Canadiens squander two-goal lead in agonizing 4-3 SO loss to Penguins

Canadiens squander two-goal lead in agonizing 4-3 SO loss to Penguins

Canadiens squander two-goal lead in agonizing 4-3 SO loss to Penguins

“That was a hard game to coach emotionally, because we had so many great moments and then we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Martin St. Louis said.

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It was a game the Canadiens appeared to be in full control of, leading the Penguins 3-1 after the first period.

By the end of overtime, the Canadiens had generated a season-high 42 shots against goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, making only his sixth appearance this season.

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And yet there Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis was, sitting at the podium after a 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh, forced to answer questions about why his team collected only one point instead of two Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.

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Sometimes the hockey gods simply aren’t smiling down upon a team.

“I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed,” St. Louis said. “That was a hard game to coach emotionally, because we had so many great moments and then we shoot ourselves in the foot. We had full control of that game and let them get back in it.”

Montreal jumped out to a 2-0 lead before 13 minutes had elapsed against a Penguins team that had played the night before and appeared ripe for the picking.

Defenceman David Savard, playing his second game since returning from a fractured hand, opened the scoring at 6:24, taking advantage of an Eric Karlsson turnover, before Jayden Struble produced his second goal in only his 11th NHL game.

Canadiens’ defencemen now have scored 23 goals this season, tying the Colorado Avalanche for the league lead. If only Montreal could get similar production from their forwards, they might not be struggling with a 12-13-4 record.

Struble now has more goals in 11 big-league games than he produced in 31 contests as a senior with the Northeastern Huskies. Struble continues turning heads with his impressive play. He started the sequence on which he scored behind the net, skated up-ice, made a nice zone-entry pass, went to the net and scored on a rebound. It appears Struble is with the Canadiens to stay.

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Even after Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby cut the deficit in half later in the period, Sean Monahan restored the two-goal cushion with a rare Canadiens power-play goal at 15:20 of the first, converting Mike Matheson’s rebound from the crease.

Montreal ran into penalty trouble in the second period, taking three successive minors and allowing two power-play goals — by Jake Guentzel and Crosby, who leads the Penguins with 17 goals. Crosby, 36, added an assist and now has 31 points through 28 games. Crosby’s on pace for 50 goals and 94 points.

“He can still play a lot at his age,” defenceman Kaiden Guhle said. “He’s still one of the best in the world. He’s a special player. It seems like he’s almost getting better every year. He’s not slowing down at all. It’s special to be on the ice with him. It’s fun to play against him for sure.

“This would have been a huge win for our group. It’s unfortunate we didn’t come out with that one. It’s good to get a point, but that was our game to be had.”

The Penguins had lost four consecutive games, and nine of 12, before Tuesday’s victory against Arizona. And although Pittsburgh’s power play had struggled, going 13 games before producing two against the Coyotes, it could be argued the Canadiens also proved to be the perfect tonic.

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The Canadiens dominated the third period, outshooting Pittsburgh 11-3, but failed to convert two power plays, including one late in regulation after Drew O’Connor interfered with goalie Samuel Montembeault. Montreal failed to generate a shot while O’Connor was in the box.

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Another opportunity with the man advantage was squandered in overtime, after Evgeni Malkin tripped Cole Caufield. At least this time the Canadiens produced four shots.

It took an incredible 12 rounds of the shootout before Jansen Harkins — with zero points through 13 games — beat Montembeault, who got a piece, but not enough, of the shot. The NHL record is 20 rounds, Dec. 16, 2014, between Florida and Washington.

“It was a good show tonight,” Montembeault said. “Obviously the fans loved it. It can go either way in a shootout.”

The Canadiens are now 6-9-2 on home ice and conclude this three-game homestand Saturday night against the New York Islanders, before embarking on a mind-boggling seven-game road trip over Christmas and New Years — an annual excursion that traditionally destroys their season.

Montreal players have no explanation as to why the team struggles at home.

“I don’t even know what our record is at home,” Montembeault said. “I know our overall record, but don’t know what it is at home or on the road.

“There’s no explanation. We play in front of our fans. We should come out strong every night and use their energy as motivation.”

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