Canadiens Continue to Search for Momentum in 2021-22

How do the Montréal Canadiens explain what happened Saturday night? How do they explain their uncanny ability to take a fantastic start and throw it away completely? How do they explain what happens when their complete and total dominance over a Vegas Golden Knights team – which hasn’t had the best start to the season either – ultimately leads to a lopsided loss? In many ways, there isn’t something one can point to and say “that’s what they did wrong”. Sometimes, you just have to throw up your hands in frustration and befuddlement.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Suggestions on potential changes have been made in spades. Change the lines. Change the coach. Throw the season. Fire everyone. There have been many problems for the Canadiens this season, and the loss against the Golden Knights exposed yet another weakness: the lack of ability to push back when the momentum of a game changes.

Canadiens Cannot Recover After Allowing Goals

At the end of the first period versus the Golden Knights, everything seemed to be going well. The Canadiens held a massive advantage both on the shot clock and the scoreboard. They outshot the Golden Knights 20-1 and held a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. In that first period, Nick Suzuki potted his third of the season on the power play, and Tyler Toffoli followed with his third shortly after that. Things carried over into the first few minutes of the second period, until Canadiens’ defenceman Ben Chiarot was called on a delay of game penalty which resulted in the tying goal.

At that point, it was as though the Canadiens conceded the victory the moment Alex Pietrangelo’s goal entered the back of the net. Things quickly began to unravel, as the Golden Knights scored five unanswered goals, including two power-play goals from two opportunities. To make matters worse, the Canadiens now hold the dubious distinction of being the only team the Golden Knights have played this season to allow power-play goals against. Prior to Saturday’s contest, the Golden Knights had gone 0-for-22 with the man advantage, yet another dismal statistic for the Canadiens to live with. (From “Canadiens blow 2-0 lead as Vegas scores 5 unanswered goals” Pat Hickey. Montréal Gazette. 06/11/2021)

Canadiens Cannot Score Goals

The Canadiens’ goal differential is horrid. Many of their losses have been extremely lopsided, almost to the point where they never seemed like they were in the game to begin with. In league rankings, the Canadiens sit 26th in goals for with 26 scored across 13 games. Conversely, they currently rank 30th in goals against, having allowed 45 goals in those same 13 games. Blowout losses at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks, and Seattle Kraken have left the Canadiens reeling and searching for answers. The team’s top five scorers — Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, and Mike Hoffman — account for 15 of the team’s 26 goals scored this season. Those supposedly dominant presences should carry the team, but in a more indirect way than they’ve been doing so far.

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin currently sits third on the Canadiens in scoring. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Momentum is no doubt a large part of the Canadiens’ inability to put the puck in the back of the net. They look utterly dejected when they give up a goal, perhaps best exemplified by Mike Hoffman slipping after failing to prevent the empty-net goal in the game against the Golden Knights. His expression of hopelessness, coupled with his awkward fall into the side boards, is a microcosm of the goal-scoring struggle.

Related: Canadiens Scapegoat Search for 2021-22 Season

Canadiens Miss Veteran Presence

Yes, the Canadiens young guns are exciting. Suzuki has been the team’s best player on the young season. Cole Caufield lit it up when he was first called up last season. They have more talent on the way. Kaiden Guhle and Jesse Ylönen could serve as the anchors of the defence for years to come. Alex Belzille is finally getting his shot in the show. However, they still miss veteran presences. Shea Weber remains on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Carey Price, although now on his way back, won’t magically transform into his old self the second he steps on the ice. The presences they also miss are those who departed in free agency. Corey Perry and Phillip Danault were tremendously effective in their roles with the Canadiens.

Former Canadiens’ centre Philip Danault. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The constant defensive presence of Danault, now a member of the Los Angeles Kings, is sorely missed by the Canadiens. He recently had a multi-goal game and is proving to be a key piece in the Kings’ rebuild (From “Stu Cowan: Phillip Danault among players Canadiens are really missing” Stu Cowan. Montréal Gazette. 15/10/2021). His history with the club also helped transition some of the younger players into the league as well as provided an example to which they could aspire. One of the most important veteran contributors, Paul Byron, is also on the shelf for about the next six weeks as he recovers from hip surgery he underwent in the offseason.

These vets, should they have remained with the Canadiens and/or returned to the lineup, would have an immediate impact on the team’s performance, not least because they would be able to provide some guidance and draw on their own experiences of team struggles. In this sense, vets can provide their own momentum swings.

None of these solutions are easily fixed. However, they are easily recognized, which is the first step to success.

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