MONTREAL—Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to the way things happen in a hockey game and that was the case at the Bell Centre Thursday night.
The Montreal Canadiens threw 74 shots in the direction of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick and 45 hit him. He stopped every one of them, becoming the first goaltender to shut out Montreal this season.
Los Angeles scored two goals on 19 shots they landed on Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon, and they scored a third on their 20th shot—this one into an empty net.
The Kings, who are the best possession team in the NHL, were held to 15 shots for by the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 13. The only other time they’ve been held to less than 21 shots was during their season-opener.
What could the Canadiens have done better? Was it a question of Montreal not generating quality chances? Not generating enough traffic in front of Quick?
“Everyone’s saying we’re not getting to the net, not getting dirty chances, but I mean if I watched that tape tonight I’d probably be surprised by the second and third chances we got,” said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty. “I got up and wiped snow off my pants a dozen times in the third period.”
His memory wasn’t deceiving him minutes after this devastating loss — the sixth in Montreal’s last seven games. Pacioretty had seven shots on net plus another four that missed or were blocked, and he was all over Quick’s crease in the third period.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was satisfied with his team’s work in front of the net.
“Yeah, we got net-front presence,” said Therrien.
Moments earlier in his press conference, Montreal’s bench boss took a breath, pushed aside the disappointment of another tough result and expressed his gratitude for the effort his team has provided throughout this skid.
“When you get chances, when you throw a lot of pucks to the net, when you compete hard, that’s all you can ask,” said Therrien. “Our guys worked extremely hard. They deserve a lot more. This stretch, it’s going to make us better. I gotta be objective about the way we play, even if the wins are not there.
For sure the guys, I’m sure they’re frustrated. They worked hard, they deserved to get the win, they didn’t get the win. One thing I know as a coach, it’s going to make us stronger.”
Therrien did his part to light the fuse, too.
He pushed centre Alex Galchenyuk to the right of Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty for the third period, and the three of them were absolutely dynamic together.
Pacioretty and Galchenyuk all but dismantled the theory that two failed games next to each other a week ago was evidence they weren’t meant to play together.
“People have said that to me, and I’m not one to argue, but I don’t really care what people think about my chemistry with him,” said Pacioretty. “I’ve had great chemistry with him. Tonight was an example of that. We played a period together in New Jersey as well.”
The captain was referring to a game on Nov. 27 when he, Galchenyuk and Plekanec hooked up to help the Canadiens win 3-2.
If they stick together Saturday against the NHL’s top-scoring team in Dallas, the Canadiens might find a way to put some pucks in after only managing 15 goals in their last nine games. They might find a way to jump-start the power-play that’s now been blanked on 19 straight attempts.
“I think as an individual you gotta want to be the difference,” said Pacioretty. “You don’t want to be satisfied with just getting a shot or just getting a chance, you should want to be the difference.”
P.K. Subban, who always wants to be the difference, sees the Canadiens as a Stanley Cup contender. They may not currently look like one as they’ve struggled since injuries hit reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy-winner Carey Price and heart-and-soul forward Brendan Gallagher, but Subban believes they have a chance to prove just how good they can be on the eight-game road trip they now embark on.
“The Stars, the Predators, the Wild — I’ve looked at the schedule,” said Subban. “We play Washington, Tampa and Florida too on this trip. We can prove what we’re made of.”
The Bridgestone Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins on New Year’s Day is the penultimate game before a date with the Devils on Jan. 5.
A lot can change between now and then.
“It’s just really sh—- not getting results,” said Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu after Thursday’s loss.
But he wasn’t offering rhyme or reason as to how that came to be. Because he couldn’t.