MONTREAL – Thirty-seven shots faced, five powerplays against, and a 2-0 loss against the San Jose Sharks; the Canadiens were in deep versus the top-ranked offensive team in the National Hockey League on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
While all 22 of their shots on net were turned away by Sharks netminder Antti Niemi, by some measures, one could make a case that the Habs actually experienced a certain degree of success against the visiting team. Consider the following: The Sharks have scored an average of four goals per game in the 2013-14 season so far and outshot the Boston Bruins 39 to 17 on Thursday night, right before heading over to Montreal. In that optic, it would seem that the Canadiens played a fairly watertight game, and that they were sunk only by bad puck luck. Surprisingly enough, the Bruins eked out a 2-1 win on Thursday thanks to a last-second deflection by David Krejci. The Habs would not be as lucky at the Bell Centre on Saturday.
Indeed, a fine goaltending performance by Carey Price was negated by two goals from Logan Couture. The first one came on a give-and-go on the man advantage and the second one off a wild bounce, where the puck deflected off the end board and fooled Price, leaving the net wide open for the unmarked Couture.
“It’s not the way you like to get scored on. But it’s just the way that it bounces sometimes,” admitted Price, who has now faced more than 30 shots in eight out of his 10 starts this season.
Despite being under constant pressure from opposing shooters, Price boasts a 93.7% save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average.
“The Sharks are a good team. They’re a very structured; they played a great game tonight," mentioned Price.
Head coach Michel Therrien agreed with his goaltender’s assessment.
“The Sharks played really well. They’re a fast team, they skate well, they protect the puck well and they play really well defensively. We got some chances in the third period, but their goalie made some key saves,” offered the Habs bench boss.
Despite holding the West Coast’s offensive juggernaut to just a single even-strength goal, the most senior member of the Habs’ blueline brigade thought the team’s defense has room for improvement.
“We need to be stronger on the puck. I thought we gave up too many turnovers in the neutral zone and didn’t put enough pucks on net,” summarized Andrei Markov, who was second on the team in ice time with 24:23 played. “When you play against such a good team, it’s a challenge. You just have to learn from it and move forward.”
Fellow rearguard Josh Gorges, who is well aware of the all-around effectiveness of his former team, also weighed in on the subject.
“Give the Sharks credit; they smothered us and forced us into making plays we shouldn’t have made. We need to be better in those situations,” insisted the Canadiens' assistant captain, who broke into the NHL with San Jose in 2005-06. “We’ll take some positives out of the good things we’ve done, but ultimately, you’ve got to win games. We had some opportunities, but the biggest thing is, when you get down by two goals, you have to be resilient.”
With the team flying to the Big Apple for the New York Rangers’ home opener on Monday, Gorges reserved a few final words of wisdom for those willing to lend an ear.
“Things aren’t always going to go your way. You may play hard, you may do a lot of good things, but you might still not get the bounces. Even in that case, you have to stay with it and avoid trying to do too much out there. Once we got down 2-0, we started trying to do too much, and that didn’t work for us,” concluded the Kelowna, BC native.
The Canadiens will have some time to reflect on their lessons learned during their short flight to the Empire State, before hopefully coming back home on Tuesday on a winning note.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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