It was a rough week for the Montreal Canadiens as they went on their annual south-west road trip and came away with only two points. Besides beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in a shootout, the Habs came up empty handed against the LA Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks.
“We played two good games,” Head Coach Michel Therrien said after the game against San Jose. “The longer the trip went on, the more I felt fatigue started to take its toll on our team.”
The road trip opened when the Habs travelled to Los Angeles to face the 2012 champions. It was a tight game, with the teams combining for only 13 shots in the first 30 minutes. PK Subban tied the score 1-1 in the second, but a late goal from Jeff Carter gave the Kings the 2-1 win.
“It was very playoff-type hockey,” Montreal goalie Peter Budaj, who made 20 saves in the game, said. “They’re a good team. They don’t allow you to generate a lot of offense. It was a disappointing game for us because I think we were right there with them. Maybe one or two lucky bounces.”
Even without the win, the Habs played a competitive game against a competitive team. As of this writing, LA has 78 points and Montreal has 77 and this game played out just as evenly as the standings would suggest.
The team then drove 30 minutes down the interstate to Anaheim for their only win of the trip. Earlier in the day, they traded a prospect and a pick for Thomas Vanek but he wasn’t able to get to the game in time.
Montreal went up 2-0 after the first period, with Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty scoring. The goal was Pacioretty’s 30th of the season. But in the second Anaheim scored three in a row to take the lead, before Brendan Gallagher tied it just before the intermission.
With Carey Price still injured since the Olympics, AHL call-up Dustin Tokarski started his first NHL game in two years. And he stood on his head, making 39 saves in the first 65 minutes and four of the six he faced in the shootout.
Except for this one fluke goal that no goalie, including Tokarski, would be able to stop.
“I made an error,” Tokarski said. “I should have stayed in my net. The scouting report said there was bad glass. Lapse of judgment there.”
In the end, it was Andrei Markov who sealed the win for the Habs with a goal in the sixth round of the shootout. They may have been out played, but Montreal held in to get it to the shootout, where anything can happen.
This game was the high point of the trip and things quickly got ugly in the next two games. In a cruel form of bad scheduling, the team had to fly to Phoenix for a game in a different time zone the day after the game in Anaheim.
What resulted was a dominating 5-2 win for the Coyotes and all the motivation from beating the Ducks was quickly gone. It was also the first time Phoenix had beaten Montreal in 15 years.
“We played late, traveled all night and we looked like it early,” Therrien said. “Before we got going we got into trouble. The second period we were skating, moving, finding our legs and this is where we were at our best.”
Therrien was talking about the first period that saw Phoenix go up 3-1 and never look back. Besides a goal from Markov, it was an ugly period for the Habs. They were outshot 15-7 and took two penalties.
Alex Galchenyuk brought the score to 3-2 in the second, but two more goals in the third gave Phoenix all the insurance they needed to win the game.
The only promising thing from the game was that Habs fans got to see their new top scorer, Vanek, in the red and blue for the first time. He finished the game with one shot and a -1 rating in just over 15 minutes of ice time.
“I was really nervous and it was a long day for me,” Vanek said. “Early on we didn’t play great and got down a couple of goals. In this League, if you are chasing it’s hard to get a groove.”
The final game against San Jose did not get much better for the Habs, where they lost 4-0 to the third best team in the league. Nothing went right for Montreal in the game from almost the beginning.
With that ugly shorthanded goal against to start the game, things didn’t get much better than that. Two more goals in the second for the Sharks, and Habs defenceman Jarred Tinordi received an instigator penalty for fighting Raffi Torres.
The third saw even more penalties, with Brendan Gallagher, Ryan White and Lars Eller all getting misconducts on the Habs. In the end, Montreal finished with 63 penalty minutes to San Jose’s 51. On top of that, Logan Couture put the Sharks up by 4 only 0:43 into the period, ending Montreal’s chances at a comeback.
“We turned the puck over and they took advantage of their chances,” Therrien said. “I felt the team was lacking energy. I didn’t like the way we were playing.”
With that ugly road trip behind them, Montreal gets three days off before Boston and Ottawa visit the Bell Centre. With 16 games to go, the Habs are third in the east with 77 points and have a 94 per cent chance of making the playoffs according to sportsclubstats.com. So while this trip might not have gone as planned, Montreal fans have nothing to worry about.