Despite what was supposed to be one of the most hyped games of the season at Bell Centre yesterday; the return of Jaroslav Halak to Montreal for the first time since he was dealt to St. Louis Blues in June 2010 in exchange for Lars Eller, the Canadiens played a boring and uninspired game, falling 3-0 against a well-rounded team led by veteran head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Halak only had to stop 19 shots to earn his second shutout and tenth win of the season, and is now 7-0-3 since the Blues fired Davis Payne and named Hitchcock as his replacement. Allan Walsh’s client only had to make two difficult saves during the game, a short-handed breakaway against Tomas Plekanec in the first period and a sprawling save against fourth liner Mathieu Darche in the last frame. The Slovak received a standing ovation after the game and was named the first star of the game. It was Halak’s 18th career shutout.
“They just told me to go out and enjoy the moment,” Halak said. “You don’t usually do that when you’re on the road.”
David Backes and Chris Stewart finished the night with one goal and one assist apiece, while Barret Jackman had to leave the game following a hip injury he suffered following a hit by PK Subban. Uninterested and hapless Habs’ forward, Mike Cammalleri, was directly responsible for the first two goals when he blew his defensive zone coverage and let Jason Arnott and David Backes bury rebounds past Price.
Carey Price stopped 22 of the 25 shots for the Canadiens, who had won the first two games of their three-game homestand. If that loss was not enough depressing, the team learned that captain Brian Gionta has suffered an upper-body injury, playing only his second game back after missing 12 games with a groin injury. Gionta threw his stick in anger when he left for the dressing room and is out indefinitely. His status will be re-evaluated today, but he won’t play the next game.
Expect more changes by interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth as overpaid center Scott Gomez is ready to make a return after missing more than 20 games due to a groin injury he suffered on Nov. 23 in Carolina. Petterri Nokelainen and Yannick Weber might also draw back into the line-up after such an inspired performance by the Canadiens.
The Canadiens will visit the red-hot Boston Bruins on Thursday, before hosting the high-flying Ottawa Senators at Bell Centre on Saturday. Finally, the Bleu Blanc Rouge will visit the Eastern Conference leaders at Madison Square Garden Sunday evening. A stretch of three games in four nights against three very good teams. Already in a bad position to make the playoffs, ranked 12th in the conference, with 39 points in 42 games, the Habs are seven points out of the playoffs as of today. These critical games will certainly determine if GM Pierre Gauthier will be a seller or a buyer before this year’s trade deadline on February 27 2012.
Several unrestricted free agents could be traded to contending teams if Gauthier decides to clean the house and finally start the rebuild some fans have asked for a very long time. UFAs include Hal Gill, Chris Campoli, Travis Moen, Andrei Kostitsyn and Mathieu Darche.
Follow me on Twitter for more updates on the Canadiens and the NHL in general.