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Halak plays spoiler

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Just when it looked like Vancouver was going to sweep its four-game Eastern swing, Montreal turned the broom around and knocked the Canucks off their feet.

That’s the polite way of saying the Canucks dropped the ball, or rather had it ripped from their hands, in a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Canadiens on Tuesday night.

Ending a near perfect road trip with a loss is akin to getting kicked in the teeth, being shutout to boot is like having molars ripped out with pliers.

Vancouver was strapped in for that screamingly painful procedure on this night and it was mainly because of Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak and the force field behind him.

Halak outdueled Roberto Luongo with an annoyingly impressive 34 save display, it was the type of showing that surely left Canucks fans with a few holes in the wall.

The Habs keeper eased into his second straight start with eight saves in the first, including a few on a Vancouver two-man advantage, then shifted into high gear with 13 stops in the second period.

With Montreal leading 2-0 after forty minutes, Halak simply had to stand his ground in the final frame, but Vancouver made it tough on him. Halak was the target in a firing range during back-to-back power plays for the Canucks, yet still nothing.

When the visitors did finally got a shot past Halak, Patrice Brisebois played Willie Mitchell as he scooped the puck off the goal line and out of harm’s way.

All in all, Halak put on a goaltending clinic and was shockingly named the game’s first star.

Still, Henrik Sedin said his team wasn’t persnickety in getting shots on goal, they just didn’t get the puck luck that had enthralled them for the past four games.

“I thought we did a lot with our chances most of the time,” said Henrik, who was denied by Halak on a breakaway with less than five minutes to play in the second period.

“We took a lot of shots and they weren’t bad shots either, we had traffic and a couple of them were bouncing on the goal line.

“[Halak] played really good, but I though we did bear down on our chances.”

Unfortunately, for the fourth time this season, not converting those chances resulted in a donut on the scoreboard for the Canucks.

Had Vancouver been sharper on the power play, Luongo would have been mauled by his teammates after the game instead of Halak.

The Canucks were unorganized and disoriented on the man advantage and that’s being kind. In addition to the blown 5-on-3 in the first period, Vancouver was unsuccessful on another four opportunities finishing 0-for-6.

Of Vancouver’s last eight losses, five have come with the Canucks unable to score at least once on the power play.

“We didn’t really set up the way we wanted to, but still we got a lot of shots from the point,” said Henrik.

“[Halak] saw too many shots on the power play, we’ve got to get better screens and pick our shots a little better.

“I don’t think we’re playing up to our max. Three of the last four games we really haven’t play our best and we’ve got to get back at home and play good for sixty minutes. That’s how we’re going to win games.”

Most of the Canucks are now in a hurry to return home and wash their hands of this win, others wouldn't mind another day or two in Montreal.

Playing in La Belle Ville was a treat for a number of Vancouver players, including Quebec natives Luongo, Alex Burrows, Steve Bernier and Alex Bolduc.

Alain Vigneault and assistant coach Ryan Walter also both have ties to Montreal with Vigneault having coached the Habs and Walter having won the Stanley Cup avec les Canadiens.

“I don’t think it’s only special for the French players, I think it’s special for any player to come here and play against the Habs,” said VIgneault.

“They’ve got so much history that anytime you can step foot in this building and set foot on the ice, it’s a special game.”

Whatever the opposite of special is, that’s how the game ended for Vancouver. The good news is that the Canucks didn’t lose any ground and remain in fifth spot in the Western Conference with 68 points.

2 – Losses for the Canucks in their last 10 games (8-2-0)

  4 – Number of times Vancouver has been shutout this season

9-15-2 Vancouver's record when allowing the opposition to open the scoring

34 – Shots on goal for Vancouver (8-13-13)

– Penalty minutes dished out to the Canucks

Vancouver had little offensive punch in the opening period but came alive in the second.

The middle frame is when Halak got hot and it's near impossible to beat a smoking goalie when he's in the zone.

Despite the offence putting its best foot forward in the third, Halak proved to be too much.

Vancouver outshot Montreal 34-17.

The defence limited Montreal to 17 shots and held the Canadiens on the perimeter when shots did get through on Roberto Luongo. In that regard this game was good for the D.

Vancouver's backend also stepped up and tried to right the ship on offence with 13 shots on goal.

Luongo made 14 saves in losing for the first time in nine starts.

The Canucks were bad on the power play, there's no sugar coating that.

Vancouver was 0-for-6 with nine shots, yet looked chaotic and messy as they were unable to keep the puck in Montreal's end.

As a result, the Canucks failed to get into a rhythm and ultimately paid for it allowing Halak to shut the door.

Vancouver held Montreal to just 1-for-7 on its power play chances.
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