Hidden Game: Canadiens compete, but can't score against Hurricanes

“Winning’s great, but we didn’t fail tonight,” Habs head coach Martin St. Louis says. “We just didn’t win.”

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The Canadiens’ impressive compete level was on display again Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

Unfortunately for them, so was their lack of offence — especially from their forwards — as they lost 3-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes.

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The Canadiens saw their season-high three-game winning streak come to an end, but they continue to play some solid hockey against the best teams in the NHL, including a 2-1 win over the Avalanche last Tuesday in Colorado.

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The Hurricanes improved their record to 47-21-7 and they now have 101 points, along with a clinched playoff spot with seven games left in their regular season. The Canadiens fell to 28-33-12. The Hurricanes came into the game ranked seventh in the NHL in scoring with an average of 3.38 goals per game, while the Canadiens ranked 27th with an average of 2.72. The Hurricanes have five players with at least 20 goals, while the Canadiens have two: Nick Suzuki (30) and Cole Caufield (20).

Compete level is a good thing, but the team that scores the most goals still wins and the Canadiens struggle to score.

This marked the third time this season the Canadiens have been shut out. The first two times were against the Los Angeles Kings by identical 4-0 scores.

The Canadiens were outshot 30-26 by the Hurricanes and they couldn’t beat goalie Pyotr Kochetkov, who earned his fourth shutout of the season. The Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal (short-handed) and Sebastian Aho (power play) scored on Samuel Montembeault, while Seth Jarvis added an empty-netter.

The Hurricanes have won their last nine games against the Canadiens and are 16-1-1 in the last 18 matchups, dating back to 2017.

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“I think the players know we played a pretty good game,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said in his postgame news conference. “I’m sure we’ll correct some mistakes and stuff. You stay sane when you have truth. Winning’s great, but we didn’t fail tonight. We just didn’t win.”

The truth is Canadiens GM Kent Hughes will need to acquire some more forwards who can score if this rebuild thing is going to work.

Special teams update: Aho’s goal was the first power-play goal the Canadiens have allowed in five games. The Canadiens have killed off 15 of 16 power plays over the last five games and 19 of 21 over the last six.

The Canadiens went 0-for-3 on the power play against the Hurricanes and gave up their league-leading 12th short-handed goal after defenceman Mike Matheson lost the puck at the offensive blue line while trying to make a move on his backhand, leading to a breakaway for Staal.

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Season to forget: Josh Anderson will want to wipe this season from his memory bank once it’s over.

Anderson has now gone 12 games without a goal and has only one goal in his last 28 games. He has gone 11 games without a point and has 8-10-18 totals in 69 games this season.

Anderson’s salary-cap hit is US$5.5 million, but he is actually earning US$8 million this season. The only two Canadiens earning more are Suzuki (US$10 million) and Caufield (US$9.975 million), according to CapFriendly.com. Anderson had two shots on goal in 15:28 of ice time against the Hurricanes.

The Canadiens obviously need more bang for the buck from Anderson, who has three more seasons remaining on his contract with that US$5.5 million cap hit. Brendan Gallagher, who is also earning US$8 million this season, has gone eight games without a goal and has 11 on the season.

Caufield has gone six games without a goal and has one goal in the last 19 games. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard isn’t making big bucks (only US$1.1 million), but he has gone 20 games without a goal and has only one goal in 36 games this season.

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Still waiting: Colin White has now played 13 games with the Canadiens since being claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins and has yet to register a single point.

Before becoming GM of the Canadiens, Hughes was White’s agent and negotiated a six-year, US$28.5-million contract for him with the Ottawa Senators during the summer of 2019. The Senators, who selected White in the first round (21st overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, bought out that contract in the summer of 2022. White, 27, is now playing on a one-year, US$775,000 contract.

White had zero shots and zero hits in 7:56 of ice time against the Hurricanes and won only four of the 15 faceoffs he took (27 per cent). Meanwhile, Tanner Pearson was made a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game. He has 5-7-12 totals in 49 games this season.

Kovacevic back in lineup: The one-game suspension the NHL handed down to Canadiens defenceman Kaiden Guhle on Friday opened a spot for Johnathan Kovacevic, who had been a healthy scratch the previous three games.

Kovacevic joined Jayden Struble on the third pairing, while Jordan Harris replaced Guhle on the top pairing with Matheson. Arber Xhekaj and David Savard remained together.

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Guhle was suspended for reaching over from the bench to slash Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny during the second period of the Canadiens’ 4-1 win over the Flyers on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

Almost a Hab: Aho continues to show why former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin gave him a five-year, US$42.27-million offer sheet during the summer of 2019 that would pay him US$21 million over the first 12 months of the contract, including signing bonuses. The Hurricanes decided to match the offer.

Aho leads the Hurricanes in scoring this season with 33-52-85 totals. He has 10-13-23 totals in 20 career games against the Canadiens.

Checking in on KK: Former Canadien Jesperi Kotkaniemi is now a fourth-line winger with the Hurricanes — and a well-paid one at that.

The 23-year-old is in the second season of an eight-year, US$38.56-million contract with a salary-cap hit of US$4.82 million. Carolina acquired Kotkaniemi in the summer of 2021 when Bergevin decided not to match the Hurricanes’ one-year, US$6.1-million offer sheet that seemed like retaliation for the Aho offer.

Kotkaniemi, selected by the Canadiens with the third overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft, has 11-14-25 totals in 75 games this season. He was held pointless Saturday night and had two shots on goal in 11:28 of ice time.

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Kotkaniemi has 63 career NHL goals. Brady Tkachuk, selected by the Ottawa Senators with the fourth overall draft pick in 2018, has 158 career goals.

Some stats: Juraj Slafkovsky led the Canadiens with six shots on goal, but saw his nine-game point streak come to an end.

Slafkovsky, Matheson, Suzuki, Caufield and Alex Newhook all finished with a minus-2 differential.

As usual, Michael Pezzetta led the Canadiens with five hits in 10:21 of ice time. Also, as usual, Matheson led the team in ice time with 25:51. White had the least ice time at 7:56.

What’s next? The Canadiens will be back in action Tuesday when the Florida Panthers visit the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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