s inexplicable.
The Canadiens had put one of the worst months in team history behind them — a December that saw them lose 11 of 14 games.
Tuesday’s game was a chance to notch their third win in a treacherous eight-game road trip — the longest the Canadiens have been on since 1968. It was to be played against a Flyers team low on confidence, who had lost three consecutive games and six of their last 10.
Added incentive? None needed.
But if the Canadiens were looking for something else to latch onto to conjure the necessary emotion to win consecutive games for the first time since late November, all they had to do was look at their embarrassing 1-7 record of late in Philaldelphia.
When the puck dropped in Tuesday’s game, Montreal’s energy dropped with it.
Escaping the first period 1-1 after being outshot by the Flyers 12-4 offered the Canadiens a reprieve.
Philadelphia outshot Montreal 7-1 in the second period and outscored them 2-0 before former Canadiens forward Ryan White crosschecked centre Torrey Mitchell for a penalty 13:29 into the frame.
The league’s 17th-best power play didn’t generate a goal, but it gave the Canadiens enough thrust for Brendan Gallagher to score and get them back into the hockey game 90 seconds later.
Whatever emotional lift Gallagher's goal provided Montreal, it didn’t carry over to the third period.
Sean Couturier scored Philadelphia’s fourth goal of the night just 5:41 into the final frame.
Attention to detail was also inexplicably lacking from the Canadiens’ execution throughout the contest.
Philadelphia’s first goal, scored by Brayden Schenn on a breakaway that started on the Flyers’ side of centre ice, was a comedy of errors for Montreal. Centre Alex Galchenyuk crossed the offensive blue line in full control of the puck, three Montreal players rushed the net, and Galchenyuk elected to pass to defenceman Andrei Markov, who was the Canadiens’ last man back on the play.
The pass went to Markov’s skates and it was easily intercepted by Couturier, who sent Schenn in all alone on a helpless Ben Scrivens.
Philadelphia’s next two goals were carbon copies of each other; easy faceoff wins followed by point shots that were allowed to get to Scrivens’s net.
The Canadiens allowed 31 shots while they blocked only seven of Philadelphia’s 47 shot attempts.
“I didn’t like our performance,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. “We were stuck in the clouds of last game.”
If Montreal doesn’t turn it around against New Jersey on Wednesday, they’ll remain stuck where they've been their last 16 games.
“There are certain players who are going to have to give a lot more,” said Therrien.
Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty’s only shot on net Tuesday came with five seconds left on the clock, and it didn’t even come off his stick. Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth tried to clear the puck and shot it into Pacioretty’s chest. It landed back on Neuvirth, who swatted it away.
Assistant captain Tomas Plekanec was also held to just one shot despite playing 19:56.
P.K. Subban hit the net with as many shots as had blocked and as many shots as he put wide (two in all categories).
Without star goaltender Carey Price for the foreseeable future, these three leaders are expected to help keep the Canadiens in the black through the opening weeks of 2016.
Now five points back of the division-leading Florida Panthers who won their 10th consecutive game Tuesday, three points up on the ninth-placed Senators in the East, the Canadiens must find the emotional resolve to string some wins together.