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Call Of The Wilde: Canadiens fall to the Rangers for third straight loss

Statistical history is usually a tell. If a statistic bears out over a long period of time, it is likely to repeat in the future. Only twice in the last 15 years has a team started the season with three straight losses and made the playoffs. Now that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Three small games out of 82 and it is that telling? Remarkable. History was telling the Canadiens to have a strong night against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre on Saturday, but Montreal lost 3-1.

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The Canadiens play such low-event hockey that there is really not a lot to say on many occasions. If you look for players who stood out in this contest, you are hard-pressed to find any. Not because they were outclassed. They were not outclassed. They simply did little. Both teams did little. No one really stood out.

Certainly, the argument could be made that the entire defensive corps did a strong job. The Rangers didn’t create much. The Habs defenders are all designed to play well in terms of collapse and absorb. They collapsed well, and absorbed pressure well. That doesn’t get the puck up ice, but it does keep pucks to the outside fairly well. So if you want a glass half full, there you go.

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However, a collapse and absorb scenario doesn’t have room for a transition and speed scenario. That’s supposed to be the strength of the club. It has not been seen.

Offensively, the most impressive single effort in transition was from David Savard, who went to the inside on a rush to get a strong chance in the second period. No goals through 40 minutes.

The Habs had to have a goal in the third period. Down one, it was a time to push forward, and they finally did provide a moment of excitement.

And for storytellers, this story was perfect. The club only has three goals in three games and forward Jonathan Drouin has two of them. The joy was obvious when Drouin took the Christian Dvorak pass and faked a shot, freezing the goalie, to then slide it into an open net.

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But that was it. One goal for the third straight game. The coaching staff did not do a good job of preparing this team for the season. Too many Laval players were around late in camp. Everyone on the final roster should have been getting familiar with each other in the last half of the camp; not wondering who is this guy and why is he still here. The time for building chemistry was last week; not the week to come.

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The Canadiens are now without a point in the standings in three games and that is an extremely bad omen. However, they could turn around their special teams to change a lot. Even if the special teams were somewhat respectable, it would lead to results. Both the power play and penalty kill have gotten off to pathetic starts. The Canadiens with the extra man have had 11 chances and have yet to score. That includes two 5-on-3 opportunities as well. That seems horrific. However, the truth is that the penalty kill is actually the special team that is costing the team wins.

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The penalty kill that was practically perfect on the club’s run to the Stanley Cup finals is awful to start the season. Montreal has allowed five goals on 13 power play chances for the Leafs, Sabres and Rangers. A strong PK comes in at around 85 per cent, but the Habs are barely over 60 per cent.

The team is much better than this. They miss Joel Edmundson on the PK. Shea Weber is not coming back, and they are always going to miss him, but mostly on the PK. When one strong blue liner returns, Montreal should turn this troubling area around a lot.

Most of hockey is played 5-on-5, and though it has not been good either, the fact that this aspect of the game hasn’t been the factor destroying the club does bode well. Not suggesting there is a miracle coming, but it will be better than this. This club is much too talented for this look to continue.

The big mistake in the game came midway through the third period after Montreal had tied it at one. The balloon popped less than a minute later when Savard didn’t take away the lane for a pass across the ice. The defender needs to force the bad angle shot that Jake Allen has a nice percentage chance to save. He barely has a hope if the pass connects. Savard did not close the lane and it was an easy tap in for Alexis Lafreniere.

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When you score one, your hockey has to be mistake-free on the back end.

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It will be interesting to see how the Laval Rocket do this season after a change of head coaches. Joel Bouchard was heralded as being a genius behind the bench to lead the Rocket to winning records that the club had not seen in a decade. Bouchard has moved on now to the San Diego Gulls of the Anaheim Ducks organization to deepen his curriculum vitae.

Montreal turned to a career minor leaguer in the AHL and the Quebec Major Junior League Jean Francois Houle as their new head coach in Laval. Houle spent the last six seasons in the Edmonton Oilers organization as an assistant in their minor league system. This is a step up for Houle, so it will be interesting to see if he can light the same flame that Bouchard did.

The first game certainly went well, with the Rocket absolutely dominating Belleville in front of a raucous Laval crowd, with a final score of 6-2. Ryan Poehling is the best prospect on the team. He counted a goal early in the third period.

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The two clubs met again on Saturday night. This time in Ontario. It was a complete turnaround, with the Senators winning easily 5-2. What was worse is Poehling got hit from behind in the head and suffered a concussion. The worst possible scenario for a player who dominated the AHL last season and was looking to build on that. He will be out for a week or two minimum.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.

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