Canadiens fire too many blanks in 5-2 loss to Canucks at Bell Centre

Juraj Slafkovsky and Josh Anderson combine for 13 shots between them for Habs, but both remain in scoring slumps.

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The Canadiens’ Juraj Slafkovsky had a game-high seven shots and teammate Josh Anderson had six in Sunday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre, but neither of them was able to score.

That’s a big reason why the Canadiens lost 5-2, dropping their record to 7-6-2.

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The Canadiens’ record would probably be better if Slafkovsky had more than one goal this season and if Anderson had scored any goals.

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Conor Garland, Ilya Mikheyev, Dakota Joshua, Brock Boeser and Phillip Di Giuseppe scored for the Canucks, who improved to 11-3-1, with the last two goals empty-netters. Mike Matheson (power play) and Arber Xhekaj scored for the Canadiens. The Canucks outshot the Canadiens 37-32.

After a scoreless first period, the Canucks got three goals in the second period before Matheson got the Canadiens on the board at 6:46 of the third period with his fourth goal of the season. The Canucks then got their first empty-net goal at 18:30 before Xhekaj scored his first of the season at 19:11 and then the Canucks got their second empty-netter with 18 seconds left on the clock.

The seven shots for Slafkovsky were a career high for the 19-year-old in his second NHL season.

“I know I got to shoot more,” he said after the game. “It’s coming from me, it’s coming from pretty much everyone around me. They’re trying to tell me to shoot. … I’m trying to shoot more.”

Slafkovsky has only one goal in his last 36 games dating back to last season. Anderson scored 21 goals in 69 games last season, but he’s still looking for his first this season after 15 games. Last season, the longest stretch Anderson went without a goal was seven games.

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The thing is, Anderson has been playing very well this season and is getting lots of chances to score. He had a great chance four minutes into the third period against the Canucks on a partial breakaway when he was slashed by defenceman Tyler Myers, who was penalized. It was the league-leading 14th penalty that Anderson has drawn this season.

“He’s working, skating well,” head coach Martin St. Louis said about Anderson. “He’s got a good attitude. He’s drawing a lot of penalties. … I know Josh is very streaky and when he’s going to get one he’s going to get a lot. It’s just to try and find the first one.”

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Anderson can try again when the Canadiens play the Calgary Flames on Tuesday at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). So can Slafkovsky.

“I think they’re hungry to find some success,” St. Louis said about Anderson and Slafkovsky. “But they have a good attitude about it. I thought Slaf played a really good game tonight.

“Life’s hard,” the coach added. “Sometimes you do everything right and I always say winning’s not loyal. You can do everything right, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win, and right now Josh is doing a lot of good things, he’s just not winning right now. Sometimes you almost have to laugh at it a little bit and just keep at it.”

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Cole Caufield is also in a bit of a scoring slump with only one goal in the last eight games. Three of his five goals this season have come in three-on-three overtime.

On the bright side for the Canadiens, they went 1-for-2 on the power play against Vancouver and killed off both Canucks power plays. The Canadiens have now scored at least one power-play goal in 12 of their 15 games this season and they rank 10th in the NHL on the power play with a 23 per cent success rate. Xhekaj’s late goals means the Canadiens have scored at least two goals in every game this season.

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If Slafkovsky and Anderson can start scoring that would certainly help the Canadiens, who were coming off an impressive 3-2 overtime win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

“We’ve played some really good hockey and we’ve shown that when we’re on our game we can play with anyone,” goalie Jake Allen said after stopping 32 of the 35 shots he faced from the Canucks. “It’s doing it consistently. That’s going to be the biggest challenge for us throughout the year and building the next couple of years. But it’s a good first building block for the first month, no doubt.

Allen also had praise for Anderson.

“The thing is, he’s playing amazing,” the goalie said. “You can’t discredit him for effort, anything. He’s been one of our best players all year. It’s just the nature of the game … it’s the nature of the beast. It’s just s— luck. It’s going to come. He’s playing too good for it not to come. He works so hard every day. It’s tough on him but, at the same time, I think he’s old enough now he realizes he’s doing the right things. It’s going to break.”

The sooner the better for the Canadiens.

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