For the first time in seven games, the Montreal Canadiens lost in regulation.
On Tuesday, they suffered a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who entered the game ranked 31st in the National Hockey League in the goals-for category (45).
The clincher? A shot Emil Bemstrom put off the dasher behind Montreal’s net.
The puck bounced up in the air and Carey Price turned around to stop it, but instead batted the puck into the net with his blocker and chest protector.
You don’t see that happen too often.
With that, it was 3-2 Columbus. They got goals from Boone Jenner and Pierre-Luc Dubois to get to 5-2.
It was an odd game. The 11-6-4 Canadiens lost it despite clearly being the better team through most of the night.
You want evidence? Three of Montreal’s four lines controlled over 60 per cent of the shot attempts. The top line of Tomas Tatar-Phillip Danault-Brendan Gallagher controlled 76 per cent of the shot attempts, and the line of Artturi Lehkonen-Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Jordan Weal was just under 50 per cent in the category.
And it’s not like the Canadiens were firing from 60 feet out. They had several quality chances in tight and failed to capitalize on them (all due respect to Joonas Korpisalo, who made 30 saves for Columbus).
Gallagher had five shot attempts and all five were quality scoring chances. The Canadiens’ leading goal scorer rarely misses that many in a game.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY:
A loss is a loss, but the way the Canadiens played wasn’t the only positive for them to take out of it.
Joel Armia had six goals in his first nine games and then none over his next nine. And Artturi Lehkonen, who had the sixth-most scoring chances on the Canadiens through the first 20 games, but came into this one with just two goals on the season. To say the timing was right for both of these players to hit the board would be understating it.
With the news dropping earlier Tuesday that Jonathan Drouin’s wrist surgery will keep him out of action for a minimum of eight weeks, and that Paul Byron’s knee surgery will have him sidelined for approximately one month, the Canadiens were going to need players such as Armia and Lehkonen to step up. They did.
It was also a very strong game for Max Domi, despite a third period penalty the Blue Jackets capitalized on to make it 4-2. He made several quality plays in transition and in the offensive zone, and if he keeps doing that, his scoring drought is likely to end in short order.
As it stands, Domi has only one goal in his last 16 games and hasn’t scored in his last eight. But the chemistry is building between him, Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia.
• Here’s what Charles Hudon said ahead of his second game with Montreal this season:
“I worked on new ways to play with (Laval Rocket coach) Joel Bouchard,” he started. “I want to bring that into the NHL. I played two good periods against New Jersey (Saturday) and I want to build on that. I want to show a new version of my game. I’ve been working hard since the start of the year in Laval. My style brings a lot offensively, so I’d say it’s helping me.”
The differences are tangible. He’s not forcing plays at the offensive blue line, he’s moving his feet and avoiding taking bad penalties in the neutral zone, and he’s playing responsibly at both ends. He’s playing the percentages and earning trust. If he keeps playing this way, it bodes well for his NHL future — whether that’s in Montreal or elsewhere.
• Suzuki played a season-high 18:04 against New Jersey on Saturday and extended his point streak to three games. On Tuesday in Columbus, he played 16:04 and was one of the best players on the ice.
Suzuki may only be 20, but the way he plots his way around the ice shows he’s wise beyond his years. As far as his positioning is concerned, he plays the game like a 10-year NHL vet — and not a rookie. The way he supports the puck all over the ice is proof positive of how far ahead of the curve he is.
• Price came into Tuesday’s game having allowed two or less goals in his last three starts. Four games back he allowed three on 43 shots. His save percentage over those four games: .935.
On Tuesday, it just appeared Price had a hard time staying mentally sharp. That can happen when you go long periods without seeing a shot on goal and then all of a sudden are facing one on a quality scoring chance.
Price made some very good saves in the game, but the opening goal from Eric Robinson was one that went right through him, and the one from Bemstrom was a killer.
The Canadiens return to Montreal, where they’ll face the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre on Wednesday.
(NOTE: Advanced statistics cited in this article came from www.naturalstattrick.com)