MONTREAL – The bitter cold and ample snowfall did not give the home team the edge it had hoped to gain, as the Florida Panthers iced the Habs 2-1 at the Bell Centre on Sunday night.
Despite coming into the game with a 6-2 record in its last eight games, the Canadiens had reasons to be concerned. They had allowed six unanswered goals against the Kings in their last home tilt, and had been out-shot by the opposition in all but two games in that stretch.
“Tonight, we didn’t do enough to support each other and to generate chances,” offered captain Brian Gionta, who had an assist on the Habs’ lone goal of the night, an Alex Galchenyuk powerplay marker in the middle of the third frame. “We had a slow start. There were stretches where we had good pressure on them, but we just didn’t do enough with that.” Indeed, at one point in the second period, the visiting team had 19 more attempts on net than the home squad, an indication that the Habs were struggling to maintain puck possession.
“Obvious we need to find way to score goals and sustain pressure. Right now that’s definitely hurting us,” added Gionta about the team’s poor execution level in the first half of the game. “We’re not helping ourselves in a lot of situations.”
Jesse Winchester opened the scoring in the second period, taking advantage of a Tomas Kopecky feed in the slot to put the puck past Peter Budaj. Two and a half minutes later, Nick Bjugstad doubled the Panthers’ lead with a laser-like wrist shot just under the crossbar.
After heading into the locker room down a pair of goals, the Habs regrouped and came out energized and organized in the third period. Indecisive dump-and-chase plays turned into short, lively neutral-zone exchanges. While the increased pressure did not immediately result in home team score, it did draw a Sean Bergenheim penalty which set the stage for Galchenyuk’s tenth goal of the season. Half a period later, the Habs’ renewed tenacity in the offensive zone drew two more overlapping penalties, but the team was unable to get that crucial shot past Florida’s starter Scott Clemmensen.
“It’s a tough outcome, because I think we battled hard in the third. The first period, the Panthers came out hard, but we were able to stay with them, and we had our chances,” suggested Peter Budaj, who made 23 saves. “We believed we could come back; we’ve scored two goals in the same period before. In the third, we skated hard, crashed the net, and were rewarded with a goal. The Panthers played well though, and it’s hard outcome for us.”
Brian Gionta had hoped to give his goaltender a better chance at victory with more goal support.
“Our goalies are giving us a chance to win, but we’re not doing enough to create scoring,” he stated.
“I think we gave a good effort, but didn’t make the most of our scoring chances. We should have score on that five-on-three toward the end of the game, but couldn’t get it done. We couldn’t ask for a better chance than that to tie the game. It made the difference,” stated a disappointed P.K. Subban, who led the team with four shots on net and logged a Herculean 6:41 in icetime on the powerplay during the game. His team’s total powerplay time on Sunday: 6:41.
While his players were hard on themselves after the win, head coach Michel Therrien defended his team in front of the media during the post-game interview.
“We’ve played a lot of hockey in three weeks; eleven games including a lot of travel. The team is drained. When physically, the energy level is low, it’s clear that the execution level would not be there,” observed Therrien. “We can’t forget that these athletes are human beings. They made their best effort given the circumstances. I won’t blame them, because I am conscious that we demand a lot from them.”
Now, it is up to coach Therrien to help his charges regroup and get back to their winning ways. The first step of the process will not be a bag skate at the team practice on the following morning. Instead, the Habs will spend Monday away from the rink and head to the hospital to visit sick kids, extracting energy and passion from the smiles of those who are fighting for much more than two points in the standings.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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