The Montréal Canadiens are being presented with a golden opportunity. A disastrous start to the 2021-22 season has seen them wallow near the bottom of the NHL standings with a record of 2-8-0. They have yet to establish an identity of any sort, and it seems that — in terms of quality of play — any traces of the team that advanced to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final have all but disappeared.
However, unlike what some fans may believe, all is not lost. After a back-and-forth (but mostly back) west coast road trip, which they finished with a record of 1-3, they returned to the Bell Centre last night to begin a five-game homestand. The team can use these five games not only to establish some consistency, but to right the entire ship if all goes well.
Canadiens’ Upcoming Opponents Experiencing Their Own Struggles
The origins of the Habs’ hopes no doubt lie in the fact that some of their upcoming opponents are in the middle of their own rough patches. The Vegas Golden Knights, whom the Canadiens face on Saturday night, are toiling in comparative obscurity, which is to say possessing a .500 winning percentage and a 4-4-0 record in the same division as the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers and the surprisingly successful Calgary Flames. In their short existence, the Golden Knights have always been known as a lightning-quick, high-scoring, energetic team.
This season so far has been oppositional to the team’s established reputation, as their minus-5 goal differential indicates early troubles. Many of their best players have also missed time with injury, which means others have had to step up. The Golden Knights’ top scorers this season include, perhaps shockingly, centre Chandler Stephenson and defenceman Nicolas Hague. (From “Golden Knights get unexpected top scorer with key players out,” Ben Gotz, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 01/11/21)
Last night’s 3-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings should act as a catalyst for the Canadiens. Before last night, the Canadiens and Red Wings had already met once this season, a game which resulted in a resounding Canadiens’ victory. A 6-1 home win, the Oct. 23 game was originally thought to be the end of the team’s early-season struggles. While it wasn’t to be, there were multiple signs of hope for both the offence and the defence.
The most offence the Canadiens have produced all season, they dominated the game from start to finish. They ended their special teams drought when Mike Hoffman potted a power-play goal with his patented wrist shot, and the penalty kill, led by defencemen Ben Chariot and Jeff Petry, held the Red Wings to 1-for-3 on their power play. Mathieu Perrault potted a hat trick, vindicating general manager Marc Bergevin’s offseason moves. (From “Mathieu Perreault’s hat trick leads Canadiens past Red Wings for 1st win of season,” Tristan D’Amours, CBC News, 23/10/21)
Consistent Bell Centre Support Should Provide a Morale Boost
Being at home usually provides a spark; the combination of the crowd support and the familiar surroundings — i.e. lack of travel — provides an opportunity to establish both personal and professional routines as best as possible. The Canadiens’ five-game homestand comes at the perfect time, in order for them to capitalize on both of these things. Habs fans are among the best in the league, and the culture surrounding the team has resulted in one of the most dedicated and loyal fanbases in all of sport.
The homestand will also provide the Canadiens with a full 12 days at home (including off days). Being surrounded by friends and family, as well as a familiar work environment, is something increasingly rare in today’s travel-heavy NHL. This will help the Canadiens, not least because they’ve just completed a four-game west coast road trip. Time changes and the constant inter-city travel (Seattle to San Jose to Los Angeles to Anaheim in this case) make focus and consistency a challenge in any environment, not only in professional sport.
The Canadiens are in a prime spot to right the ship of what’s been nothing short of a disaster so far. Their upcoming opponents are struggling themselves. These are teams the Habs have beaten before. The Bell Centre will be rocking, but will the Canadiens be ready?
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.