QUEBEC CITY - After starting their preseason in the provincial capital early last week, the Canadiens returned to the Videotron Centre looking for their first win after five straight losses, but couldn't seal the deal and fell 4-2 to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
The Canadiens went up early on Jonathan Drouin's first preseason goal in a Canadiens sweater. Andrew Shaw - who offered up a strong effort in his first game of the preseason after sitting out due to injury - padded the lead towards the end of the first frame with a power play marker. But the Habs then allowed four Toronto goals go unanswered - three of them in the second period alone.
Head coach Claude Julien pointed out that while exhibition games are more about fine-tuning and building chemistry than wins and losses, he still would've liked to emerge with a better result at this stage of the game.
"There's frustration of not winning. I hate to lose. But what I have to remember is I have to look at the bigger picture," he said. "We're losing games, but I haven't seen the core group - more or less - as the reason we're losing games. The players we're counting on have been pretty good.
"Some players had a tough night and that left us in a bit of a hole. But I liked Jonathan Drouin's line, they were good. Shaw came back and had a good night. [Victor] Mete and [Shea] Weber were solid again, and our goalie was making saves whenever he was able to see the puck. So there are some positives there."
Captain Max Pacioretty was one of Drouin's linemates again tonight - the third member being Brendan Gallagher - and he echoed his coach's assessment of their outing.
"I thought tonight, our line found each other a bit more. As the game went on, I felt we were able to move our feet, read off each other, make those plays that were based off of feel rather than only seeing," explained Pacioretty, who registered a game-high seven shots on net - five of which came in the final third. "Jo looks good as a centerman, he's playing responsibly."
In the game's fifth minute, Drouin opened the scoring after Shea Weber's feed from the neutral zone sent him in on a breakaway. He managed to fight off the chase from Miro Aalonen and beat Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis McElhinney with a nifty backhander to put the Canadiens up 1-0.
Despite getting on the scoresheet, No. 92 lamented that his club couldn't come out on the winning end at the end of the night. Still, Drouin was pleased with the chemistry he, Pacioretty and Gallagher displayed on the ice.
"I think our line played well. Gally did a great job as well today. He hunts pucks, he's always on it. He goes to those dirty areas that not a lot of guys will," praised Drouin. "With Max, I feel I know where he is, and I know he's a shooter. He doesn't need much, you just have to put it in his wheelhouse, it could be any spot on the ice."
While the top line may be on the right track, Julien admitted that he is hoping to see more fight from some of the players still trying to secure their spots on the roster. And with the preseason nearing a close, their window of opportunity is shrinking by the minute.
"Right now, there are some guys who have to seize the opportunity to gain those spots that are open for them," he shared. "There are two more games left, but we're getting near the end and there are a lot of players that are having that opportunity that we know are better than what they're showing right now. It's important for them to find their game quickly."
Those players finding their game might be all the Habs need to tip over the edge and secure a win. After all, while no one was hitting the panic button in the dressing room after the game, the players and coach were all displeased with their showing in the standings and would love nothing more than to finish training camp on a high note.
"We're just as disappointed in our record as anybody else, even if it doesn't count," concluded Julien. "We want to be better and we want to win some games."