MONTREAL — Without their No. 1 goaltender, their No. 1 defenceman and their No. 1 centre, the Montreal Canadiens took 41 shots, had the lion’s share of the scoring chances and had two goals disallowed in a 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.
They deserved better, but were undone by a Jason Zucker hat trick—and the calls that didn’t go their way.
Canadiens defenceman Karl Alzner batted a puck out of midair for a goal that was deemed a high stick and disallowed at 6:21 of the first period. Forward Charles Hudon had one count, only to be called back for goaltender interference with five minutes remaining in the game and with his team trailing by two goals.
"I’m disappointed, and I think with reason," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien in French about Hudon’s overturned goal. "What I saw is that Charles Hudon had his foot in the crease and maybe it gave their goaltender a hard time making the first save. But I think on the loose puck their player pushed him pretty much into the net and that’s where Charles was able to get the rebound and put it in the net. So I think what I saw was a good goal.
"The first one [from Alzner]—I guess there wasn’t enough evidence to show that he made contact under the bar. I thought it was under the bar, but it’s a part of the game. It’s a decision from Toronto. If the refs had called a goal originally, it would’ve counted as one."
Call it another layer of adversity for a team that didn’t need any more of it on Thursday.
Canadiens starter Carey Price suffered a suspected knee injury against the Wild seven days prior, defenceman Shea Weber suffered a minor lower-body injury at practice on Wednesday, and centre Jonathan Drouin went down with a minor upper-body injury in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Price was never an option for Thursday’s game, but Weber and Drouin were likely to play, right up until they showed up to the Bell Centre and were ruled ineligible by the team’s medical staff.
"We talked about it before the game, we wanted to show character," said Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk, who notched eight shots on net in 15:34 of ice time. "We battled great out there but unfortunately didn’t get the win."
To a man, that was the case.
Canadiens third-string goaltender Charlie Lindgren had come into the game a perfect 5-0 in his NHL career and made the first six stops of the night. He was outstanding throughout—particularly on three shots from Eric Staal, and was beaten on a beautiful move by Zucker on a shorthanded breakaway at the 2:46 mark of the third period and by a nice tip from him just under nine minutes later.
Zucker’s third goal was scored into an empty net.
Joe Morrow, who had been used largely as Montreal’s seventh defenceman through the team’s first 16 games, played over 19 minutes, had four shots on net, a total of eight attempts and made three huge shot blocks in Weber’s absence. And Jeff Petry logged a season-high 27:28 with the vetern sidelined.
Tomas Plekanec and Phillip Danault took the yeoman’s share of Drouin’s responsibilities and kept the pressure on Minnesota’s defence for the majority of the night. Even Torrey Mitchell, who had been used as the team’s 13th forward for the majority of the season, got into the act with five shot attempts—a couple of them being among the best scoring chances the Canadiens had in the game.
But the home team fell short of collecting their first win against the Wild since Nov. 8, 2014.
Weber proved difficult to replace. How so?
"Defensively, just his ability to squash plays," said Alzner. "He can stop a cycle single-handedly where a lot of guys can’t do that, whether it’s with his stick or physically… For a couple of shifts where they were throwing the puck around and around and around, he’s a guy that can stop that and that’s a lot to miss. And offensively, there’s obviously tons of respect [from the opposition] when he gets the puck, and guys find a way to get out of the lanes."
Drouin was a big loss, too.
"Jo’s been really good this year," said Alzner. "He’s our No. 1 puck possession guy. He’s a guy that creates, gets space and puts guys in positions to score goals or at least get good opportunities. It’s tough when he’s not in there, and we’re starting to realize how important he is to the team."
And seeing the red goal light go on twice at the opposing end of the rink with no goals to show for it stung the Canadiens and left Julien perplexed.
"I’d say no [we don’t know what to expect on goaltender interference]," said Julien. "I just saw another goal from New Jersey—with their player falling on top of the other goalie, and it was a good goal. I didn’t get a chance to look at it two-three times. I’m just… no [I don’t know what to expect]. Trust me, we had some good referees out there tonight, veteran referees [Dan O’Halloran and Kevin Pollock], and they all make mistakes like everybody else. They admitted it on [Morrow’s tripping penalty, where Wild forward Nino Niederreiter fell without being touched], and that’s fine. I respect that part of it, especially when they say, ‘Listen, you know, I blew that call.’
"But again, what I’m saying is that every call that’s being reviewed is a 50-50 situation. We really don’t know what’s going to happen because you’ll see one day it’s going to be a good goal; the next day it looks like it’s same thing but the referees who are reviewing it see it differently. That’s what we have to accept for the time being."