MONTREAL — Thirty-eight minutes and change into this debacle, the Canadiens needed a converted touchdown to pull out a win against the Los Angeles Kings.
But with Alouettes general manager Jim Popp occupied with the upcoming CFL draft, and former Als coach Marc Trestman in Chicago with his frostbitten NFL Bears, there was small chance of any gridiron magic at the Bell Centre.
If you’re going to have your five-game winning streak come to an end, why not have it torn up, shredded and thrown into the Dumpster? Same difference, really.
The Canadiens were Mothra to the Kings’ Godzilla Tuesday night, only this mismatch was greater than a ’Zilla horror flick once the visitor weathered a furious early Habs attack.
Los Angeles stomped out a 6-0 lead through two periods then graciously took their skate off the gas before a crowd that was even too stunned to boo very much, the weakest “olé” chant echoing timidly in the arena’s upper reaches for all of the half-dozen olés the shell-shocked fans could muster.
The Canadiens had beaten the Kings the last seven times these teams had met; L.A. had lost five in a row on Montreal ice dating back 14 years less a day, when the Bell Centre was the Molson Centre, just three years old.
But then you looked a little deeper into the current vintage Kings and the writing on the wall looked like a herd of 5-year-olds had been let loose with felt markers:
The Kings were 10-1-4 in their most recent 15 games. They had outscored their foes 35-20 and not allowed a single first-period goal in that span, or more than two goals in any of those games.
In 135 matches, from the birth of the Kings in 1967 until Tuesday night’s faceoff, L.A. had never blanked the Canadiens. Not once, 64 men having played Kings goal (though not all seeing action against the Habs). Montreal had shut out Los Angeles 11 times.
So now, in their last 11, the Canadiens are 9-1-1, and it will be a grave disappointment if Boston Bruins fans don’t rise to that bait.
The Kings had the night’s first shot on goal, a 60-foot slap shot coming at 12 seconds. But then, during a tripping penalty to defenceman Drew Doughty, the Canadiens stormed rookie netminder Martin Jones, who’s a month shy of his 24th birthday.
In less than two minutes, the Habs poured seven shots at Jones, who was appearing in his third NHL game.
Shots, rebounds, the works.
Jones’s first game, a week ago against Anaheim, hurled him into the deep end of a nine-round shootout, not one Ducks shot beating him in that Kings victory. His second, last Saturday, was a 16-save shutout over the New York Islanders.
So after Jones weathered the Canadiens’ power-play blizzard, he settled into a more normal period that saw Montreal take 10 more shots but head into their dressing room down 2-0.
And then the second … oh, the second was a mess. The Kings potted two more by 5:28, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien giving abandoned (and sometimes interfered-with) Carey Price the mercy hook.
In came Peter Budaj, playing his first game on Bell Centre ice since Game 5 of last May’s Eastern Conference quarter-final. Budaj was beaten twice by period’s end and the Kings were then content to shift back a gear or three in the finale, protecting Jones’s shutout.
That free chicken wings deal for five Canadiens goals? Fans would have settled for five Canadiens shots in the second period. The hometown heroes had three — an alleged 53-foot Alex Galchenyuk wrister at 1:15, the next coming with 2:44 remaining.
Jones made all kinds of history with his shutout:
Of 64 men who have played goal for the Kings since their 1967 arrival — granted, not all have faced the Canadiens — he became the first to blank the Habs, finally turning aside 30 shots. Montreal has whitewashed the Kings 11 times through the decades.
And Jones became the first rookie Kings netminder to post consecutive shutouts since Gerry Desjardins turned the trick with two 0-0 ties in 1968-69.
“I didn’t know that,” Jones said with a shrug. “It’s a nice little stat, I guess, but we’re just happy with the win.
“They didn’t stop playing with a six-goal lead,” he added of his teammates. “They continued to block shots and get in lanes, take away sticks in front of the net.”
Not a shabby way to mark his first trip to the Bell Centre, an arena in a hockey market about which Jones had heard plenty.
“It was great in first period, it was pretty rocking,” said the native of North Vancouver. “Obviously, it wasn’t as lively in the second and third, but it was a pretty fun atmosphere.”
Undrafted, signed as a free agent in October 2008 and recalled from Manchester of the AHL last month to fill in for lower-body-injured Jonathan Quick, Jones has pretty much been lights out — as in red goal-lights out — since his touchdown.
“I thought we did a really good job tonight,” he said, a souvenir puck on the bench behind him in the dressing room. “They got some chances on the power play, but you need saves out of your goaltender on the (penalty-kill). You just have to get those.
“Five-on-five we did a really good job all night. The second period we didn’t take any penalties and they got only two or three shots.”
Habs’ Brendan Gallagher had his team’s best chance to end Jones’s shutout during their 10-shot third period, missing a short backhand with 11 seconds to go.
So the Canadiens’ five-game winning streak comes to a crashing end. Fans beat an early retreat, many not returning for the third period that might as well have been skated in running time.
Those remaining were murmuring in panic, despite the club’s excellent recent run.
Nine-one-one. Where else but in this loopy town could that, on one night, be both a hockey record and a phone call?
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette