It’s not easy being a hockey fan. You’re up, you’re down… you love your team, you loathe your team… the coach made the best decision, the coach made the worst decision… and we are only a month into the season. It can be a rollercoaster of emotions for us “die-hards,” but nothing is more frustrating than watching your team lose games to teams with records that are substantially inferior.
The Last Eight Games
In the last eight games, the Montreal Canadiens have posted four wins and four losses. No one knows better than the Habs that .500 hockey won’t get you to the postseason. Heck, last year, they won 44 games and still missed the playoffs. But, the most frustrating part about 2019-20? If you take a look at the teams that handed Montreal their last four losses, you will notice one glaring statistic. Each of these teams — Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, and Philadelphia Flyers — are currently among the 13 worst teams in the league. We all realize the competitiveness in professional hockey and that any team can win on any given day. That is, after all, why they play the game, but it’s not easing the pain in “Habs-Nation.”
Aside from these four losses, the Canadiens triumphantly added to the win column against 9th-place Toronto Maple Leafs, 12th-place Arizona Coyotes, 8th-place Vegas Golden Knights and finally, “the Beast of the East,” 3rd-place Boston Bruins.
That only leaves one question. Why?
We know the Canadiens’ power play is struggling, their line combinations are inconsistent and they may be without a superstar sniper, but are they also lacking mental toughness and experience, or simply being outplayed as a team?
When two teams of different calibers square off, we see a familiar turn of events. The team that is lower in the standings comes out on fire, leaving the opposing team unfocused, overcompensating, making mistakes and taking penalties. Athletes will tend to “play down” to weaker opponents, and losses to these teams tend to have a lasting effect on team morale. Montreal was definitely doing their best imitation of “playing down” over the last week. (from ‘What the Puck: Canadiens struggling to find an identity,’ Montreal Gazette, 11/8/2019)
Let’s Break It Down
vs. Minnesota Wild 10/20/19
Montreal lost 4-3 in regulation.
Highlights: Tomas Tatar scored a power play goal, Keith Kinkaid played well by making some key saves.
Lowlight: Penalty trouble cost them two goals.
Game notes: This was the second of back-to-back games for the Canadiens. The fact that Joel Armia was out with an injury, coupled with the Canadiens allowing too many shots on Kinkaid were factors that led to their loss. They also tend to lack success at the Xcel Energy Centre in Minnesota.
vs. San Jose Sharks 10/24/19
Montreal lost 4-2.
Highlight: Scored the first goal.
Lowlights: Gave up two power play goals, went 0/3 on the man advantage.
Game notes: Montreal needs to focus on playing a full 20 minutes each period. Giving up a goal late in the period has psychological effects on any team, especially when Montreal has lost nine straight games in regulation to the Sharks since 2015.
vs. Dallas Stars 11/2/19
Montreal lost 4-1.
Highlight: Ben Chiarot played well, including five shots on goal.
Lowlights: Gave up two power play goals, went 0/5 with the man advantage, gave up four straight goals.
Game notes: Montreal looked tired in their third game in four nights. The Canadiens’ game is based on speed and they didn’t have the legs to win the battles in either zone.
vs. Philadelphia 11/7/19
Montreal lost 3-2 in overtime.
Highlights: Penalty kill left Philly scoreless in six attempts, Carey Price stopped 40 shots, including a penalty shot.
Lowlight: Allowed 34 shots in the first two periods.
Game notes: It’s tough to win a game when you play 12 minutes with fewer players on the ice than the opposing team. With the exception of Price, the entire team was sloppy and only got to overtime because their goalie was able to make 40 saves.
At the end of the season, those points that were left on the table in October can come back to haunt you and put you “on the outside looking in” when it comes to the playoffs. Going into Saturday night’s game, the Canadiens sit one place back of the last wild card spot.
Next up for the Habs? The worst of the West. The last-place Los Angeles Kings will be at the Bell Centre on Saturday night trying to add another two points to their lowly 11-point season total. Meanwhile, Montreal will be looking to regroup and post better results throughout the month of November. The way things have been going, this may be their toughest game of the season — the Canadiens have already played (and lost to) the NHL’s last-place team, the Detroit Red Wings, at the beginning of the season.
Though at the end of the day, statistics are only numbers and we all know numbers lie. Just ask the 2019 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. On Jan. 2, 2019, the Blues’ numbers told them they were dead-last in the entire league. The Blues’ 2018-19 season is one that even Hollywood writers would deem “too good to be true” as they went from last to first in 161 days. Analysts would have deemed this a miracle, statisticians might have presumed this an impossibility but the one thing that isn’t calculated in “numbers” is human perseverance. This Blues team was exploding with tenacity, determination, grit… and enough “heart” to dismiss any statistic put before them. Numbers only tell a small part of any story… let’s see who is ready to write the fairy tale in 2020.