For all intents and purposes, the Montreal Canadiens did what they had to over their last 10 games. It was a stretch during which they exclusively faced playoff-caliber competition, going 2-6-2, for a total six points. Considering the goal has been to continue to rebuild this 2022-23 season, they did about as “well” as fans could have hoped to help secure a high draft pick, with maybe one real slip-up where, despite all signs pointing to an eventual loss, they pulled out a win instead.
That game came on March 14 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite getting outshot 43-22 and pacing the Pens a two-goal lead less the five minutes in, the Canadiens won 6-4. Hell, even after the Canadiens scored four straight to pull ahead 4-2, they let the Penguins score twice to tie things up, prompting fans hoping for a loss to lick their lips in anticipation. Then call-up Anthony Richard scored the eventual game-winner early in the third period, with Josh Anderson adding an empty-net goal for good measure.
You can actually point to their entire season series against the Penguins as a huge disappointment in that regard, albeit one that has produced some of the most exciting hockey Canadiens fans have seen over the last two seasons. Overall, the Canadiens went 3-0 over the Pens this season, including two overtime wins, with an especially “frustrating” one taking place on Nov. 12, during which the Canadiens tied it on three separate occasions in the third only to win it 5-4 in the extra frame.
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With that game as something of a template for what makes a bad rebuild game, here are four others in reverse chronological order for five total. The common thread is each game the Canadiens earned points in the standings to shoot their overall draft-pick aspirations in the foot (sometimes even in spite of their best apparent efforts to lose):
New York Islanders (5-4 Overtime Win on Feb. 11)
It’s maybe not on the same level as the Nov. 12 victory over the Penguins, but the Canadiens did tie it twice in the third against the New York Islanders on Feb. 11 to earn at least a single point. Then defenseman Mike Matheson completed the comeback with a goal in overtime to win it 4-3. It was Matheson’s second point of the night, as he collected a primary assist on Kirby Dach’s game-tying goal with just over three minutes left in regulation. He understandably earned first-star honors as a result.
What’s interesting about this game is the win snapped a four-game losing streak at the time. The Canadiens went on to win their next three too, including one the very next day against the Edmonton Oilers. The question is, do they earn six straight points in the standings without gaining confidence from these first two? No one will ever know.
Vancouver Canucks (7-6 Overtime Loss on Dec. 5)
This is the only loss on this list, but it’s almost scary how close the Canadiens came to earning the full two points instead of just one in a 7-6 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 5. The Canucks spotted the Canadiens a four-goal lead in the first period, before Sean Monahan got injured, leaving the game midway through the second period, the last action he’d see all season.
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Needless to say, based on the outcome, the Canadiens didn’t cope well with the sudden hole down the middle. The Canucks scored five straight, before Christian Dvorak tied it with less than five minutes left. Anderson scored the go-ahead goal soon thereafter, only for the Canucks to tie it even later, on the power play after defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic got called for tripping. Elias Pettersson scored an unlucky 13 seconds into overtime to put the Habs and their fans out of their misery… both those still holding out hope for a win and the one who were more realistic, looking for an eventual loss.
Philadelphia Flyers (5-4 Shootout Win on Nov. 19)
Before Cole Caufield got injured to end his season, he was on pace for 46 goals (over a full 82 games), thanks to performances like these. Against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 19, with already one goal in his personal bank on the game, Caufield tied it at four apiece with literally seconds on the clock. The Canadiens then went on to win in a shootout.
Considering the standings right now, the turn of events is especially relevant. The Canadiens are in 28th spot at 28-38-6 with 62 points. The Flyers are in 26th at 27-32-12 with 66 points, still very much within reach. Had the Flyers won in regulation, that relatively razor-thin four-point difference turns into a reasonable seven, with a game in hand to boot.
Detroit Red Wings (3-2 Shootout Win on Nov. 8)
This is the only entry on the list where the Canadiens never trailed… but they probably should have based on how they played against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 8. Outshot 43-33, the Canadiens hung goalie Jake Allen out to dry on occasion, to put it mildly.
Allen was the biggest difference as the Canadiens nevertheless won 3-2 in a shootout, but Mike Hoffman also contributed. The forward scored both Habs goals, signaling the start of his early-season hot streak. He went on to score seven points in seven games. This game also marked the end of a three-game losing streak and the start of three straight wins, including the aforementioned 5-4 overtime win over the Penguins.
Overall, the five games on this list represent nine extra points the Canadiens earned, when all signs pointed to them dropping them altogether instead. Coincidentally, the Habs are now nine points up on the tied-for-last-place Columbus Blue Jackets, whom they next face (March 25).
It’s worth noting, over the course of this latest Canadiens stretch, which started on March 5, the Jackets have gone 3-4-1 for seven points. So, the Habs have only “gained” a single point over them, albeit in two more games played, further showing how unlikely it is the Canadiens catch them by the end of the season.
The Habs only have one more 10-game stretch remaining before they hit 82, so, fans should expect little to change in terms of the standings from here on out. On the plus side, over these last 10, the Habs have dropped one spot in the standings and fortified their chances at a top-five pick. It may not seem like much progress, but, as is the basis for much of the justification behind tanking in general, a single pick can make all the difference.