The Carolina Hurricanes have been a high-energy team that has put a lot of shots on goal, gotten stronger during games and been tough to beat on the road this season.
The Canes were none of those things Monday in a listless 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Granted, the Hurricanes (8-5-1) were playing without forward Jeff Skinner and defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason, all out with injuries. Yes, center Tim Brent being a late scratch with an injury didnt help.
But the Canes were not a happy bunch, and could find few positives, after having a three-game win streak snapped. After a scoreless first two periods, the Habs used goals from Brandon Prust, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty in the third to make things miserable for the Canes and goalie Cam Ward.
We definitely didnt come out with any jump, Canes center Jordan Staal said. All the way through the game we didnt have our legs.
We were cautious. It wasnt our best. Weve got to find a way to be better than that.
The Habs (10-4-1), winners of four straight, had backup Peter Budaj in goal, again spelling Carey Price, who has been slowed by the flu. But the Canes, averaging 34.9 shots a game, mustered just five in the first period and spent much of the second killing penalties. They took 19 total shots in the game.
The guys have been good, theyve been going hard (but) this is a wakeup call, Canes coach Kirk Muller said. If you dont skate, if you dont win battles, youre not going to get the same results. We just didnt seem to have that extra tempo we had been playing at.
Prust scored barely two minutes into the third, knocking in the rebound of an Alex Galchenyuk shot. The Canadiens next two goals came in sudden, surprising fashion with about eight minutes left in regulation.
First, Plekanec rifled a shot from the left wing, the puck hitting Ward in the shoulder and tumbling over the goal line. Then, just moments later, Pacioretty threw a long shot at Ward that the goalie couldnt corral.
Just like that, what had been a close game was decided. Things had turned nightmarish for the Canes.
We didnt bring it that third period, Muller said. We just didnt have that killer instinct, that shooting mentality. We just didnt have our best game tonight.
The Canes were 5-2-1 on the road this season and recently went 4-1-1 on a strong six-game trip. But even with three days between games after a home win Thursday over Toronto, the Hurricanes were sluggish.
There were new faces in the lineup, including centers Riley Nash and Jeremy Welsh, both hastily recalled from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. But the effort was not there this night.
We didnt play the game we wanted to play, Canes forward Jiri Tlusty said. I think we tried but it wasnt there. We have to play harder.
Prust struck barely two minutes into the third. On a rush by the Habs into the zone, Prust followed up on a rebound of a Galchenyuk shot for his second goal of the season and first since Jan. 27.
The Canes had to kill off three penalties in the second period and Ward had to come up with a big save to keep the game scoreless after two periods. Ward kicked out his right pad to stop a point-blank shot by Plekanec with 7:30 left in the second. That came after the Canes killed off a slashing penalty on Tlusty and then a holding penalty against Jay Harrison.
Carolinas Jordan Staal then was called for hooking with seven minutes left in the second, but the Canes penalty killers again got the job done.
Budaj made three stops in one torrid sequence late in the second period as the Canes kept the puck in the offensive zone. Budaj first stopped a shot by Drayson Bowman. After a line change by Carolina, Budaj turned back shots by Alexander Semin and then Eric Staal, whose 11-game point streak ended.
The Hurricanes had just five first-period shots and 13 after 40 minutes. The Habs had seven shots in the first and 18 through two.
The Canes got some strong forechecking from their third and fourth line at times in the first. Late in the first, Galchenyuk the Habs first-round pick in the 2012 draft was called for holding Bowman, but the only power play of the first period was killed easily by the Canadiens as the Canes managed one shot.
There was one testy moment in the first. Habs defenseman P.K. Subban hit the Canes Pat Dwyer with a hard hip check along the boards. A brief scuffle of players ended with Dwyer and Galchenyuk both going to the box for roughing.
Muller said he might juggle some lines between the morning skate and game, and he did as Welsh made it to Montreal in time for the game.