Montreal Canadiens vs. Florida Panthers @ Bell Centre – December 15, 2013

As has become typical in the second part of back-to-back games Peter Budaj got the start in nets for the Canadiens.  Budaj has been playing well and Therrien has not hesitated to use him.  It would be special for the back-up goalie as it would be his first start this season at the Bell Centre.  Something to keep in mind, however, was that Budaj does not have a great record against the Panthers with only 1 win in 5 games.

Montreal had only arrived in town at 2:30 a.m. from Long Island, where they narrowly won 1-0 in overtime, and as such did not go through a game day skate in order to allow the players to rest.  The bleu, blanc et rouge have been going through an especially busy part of their schedule.  Despite their hectic schedule and poor play of late Montreal fans, who showed up in large numbers despite the over 30 centimetres of snow that fell over the weekend, must have looked at the team’s strong 7-2-1 home record over its last 10 games as a reason to feel hopeful about the outcome.

Both teams have a few injuries to deal with.  After suffering another concussion in a fight early in the game against the Islanders, George Parros is not in the line-up.  Ryan White is back in centering the 4th line.  For the Panthers Jonathan Huberdeau was out with a foot injury after blocking a shot in their previous game and goalie Tim Thomas is out.  Scott Clemmensen got the start in nets for Florida.

In the early minutes of the game the Habs’ players seem much faster than the Panthers.  This momentum was broken when centreman David Desharnais was assessed a minor penalty for holding.  It was a silly penalty taken in the neutral zone when no real threat existed.  The Panthers’ power play is an anaemic 10.8% overall and 0-14 over their last 5 games.  Really only veteran defenceman Brian Campbell, who has 7 points so far with the man advantage, is their only consistent threat.  Montreal was able to kill off the penalty fairly easily.

The 1st period ended as many Montreal periods have over the past 5 or so games.  They got very few shots on nets (7) and did not score.  Florida had the best chances to score in the 1st.  With 3 minutes left, Budaj stretched his left pad out to make a spectacular save off Tomas Fleishmann and then at then with 2:03 left he once again came up big off Brad Boyes from right in the crease.  Once again the 0-0 score line was not unusual as the Panthers have only scored 14 goals in the 1st period so far this season.

At the beginning of the 2nd period Montreal was hemmed in their own end for long stretches.  Fans began to get restless and a few scattered boos could be heard.  This would not be the end of the displeasure of fans in this game.

Florida found themselves shorthanded from the beginning of the 2nd period as young defenceman Erik Gudbranson did not return to the bench and the Panthers had to go with 5 defencemen for the rest of the game.  It was later reported that he had suffered a lower body injury.  Campbell picked up the slack.  Despite being 34, he is the 3rd most used player in the NHL.

Being shorthanded did not seem to affect the Panthers as they struck for two quick goals in under 3 minutes.  First came at 4:44 by former Ottawa Senator Jesse Winchester.  Habs’ defenceman Alexei Emelin has had a tough time of late and it was once again an error by him that led to the goal.  Emelin did not cover his man, so Ryan White was forced to leave his man in front of the net to challenge Tomas Kopecky behind the Habs’ net.  The quick snap shot by Winchester beat Budaj went in just inside the post on the glove side.  The Panthers’ second goal was scored by Nick Bjugstad.  Bjugstad’s shot completely fooled Budaj.  It was a bit of a knuckleball and slipped in under Budaj’s arm.

For a team that is having trouble scoring, the Habs haven’t scored in just under 150 minutes of regulation play, a 2 goal deficit is a big one to overcome.  Plus the home side was not displaying much energy or passion in their play.  The crowd was really becoming restless now.  More boos were raining down upon the playing surface.

To try to inject an offensive spark into his team, Therrien put Brendan Gallagher back on the line the Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.  The very ineffective Daniel Brière was moved back onto a line with Lars Eller and Michael Bournival.  Brière is really becoming a problem as he seems to suck the life out of whichever line he is on.  Therrien has been very patient with the veteran forward.  Even last night he gave him some power play time to try and get him out of the funk he has been in.  Where does he fit in?  It has gone on for so long that fans are beginning to wonder if it is a slump or just a case of a player whose skills have diminished to the point that they are no longer able to play in the NHL.  A decision has to be made quickly.

PK Subban seemed to try to spark his team on late in the 2nd period by laying a big hit on rookie centreman Aleksander Barkov along the boards in Montreal’s end.  Then he went on one of his patent end-to-end rushes with a blistering slapshot at the end.  Clemmensen was able to stop the shot with no harm done.

With 1:15 left in the 2nd Travis Moen had Montreal’s best scoring chance off a scramble that started behind and then moved in front of the Panthers’ net.  He dove towards the loose puck in an attempt to put it into the empty side of the net, but he slid it harmlessly by the far post.  They are booed off the ice at the end of the 2nd period.  Those who have paid the elevated ticket prices and then struggled through the snow to get to the game are not amused by Montreal’s lack of goal scoring.

Comebacks have not been Montreal’s forte this season.  The Habs are 0-9-1 when trailing after 2 periods.  The opposition have scored 9 straight goals without Montreal scoring at the Bell Centre.  Suddenly, Florida gave them hope.

At 1:12 Sean Bergenheim got a penalty for interference and Montreal had a chance to get back into the game.  Montreal’s power play has also been mired in a slump over the last 5 games, but Florida is 28th overall on the penalty kill so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to break out of the slump.

The young man who has scored the team’s last two regulation goals scored his third in a row on the power play.  Alex Galchenyuk went to the front of the net and was rewarded when a second rebound came off Clemmensen’s pads right to him.

With under 6 minutes left in the game Montreal was given a golden opportunity to tie up the game.  Mike Weaver and Scottie Upshall were sent to the penalty box within a minute and a half of each other giving Montreal a 35 second 5-on-3 advantage.  Brian Gionta and Galchenyuk both missed great scoring chances.  It was an opportunity that Montreal wasted.

With 0:59 left in the game Therrien pulled Budaj for a 6th attacker.  Lots of pressure was exerted by Montreal, but once again they could not score.  Florida came away with their 5th win in 6 games.

In his post-game press conference Therrien was quoted as saying that his team was drained; they have no energy.  The team would get Monday off, sort of, as they would be making their annual holiday visit to the two childrens’ hospitals in Montreal.  Hopefully feeling some of the adoration from their young fans will put some fuel in their tanks.

Montreal’s next game is Tuesday at the Bell Centre against the Phoenix Coyotes.  This will be the team’s last home game until January 4, 2014.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees – Ghislain Hebert and Brian Pochmara

Linesmen – Scott Cherrey and Michel Cormier

-Goals:  2nd Period:

4:44:  Florida – Jesse Winchester assisted by Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky

7:11:  Florida – Nick Bjugstad assisted by Tomas Fleishmann and Scottie Upshall

3rd Period:

2:28:  Montreal – (pp)  Alex Galchenyuk assisted by Brian Gionta and PK Subban

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal – 18

Florida – 25

3 Stars:  1)  Nick Bjugstad – Florida

2)  Alex Galchenyuk – Montreal

3)  Brian Campbell – Florida

-Attendance:  21,273

-Final Score:  Montreal – 1

Florida – 2

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