On Saturday night, the Montreal Canadiens struggle to stay afloat continued as they got their lunch handed to them by the Dallas Stars to the tune of 6-2. The Stars are the league’s best team with a record of 24-7-2 for 50 points and a +29 goal differential in 33 games, so the Canadiens weren’t considered a shoo-in to beat them. But the trend of losing momentum and staying in neutral once being scored upon continued for yet another game.
Montreal Canadiens Struggles Continue
Much like in their games against the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings last week, the Canadiens started the game off strong, getting shots on net and controlling possession. Then a costly error by Tom Gilbert sent Jason Spezza barreling down the ice towards goalie Mike Condon to score the first goal before the game was two minutes old. After that it seemed as if the Canadiens showed up in spurts, just enough to hit some posts and score two goals. Rookie Daniel Carr scored on a beautiful drag and tuck goal while also ending the dreadful 0-23 power play drought that the Habs had built up, but just two minutes later Tyler Seguin drove in another goal, exploiting the Canadiens defense when Jeff Petry was demolished by Jamie Benn, and made it 4-1 for the Stars. Paul Byron scored in the third period on a shorthanded breakaway, which seems to be his trademark, but the game was already done.
After the game, captain Max Pacioretty spoke his mind during an interview and talked about how frustrating it is to be playing on a losing team and how the team seemed to have forgotten how to play hockey. You can watch the censored version here:
Personally, I loved the interview and that Pacioretty called out his teammates. He isn’t innocent by any means, since he is stuck in one of his notorious cold streaks, having only two goals and three points in his last 10 games. But his play alone isn’t the sole reason for the team’s meltdown recently.
Since losing Brendan Gallagher on November 22nd and Carey Price on November 25th, they have played 12 games with a record of 4-7-1 during that time. Three of those wins came in the first week without Price and Gallagher, and their last win was on December 12th versus the Ottawa Senators where they won by a 3-1 score.
In the Kings game, the Canadiens had a staggering 45 shots on L.A. netminder Jonathan Quick but they could not get a single goal. This seems to be another aspect of the team’s bad luck lately. They shot the puck 68 times over the course of five periods and three games with nothing to show for it. Instead they were scored on four times on just 30 shots in those five periods.
There is only so much that Condon and Dustin Tokarski can do. Despite the both of them being young and inexperienced, they’ve made the most of their time in the crease. Condon has especially played well, making some tough saves that rival with Price’s ability but he’s made some mistakes, which is to be expected with rookies. This meltdown isn’t their fault though, this rests on the forward’s and defense’s shoulders. They are the ones who have not played a full sixty minutes of hockey and have shown little effort when needed.
With all the injuries, GM Marc Bergevin has put his trust in rookies such as Sven Andrighetto, Carr, Charles Hudon, Christian Thomas, and Michael McCarron, which has worked out in some cases. Thomas was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Lucas Lessio and Hudon was strangely sent back to the St. John’s IceCaps in favor of McCarron. Hudon played well in his two games and picked up an assist in both games. McCarron was called up shortly thereafter and played his first game against the Stars. Unfortunately for him, his debut did not go as well as Hudon’s or Carr’s for example, as he instead looked lost and had trouble keeping up. More time in the minors is definitely needed for him but Carr, Andrighetto, and Hudon have all shown they can contribute to the team and deserve a chance to prove that until the team is completely healthy.
The sky isn’t falling just yet in Montreal but there is a cause for worry. Prior to the injuries, the Canadiens were first in the NHL and were dominating. Obviously it wasn’t sustainable and a fallback was to be expected but this has been a pretty big jump. They were scoring near three goals per game prior to the injuries and outplaying every team, win or loss, but now the Canadiens have fallen on bad puck luck.
The scoring has dried up in the past 10 games and it’s not limited to just one line, it’s consistent with forward and defense. The power play has taken a hit and while the penalty kill remains one of the best aspects of the team, Dallas managed to score three goals on eight opportunities so that points to the penalty kill unit dropping in efficiency.
Pacioretty was right in his words. The team has completely lost confidence in themselves when giving up the first goal. It has been painful to watch this recent stretch and for Pacioretty, in his first year as captain of the storied franchise, it’s most likely even more painful for him. The team has random points in games where they turn on the heat and can dominate but then suddenly just play dead. Mix in the bad puck luck, running into some hot goalies, and the injuries to two big pillars of the team, you’re going to have a bad time. But it might be time for GM Marc Bergevin to take a look at acquiring another forward or goalie to alleviate the pressure off Condon once the Christmas trade/player movement freeze is lifted on December 27th. Gallagher may be returning to the lineup on January 1st for the Winter Classic game versus the Boston Bruins, according to Renaud Lavoie, but Price is still unknown at this point.