Pat Hickey: Canadiens begin second half of tough road trip on wrong foot

While Montreal did well to block 26 shots and stay in the game against the Hurricanes, they struggled to fire pucks on net during 5-3 loss.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Let’s start by conceding that the Carolina Hurricanes are a better hockey team than the Canadiens.

Much better.

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The Hurricanes went to the Eastern Conference final last season and they currently occupy a playoff spot.

The Canadiens do not, although they are surprisingly closer to a wild-card spot than they are to celebrating for Celebini, as in Macklin Celebrini who is expected to be the No. 1 choice in the 2024 NHL draft.

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And the Hurricanes have a habit of beating up on the Canadiens when they visit PNC Arena.

So it was a bit of a surprise that the Canadiens kept Thursday night’s game close before dropping a 5-3 decision, which was up for grabs before Andrei Svechnikov scored the second of his three goals to break a 3-3 tie at 13:51 of the third period.

The Canadiens were in the game despite failing to take advantage of two factors that should have been in their favour.

For starters, the Canadiens were well-rested, while the Hurricanes were coming off a 5-2 win in Nashville Wednesday.

That’s normally an invitation to the rested team to get a quick start out of the gate, but it didn’t work out that way

Montreal was being outshot 9-2 when the Hurricanes opened a 2-0 lead at 12:40 of the first period.

Defenceman Mike Matheson, who scored on a wraparound late in the first period to tie the game at 2-2, said the conventional wisdom regarding back-to-back situations didn’t apply to this game.

“We’re coming off a five-day layoff and they had a game to get back into it,” Matheson said.

In the third period when the game was on the line and the home team should have been tired, the Hurricanes outshot the Canadiens 9-2.

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“We tried to get more shots on net but they block a lot of shots,” coach Martin St. Louis said. “I’m. happy that we limited their shots. They’ve put up 50 against us here.”

A look at the game stats shows it was Montreal that blocked a lot of shots. The Canadiens were outshot 31-21, but stayed close because they blocked 26 shots. The Hurricanes blocked 13 shots.

It was important to get lots of shots because Carolina started veteran Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta. He has struggled this season and the Hurricanes placed him on waivers earlier this month and sent him to the minors for a brief stay.

He came into Thursday’s game with an .859 save percentage and that improved only slightly when he stopped 18 of 21 shots for an .866 save percentage.

The win left the Hurricanes with a 15-1-1 record at home against Montreal since March 2017.

The game kicked off what figures to be the tough part of the Canadiens’ holiday road trip. They had a 2-0-1 record in the pre-Christmas stretch, but it doesn’t get any easier with back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday in Florida and Tampa and a Jan. 2 date in Dallas,

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Huskies reunited: Jordan Harris returned to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 12 and turned in a solid performance.

It probably helped that he was paired with Jayden Struble, who played alongside Harris for three seasons at Northeastern University in Boston.

It was the first time they played together as pros and I suspect we’ll see more of this pairing in the future. They weren’t on the ice for any of the Carolina goals and they each blocked five shots. Struble also added an assist.

Junior notes: Canada and the United States appear to be headed for a showdown at the world junior championships. The U.S. crushed Switzerland 11-3 this week and the only surprise was that Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson didn’t collect a point.

Another Montreal prospect, goaltender Jacob Fowler, picked up his first world juniors win. At the other end of the ice, Ewan Huet gave up seven goals in a relief appearance for the Swiss. He is the son of former Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet.

Slovakia has a 3-0 record and is tied with the U.S. in their preliminary round. Filip Mesar, who played Robin to Juraj Slafkovsky’s Batman after they were both drafted by the Canadiens in the first round in 2022, is the centre on Slovakia’s top line and has six assists.

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