This is what happens when you present a goaltender with a trophy before the start of the game.
The reluctant-looking Jake Allen was awarded the Molson Cup for the month of October — when the Canadiens’ netminder was very good, going 3-0-1 with a 2.63 average and .930 save percentage — prior to Tuesday night’s encounter against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But once the match started, Allen wasn’t very good.
He allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, only 22 seconds following the opening faceoff, then three more on another eight shots and was on the bench before 14 minutes had elapsed, replaced by Samuel Montembeault, who was everything Allen wasn’t on this night.
Regrettably for Montreal, the four-goal deficit it spotted the Lightning was too much to overcome, although the home side made a valiant attempt in the third period, before Tampa Bay posted a 5-3 victory at the Bell Centre in the Canadiens’ return to home ice following a week-long road trip.
The four goals that beat Allen on the nine shots left him with an ignominious save percentage of .556.
Nicholas Paul paced the Lightning with two goals. Nikita Kucherov, Michael Eyssimont and Alex Barré-Boulet also scored, while captain Steven Stamkos, defenceman Victor Hedman and Brandon Hagel each contributed two assists.
The wonderfully-talented Kucherov added an assist, giving him a team-leading 10 goals and 22 points in 13 games. Kucherov now has four goals and 11 points in his last three games.
The Lightning was playing its second game in as many nights after squandering a 4-1 first-period lead at Toronto on Monday before eventually losing 6-5 in overtime.
And it appeared lightning might strike the Lightning — no pun intended — twice in 24 hours after Montreal captain Nick Suzuki scored a power-play goal nearly seven minutes into the final period, followed by another quick score from Michael Pezzetta, his first this season, 34 seconds later.
But Paul provided the visitors with some breathing room before Christian Dvorak added a late score in the dying seconds, making things somewhat more respectable.
Following a quick start this season — the Canadiens were 5-2-1 after defeating Winnipeg on Oct. 28 — the team has come back to earth and is struggling. Montreal now has gone four games without a win, held to 10 goals in the process. And things don’t figure to get any easier for the Canadiens, with a busy week ahead. Montreal is at Detroit on Thursday, before entertaining Boston and Vancouver this weekend.
Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis admitted his team is fragile and lacks confidence at this juncture of the season. This marked the sixth consecutive game in which Montreal surrendered the opening goal. It also was the third consecutive time the Canadiens lost to a team that had played the previous night.
“Whatever you do on the ice, the actions you take, how about taking care of the team mentality, not necessarily what you want to do at that time,” St. Louis said. “What does the team need you to do at that time? I thought we were pretty good at that. To me, that has slipped away the last few games. That has made us a fragile team right now.
“I feel we found ourselves in the second half of that game and I’m hoping that carries into the next one.”
Tampa Bay converted two of its five power-play opportunities while the Canadiens continue to struggle with the man advantage, going one-for-six.
Veteran defenceman and assistant captain Mike Matheson, who doesn’t appear to be himself this season, had another rough night and was on the ice for all four of the Lightning’s first-period goals. He also was on the ice Saturday for four St. Louis goals.
“Our consistency,” St. Louis said. “We have too many pockets where we let our foot off the gas, miss an assignment and don’t manage the risk. It’s a combination of many things. Teams go through that. You’ve just got to tighten it up.
“Our slow starts (are based on) not managing the risk, being impatient a little bit.”
While Montembeault entered the game under difficult circumstances, he proved resilient, stopping all but one of the 23 shots he faced for a .957 save percentage. He made numerous critical stops or the damage would have been greater. Josh Anderson again was one of the Canadiens’ better players, with a team-leading four shots. His tenacity also provoked the Lightning into taking a pair of penalties. But Anderson is still looking for his first goal this season.
Meanwhile, forward Juraj Slafkovsky, the former first-overall draft choice, was spotted with his right hand wrapped in ice post-game, although the Canadiens didn’t provide information regarding any apparent injury.
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Liveblog replay: Lightning score four in first, beat Habs 5-3