Montreal’s quest to tie an NHL-best 10-0 start to the season fell by the wayside on Tuesday night as they suffered their first loss of the season, 5-1 at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.
From the opening faceoff till the final buzzer, there was a disjointedness to the flow of this game that has not been present through much of this young season for the league-leading Habs. To be clear, the visitors did not deserve to win this game, but neither did they deserve to lose in the way that they did.
There were bad bounces, missed calls, broken stick,s and patches of ice that simply refused to give up a friendly bounce to the boys in the bleu-blanc-rouge. There were chances, some the result of a strong effort and some simply gifted by virtue of the loose play that was evident at both ends of the ice. The difference in this one came down to which team was able to take advantage of their chances – and the way in which each team approached the game.
Montreal seemed to be gripping their sticks a little tighter, the passes six inches too soon or too late, and just couldn’t build any sustained momentum from the pressure they were able to create sporadically throughout the game. The Canucks, by way of contrast, began the game as if they had something to prove (and also to lose), and each goal only served to re-enforce their confidence and resolve. By the first third of the second period it was evident that the home team could taste a much needed win – while the visitors awaited a change in the winds, never looking like a team that was playing a game slipping away from them, just going through the motions and expecting a different result.
Carey Price was unlucky, and did not receive the kind of support he has been able to count on for most of this season, but he was also uncharacteristically human in net. The Leafs were far more deserving of this kind of victory on Saturday than the Canucks were today. Therein lies the lesson for the 2015-16 Habs: they have the pieces to compete with any team in the league; but, they are not a team that can afford to mail it in, or allow pride or reputation to play the game for them.
The night was not devoid of bright spots. David Desharnais displayed an anticipation and creativity that put defenders on their heels and probably deserved a better fate. The fourth line was generally effective, despite a shift or two where they seemed to become victimized by a singular focus on the offensive side of the puck (resulting in a goal in the most egregious instance). Tom Gilbert may have had his best game of the season, buried behind the score was a nice reminder of the skills he doesn’t generally get to display when the Habs are playing with a lead.
HW Habs’ 3 Stars of the Night
David Desharnais: He realized early that the Canucks were lining up at the blue line and consistently put himself in a position that allowed his defence and linemates to maintain possession rather than force 50-50 plays in the corner that the Habs seemed to be losing all night.
Devante Smith-Pelly: His first goal is not far away – he was strong on pucks and bodies all night long, one of only a few players that did not try to do too much and probably deserved a better fate as he was victimized by bounces for much of the game.
Alex Galchenyuk: On a night when the first line just couldn’t find their rhythm, he pushed the play and inserted some creativity into the lifeless cycle that was stifled by the Canucks strong side pursuit game. After a slightly lacklustre back-check on the first Vancouver goal he was noticeably active on the defensive side of the puck all night.
The Habs were unlucky this game – bouncing pucks and shattered sticks foiled the rare occasions where they looked like they may threaten to take control. At the same time they never earned the kind of luck they have previously enjoyed during this streak. Records are nice but do not count towards the ultimate goal this team has set for itself. If nothing else, this game will hopefully serve as an opportunity for the team to recognize how slim the difference between wins and losses can be in the current NHL and end up a footnote to a season that promises much more. A game like this can be a sign of things to come or motivation to up the ante. They’ll have a few more games on this road trip to figure out which this will be.