Hidden Game: Canadiens fail to protect leads and lose fifth consecutive game at N.J.

“We feel like we’re playing decent hockey, but we’re not being rewarded with results,” Brendan Gallagher says.

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Have the Canadiens become the free spot on the bingo card?

This week alone, Montreal lost at home to Buffalo last Wednesday night with the Sabres coming off a home-ice loss to Anaheim, one of the worst NHL teams. On Thursday, the Canadiens lost at Pittsburgh — with the Penguins on a two-game losing streak at home. And, finally, on Saturday afternoon, it was the New Jersey Devils’ turn to end a two-game losing streak against the Canadiens at the Prudential Center with Montreal twice squandering one-goal leads. It marked the Canadiens’ first five-game losing skid this season and its campaign is quickly going off the rails.

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There’s not enough caffeine: The game’s opening shot by either team didn’t come until the fifth minute by the Devils’ Jonas Siegenthaler. Less than 30 seconds later, Alex Newhook‘s wrister was the Canadiens’ first shot at Nico Daws. No penalties were assessed through 20 minutes. And to think people pay hundreds of dollars to watch this.

Strange, but true: Heading into the contest, the Devils had converted only two of their last 46 power-play opportunities over a 14-game stretch. But New Jersey had the NHL’s best power play from the start of the season through Dec. 22. That can’t be a fluke. So what has gone wrong, Lindy Ruff?

News you need (Part I): While the Canadiens continue, more or less, rotating three goaltenders — Samuel Montembeault, Jake Allen and Cayden Primeau — Daws was playing his seventh consecutive game. He allowed 19 goals before facing Montreal.

News you need (Part II): Allen, who might have been playing one of his last games with the March 8 trade deadline looming, hasn’t recorded a victory since Jan. 15 against Colorado. His last road win came at Winnipeg on Dec. 18.

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News you need (Part III): Before facing the Devils, the Canadiens were 28th in the league on offence and averaging 2.74 goals per game. And this is why teams don’t make the playoffs.

You have to bury it: It’s hard not to feel empathy for Canadiens’ veteran winger Josh Anderson during a season in which little has gone right. In the game’s 10th minute, off a two-on-one break with Jake Evans, Anderson had an open net following a nifty feed. Shooting for Daws’ blocker side, Anderson somehow missed the net. He has now gone 13 games without a goal.

On the other hand: Anderson did yeoman work on the Canadiens’ opening goal by Brendan Gallagher. Anderson used his body effectively while entering the Devils’ zone and refused to relinquish the puck. Kudos to him.

Finally, a goal: After serving his recent five-game suspension for his illegal hit to the head of Islanders’ defenceman Adam Pelech, Gallagher scored for the first time since Jan. 20 at Boston. It was also his first point since returning from his suspension. The goal came barely more than three minutes into the second period.

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It’s about time: Timo Meier tied the score for the Devils at 5:23 of the period. It was only his second goal in 18 games. Meier, in case you were wondering, was signed to an eight-year, US$70.4-million contract last June 28. It has a cap hit of US$8.8 million. He has 11 goals and 24 points through 44 games and is minus-24.

This is why goals are scored: Newhook lost his stick on Meier’s goal.

Pass of the game: Cole Caufield, cross-ice, to Nick Suzuki on the Canadiens’ second goal, slightly more than 13 minutes into the second period.

Will he ever score again (Part I): In the 14th minute of the second period, Jesse Ylönen hit the crossbar. Ylönen hasn’t scored since Nov. 16.

Missed assignment: Gallagher, on the Devils’ second goal, by Ondrej Palat, late in the second period.

Hit of the game: Mike Matheson on Tyler Toffoli early in the third period.

Defence takes a break: In the seventh minute of the third period, New Jersey had a two-man breakaway, but Dawson Mercer’s backhand hit the post. Seconds later, Suzuki was denied on a breakaway.

He deserved better: Before captain Nico Hischier scored a power-play goal at 13:33 of the third period, Allen made saves on Jesper Bratt, Toffoli, along with brothers Luke and Jack Hughes. It was Hischier’s second shot of the power play.

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Defensive miscues: Matheson is the Canadiens’ best defenceman and it seems like he never leaves the ice. But he could have been stronger defensively on the  Devils’ third and fourth goals — the latter, which proved to be the winner, from Bratt, who cut around Matheson from the right side.

Will he ever score again (Part II). Yes, that was Anderson, on a breakaway, hitting the crossbar late in the third period.

News you need (Part IV): The Canadiens’ minus-46 goal differential is the worst in the Eastern Conference.

They said it: “It’s not easy what we’re going through right now,” Gallagher told journalists post-game in Newark, N.J. “We feel like we’re playing decent hockey, but we’re not being rewarded with results. But it’s a good challenge. Nothing’s ever going to be easy in this league. We’re being tested physically but, obviously, mentally as well.”

“There’s a lot for us to play for to finish the season strong,” Allen told journalists in New Jersey. “We’re right there. We’re just on the wrong side of it. It’s a game of inches … a fine line. A few bounces here and there we probably could be 3-1 in our last four games. I think a lot of people would agree with that.”

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