Overmatched Canadiens must move on after one-sided loss to Hurricanes

Brady Skjei, Paul Stastny and Sebastian Aho each scored a goal while Antti Raanta made 14 saves for the shutout, as the Carolina Hurricanes blanked the Montreal Canadiens 3-0.

MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens knew what they were going to be up against at the Bell Centre on Saturday night, and the Carolina Hurricanes came swirling into town and delivered it like a right hand to the mouth.

They didn’t just put the pedal down, they stomped it through the floor of the car, forechecking and cycling the Canadiens into oblivion, generating 83 shot attempts to Montreal’s 25, 50 shots to Montreal’s 14 and three goals to Montreal’s zero. They ultimately made this game feel like a 60-minute bag skate.

No one in bleu, blanc et rouge was surprised.

Before the Hurricanes arrived, Canadiens defenceman Jordan Harris said, “They’re relentless. They play man-on-man all over the ice and just don’t let you breathe for the whole game. They keep coming, wave after wave.”

Coach Martin St. Louis echoed the thought on Friday, implying that the second-winningest team in the NHL plays the league’s most unique style.

“You know that some of your concepts are going to get challenged some nights based on your opponent,” said St. Louis, “and I think the way Carolina plays — on top of you and with a lot of pace — our concepts get stretched because we have to do things so much quicker and under pressure. So, it’s a great exercise if you can do it against that.”

The Canadiens couldn’t, and it would be a stretch to suggest they’re taking anything away from the game other than lactic acid buildup, exhaustion and frustration.

We asked St. Louis what else they could possibly pull in, and he said, “Montembeault,” referencing the Canadiens’ goaltender, who was the only player standing up to the Hurricanes.

Put another way, there’s no grand lesson for the Canadiens in this one.

They couldn’t complete a pass, let alone get in the way of one the Hurricanes were making. They tried and failed, over and over and over again. To see four of their six defencemen finish without a single body check, despite the puck being in Carolina’s possession for the whole night, said much about how this one went.

“I think we got what we deserved,” said Joel Armia, who returned from a 19-game absence with a respiratory infection for this wind sucker.

“I’m trying to move on from it,” said captain Nick Suzuki. “It was frustrating the whole game. Hardly had the puck and when we did, they were on top of us and we were just turning too many pucks over. And when we had possession in the o-zone, we just gave it back to them. So it was just a really frustrating game. Just trying to forget about it.”

Good plan, because the Canadiens have five games left and there’s no point dwelling on this one if they hope to finish the season on a more positive note.

They were overmatched before this game even got underway, and they knew it.

It didn’t help that Rafael Harvey-Pinard was ruled out so he could heal some bumps and bruises that had accumulated.

Not having David Savard, who’s been a heart-and-soul player for the Canadiens all season, was tough as well.

He won’t be back. Neither will Kaiden Guhle, Josh Anderson, Cole Caufield, Juraj Slafkovsky, Christian Dvorak, Arber Xhekaj and (unofficially, but almost certainly) Sean Monahan.

That ridiculous situation didn’t appear to impede the Canadiens’ progress all that much — in terms of their individual development and their growth as a team — before this week. But it appeared to catch up to them on Tuesday, when they suffered a tough loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

It wasn’t much better against the Florida Panthers before the Canadiens got walloped by the Hurricanes on Saturday.

“You can see they’re a team that’s ready to go to the playoffs,” said St. Louis.

His own was mathematically eliminated earlier this week and virtually eliminated before the end of December.

The Canadiens fought hard in games they had no business being in, defied the odds on many nights with a lineup that was seemingly scrapped together with duct tape, but just couldn’t come close to doing it in this one.

You couldn’t blame them for being discouraged.

“I think you kind of see we have a long way to go until we can be competing for the Cup,” said Harris. “I think we see flashes along the way, and that’s really promising.

“But they’re a very good team. They stay in their gameplan and their consistency throughout the whole game is a major thing that we can try to emulate.”

That should be an easier task against Detroit on Tuesday.

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