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Learning in defeat

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – The Penguins have been almost unstoppable through the early part of the 2014-15 campaign, and Michel Therrien’s troops simply couldn’t stymie their magic on Tuesday night.

After falling behind by two goals less than 10 minutes into the opening frame on tallies by Beau Bennett and Steve Downie, the Canadiens found themselves trying to claw back into a tilt that was ultimately out of reach, as Pittsburgh went on to secure a 4-0 victory at the Bell Centre. The loss snapped the Habs’ season-long winning streak at six games, while the Penguins picked up not only their third straight win and their ninth win in their last 10 outings, but also upped their road record to 7-1-1 on the year in the process.

“It seems like that’s the way these streaks normally end, with a bang like that. It’s a bad feeling, especially when we knew that this was going to be a big statement game. A good team like this came into our building while we were hot, and we weren’t able to be up for the task,” offered Max Pacioretty, who registered a career-high six hits in the Canadiens’ first loss since November 4th. “I think the intentions were there most of the time, but the execution was very poor. I think a lot of it was maybe trying to do too much, especially early on. Instead of just keeping things simple, keeping the puck going forward and getting pucks behind the defensemen, we didn’t do that and they really made us pay.”

That’s exactly what elite teams like the Penguins do best. While there was plenty of hockey left to be played after Bennett and Downie lit the lamp, it was an uphill climb that was made even more difficult because of Pittsburgh’s penchant for playing incredibly tight team defense. It also didn’t hurt their cause to have a standout like Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes.

“We had a bad start, and you can’t play from behind against a team like that. They’re a team that’s given up the least amount of goals in the NHL. They played very well defensively,” mentioned Therrien, who watched as Fleury turned aside all 27 shots he faced to pick up his league-leading fourth shutout of the year. “It’s a game where we lost momentum from the start. They managed to hurt us on a turnover that should never have happened. Then, there was some bad coverage on the second goal. But, it’s also the type of game that provides us with a good dose of humility. It puts things in perspective. When you’re going up against a team like the Penguins, you realize that there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

In the aftermath of just their fifth regulation time loss of the season, the Canadiens also recognized the importance of playing a simple game, particularly against high-octane opponents like the Penguins.

“We have a plan, and when we stick to that plan and keep things simple, that’s when we don’t rely on our execution. I think it’s a simple game the way we play, and when we make it easy on ourselves, that’s when we have success. When we try to do too much, we make it harder on ourselves,” stressed Pacioretty, whose squad also surrendered goals to Brandon Sutter and Sidney Crosby. “You could tell from the first shift that we were trying to do too much with the puck. Against a team like that, the puck ends up in the back of your net. But, if one game like that gets our confidence down, then we don’t deserve to be where we’re at right now.”

And, that’s atop the NHL standings through 20 games with 29 points in the bank. Fortunately, the Canadiens will have a chance to put those lessons learned into practice when they go up against another one of the league’s powerhouse teams in the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night in Montreal.

“The good news is that we play again in two days, and we all know how we’re able to play in this room. Good teams find a way to turn it around. We’re hoping to do that on Thursday,” concluded Pacioretty, who generated three shots on goal while logging 18:46 of ice time on Tuesday night. “If we come out and show our best, and if we’re able to win that game, it could open up some eyes.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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