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Canadiens finally simplify their game in 4-1 loss to the Avs

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Wouldn’t it be just like the Montreal Canadiens to mess up sinking to the bottom of the NHL standings?

After weeks of talk, frustration and consternation, the Habs put together 60 minutes of boring, defensive-minded, counter-attacking hockey.

Unfortunately all they could do was limit the damage as they lost 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs are one of the most skilled teams in the league so they were able to eventually capitalize on the few chances Montreal afforded them at even strength.

But against the okay to bad teams in the league? That style of hockey will pick up points for the Habs the final 57 games of their season.

Which might be what head coach Dominique Ducharme wants. But almost certainly not new VP of hockey operations Jeff Gorton, who will address the media and the fanbase tomorrow morning just after 10 A.M.

Trying not to lose

Coming off of an embarrassing 8-3 loss to Toronto last night, many expected the Avs to come out like bats out of hell at the Bell Centre.

Instead both the visitors and the welcomers appeared to coast through the opening twenty minutes. Colorado knew they would probably win with minimal effort. The Montreal Canadiens knew they had to just try and hang in there.

They were somewhat successful in doing that early on. Jake Allen was forced to make big saves on Valeri Nichushkin and Nathan MacKinnon. Meanwhile a struggling Cole Caufield missed a point-blank chance in front of goaltender Jonas Johnansson who was making his NHL debut.

The Habs somewhat abandoned their hybrid man-zone defensive coverage in their own end. Instead the forwards collapsed slightly towards their own net and tried their damndest to keep the Avs defencemen to the outside.

The results were mixed. The Canadiens allowed 10 high danger scoring chances against per Natural Stat Trick. But they escaped with the score tied 0-0.

The most entertaining moment of the first period was some friendly fire in the Habs zone. Alexander Romanov got the scent of a rushing Cale Makar as he crossed the blueline into the Russian’s zone. The Tsar wound up to get quite the lick in on the Avs defenceman but he misjudged Makar’s speed (he’s very fast) and wound up laying quite the wallop on a backchecking Ryan Poehling. The Habs forward got up like what the hell just happened. Romanov took the worst of the collision as his visor split open his face. Romanov was forced to wear a cage the rest of the way, which somehow made him look even more menacing.

Miscues

The Montreal Canadiens were playing an acceptable game at 5-on-5. Special teams were a different story.

Jeff Petry continued to look like the ghost of Jeff Petry on the power-play late in the first. He tried as hard as he could to turn over the puck on the man-advantage. To the point that he started to hear some boos every time he touched the puck, a tradition usually reserved for the visiting enemies of the Habs fanbase.

That yips infection spread to Chris Wideman on the man-advantage. He got caught between two minds as he retreated with the puck into his own zone. Logan O’Connor pressured him into coughing up the puck and it was easy as centering the puck to Nicushkin. His shot along the ice just dribbled past Allen to make it 1-0 Colorado.

So what do you do if you’re Ducharme and your two defencemen on the power play are looking shaky at best? Not to mention unable to get a shot on net on three attempts? You throw out goal machine Ben Chiarot. The Habs defenceman scored his fifth of the season on a seeing eye shot on the man-advantage to even things up at 1-1.

That might have been the best part of the game for Gorton. Chiarot’s trade value continues to rise with each point he puts up.

To be fair to the Canadiens penalty-kill, they weren’t half bad considering their horrendous record so far this season. But you knew the chances of the uber-talented Avalanche scoring up a man last night were pretty, pretty, pretty good. Before the period was over Cale Makar let a wrister go through traffic to beat Jake Allen, who was spectacular at times, short side.

Early curtain call

Gorton wouldn’t have been pleased with the fact that Josh Anderson was forced to leave the game in the second period after a hard fall into the boards behind the Avs net. Ducharme confirmed post-game that the big winger will be out 2-4 weeks with an upper body injury.

He wasn’t the only one to leave the game early. The Habs knew the game was over just two and a half minutes into the third period. Christian Dvorak, Tyler Toffoli and Cole Caufield were thrown together as a configuration with Anderson out. Dvorak and Caufield got caught up ice and the Avalanche broke back the other way on a 4-on-2. The Habs centreman disrupted the initial pass to a streaking Nichushkin in the slot. But the puck pinballed around in the slot and Andre Burakovsky pounced on it for the killshot to make it 3-1.

Both teams played out the remaining 17 minutes with little fanfare. Romanov was undeterred by his new look and took a few more healthy runs at some Avs forwards. Ryan Poehling continued to look like he belongs in the NHL and was the Canadiens liveliest forward again. But the scoreline was never in doubt and if anything Allen was called into action several more times before the final horn sounded.

Vice President of hockey operations Jeff Gorton will meet the media for the first time at 10 tomorrow morning. The Montreal Canadiens are back in action Saturday night in Nashville taking on the Predators.

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