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In the Habs' Room: Canadiens played a perfect game — till they 'cracked'

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price snags a Winnipeg Jets shot in Winnipeg Feb. 25, 2021.
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price snags a Winnipeg Jets shot in Winnipeg Feb. 25, 2021.

Dominique Ducharme and his staff have a lot of work to do.

It was unreasonable to think the new head coach could produce a turnaround after one morning skate, but the Canadiens didn’t look much different than they have over the past two weeks leading up to the dismissal of Claude Julien .

The Winnipeg Jets rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Canadiens 6-3 Thursday at Bell MTS Place.

Ducharme said the Canadiens played a perfect game for 30 minutes before they “cracked” — mentally and physically.

Carey Price hasn’t been very good this season, but Ducharme gave him a vote of confidence by starting him. When asked to evaluate Price’s performance — six goals on 31 shots — Ducharme said the $10.5-million man was “like the team, he’s part of the team.” That means he was good at the start and not so good as the game went on and the Jets increased the pressure.

The Canadiens need Price to be a great goaltender but he’s not even good right now . After Thursday’s blitz, he has a 5-4-3 record with a 3.13 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage. In the past, a struggling Price has been able to step away and work with goaltending coach Stéphane Waite but, with the compressed schedule, that’ s a luxury the Canadien can’t afford.

Ducharme said the Canadiens have to get better at both ends of the ice.

“I think we can be much better with the puck breaking out,” Ducharme said. “We have to be making stronger plays. That doesn’t mean throwing the puck away. We have to be stronger in our decisions, making high-percentage plays in our zone.

“Defending the zone, I thought we did a pretty good job early in the game (but) the more it went, the more we were backing in,” added Ducharme. “There were less turnovers in the neutral zone, less counters, not playing as fast. It all comes together.

“We’re a little fragile right now.,” said Ducharme. “It’s normal. We have to find a way to control the things that we have the ability to control. We didn’t do good work in that aspect of the game. We made mistakes that led to scoring chances and goals.”

Jonathan Drouin noted that Winnipeg has some talented players on their top two lines but one of the themes going into this season was the Canadiens’ depth and their ability to roll four lines.

The depth was in play Thursday as Joel Armia started the game on the fourth line and scored two  first-period goals.

But the depth took a hit when Josh Anderson left the in the first period with an undisclosed injury.

Ducharme said the injury was a double whammy because Anderson is a talented player and his absence forced the coach to double-shift Armia and Corey Perry on the No. 2 line with Drouin and Nick Suzuki.

Ducharme said he didn’t think the injury was serious but more tests will be needed before he is cleared to play in Saturday’s rematch between the Jets and the Canadiens.

The game provided a boost of confidence for Phil Danault, who was reunited with longtime linemates Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. Danault was on the ice for nearly 22 minutes and finished the game as a plus-1 although he struggled in the faceoff circle, winning only nine of 22 draws.

Faceoffs continue to be a problem for the entire team. The Canadiens won only 40 per cent of their draw and the only centre over 50 per cent was Suzuki, who won seven of 13 draws. Jesperi Kotkaniemi won only one of six.

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