Hidden Game: Canadiens fall to Flames without St. Louis behind bench

The Trevor Letowski coaching era, which is expected to be brief, began with a 5-2 loss.

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While it’s not the Canadiens’ longest road trip of the season — they played seven straight back in December and early January — they started their last long journey of the campaign Saturday night at Calgary.

And, by now, you’re likely well aware this five-game excursion over 11 days couldn’t have started more inauspiciously with the late-afternoon announcement by the organization that head coach Martin St. Louis was on an indefinite leave of absence for family reasons.

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It’s never a good sign when a team must play without its coach and leader. And, while the family’s privacy must be respected, defenceman David Savard told TVA Sports in Calgary the team wanted to win for St. Louis’ son. The family, which resides in Greenwich, Conn., has three sons according to Wikipedia.

Assistant Trevor Letowski, who actually had head-coaching experience in the OHL with Sarnia and Windsor before joining the Canadiens in 2021, replaces St. Louis. We only hope the francophone media will be kinder to Letowski, an anglophone, than it was on Randy Cunneyworth in 2011, when he replaced the fired Jacques Martin in December.

Cunneyworth was vilified by the media, although his 18-23-9 record over 50 games, given the circumstances, wasn’t terrible. St. Louis’ record over 185 games is 70-94-21.

The Letowski coaching era, which is expected to be brief, began with a 5-2 loss, but the Canadiens entered the third period trailing by only one before the game got away from them.

Great moments in TV history: There was not one mention of St. Louis during the 30-minute Hockey Night in Canada pre-game show. Had Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe taken a similar leave, nothing else likely would have been discussed.

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News you need (Part I): Only one Eastern Conference team — the brutal Columbus Blue Jackets — have allowed more goals than Montreal, now at 236 in 67 games.

News you need (Part II): Four of the five leading scorers on the Canadiens are under the age of 25, led by captain Nick Suzuki. In other words, patience is paramount.

Their rookie is better than ours: Dustin Wolf, the most acrobatic netminder we’ve seen since Roger Crozier — kids, ask your parents for a reference point — started for the Flames, while Cayden Primeau, fresh off his second shutout this season last Tuesday against Columbus, got the nod for Montreal.

Where’s the D?: Blake Coleman was in alone in the game’s second minute.

It’s a game of inches: In the fifth minute, Canadiens’ defenceman Arber Xhekaj’s wrist shot, high over Wolf’s glove hand, struck the post.

Has he lost confidence in him?: In the 13th minute, Suzuki had a two-one-one break with Cole Caufield. Suzuki shot, rather than pass, but missed the net.

No, he hasn’t: Midway through the second period, it was another two-on-one break. This time, Suzuki passed to Caufield, who scored his 20th goal this season. It also snapped a 12-game goal-less drought for Caufield.

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Perfect no longer: Over their last six games, the Canadiens had successfully killed off 18 consecutive penalties. That streak ended late in the first period, when Calgary captain Mikael Backlund opened the scoring. The goal, coming one day before his 35th birthday, was the 199th of his career.

Milestone: It took Backlund only 11 seconds into the second period to score his 200th career goal, and his 15th this season. Is this a good time to remind Hidden Game readers early, and late, goals generally kill teams that allow them?

A goalie’s best friend: In the fifth minute of the second period, Wolf got a piece of Mike Matheson’s shot with his glove. The puck then deflected off the post.

Dumb penalty: With the Flames on the power play in the second period, Nazem Kadri took a tripping infraction in the offensive zone against Jake Evans.

Dumber penalty: Martin Pospisil, just back from serving a three-game suspension for boarding Seattle defenceman Vince Dunn, received a double roughing minor against Suzuki in the offensive zone.

Separated at birth: Flames head coach Ryan Huska and broadcaster Pierre McGuire.

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Savardian spin-a-rama: Late in the second period, Joshua Roy, too young to have seen the Canadiens’ defenceman play, used the move on a Montreal power play. All for naught, however, as Wolf made the save.

How is that a penalty?: Early in the third period, Juraj Slafkovsky nearly converted a two-on-one break, only to receive an interference minor on the goalie. It appeared Slafkovsky was pushed into Wolf by defenceman MacKenzie Weegar.

Faceoff of the night: On the ensuing power play, Kadri beat Evans on the draw, eventually leading to the Flames’ fourth goal by Kadri. It came six seconds into Slafkovsky’s penalty.

But at least they never quit: In the seventh minute of the period, Wolf robbed Suzuki from the side.

Clubhouse leaders: Both Matheson and Kaiden Guhle were minus-3.

Next time, decline the penalty: The Canadiens were 0-for-3 with the man-advantage.

Stats of the night: Caufield led the Canadiens with seven shots. … Matheson logged 25:29 of ice time. Both were team highs. … With only 23 stops, Primeau’s save percentage was .821.

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