Stu Cowan: Canadiens need much more offence from their forwards

Bizarre goal by Habs defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic in Tampa highlights problem with in-house DJs at NHL arenas, where silence isn’t golden.

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The Canadiens were gifted a goal on New Year’s Eve against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It still wasn’t enough for them to win and it also highlighted one of the team’s biggest problems — and a problem in NHL arenas.

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Just past the midway point of the second period in Tampa, Canadiens goalie Samuel Montembeault stopped a point shot. There was a very brief delay — and since most NHL arenas, including the Bell Centre, can’t allow even a millisecond of silence during a stoppage in play and must start blaring very loud music, the in-house DJ started blasting a tune.

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The problem was, the referees never blew a whistle.

The Lightning players heard the music and started heading to the bench for a line change while their goalie, Jonas Johansson, went for a skate.

Meanwhile, Montembeault gave the puck to defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic, who then fired it into the empty net from deep in his own zone to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead.

The Canadiens couldn’t hold the lead and eventually lost 4-3 to the Lightning — their third straight defeat.

“The building was loud, so I couldn’t really hear if there was a whistle or not,” Kovacevic told reporters in Tampa after the game. “But I saw that their guys, no one was really in the area for the whistle to go. So I thought, let’s go, let’s play it. I looked up and I saw Andy (Josh Anderson) open, but then I saw the goalie going for a skate. I was pretty sure (the referee) didn’t blow the whistle because there was no Lightning players (near Montembeault). They were all kind of changing and stuff. I thought we’d just catch them by surprise. That was the strangest goal I’ve ever scored, for sure.

“It’s too bad,” Kovacevic added. “It almost was like a rallying point for them because their fans were so pissed, their team was pissed. After that, it kind of felt like a playoff game. Andy’s hit and fight (with Luke Glendening), that goal. It was a lot of emotion in the game. It’s a fun game to be a part of, it’s just too bad it didn’t go our way. I thought we were generating a lot of chances. I think if we play that game consistently we’re going to have a lot of wins.”

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The Canadiens outshot the Lightning 30-20 — including 9-4 in the first period — but not finishing chances is a common theme for this team, especially for the forwards.

Kovacevic’s goal was his fifth of the season after being made a healthy scratch the previous two games. The defensive-minded defenceman now has more goals than a bunch of forwards, including Joel Armia (four), Juraj Slafkovsky (four), Christian Dvorak (three), Jesse Ylönen (three), Jake Evans (two) and Michael Pezzetta (one).

Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Stars in Dallas, the Canadiens ranked second in the NHL in goals by defencemen with 28 — one behind the Colorado Avalanche — led by Justin Barron and Mike Matheson with six each. But the Canadiens ranked 27th in the NHL in offence (scoring an average of 2.75 goals per game) because of a lack of production from their forwards, who had combined for 71 goals.

Captain Nick Suzuki was leading the Canadiens with 11 goals, which had him tied for 78th in the NHL.

“We were dominating a team in their building,” head coach Martin St. Louis told reporters after the game in Tampa. “We were beating them, we just weren’t winning. So that’s why I’m always careful in how I measure success. Tonight, I’m very proud of the guys. We didn’t win the game, but we didn’t fail.”

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The thing is, you’re not going to win many games when your forwards, as a group, are struggling to score. On a bright note, Cole Caufield scored for the second straight game, giving him 10 goals on the season.

“We’re staying the course,” St. Louis told reporters in Tampa. “When you think you have it all figured out, something happens. Even in the games we play well, we don’t think we have it all figured out. We just keep trying to improve at everything. The game always speaks to you.”

The rebuilding Canadiens have a lot of areas that need improvement. Heading into Tuesday’s game, they ranked 22nd in the NHL in defence, 22nd on the power play, 31st in penalty-killing, 27th in shots per game, 28th in shots against per game, and 26th in goal differential at minus-23.

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As for that blaring music in Tampa (and at the Bell Centre), teams like the Lightning and Canadiens must think fans enjoy it. I wonder how many really do — especially when the music is so loud you can’t even speak to the person sitting beside you unless you scream in their ear.

Maybe now, arena DJs will at least wait a couple of seconds when they think there’s a stoppage in play to make sure they can actually hear the whistle.

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