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Penalty-killing problems continue in Habs' loss to Wild


SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The Canadiens’ power play is much improved this season, but their penalty-killing is a lot worse.

Both those things were on display in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Canadiens went 1-for-2 on the power play, with Tomas Tatar getting the goal, and they are now clicking at 27.3 per cent for the season, ranking in the top 10 in the NHL. But the Wild went 2-for-5 on their power play and the Canadiens’ penalty-killing now ranks near the bottom of the NHL at 71.0 per cent.

Last season, the Canadiens ranked 30th on the power play (13.2 per cent) and were 12th in penalty-killing (80.9 per cent).

Phillip Danault gave the Canadiens a 3-2 lead with his second goal of the game at 3:22 of the third period, but Brad Hunt tied it up with the Wild’s second power-play goal of the game at 8:38 before Zach Parise scored the winner at 12:54.

“When you look at the tying goal and what gave them the momentum … we got to start taking less penalties there in the offensive zone,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said about Paul Byron’s holding penalty seven seconds before Hunt scored. “They’ve been killers so far.”

The Canadiens could have been out of this game in the first period, when they were outshot 19-7, but they were only trailing 1-0 on a power-play goal by Jason Zucker thanks to some stellar goaltending from Keith Kinkaid with Carey Price getting the day off following Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Blues in St. Louis.

“I thought again, typical first period, trying to find your legs after playing the day before and your goaltender keeps you in the game and is really, really good,” Julien said. “Then, come out in the second much better, and so we played with the lead. Come out in the third, we outshot them by quite a big margin (14-5), but they made their shots count and we didn’t. Those penalties in the offensive zone end up coming back to bite you. So those are the kind of things that we have to get better at.

“(Kinkaid) was by far our best player tonight,” the coach added. “First period if it wasn’t for him, game might have been over. But he stood tall and made some big saves and gave us a chance here tonight.”

The Canadiens came out strong to start the second period with Tatar scoring his power-play goal at the 2:50 mark and then Danault scoring his first of two only 16 seconds later for a 2-1 lead.

“(Kinkaid) saved us in the first period making some big saves and we came in here (to the locker room) only down one,” defenceman Jeff Petry said. “We said we owe it to him to be better and I thought we had a better second period. Just the PK again, off the draw, a clean one-timer (by Hunt). There’s things that we still need to clean up.”

Kinkaid’s biggest save came in the second period when he slid across the crease and made a windmill glove stop on Tucker from close range. It’s definitely an early Save of the Year candidate.

“I saw Carey make that windmill (save) yesterday and (Wild goalie Devan) Dubnyk’s in the highlight reels with that kind of save,” Kinkaid said. “So it’s kind of funny I did it here. I just figured he didn’t shoot it right away, so he tried to get it up. So I just wanted to cover up as much room as I could.”

The Canadiens saw their record fall to 4-3-2, while the Wild improved to 2-6-0. The Canadiens have now lost their last seven games in Minnesota, dating back to 2013. Dubnyk now has a 10-1-1 record in 12 career starts against the Canadiens. Alex Stalock was in goal when the Wild lost 4-0 to the Canadiens last Thursday at the Bell Centre.

“I felt good in warmup and I just wanted to keep things close,” Kinkaid said. “We knew they were going to come out hard after what happened in Montreal. They had a closed-door meeting and everything. So we knew it was coming.”

Was Kinkaid satisfied with his own performance?

“I’m never satisfied unless we get the win,” he said. That’s what counts and we didn’t get it. We didn’t win, so I still have things to improve on.”

Not as much as the Canadiens’ penalty-killing unit.

scowan@postmedia.com

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