MONTREAL — We wouldn’t call it a slap back to reality, but more of a shove, like the one Brady Tkachuk gave Shea Weber towards the end of their first-period fight in Saturday’s 6-3 win for the Ottawa Senators over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Because there aren’t many — if any — big-picture conclusions to draw from this game, in which Tkachuk got the better of Weber and the rest of Montreal’s best players beat themselves.
Exhibit A: Jeff Petry, who’s played like a Norris Trophy contender for the bulk of this season, finished the game minus-5.
Oh, and though this is most certainly a flawed stat a lot of the time, it was perfectly representative on this occasion, with Petry uncharacteristically fighting the puck as opposed to handling it.
We asked him what he’d take from this game before moving on to Monday’s match against the Edmonton Oilers.
“Nothing,” Petry said.
Probably a good idea for him, and for everyone else in a red sweater.
This game started with Brendan Gallagher, one of Montreal’s most reliable scorers and most disciplined players, missing an excellent scoring chance and taking a double-minor for high-sticking all in one sequence.
Tkachuk made Gallagher pay for that 42 seconds in, with a power-play goal that beat Carey Price clean and easy.
The Canadiens’ No. 1 goaltender was No. 2 to the pucks for much of this night. He made some great saves, but was caught down early on three of the five goals he allowed, with the last of them the most forgettable of the bunch — a flubbed shot by Artem Anisimov that went through him while he swam around on his knees trying to track the play.
In between, despite Tyler Toffoli scoring in his first game back after a three-game layoff with a lower-body injury and Josh Anderson popping two goals to keep the Canadiens tight to the Senators through two periods, this was sloppier than a mud bath for the home side.
“Obviously tonight wasn’t our best performance, let’s be honest,” Anderson said.
It was arguably Montreal’s worst, with a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on March 13 the closest comparable. It started and ended that way, with a careless turnover leading to Drake Batherson’s empty-net goal in the waning minutes of play.
Going back to the beginning, even if Price could’ve been better on the first goal against, both Paul Byron and Weber had control of the puck before it was turned over and then fished out of the back of their net.
With the score tied 1-1, the Canadiens allowed a shorthanded 2-on-1. Gallagher steamed his way back into the play, but instead of taking Nick Paul (the puck carrier), he was angling to catch the uncatchable Connor Brown. Oddly, Petry was in better position to take Brown to the net and let Gallagher close out Paul, but the steady defenceman got caught in no man’s land.
Paul took a low shot and Price steered it right to Brown, who popped it in before the Senators celebrated like they found a c-note in the back pocket of an old pair of shorts.
The line of Gallagher, Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault had double the attempts, double the shots, four times as many high-danger chances and outscored its opponents 9-0 at 5-on-5 over its last six games. In this one, it had some great moments but none that were rewarding, and the Senators out-battled them on the first of Evgenii Dadonov’s two goals.
The second one Dadonov scored, to make it 4-2 just over eight minutes later, was a total gimme — a chance to get a shot off completely unmarked in the middle of the slot, with Petry and Jesperi Kotkaniemi behind the net while Brett Kulak scrambled (unsuccessfully) to make up the deficit in coverage.
“It was a bad night,” said Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme. “We weren’t good. We weren’t good in our execution. We weren’t good without the puck. We weren’t good in battles for the puck. We weren’t good.”
“You’re going to have bad games,” Ducharme added. “It can’t happen too often, but even when you have a bad night you still have to find a way to control the controllable. We gave up gifts tonight. Even on a bad night, you have to be able to manage.”
And if you don’t, it’s best off to flush it immediately and move onto the next one, because the only thing for the Canadiens to take out of Saturday’s loss to the Senators was a bitter feeling.
There’s no sense in letting that linger, not with 22 games to play over the next 38 nights.
“It’s about how we respond now,” said Anderson.
Last time the Canadiens played as poorly, they came back with a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 15. They’d be wise to draw lessons from that ahead of facing the Oilers.