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Tough task

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – The Canadiens overcame a three-goal deficit on Monday night, but they simply couldn’t do it again on Thursday.

As has been the case as of the late, Michel Therrien’s troops surrendered goals early in the opening frame and were forced to play catch-up hockey from the start. Goals by Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan less than 10 minutes into the first period got the ball rolling for the Arizona Coyotes at the Bell Centre, before Oliver Ekman-Larsson added the tally that proved to be the game-winner at 3:51 of the second period as the Canadiens dropped a 3-2 decision on home ice.

Losers of two straight games entering Thursday night’s tilt, Dave Tippett’s squad wasn’t about to relinquish a three-goal advantage without putting up a serious fight. In the end, they were good enough to walk away with two points in the bank.

“There are way too many good teams in this league. We can’t keep falling behind 3-0 and hope to come from behind every single time. The effort is there. We aren’t going to give up, but we can’t keep putting ourselves in the same situation every time. That’s exactly what happened,” offered Brendan Gallagher, who picked up his 10th assist of the season on Thursday night, factoring in on captain Max Pacioretty’s 10th tally of the 2015-16 campaign. “I don’t really know why we’re getting off to bad starts, but I know we need to get better at that aspect of our game. We need to make some small adjustments. That’s what we were doing earlier in the year. When we have a good start, everyone is chipping in and it’s tough to play us.”

Slow starts certainly weren’t the norm for the Canadiens as the season began. The CH allowed just three first-period goals in the first 15 games of the year – all three of which came in a 5-1 loss to Vancouver on October 27th at Rogers Arena. Since then, they’ve allowed their opponents to score a combined 10 goals through 20 minutes of play in their last five games, and they’re clearly paying the price for it now.

“It’s just a couple of bad bounces. We just get behind the eight-ball early. They scored two goals on their first five shots. They got them pretty quick. You want to come out and have a good start, but when you get down like that, it takes a while to get things rolling again,” explained Dale Weise, who cut the Coyotes’ lead to a single goal with 50.5 seconds remaining in regulation time with his ninth goal of the campaign. “You won’t see teams coming back from three goals down a lot like we did last game. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen very often. When you keep spotting teams leads like that, it’s very mentally draining trying to get back into it.”

While the Canadiens outshot Arizona by a 33-20 margin, Weise was quick to give the Coyotes credit for playing a strong defensive game and making it tough to create quality scoring chances until it was far too late.

“They defend well. They’ve got good sticks. I think probably the average size of their defensemen is about 6-foot-9 out there. Their defensemen are just huge. Their sticks are so long. We’re trying to get inside and get rebounds. But, there are some good goalies in the league [like Coyotes netminder Mike Smith] and they have good players,” praised Weise, who acknowledged the Canadiens’ inability to find the back of the net once again with the man advantage was also to blame for their fourth loss in regulation time this year. “We had some chances on the power play. We should’ve scored on them. That would have changed the game. I think we were just out of sync. Our breakouts, we weren’t coming out together and we had to dump a lot of pucks in.”

And, as a result, they didn’t come away with the result they were looking for.

“We didn’t play the way we were supposed to play. We have to play our system. We have to play a simpler game,” concluded Andrei Markov, who picked up his 14th assist of the season in the loss. “We definitely need to have a better start against the Islanders [on Friday night].”

There’s no question about that.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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