CALGARY – Indoors or outdoors, the Montreal Canadiens are having difficulty finding wins these days.
The Habs suffered their sixth defeat in seven games Sunday, falling to the host Calgary Flames 4-0 in the Tim Hortons Heritage Classic.
“I thought we had a good couple first shifts, but it wasn’t good enough,” said Montreal forward Tomas Plekanec. “We weren’t strong enough and fast enough to draw some penalties and that’s where it started.”
Plekanec finished with a team-high eight shots on net but no one on the Canadiens could beat Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who finished with a 39-save shutout at frigid McMahon Stadium.
Despite their recent 1-4-2 swoon, the Canadiens (31-22-7) still sit sixth in the Eastern Conference, nine points up on ninth-place Buffalo and Atlanta.
After Sunday’s setback, Montreal captain Brian Gionta wouldn’t blame the loss on ice conditions at the specially constructed outdoor rink.
“Everything was the same for both teams,” Gionta said. “They dealt with it a little better than we did and kept it a little more simple.”
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price also gave the Flames credit.
“Calgary played exactly the way they needed to play,” said Price, who made 33 saves. “They knew the type of game that was coming and they executed the gameplan. They started out well. They just threw everything at the net. They got a few good chances and they buried them. It just seemed like we couldn’t get the bounces.”
With the Flames up 1-0, the Canadiens were awarded their lone power play of the game at 10:59 of the second when Jay Bouwmeester was penalized for interference.
Instead of capitalizing on the man advantage to tie the game, Montreal surrendered a short-handed goal to Calgary defenceman Anton Babchuk.
“The short-handed goal was probably the turning point, because I felt that we had good momentum,” said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. “We were creating some good pressure, creating some good scoring chances and after that it kind of turned around.”
It won’t get any easier for the Canadiens, who will round out their three-game road trip Tuesday in Vancouver with a game against the league-leading Canucks.
“We need a better effort,” Gionta said. “They’re a tough team. It’s going to be a tough game for us. We need to find a way to turn things around here and make sure that we’re playing the way we need to play and it’s not happening right now.”
When his career is over, however, Gionta says he’ll look back on the Heritage Classic with fond memories.
“For sure it’s special,” he said. “Obviously we would have liked a better outcome. It doesn’t take away from the specialness of the event.”
Said Plekanec: “You would like to have it in the memory as a win, but it still was a nice day.”
Rookie Montreal forward Ryan White played four seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, who play host the WHL outdoor game on Monday against the Regina Pats.
“I felt like I was 16 years old out there,” White said. “It’s old-time hockey and it was a lot of fun to be a part of. I might never get an opportunity like this (again). If I was to say anything to (the Hitmen), it was just savour it, enjoy every second, every moment you can take in.”