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Canadiens’ embarrassing start in loss to Capitals utterly perplexing

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The Montreal Canadiens gave up two even-strength goals, a power-play goal, 16 shots on net, 32 attempts and enough scoring chances to lose three games — and that was just in the first period of what turned out to be this team’s 16th loss this season.

The Canadiens came into it after notching what they thought was a galvanizing 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday, after a hard practice Monday that left Chris Wideman saying they were “headed in the right direction for sure,” after another competitive workout Tuesday and an optional morning skate in Washington Wednesday.

They came out of it with no chance of winning the game, despite a hope shot from Jake Evans finding the back of the net to get them within two goals before 20 minutes were up.

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The Canadiens were looking to, for the first time this season, string consecutive wins together. After Jake Allen allowed the first goal of the game on the first shot he faced, and after a tentative penalty kill gave skilled players Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson all the time and space in the world to score the second goal, Cedric Paquette went to clear a puck out of the slot and ended up shooting it off Michael Sgarbossa’s head to make it 3-0 Capitals and effectively end that bid.

Beat by Sgarbossa, beat by Carlson, beat by Nic Dowd, but the Canadiens were mostly beat by themselves.

They’ve done it so many times through 21 games, we’ve lost count.

They beat themselves in so many ways in this 6-3 win for the Capitals, we nearly lost count.

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On Dowd’s opening goal, Allen had to come up with a save. The Montreal goaltender, playing in his first game since suffering a concussion on Nov. 13, was beaten when the Capitals forward drove to the outside, brought the puck out from behind the net and dumped it over his shoulder.

Paquette caught as bad of a bounce as you can get banking the puck of Sgarbossa and into his own net, but the goal right before that was a sample of what’s made the Canadiens the 29th-best penalty-killing team in the NHL so far.

Carlson was allowed to walk in from the point unchallenged after Kuznetsov was permitted to stand by the net and play with the puck long enough to choose whatever play he wanted. Carlson uncorked a one-timer that banked off Paquette’s skate and finished bar-down to make it 2-0.

That was just one example of how the Capitals were unchallenged in every way through the first 20 minutes. It was utterly perplexing after the step the Canadiens thought they had taken against the Predators on Saturday.

They had won by wide margins in each of their four wins prior to that, but Wideman said this one felt different.

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“I think, obviously, winning on a Saturday night at the Bell Centre, that’s amazing. That’s always a good time,” he said on Monday. “But if you look back at the game, it was like four or five scrums where guys were in it with a guy on their team or two guys on their team and then you look two seconds later and we had all five guys in there. Guys were sticking up for each other, and that’s the stuff you look to.

“Yeah, the goals are great, and Monty (Samuel Montembeault) made some awesome saves, and we had some great plays as a team, but guys sticking up for each other and getting in there and getting after it against the other team — that’s what makes it fun. That’s where you see the group of guys coming together, sticking up, protecting each other. That’s good stuff.”

But the first period in Washington was more of the same bad stuff this season’s been made of, with the Canadiens unglued, disengaged and discombobulated.

Defensively, it was embarrassing. Offensively, all the Canadiens could only muster eight shot attempts.

From there, they chased the game.

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After taking a few chances, the Canadiens allowed Kuznetsov to score what might have been the easiest goal of the 136 he’s racked up in his 540 NHL games. In the 10th minute of the second period, after the Capitals cycled through Montreal’s end unchecked, Carlson sifted the puck through to the far side of Allen’s crease from the point and Kuznetsov took it and had enough time to tuck it in with a slow-motion move.

Five Montreal players were in the picture, and all of them had their eyes glued to Carlson, with Joel Armia leaving Kuznetsov all by himself in a much more dangerous area of the ice.

Cole Caufield responded for the Canadiens with his first goal of the season in what was his 13th game. The 20-year-old winger, who spent two weeks with the AHL’s Laval Rocket recently, fully earned it and was one of Montreal’s only players who played well in this game.

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Evans, Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen all played hard, even if they were on the ice for some goals against.

But everyone else in their uniform appeared to be a passenger.

The Canadiens could do nothing but watch as Alex Ovechkin stormed down the right wing early in the third period. The Great 8 faked shot and gave Tom Wilson an empty net, notching his third assist of the game on the goal that made it 5-2 Capitals.

Dmitry Orlov walked in unmarked and made it 6-2 Capitals with just under 14 minutes to play. Lehkonen scored with just over two minutes to play, but the game was long over before that point.

It was over after one period.

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