Hidden Game: Canadiens' lack of offence plays out in loss to Canucks

Montreal continues playing competitive hockey and clearly hasn’t thrown the towel in despite a 25-32-12 record.

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It has been more than four months since the Canadiens played the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre. And it might as well have been a lifetime ago.

The Canucks defeated Montreal 5-2 back on Nov. 12, marking the first of a four-game losing streak for the Canadiens. They were treading water at the time and the defeat dropped their record to 7-6-2. The Canucks, meanwhile, improved to 11-3-1 that night and haven’t missed a beat since then.

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Vancouver’s 4-1 victory Thursday night at Rogers Arena improved its record to 44-18-8. The Canucks are first in the Pacific Division and appear to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, potentially becoming the first Canadian-based team to drink from the chalice since the 1993 Canadiens.

As for Montreal, it continues playing competitive hockey and clearly hasn’t thrown the towel in despite a 25-32-12 record. With 13 regular-season games remaining, the bleeding will soon be over. For those still paying attention, the Canadiens are 1-4-2 in their last seven games and 3-9-4 in their last 16.

Great moments in NHL scheduling: Somehow, the Canucks are in the midst of a nine-game homestand that began March 9 and concludes March 31.

This is why teams lose: Montreal defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 on March 12. That game marked the only time in the last seven that Montreal has scored more than two goals. Since Feb. 15, only Seattle has scored fewer goals than the Canadiens. Indeed, only four Montreal players have more than 23 points.

News you need: Defenceman Nikita Zadorov opened the scoring at 15:38 of the opening period. It was the sixth consecutive game in which the Canucks opened the scoring. Vancouver has scored first in 47 games this season, tops in the league.

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Eight-ball in the corner pocket: Early in the contest, Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki, behind the Canucks net, tried banking the puck off goaltender Casey DeSmith. DeSmith, you might remember, was briefly a Canadien last summer — at least on paper — before being traded to Vancouver for Tanner Pearson.

Play Pezzetta: Not only did Michael Pezzetta hit Quinn Hughes in the game’s third minute, on his opening shift, he blocked a Carson Soucy blast in the 15th minute of the second period.

Good penalty: Suzuki’s trip on Elias Pettersson in the first period, potentially thwarting a goal.

Bad penalty: Less than a minute later, the Canadiens were called for too many men, leaving the visitors two men short for 66 seconds.

Strange but true: Hughes has 79 points this season — the most by an NHL defenceman. He hasn’t scored against the Canadiens in 17 career games, but hit the post late in the opening period.

Two blind mice: Late in the first period, Jake Brenk and Kendrick Nicholson somehow missed a Teddy Blueger elbow to the head of Kaiden Guhle. Adding insult to injury, the Canucks scored their second goal moments later.

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Next time, decline the penalty (Part I): The Canucks went 0-for-3 on the power-play in the first period.

A picture is worth 1,000 words: In the sixth minute of the second period, television cameras spent a considerable amount of time focused on Canadiens’ forward Brendan Gallagher, who appeared to be in much discomfort in front of the team bench. The 31-year-old veteran looks to be spent, but continues playing hard.

Are you kidding me?: Eleven minutes into the second period, Vancouver forward Conor Garland, all 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, appeared prepared to mix it up with Canadiens’ defenceman Arber Xhekaj, a mere 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. There would have been two sounds — Xhekaj hitting Garland and Garland hitting the ice. It wouldn’t have been pretty.

Next time, decline the penalty (Part II): The Canadiens went 0-for-3 on the power-play in the second period.

Momentum, schmomentum: Garland made it 3-0 for Vancouver at 18:14 of the second period, a shot from the left-wing circle to the glove side that Samuel Montembeault should have stopped. But 53 seconds later, Juraj Slafkovsky scored Montreal’s first and only goal.

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Can this guy ever catch a break?: Montembeault was making consecutive starts for the first time since March 7 and 9. Although he clearly has established himself as the first-string netminder and does his best to keep the Canadiens in games, he has now lost six consecutive contests and hasn’t won since Feb. 27. But just imagine what he could do on a good team.

Faceoff of the night: Blueger beat Jake Evans, eventually leading to the Canucks’ fourth goal, by Nils Aman, nearly 12 minutes into the third period.

Let’s just get out of Dodge and lick our wounds: The Canadiens were held to three shots in the final period and produced only 17 in total. But thanks for showing up.

Stats of the night: Pezzetta had a team-leading seven hits in only 9:21 of ice time. … Mike Matheson logged a team high 24:24 of ice time. … David Savard was minus-3. … With 21 stops, Montembeault’s save percentage was only .840. That won’t win many games on a team that remains offensively challenged.

They said it: “Maybe our execution wasn’t exactly there,” Jordan Harris told journalists in Vancouver post-game. “I thought we did a lot of good things, but obviously not enough.”

“I feel like those three penalties kind of zapped our momentum,” interim head coach Trevor Letowski said in Vancouver post-game. “I feel it affected the game as far as the momentum shift. We couldn’t generate enough.

“There might have been a couple (Vancouver penalties) missed,” he added. “We didn’t create enough offensively. We didn’t get a lot of sustained offensive-zone shifts. It was just a game where we didn’t have a lot of answers offensively.”

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