MONTREAL - Not only did the home team lose a chippy game by the slimmest of margins, but it is also waiting for word on the health status of two fallen combatants.
A defensive lapse late in the third period allowed Predators rookie Seth Jones to sneak into the slot, break a 1-1 deadlock and snap the Habs’ four-game winning streak. While it took until the final two minutes of the game for the eventual winners to move ahead on the scoreboard, the first half of the contest was strongly tilted in the Preds’ favour. The visitors led 15-4 on the shot clock after 20 minutes and kept the pressure on goaltender Carey Price throughout the game.
As a player familiar with the visiting team’s style of play, Francis Bouillon was disappointed in the manner in which his team started the match.
“The first period was probably the worst one we’ve played since the start of the season. It was a tough, physical game and we definitely got off on the wrong foot,” conceded the veteran rearguard.
Teammate Brendan Gallagher, who scored the Canadiens’ lone goal and generated a personal-best 10 shots on net on Saturday night was in agreement with Bouillon's assessment.
“The way we played the first period was probably why we lost this hockey game. You can’t start [a game] like that,” insisted Gallagher, who banged home a rebound in the second period for his fourth goal of the season.
His linemate Lars Eller nearly put the team ahead by one with a similar play in the third period, only to see the goal waved off by the on-ice officials after a replay consultation. Still, the Galchenyuk-Eller-Gallagher line proved to be the offensive dynamo for the Canadiens on the night.
“We did well to go to the net,” offered Eller. “When we did that, we were able to either create a scoring chance or draw a penalty. We were not happy with the way we started the game, but in general, we did a good job. In the third period, the scoring chances were in our favour, so it’s difficult to believe we were not able to score more often.”
After being outshot for most of the tilt, the Habs regained the upper hand in the puck possession department in the second half of the game.
“Our best period was the third. We played with a lot of intensity, which has been our strength since the start of the season,” acknowledged head coach Michel Therrien. “Starting the second half of the game, our compete level was better, and I liked how we played the third. The game was all about battling in the blue paint, and I thought we did that well in the third despite not scoring."
As for the final outcome of the game, Montreal’s bench boss preferred to highlight the intensity level of the opposing team.
“They did a great job. They were aggressive on the puck carrier; I’d like to give the credit to them [for the victory],” stated Therrien.
Two players were unable to finish the game due to injury. Daniel Briere was clipped by Erik Nystrom and left the game in the second period. Nystrom’s shoulder caught the Gatineau, QC native in the head and the team confirmed after the game that the forward suffered a concussion on the play.
“I don’t think [the hit] was intentional. These things happen and I think it was an accident,” said Therrien, referencing the incident which did not result in a penalty call.
For his part, Bouillon believes that upholding a good level of conduct among fellow players is the key to avoiding such incidents in the future.
“It’s always tough to see teammates get hurt. It starts with respect. We have meetings during the summer to talk about it, but it remains an intense game, the guys want to win, and sometimes, the respect is a bit lacking," said the 13-year NHL vet.
In the middle of the third period, with Briere already out of the game, the Habs found themselves even more shorthanded up front as rugged winger Brandon Prust got tangled up with a Nashville player and went into the boards hard. He skated off on his own power, and was later confirmed to have suffered an upper-body injury.
With the next game three days away, the Canadiens will have some time to take stock, refocus and rebound for the rest of the five-game home stand. Having faced their fair share of adversity since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the 5-3 Canadiens will look to right the ship come Tuesday against the Oilers.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com
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