OTTAWA—It was a sensational setting for a hockey game, with just under 34,000 people there to witness it.
The snow globe effect kicked in as things wore on, the noise level kicked up a few decibels, and the light shone bright—particularly on the hometown Senators, who emerged with a 3-0 win in the Scotiabank NHL 100 Classic.
It was memorable, unless you were a member of the losing Montreal Canadiens, who did virtually nothing through 57 minutes of the game to make things turn out different.
"We obviously want to get some sustained zone pressure, but we always wait until our backs are against the wall to do so," said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, who generated his team’s best chance of the game after it was well out of reach. "I don’t know if it’s a mindset or what guys have to do to create this, but it’s just far too easy to play against."
It was a cinch for the Senators, who came into the game having won just two of their last 14 games. Not to take anything away from them, but they got no contest from the Canadiens in any of the areas you expect to face a battle in over the course of a hockey game.
In the faceoff dot, the Canadiens lost 29 of the first 35 battles. On the 36th, Montreal centre Phillip Danault pulled a puck back to defenceman David Schlemko and Senators forward Tom Pyatt stole it right off his stick and passed it to Erik Karlsson, who sent it right off teammate Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s stick and over goaltender Carey Price’s shoulder.
Less than five minutes later, when the second period came to a close, the shots were 29-16 Senators, and the Canadiens had generated exactly zero of theirs from the high-danger zone in front of Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson.
Even so, the Canadiens had a chance to flip the script in the third period because of the miracles Price turned in.
There he was in the first period, stopping Gabriel Dumont on a clean break, battling Bobby Ryan for position to freeze a loose puck in front of him, fighting off the Senators onslaught and keeping things even.
Price made remarkable saves in the second period—none better than the two on Ryan and Mike Hoffman while the Senators were on an early power play. And after Pageau opened the scoring, Price pushed his way from one end of his crease to the other to get the shaft of his stick on what looked like a sure goal for Matt Duchene on a two-on-one rush.
But the Canadiens needed 11 shots to get any kind of quality opportunity on Anderson after that, and only two of their last three of the third period would’ve qualified as something dangerous.
"We needed a blue collar attitude tonight and the blue collar attitude wasn’t good enough," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien.
And who’s going to provide that, if not the team’s supposed offensive leaders?
At the other end, Karlsson put in a herculean effort—playing more than half the game, recording an assist, seven shots on net and blocking eight from the Canadiens.
But Pacioretty, who had one goal in his last 14 games coming into Saturday’s, did little to generate another until the Canadiens were down 2-0 and had an extra attacker on the ice with less than two minutes to go.
Jonathan Drouin, who won three of his six faceoffs, made the worst play of the game when he gave away a puck right in front of Price for the goal Ryan scored to make it 2-0 with 2:58 left, and he finished without recording a single shot from less than 20 feet away.
Linemate Alex Galchenyuk was credited with two giveaways and failed to get a shot on goal.
Brendan Gallagher has been beyond reproach this season, leading the Canadiens in goals (13), points (19) and plays made in the trenches (all of them), but was largely ineffective over a shockingly low 12:46 of ice-time.
When Julien was asked for his evaluation, he said, "Not good enough, obviously."
"We didn’t score and we didn’t win the game," Julien added. "We need more and we need to create more and we need to create more from the inside, and you see some nights we have that and tonight we didn’t. Until we figure that out and become more consistent in that area, that’s what you’re going to see. We have the ability, and consistency is a big part of the game we’ve gotta find. When we do those things well, we’re a good hockey club, and when we don’t, we see opportunities like that fade away."
And in the grand scheme of things, Montreal’s inconsistency has led to many more forgettable nights than memorable ones this season.
The opportunity to play outdoors and in commemoration of the first hockey game played in the NHL—a 7-4 win for Montreal over another incarnation of the Senators—should’ve been something to savour for the boys in bleu, blanc et rouge.
As Pacioretty said, the -11 weather and the conditions of the ice had nothing to do with why it turned out to be one they’d prefer to never revisit.