A good effort, a heartbreaking loss, a key player injured; this is some recurring nightmare the Montreal Canadiens are suffering through this season.
On Saturday, they took a 1-0 lead on Ryan Poehling’s first goal in the NHL since Jan. 13, 2020, knocked the Detroit Red Wings back on their heels and were about to escape the first period unscathed before catastrophe struck.
Jeff Petry turned the puck over deep in the offensive zone. Doubling back towards his own net, he was trailing one of the NHL’s fastest players, Dylan Larkin, on an end-to-end rush, and he caught up to him right as he was making a play towards the net and shoved him into Jake Allen.
Could Larkin have braced himself on the play and minimized the damage down to Montreal’s goaltender? The officials didn’t think so.
Neither did we, and Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme didn’t sound all too convinced it was his fault.
“Larkin was coming quick,” Ducharme told reporters on site. “There was a movement from Petry at the same time. It happened fast. Could he have avoided the goaltender? It happened fast…”
Allen’s mask went flying off his head, and his head went flying into the post, leaving him down behind the goal line and clearly stunned.
How the situation left Samuel Montembeault was almost as concerning, because he instantly became one of two inexperienced goaltenders tasked with carrying the Canadiens back to respectability -- a road that seems untravellable considering their 4-10-2 record.
The 25-year-old backup to the backup hasn’t won a game in the NHL since Feb. 11, 2020, and he wasn’t much closer after allowing goals the first two shots he faced in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings.
The first one came off Larkin’s stick -- a great shot from an impossible angle Montembeault later said he should’ve stopped. That was at 2:36 of the second period.
Detroit’s second came 45 seconds later -- a wrister from Pius Suter that trickled in off Montembeault’s glove and deflated the Canadiens.
“I had already allowed the first shot and after that I started thinking about it,” he told reporters after the game. “The second shot then comes from the slot.”
Montembeault couldn’t stop it, but he settled in well from there and made 22 stops on the next 22 shots he faced.
Unfortunately for him, Larkin finished the game off on Detroit’s only shot in overtime.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, it turned what should’ve been a win into yet another loss and yet another failed opportunity to string wins together for the first time this season.
Now they must forge on without Allen.
Ducharme wouldn’t say outright that the 31-year-old suffered a concussion on the play in question, but he did admit that, after Allen was pulled from the game by concussion spotters, he didn’t do well enough on baseline tests to return.
You can rule Allen out against the Bruins in Boston on Sunday and, though Ducharme said he’ll require further testing to determine whether or not he is indeed concussed, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll be out of action for at least the next little while.
That’s just the stuff this Canadiens season has been made of so far. All of it -- Petry’s struggles manifesting themselves in an all-encompassing way, on a play that began with him turning over the puck for no reason and ended with Allen seeing stars; a crucial player down for who knows how long, like Jonathan Drouin and Joel Edmundson before him; untimely errors leading to unforgiveable goals against; and a loss.
Another. Damn. Loss.
Montembeault has now suffered three with the Canadiens and five in a row dating back to two seasons ago.
Cayden Primeau, who was recalled from the Laval Rocket before Ducharme hit the makeshift podium at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday, has been playing good hockey in the AHL.
But the 22-year-old has just two wins in six NHL starts and it’s asking a bit much for him to come in right now and play saviour.
From what we’ve been told, it could be up to three weeks before Carey Price resumes that role -- and that’s assuming he progresses well enough physically with each step he takes towards fully rehabbing from off-season knee surgery and making up for lost time on the conditioning front.
And considering Price only returned to the Canadiens at the beginning of this week after spending 30 days in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, it would be perfectly understandable if it took him longer to be in the proper headspace to start playing again.
So, things aren’t about to get easier for this team.
They were hard again on this night -- another one that left them saying they liked their process, but not the result.
The Canadiens dominated the Vegas Golden Knights last Saturday before somehow losing 5-2. They played well enough to beat the Los Angeles Kings before losing 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday. They took momentum out of a galvanizing win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday into Saturday’s game in Detroit and even responded well to the events that went against them.
Montembeault rebounded, Artturi Lehkonen made a genius play from his back to set up Chris Wideman’s game-tying goal 2:33 into the third period, and the Canadiens dominated the rest of the game before the last shot found the back of their net.
“There are no moral victories,” said Wideman, and he was right.
There’s only the same bad dream for this team.