Canadiens must find emotion from start to finish to salvage season

Adrian Kempe scored in OT as the Los Angeles Kings edged the Montreal Canadiens 3-2.

MONTREAL — Michael Pezzetta chased Brendan Lemieux all over the ice before taking the bait — and a second consecutive penalty for trying to rough him up.

This time, Pezzetta went to the penalty box all by himself.

The two had served coincidental minors just before that and they were running their mouths at each other for the entire two minutes. When they came out, a fight seemed imminent, but Lemieux turtled when Pezzetta challenged him and the rest of his Montreal Canadiens simmered with rage on the bench as Pezzatta was directed back to the box.

They were trailing 2-1 with just over 12 minutes to play and Pezzetta looking on from across them. It was as his penalty was expiring that the rage on their bench finally transferred to the ice, right through Alex Romanov’s body as the young defenceman curled into a thunderous hit and knocked Los Angeles’ Rasmus Kupari flat on his back.

Jake Evans turned Tobias Björnfoot inside out and roofed a puck into Cal Petersen’s net to tie the game 2-2 a little more than three minutes after that happened. He had capitalized on a few waves of momentum the Canadiens had built with pure emotion.

They kept it going, shift after shift, hemming the Kings in and forcing them into several mistakes — including a penalty from former Canadien Phillip Danault with 2:12 to go.

From the second Romanov threw that hit to the second this one ended with a nice play by Adrian Kempe in overtime to make it 3-2 Kings, the Canadiens out-shot their opponents 13-3 and generated enough quality chances to win this game outright.

What’s hard to understand is why it took so long for them to ignite that fire.

This is a team that came into Tuesday’s contest with 10 losses in 13 games. A team playing against a tired Kings group that extended its winning streak to five games with a 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs while the Canadiens were cooling their heels at home Monday night.

They should have started off with the type of energy they finished with.

Not that the Canadiens started poorly. They scored the opening goal thanks to Ben Chiarot and they tilted the ice enough to probably pad the lead before 20 minutes were done.

But Montreal’s passion wasn’t on the same level, and their game degenerated shortly thereafter.

What happened to close out the second period was not only perplexing, but inexcusable.

“It’s something we need to get straightened out,” said Chiarot. “Second period, it’s almost kinda like we get back on our heels for some reason.”

The Canadiens took a penalty and were outshot 8-0 over the final seven minutes of the middle frame. As coach Dominique Ducharme put it, there was as much to take out of that sequence as there was the way they played after Romanov rocked Kupari.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “We gave momentum to the other team with execution, decisions that were made.

“When we try to make the game more complicated than it is, sometimes that’s where we bite ourselves.”

The Canadiens have bitten themselves so much this season, there’s barely any meat left on the bone.

With 68 games to go, and such a steep climb up the standings needed to re-enter the playoff conversation, they have to find a way to get the emotion they showed towards the end into their game from start to finish. They can make life simpler for themselves by focusing on that more than anything else.

At least the Canadiens took a step in that direction with that sequence. At least they have some tape to review what it looks like when they push as hard as they should.

“I was happy with the way we were kind of able to recapture the momentum — something we’ve had a little bit of trouble doing when we lose it in games,” said Chiarot. “One of the best games I’ve seen Romy play, Pezzetta trying to do what he has to do for the team, and I thought both of those things kind of got us back in the fight.”

There are so many more of “those things” that need to happen for the Canadiens to not be forced into having to get “back in the fight.”

They’ve trailed going into the third period in an NHL-leading eight of their 14 games. They’ve given up a league-leading 18 goals in the middle frame. And these stats have as much to do with their effort and passion level as they do faulty execution.

On this night, it didn’t cost the Canadiens then and there, but they still paid for it to start the third when Alex Iaffalo blew by David Savard and shot a puck through Jake Allen to make it 2-1 Kings.

They collected a point, but it takes more of what they showed at the end — and less of what they showed in the middle — to finish with two.

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