RBC CENTER/RALEIGH – After a stingy effort against the Rangers two days ago, Cam Ward lasted just nine and a half minutes in net against the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday at the RBC Center. Carolina dropped the game, 5-1, after handing out power play goals like Christmas presents. The game’s scoring started and finished with Aaron Ward in the penalty box.

Five goals allowed on 20 shots is embarrassing, but Carolina ran into yet another hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak. They put a season-high 47 shots on yet and managed one goal. Yeah.

‘We had chances,” lone goal scorer Brandon Sutter said. ‘We were throwing pucks at the net and they weren’t going in. We just couldn’t keep up.”

Carolina’s stretch of almost penalty-free play came to a screeching halt 24 seconds in when Aaron Ward was whistled for boarding. The ‘Canes didn’t even look awake yet and couldn’t clear the zone, allowing Andrei Markov to score easily at the back door.

The Habs continued to pour it on when three minutes later, Niclas Wallin and Aaron Ward took a coffee break and allowed Andrei Kostitsyn to walk in easily and score from the same location.

Scott Gomez copped a ‘tude after earning himself a cross checking minor and the referees tacked on an unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Carolina four minutes to tie the score. I wasn’t at ice level, but I would be surprised of that one wasn’t a bit of a freebie for the ‘Canes. Brandon Sutter got his eighth and first in seven games when he picked up a Tim Gleason rebound and scored on Halak.

Carolina almost had one go the other way when the Habs rung one off the post. They came close, but didn’t score and immediately after the latter penalty expired, Andrei’s brother Sergei Kostitsyn scored his first of the season five-hole under a sliding Ward. The orchestra played the ‘Canes starter off the stage and Manny Legace assumed his spot.

Legace said he was ready to go, but his equipment wasn’t.

‘I had to go in with my new set of pads, and they aren’t ready at all,” Legace said. ‘I sort of panicked in the first period a little bit.”

And so the ‘Canes amassed the final score of 3-1 Monday’s loss against New York in the first 9:32. Things did not look good, and with three minutes left, Glen Metropolit sent the puck high over Legace’s glove to make it 4-1.

The first half of the second period passed without incident. Eric Staal got behind the defense and went in alone, but sent the puck crashing harmlessly against Halak’s pads. We all know you have better moves than that, Eric.

In the postgame, Staal sent fans an early Christmas present – accountability. It isn’t much, but hopefully it’s a small comfort.

‘To a man, each of us just isn’t getting it done,” Staal said. ‘We know it’s frustrating for the fans – we’re as frustrated as them. I know it’s not easy to watch. We obviously appreciate the support, and we’ll get better. We’re going to try and bear down and get that work ethic going so we can try and get some wins, because it’s no fun where we’re at right now.”

Carolina benefitted from two back-to-back Montreal penalties with over 20 seconds of overlap. They canceled part of it out with a bench minor for two many men on the ice but neither team scored.

Montreal seemed all right with a three-goal lead and the ‘Canes were perfectly content to let them keep it, so long as they weren’t embarrassed further. But Montreal broke the silent treaty with two minutes left with Ward in the box again when Metropolit reached around Legace for a gorgeous goal.

Jussi Jokinen had a sure goal on an empty net deflect off the crossbar with six minutes left in the game. That’s just the kind of night it was.

Legace dipped into his collection of motivational metaphors after the game to describe Carolina’s situation coming out of the holiday break.

‘We’ve got to start climbing the ladder here,” Legace said. ‘We’ve dug ourselves a big hole, but there’s a lot of hockey left. We’re only 10 points back. It’s possible. We just have to grab hold of the rope and pull at the same time.”

After a two day NHL game freeze, the ‘Canes are back in action and trying to salvage at least one point from this week at home. They’ll face off against old coach Peter Laviolette, old backup goalie Michael Leighton and old team drunk John Grahame (just kidding…or am I?) and the rest of the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night.

Lastly…those bobbleheads. Seriously.

Forget the fact that it doesn’t look remotely like Cole. I know these giveaway nights are planned out way in advance, but having him, um, in the lineup on the night he’s being honored would have been nice. Also (and I have to give credit to Puck Daddy for noticing this) …a bobblehead doll of a guy who had his neck broken? Ehhh…

Happy Holidays, everyone!