MONTREAL — It’s a moment Jonathan Drouin will never forget.
On Tuesday, before the Montreal Canadiens dropped their third consecutive game — this one by a score of 3-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks — Drouin finally got to experience something he’d waited the better part of his life for: Bell Centre public address announcer Michel Lacroix belting out his name in the player introductions at the team’s home opener.
The crowd roared, Lacroix paused for a couple more beats than he did with any other player, and the ovation got louder and louder for the kid from a town that’s just 70 kilometres north of Montreal.
“It was awesome,” Drouin said after the game.
A special moment, no doubt, played out in front of family and friends who had waited just as long as Drouin had to experience it.
But as the 22-year-old from St. Agathe, Que., also acknowledged on Tuesday, nothing would’ve been more special than to have heard Lacroix’s booming voice call his name for a goal as part of a Canadiens win. It hasn’t happened since Drouin was traded to Montreal this past summer. His one goal in the pre-season came in Quebec City, and his shootout winner in the Canadiens’ season opener came in Buffalo.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying.
Drouin did everything he could to reverse his fortunes on Tuesday. He was a firefly in the Blackhawks zone, weaving in and out of traffic, charging the net with authority, and dangling around defenders to uncork a team-leading six shots at Hawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Ultimately he came up empty.
In a lot of ways, his night was a microcosm of what we’ve seen from the Canadiens in the early going of this season.
They are now 1-3-0, have averaged close to 40 shots per game and outshot and out-chanced their opponents in all of them, and have only four goals to show for their efforts.
It looked like the story was going to shift early on in the first period, when Montreal got a goal from Tomas Plekanec 1:15 into the game. He had stolen the puck and blindly fired it past an unsuspecting Crawford from above the right faceoff circle. It was the kind of bounce the Canadiens had been hoping for and they followed it up with a barrage that gave them a 14-2 lead in shots before the game was barely 10 minutes old.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien had said in the morning that he wanted to see more players going to the net, doing the greasy work in the trenches that leads to goals being scored in the NHL. They obliged through the first 17 minutes of the period.
And then Blackhawks rookie Alex DeBrincat found the back of Carey Price’s net with a one-timer from 45 feet out exactly 19 seconds before teammate Brandon Saad scored his fifth of the season on a perfect three-way passing play with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik.
The Canadiens finished the first period with 16 shots and trailed by a goal. They finished the game with 42 and were left once again trying to explain the unexplainable.
“Luck is something, I think, on the outside that can be said,” said Julien. “I don’t think you can use that as an excuse. There’s no doubt that there’s a couple of times where you’ve seen like, ‘Wow, we didn’t get a break here or there.’ But you can’t rely on that; you gotta fight through it. That’s what I want us to do. I want us to fight through.
“Using excuses, we don’t want excuses. We want solutions. That’s how you become a hard team and a mentally strong team as well because you’re going to face, at times during the year … we’ve gotta be able to face those kinds of adversity the right way.
“We could use a little bit of puck luck, no doubt. But there’s more we can do, I think, as far as maybe getting some confidence.”
It’s fairly difficult to pinpoint what exactly the Canadiens should do about this situation. Even if it’s consensus they aren’t going to the net enough or obstructing the view of the opposing goaltender enough or exercising the patience to make better plays than the ones they are choosing, they’re getting enough quality chances to score more than one goal per game.
They’ve had 14 power plays — including five in Tuesday’s game — and come up empty. They’ve had zero issues breaking the zone and setting themselves up, zero issues getting the puck to the net, and they have zero to show for it.
“We were dominating, cycling the puck, getting shots from D and lines,” said Drouin. “As a team and as a player, too, when the puck’s not going in maybe you tighten the stick or you think a little bit too much. But I think tonight that was not the case. Hopefully moving forward it’s not the case, either. I think we’re playing pretty well and the puck’s not going in.”
The Canadiens will have to hope the dam bursts on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have started off this year’s campaign as the most offensively dominant team in the NHL. It’ll be a bonus for Drouin if he ends up being at the helm of that breakout.
At least two people believe strongly in that possibility.
“I know I’ll break through soon,” said Drouin. “I know we will. We have to.”
“I have no doubt I’ll be calling his name out for a goal in the near future,” he said as he left the Bell Centre.