Earlier this week, the Montreal Canadiens lost 6-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, indicating one of two things. Either the Penguins are that good or the Habs are that bad. Considering the now-4-13-2 Habs had been just a single win behind the Penguins in the standings prior to the game, Option No. 2 is likelier.
Crosby Scores First Goal Against Canadiens
However, the game was notable for one other reason, Sidney Crosby’s first goal on the season. He’s only played four total, three since exiting COVID-19 protocol. The game was just the Penguins’ first win with Crosby in the lineup, themselves 6-1 losers to the Washington Capitals a few games ago. So, perhaps this is a matter of Crosby having to get in a groove. With Evgeni Malkin also out, these haven’t been the same Penguins. That’s true.
So, it stands to reason the Canadiens haven’t been themselves either. After all, goalie Carey Price has yet to return to action after leaving the player assistance program. Ditto for Paul Byron and Joel Edmundson, the latter of whom would presumably be a top-pair defenseman on this team beside Jeff Petry, with Shea Weber himself effectively retired.
Ultimately, even if you were to exclude Weber, under the assumption he’s not coming back, the Canadiens have lost a great deal of man-games to injury. That cannot be disputed. What also can’t is each of the team’s above them in that one category, including the Penguins, who have arguably lost more in terms of talent, are also above them in the standings.
No Excuses for Canadiens
Granted, that’s a fairly easy thing for other teams to accomplish when you’ve only got 10 points and there are only three teams worse than you. However, teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche have all found a way to stay competitive in spite of their own injury situations. Hell, the Washington Capitals are 10-2-5 and just two points out of first place overall despite having lost Nicklas Backstrom, Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie to injury.
Needless to say, injuries aren’t an excuse, despite the Canadiens at one point having had a sign saying “no excuses” in the dressing room. They’ve long since removed it, coincidentally after general manager Marc Bergevin made Carey Price’s season-long injury in 2015-16, well, an excuse, with the Canadiens obviously missing the playoffs then, despite a record 9-0 start.
So, the Canadiens are looking at the reverse situation for all intents and purposes, following one of their worst starts in franchise history. For them to make the playoffs, they’re going to realistically be the best team in the league from here on out… starting like a week ago.
Canadiens vs. Blues
Much has been made of the possibility of the Canadiens being able to replicate the success of the 2019 St. Louis Blues, who went on to win the Stanley Cup despite being in last place in the entire league to start the calendar year. However, two things about that made-for-Hollywood story:
- The Blues were 15-18-4 when they first started stringing wins together, which equates to a much higher points percentage (.459) than the Canadiens have right now (.263, which is not a typo) and
- The Blues played at a 118-point pace the rest of the way.
To be fair, playing at that pace, the Blues made the playoffs by a comfortable margin, nine points ahead of the wild-card Avalanche. And, if the Canadiens were to play at that same pace the rest of the season, they would earn ~100 points overall, which should be enough to reach the postseason.
However, those Blues were very much deeper at center than these Canadiens, with Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Tyler Bozak generally filling the first three spots. Their defense was also more offensively talented, featuring Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, admittedly at the tail end of the latter’s career.
There are admittedly a few parallels, in the sense that Edmundson tended to pair up with Pietrangelo, just like he partners when healthy with Petry. Furthermore, the Blues also had Jake Allen backing up eventual-starter Jordan Binnington that season, with Allen losing the No. 1 job he had initially.
As history has proven, Allen makes for a great No. 1B at the most, but you’re not in a good spot if you’re depending on him to start the lion’s share of games. Now that Allen’s injured, the Canadiens are in an even worse spot, ultimately deciding to go with Cayden Primeau, throwing their top goaltending prospect to the lions in the process.
Canadiens’ Questionable Management Decisions
Primeau didn’t play badly in his first start, a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers. In fact, he had to play extremely well just to limit the Rangers to three goals. Him allowing five goals against the Penguins in the aforementioned game, only to be pulled in favor of Samuel Montembeault was predictable. It wasn’t Primeau’s fault, as his defense left him out to dry far too often in that game too.
The decision to play Primeau over Montembeault was understandable in the sense the Habs went with the better of the two goalies available to them. Clearly, they’re trying (and failing) to salvage the season, which is in a way admirable. However, if you’re incapable of properly insulating arguably the future of your organization in net, which the Canadiens have proven themselves to be, it speaks to a questionable, short-sighted decision at the very least and, more likely, mismanagement overall, especially when you take the construction of the team as a whole into account.
Ultimately, the Canadiens have too many holes in the lineup to make a go of it. So, when Bergevin first says “it’s hard to comprehend” why the team is struggling and says he won’t make a move just to make one, it’s puzzling in its own right, because the team’s shortcomings are clear. Injuries aren’t it. It’s decision-making, on the ice, as evidenced by their play, especially against the Penguins, and in terms of management, based on all those holes in the lineup… even when completely healthy.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.