Tension building for goal-starved Canadiens

Jonathan Toews and Ryan Garbutt scored in the first period and the Chicago Blackhawks hung on for the win over the Montreal Canadiens.

MONTREAL — It was November of 2013 when Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, an avid Montreal Canadiens fan, had seen enough.

The mayor took to twitter and caused a commotion by asking for someone to buy slumping Canadiens forward David Desharnais a ticket to the AHL.

Desharnais, who was mired in a 19-game goalless drought at the time responded with the shootout winner in Montreal’s next game before managing 16 goals and 51 points in his final 60 games of the season.

Coderre was at the Bell Centre Thursday to take in Montreal’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. I ran into him in the press lounge after the Canadiens couldn’t score despite dominating 62 per cent of the shot attempts and outchancing Chicago 9-1 in the second period.

He assured me he would resist the temptation to air his frustrations on his twitter feed.

Coderre stayed true to his word. He sent 13 tweets throughout the night, and all of them had a positive ring to them.

As for the Canadiens, staying positive is becoming a challenge. They’ve only managed three or more goals in four of their games since Dec. 1.

The list of Canadiens players struggling to score is long.

Desharnais has one goal in his last 22 games, Lars Eller has one in his last 25, Tomas Fleischmann has one in his last 20, P.K. Subban scored his first goal in 34 games Saturday, and captain Max Pacioretty, who leads the team with 17 goals, has been held without a goal in 29 of 44 games this season.

Tomas Plekanec, who’s scored 20 or more goals seven times in his career, has only one in his last 28 games.

With the Canadiens trailing 2-1 in the second period, Plekanec had the puck on his stick and an empty net staring at him. He was within two feet of Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford’s crease and he failed to record a shot on goal.

Plekanec admitted he just couldn’t relax on the play.

“That’s what happened to me in that second period,” he said. “I had an open net, you want to put it in so badly, and you miss it. That’s exactly what happens when you can’t put it in.”

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, sensing the tension, tried to mix up his lines in the third period to provide a spark.

Centre Alex Galchenyuk moved to Desharnais’s left wing, and Paul Byron played on the right. Eller went to centre the third line with Fleischmann and Sven Andrighetto.

The Canadiens outshot the Blackhawks 17-10 in the final frame. They spent the final three minutes of the game in front of Crawford and reaped no rewards for their efforts.

Therrien was trying to look on the bright side after the game, but he wasn’t smiling while delivering his post-game comments.

“We got 40 shots against the Stanley Cup Champions,” said Therrien. “We got [a] number of scoring chances, but definitely we need to bear down on our chances. Right now we got some great, great chances, but we can’t score and it’s not a matter of effort.”

The effort was there for Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, who spent most of his 19 minutes and 37 seconds of ice-time in Crawford’s crease.

But Gallagher didn’t have a single shot attempt in the game. He hadn’t been held without a shot on net in any other game this season.

Gallagher was displeased with himself after the game.

“You can’t get frustrated over the compete, you can’t get frustrated over the effort,” he said. “I just think, like I’ve been saying, look in the mirror, expect more of yourself, put the puck in the net.”

But Gallagher and the Canadiens can’t conjure the confidence to score out of thin air.

Plekanec sees value in revisiting videos from when goals were a regular occurrence.

“Those are the things where sometimes when you can’t score the goals—that’s one of the things that most of the players do,” Plekanec said. “You look at the right that you’ve done, look at the spots, places where you were the time that you were scoring goals. That’s one of the things to do, but it comes down to when you’re there, just breathe and be calm and don’t rush things.”

Easier said than done.

Maybe a harsh tweet from the mayor is just what the doctor ordered.