Life is not good in Montréal right now. With a record of 2-6-0, the Montréal Canadiens sit last place in the league standings. Through seven games, they’ve been monstrously outplayed in six of them. The first victory of the season over the Detroit Red Wings seemed to provide some solace, but it was quickly dashed by another loss in the next game against the Seattle Kraken. Establishing some form of consistency is critical to success in the NHL, and the Canadiens have yet to establish it in any form this season.
The same issues that nearly cost them a postseason birth last season are plaguing them again in 2021-22, only this time they seem to be hitting harder.
Canadiens’ Performance Much Better in First Victory of the Season
The Canadiens’ first victory over the Red Wings can easily be summed up by a single word: finally. After five brutal losses, things finally seemed to be righting themselves versus Detroit. The Habs finally responded quickly after giving up the first goal. They finally managed to score more than once. They finally scored with the man advantage. They finally managed some depth scoring. They finally got contributions from their new signings. It seemed that all the issues from earlier in the season were being fixed.
The defence played much better, only allowing one goal and helping the penalty kill on its last two attempts. Mike Hoffman unleashed an absolute scorcher of a wrist shot to give the Canadiens the lead on the power play, proving that his lethal shot can indeed spark what had been an utterly anaemic special teams unit to that point. Couple that with the hat trick from Québec boy Mathieu Perreault, and the Canadiens looked to finally be out of whatever rut they had been in. That is, until they got to the Pacific Northwest.
Western Woes and Western Wins
The Canadiens were riding a comparative high when they arrived in Seattle for their first matchup with the upstart Kraken. What followed was an unimpressive display, wherein the Habs were outplayed at every turn. It was the Kraken’s first victory at home in franchise history, and they managed to get contributions from throughout their lineup. The Canadiens’ performance, by contrast, was encapsulated by defender Ben Chiarot:
“It wasn’t pretty. Right from the beginning, they had us on our heels. We knew coming into the rink they’d be excited. Tough travel coming across the county and a time change, (but the) bottom line is they out-skated us the entire game.”Canadiens’ defenceman Ben Chiarot on his team’s play against Seattle. (From “Tanev Scores Twice, Kraken Defeat Canadiens for First Home Win.” Andy Eide. NHL.com. 27/10/2021)
The game against the Kraken was a low point, as Seattle was in the midst of their own losing streak and had yet to win a game at home. The Kraken were the better team in nearly every statistical category, save for hits.
While the start of their western road trip ultimately turned sour, the Canadiens salvaged it in their Oct. 28 game against the San Jose Sharks. A much more well-rounded effort, the game versus the Sharks can be described as the best showing of the young season. A 4-0 shutout victory, goaltender Jake Allen turned away 45 shots while the defence held serve, keeping the Sharks power play scoreless on four attempts. Allen said postgame that the victory represented a turning point in the Canadiens’ play:
“I thought it was a crucial game for our group. I know it’s early, but we’re obviously in a funk, and I thought it was an important game to get our momentum going so we can finish this trip on the right note.”Habs’ netminder Jake Allen on the victory over the Sharks. (From “Allen makes 45 saves, Canadiens shut out Sharks.” Chelena Goldman. NHL.com. 29/10/2021)
The Good and the Bad
In the first eight games of this season, the Canadiens’ have demonstrated both their potential and their pitfalls. The special teams can be both lethal, as the aforementioned Hoffman wrister demonstrated, and lethargic, going 0-4 against what were then still the league’s proverbial cellar-dwelling Buffalo Sabres. There are still some questions about the defence, especially with the continued absences of Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson. Jake Allen has both sparkled and sputtered in the cage, shutting out the Sharks shortly after allowing five goals to them in a game just over a week ago.
This lack of consistency was something the Canadiens struggled with as they attempted to lock down a playoff spot last season, and its seemingly continued into the start of 2021-22. The Canadiens will have to pull of a successful rest of the road trip in order to recoup some of the points they lost to begin the season, and then finally establish some of that consistency during their upcoming home stand.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.