MONTREAL—By the end of the game, the Montreal Canadiens had recorded 40 shots on net and scored zero goals.
The effort was there, the execution wasn’t.
Result? 3-0 Los Angeles Kings.
The thing is, even if the Canadiens follow through on their plans, they’re going to have a hard time scoring goals on any given night. They’re going to have a hard time preventing them, too.
They are a team made of fast, hard working, and relentless players, but the talent discrepancy between them and their competition is going to be an obstacle on most nights—and that’s an undeniable reality.
Here’s another: They are the smallest and lightest team in the NHL, and the Kings are the fifth-tallest and third-heaviest.
The Canadiens might have overcome that by gaining the lead and dictating the style of game, but they weren’t able to do that on this night.
"They clogged it up pretty good," said Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher after the game. "We spotted them a two-goal lead and that’s what they wanted. It was just too tough to create offence and we got the result we deserved."
The Kings had four quality chances en route to being out-shot 26-16 through two periods. They also had that two-goal lead Gallagher was referring to thanks to quick strikes from Adrian Kempe and Michael Amadio.
L.A.’s Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Ilya Kovalchuk and Drew Doughty controlled the middle of the ice. Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar and Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a hard time finding it. It’s why only 15 of Montreal’s 40 shots came from within 30 feet of Kings goaltender Jack Campbell’s net.
Only three of those 15 shots came from within 10 feet.
"Their goalie had an easy night," said Gallagher. "He made saves, obviously didn’t make mistakes. I’m taking nothing away from him, but, I mean, there’s always ways to score goals and we didn’t do a good enough job of making it tough on him, getting inside their defencemen and battling. Too many times it was one and done, and we have a team that should be pretty good at that but for whatever reason we didn’t really play to our strengths tonight."
Rust was certainly a factor.
The Canadiens had been idle since a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last Saturday, and it would be impossible to suggest they were as sharp on this night as they looked on that one—or as they appeared in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs that opened their season last Wednesday.
But too many days off in a row doesn’t tell the whole story here.
The fact is, the Canadiens are going to need a lot of things to go right for them to beat bigger, better teams like the Kings with any modicum of consistency.
They may surprise people—they certainly caught the Leafs and Penguins off guard to start their season—but they aren’t going to shock the hockey world.
The night started with an ode to a team that did exactly that 25 years ago, with the 1993 Stanley Cup-winning Canadiens honoured in a touching ceremony before the puck dropped.
No one expected they’d be the team to accomplish the feat that year. The Penguins were coming off back-to-back championships and dominated the regular season by collecting 119 points in the standings. Those Canadiens? They had 102 points and finished below the Quebec Nordiques and Boston Bruins in their own division.
By the time that team ran through the playoffs on the strength of 10 overtime wins, the narrative was that they had won solely on the strength of goaltender Patrick Roy’s performance.
It prevails to this day, even if the Canadiens had what former scorer Brian Bellows referred to earlier in the night as a defence that could win today’s Stanley Cup—one made up of great players like Eric Desjardins, Matthew Schneider and Lyle Odelein, and serviceable ones in Jean-Jacques Daigneault, Rob Ramage and Patrice Brisebois.
"We were a pretty well-balanced team," said Serge Savard, the architect and general manager of the ’93 team.
Between Bellows, Kirk Muller, Guy Carbonneau, Vincent Damphousse, Denis Savard and John LeClair, they had the size and the scoring ability to compete with anyone. Mike Keane, Stephan Lebeau, Gilbert Dionne, Paul DiPietro, Ed Ronan brought grit and depth.
They were a crew this current edition of the Canadiens can draw inspiration from. They came together as a team, firing on all cylinders when it mattered most, losing only four games all post-season. And they defied expectations in every way.
But this team, which has come together nicely and has appeared very committed in the early part of this season, is far from comparing to that one, even if they have a goaltender in Carey Price that can perform the type of miracles Roy made a habit of. It just isn’t built for that kind of success.
A game like the one they played against the Kings on Thursday showed it.
"I like their effort," said ’93 alumnus and former left winger Benoit Brunet. "But talent makes the difference and I don’t think they have enough of it yet."