VANCOUVER – The Canadiens hadn’t given their opponents anything to work with during the opening frame all season long. That is, until Tuesday night.
Heading to the locker room down 3-0 through 20 minutes of play at Rogers Arena, Michel Therrien’s troops simply couldn’t recover against a Vancouver Canucks squad desperate to secure their first home ice victory of the year. Unable to get off to the strong start Therrien had insisted upon entering their first of three straight games in Western Canada, the Canadiens suffered their first loss of the 2015-16 campaign after setting a new NHL record with nine straight wins in regulation to start the year dating back to the season-opener on October 7 in Toronto.
“It was a poor effort to start the game, especially in our own end. We had chances in the first, but we just didn’t capitalize. You can’t just abandon your own end, though. They got off to a 3-0 lead. It’s tough to come back in this league against something like that,” offered captain Max Pacioretty in the aftermath of the Habs’ 5-1 defeat in the Lower Mainland. “They definitely came out hard, and we didn’t match their intensity. There’s no excuse for that. Teams like Vancouver are known for playing hard at home. We came out here, and they wanted to prove that they could beat us, especially in their own barn. They outplayed us, especially in the first.”
To a man, the Canadiens blamed defensive zone lapses for the lopsided scoreline that saw starter Carey Price surrender five goals on 28 shots in his eighth outings of the season. Jared McCann, Luca Sbisa, Radim Vrbata and Derek Dorsett all managed to solve the All-World netminder on Tuesday night, but the men charged with protecting him took full responsibility for failing to provide him with adequate support.
“Our defensive effort by everyone – forwards and defensemen – wasn’t there. I think we weren’t up to par defensively. We feel like we left Pricer stranded. There’s no excuse for that. We had two days in between games, and we had plenty of time to recover. We’ve got to be better moving forward, and hopefully be better in Edmonton,” stressed Pacioretty, who was one of 12 Canadiens players to register at least one shot on Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller during the team’s lone regular season visit to British Columbia this year. “We definitely came out harder in the second and the third, too, but it just wasn’t there.”
Torrey Mitchell, who scored the Canadiens’ lone goal in a losing effort, is certainly in agreement with Pacioretty in that regard.
“I think the better team won. We weren’t aggressive enough. I don’t think anyone liked the way we started. When you start out down three goals, it’s tough to come back. We did better as the game went on, but it’s so difficult to come back,” admitted Mitchell, who has put up three goals in his last four games, and now boasts four goals on the season. “The effort with this group is always there, but I think when it comes to details in the defensive zone – and in the neutral zone – it just wasn’t good enough.”
A tough penalty call also played a part in the way things ultimately turned out for the Canadiens in their 10th outing of the season. After Mitchell tipped an Alexei Emelin shot home early in the final frame to cut the Canucks’ lead to 3-1, momentum temporarily shifted in Montreal’s favour until the Canadiens were called for a bench minor 58 seconds into a crucial power play opportunity.
“We started the third period the right way by scoring a goal. Then, we had a power play chance. We got called for too many men on the ice, but we don’t think we deserved it because [Alexander] Semin didn’t play the puck. That just zapped our momentum for the rest of the game,” shared Therrien, who believes the final score doesn’t necessarily reflect the game itself. “It was a funny game. They capitalized on their chances in the first period, and Miller made some big saves. We need to tighten things up. If we don’t play well defensively in our own zone, we can’t win. Tonight was a good example of that. We have to give credit to the Canucks. They played well.”
While the loss definitely stung, assistant captain Brendan Gallagher insists it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly with plenty of games to go in the coming months that will ultimately determine where the Canadiens stand come early April.
“I think this is maybe what we needed. Everyone’s been telling us how good we are. Maybe we have to understand that it’s still going to take work, it’s still a process and you have to stick with it. We need to get better. We took a step back, but it doesn’t mean that we’ll have any trouble re-focusing and getting ready for the next one,” offered Gallagher, referencing the Canadiens’ upcoming tilts against the Oilers and the Calgary Flames on Thursday and Friday night, respectively. “When you lose like that, you have to look at yourself in the mirror. We can’t be happy with our effort. The good news is that in a couple of days we have to bounce back.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com
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