Terrible habit costs Canadiens once again vs. Stars

Tyler Seguin and Devin Shore both scored and recorded an assist to help the Dallas Stars beat the Montreal Canadiens.

DALLAS—It was a game plan followed to the letter by the Montreal Canadiens before things blew up in their faces in a matter of 59 seconds. The result: A 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Devin Shore finished off a beautiful play by Stars defenceman John Klingberg with 1:38 remaining in the second period and Jason Spezza delivered the coup de grace right after, making it the ninth occasion in 22 games this season that the Canadiens have surrendered two goals in less than a minute.

To a man, there wasn’t a player on the Montreal side who could explain how this trend could continue after so much breath had been spent discussing it internally after the eighth time it happened in a 6-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs this past Saturday.

"At one point, I don’t know if I’m going to have to call a timeout after we get scored on," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. "It’s just something that’s gotta get better, and we need to be strong."

The lack of response after two goals went in has to be just as disconcerting for the Canadiens as the lack of focus after one, especially when you consider the way they started the game.

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They came to Dallas as heavy underdogs and had the tough task of matching up against the team with the Western Conference’s best home record. Without starting goaltender Carey Price available, with star defenceman Shea Weber ruled out late in the afternoon due to a lower-body injury, the odds were stacked heavily against them. And yet they had spent the first 39 minutes strangling the life out of the Stars offence, plugging up the neutral zone, and frustrating them at every turn.

Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher scored his ninth goal of the season with less than eight minutes remaining in the second period. He and his teammates were comfortably in the driver’s seat. Even after they allowed the goals from Shore and Spezza, they had an intermission to regroup and 20 minutes to get themselves back into the game.

So you have to wonder how the Canadiens came out of the gate in the third period looking like a downtrodden, discouraged group. They had two power plays in the opening seven minutes of the period and recorded only four shots on net through the first 14. A push came in the 15th minute, another power play was earned, and some glorious chances were missed by Montreal’s secondary scorers.

The Canadiens spent almost all of the final three minutes of the game in their own zone before two of Dallas’ top players, Tyler Seguin and former Canadien Alexander Radulov, combined on an empty-net goal and put them out of their misery.

When Julien was asked how he felt his top line of Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin and Max Pacioretty performed, he quipped in French, "Just look at the stat sheet."

They are the guys you look towards to pull you up by the bootstraps when things get hairy, and they combined for a whopping one shot on net, which came off Pacioretty’s stick in the first period. Drouin won two of 10 faceoffs, had zero shot attempts, and unquestionably played his worst game of the season. And Galchenyuk missed the net three times and ended up looking like a ping pong ball trying to figure out which man to cover on the backbreaking goal scored by Spezza.

The rest of the team performed admirably under the circumstances. They played hard—and to the best of their limited ability—with their two best players sidelined by injury.

"Considering the adversity of the situation, we played well enough to win the game 1-0 and one minute of the game cost us the whole thing," said Julien, who argued that Stars captain Jamie Benn should’ve been assessed a penalty for breaking his stick on a crosscheck on Gallagher before Shore found the back of the net to tie the game 1-1.

But Julien wasn’t using that as an excuse for why his team managed to fall back into what has to be considered one of the worst habits in the NHL this season.

"When you get scored on, the biggest thing you gotta do is push back," he said. "Right now it’s not happening, so we gotta keep working on that."

And…

"Our best players have to be our best players. It’s as simple as that," Julien added.

We’ll see what they offer in Nashville, against the Predators on Wednesday.