It’s an unfortunate reality of the 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens season: They’ve lost many more games than they’ve won, over twice as many in fact at 20-40-11 as one of the worst teams in the entire NHL.
It’s not all lost, though. Not only are there silver linings to this awful Canadiens season overall. Not all the losses have been pointless, either.
Not so much in that 11 have come in overtime or a shootout. Rather because even the embarrassing ones that ended in regulation have led to the Habs being in the position they are, on the verge of a high draft pick, with contagious optimism for the future under new management (i.e., general manager Kent Hughes) that’s seemingly spreading like wildfire.
To be fair there are still arguably must-watch Habs games still on the schedule. But, with the team’s non-playoff fate long since decided, there are must-remember ones that best define the team’s season to date that should be looked back on instead.
True, they’re all losses, because why wouldn’t they be? But they’re not all bad, at least not in principle. Fair warning, score-wise they most certainly are:
Seattle Kraken 5 – Canadiens 1 (Oct. 26, 2021)
The Habs’ first-ever meeting against the Seattle Kraken belongs on this list for a few reasons. It defines the 2021-22 Canadiens season in that they played the Kraken for the first time in history, which is pretty momentous regardless of the final score, but that’s just for starters.
Heading into this game the Canadiens had just decisively beaten the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 for their first win of the season to bring their record 1-5. As if to say, “Not so fast,” the hockey gods made that the final score in this one, crushing fans’ hopes that the Habs were in the process of turning it around. Obviously, they weren’t.
On top of everything else, the Canadiens lost 5-1 to an expansion team for crying out loud. Granted, throughout their history, the Canadiens’ record against expansion teams hasn’t been great, but one look at the standings will reveal these are hardly the Vegas Golden Knights. True, they’re only one point better than the Canadiens, but bragging about that is a self-own if there ever was one, as the Habs and Kraken are two of the three worst teams in the league.
Arizona Coyotes 5 – Canadiens 2 (Jan. 17, 2022)
The other worst team in the league? The Arizona Coyotes, who have become something of a laughing stock, considering not just their record, but their arena situation, as the Coyotes literally go back to college.
Say what you want about the Coyotes, though. They are the worst team in the NHL, but it was realistically part of their plan to tank. So, their league-worst 22-44-5 record is understandable. The Canadiens don’t have the same excuse.
No one anticipated ex-general manager Marc Bergevin to tank the 2021-22 season. One season after the Habs reached the Stanley Cup Final, the goal was logically to try to win it all. One bad Bergevin offseason later, combined with historically bad luck on the injury front, and this is what the Canadiens have to show for it.
The Canadiens entered the game having lost five in a row. They’d lose their sixth straight against the Coyotes, which wasn’t even a season high at the time (seven, from Nov. 29 – Dec. 14, 2021). It also firmly established the Habs as the worst team in the league at the time, having entered the game one point behind the Coyotes.
On the plus side, the game was Rem Pitlick’s second with the Canadiens, but the first in which he scored. He’s since gone on to score 22 points in 35 games as a Hab. Add on the 11 in 20 games he scored with the Minnesota Wild before getting stolen off waivers, and he’s put together a fairly impressive rookie campaign.
Pitlick may not be a superstar, but he is a valuable contributor, and, to put it in perspective, the Canadiens were always going to be in tough to make the playoffs. Had they not struggled to the extent they have this season, they may not have been able to claim Pitlick off waivers, though. Yet another silver lining.
Minnesota Wild 8 – Canadiens 2 (Jan. 24, 2022)
Following the loss to the Coyotes, the Canadiens put together a modest three-game points streak. They beat the Dallas Stars, in a game they probably should have lost, but they did take both the Golden Knight and Stanley Cup-contender Colorado Avalanche to overtime, all on the road. Was this a sign of a long-awaited turnaround?
Nope. They followed up the quasi-impressive performances with arguably their worst of the season, an 8-2 defeat to the Minnesota Wild. It was at least the most goals the Canadiens had allowed all season (at that point in time, anyway).
Mike Hoffman actually opened the scoring, but, aside from another Pitlick goal late, it was all downhill from there for the Habs. They got outshot 39-21, with then-head coach Dominique Ducharme pulling de facto starter Cayden Primeau after two periods with the score 5-1. Overall, Primeau has been pulled five times this season (including against the Coyotes above).
Then-backup Michael McNiven didn’t fare better in his NHL debut, though. He allowed three goals in the third, including one to ex-Hab Jordie Benn for good measure, the only goal he’s scored all season. It was that kind of game.
Would the Canadiens have fared better had Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault been available? Hard to say in all honesty. Even if the answer is yes, the fact that they were injured at the time speaks all the louder to why this specific game made it on the list. Excuse or not, injuries have become a critical part of the narrative of this season.
New Jersey Devils 7 – Canadiens 1 (Feb. 8, 2022)
Speaking of injuries, the Canadiens enjoyed nine full days between games, coinciding with the All-Star Game. So, for all intents and purposes, they should have been refreshed against the New Jersey Devils to kick off the unofficial second half of the season. Maybe they were, but it didn’t show in what was arguably the most embarrassing loss of the season, a 7-1 defeat that led to Ducharme’s dismissal.
True, upon being hired, executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton had said that Ducharme would stay on the rest of the season. Consider the facts, though: The Canadiens were facing a team barely better than them in the standings. The Devils had also lost seven in a row, including a game the previous night.
The Devils should have been easy pickings, especially for the Habs, who had lost six in a row themselves and had just as much to prove. They just didn’t get the memo, with Josh Anderson candidly speaking up after the game in the media about how embarrassing the loss was. You know what they say about rock bottom, though. Things can only go up from there.
Winnipeg Jets 8 – Canadiens 4 (March 1, 2022)
Martin St. Louis obviously got hired to replace Ducharme right away, on an interim basis and right away a difference was obvious. True, they kept losing for a while. Under St. Louis, they lost three straight to bring their season-high losing streak to 10 games. However, the effort level that had been lacking against the Devils (and so many other teams) began to show right away.
Pretty soon, the Canadiens started winning again. Not just again, but two in a row for the first time all season. A modest streak that eventually extended to five games, snapping against the Winnipeg Jets in admittedly grandiose 8-4 fashion. However, what was intriguing about this specific loss was the Canadiens tied it after falling behind 4-0 literally in the game’s opening minutes.
Anderson was the hero of the game for the Habs, tallying a hat trick. But St. Louis’ coaching shone through in that, before he had been hired, it would have been impossible to conceive of the Canadiens making a game of it down just 2-0. Literally. Of the eight games they won under Ducharme, they only overcame deficits as large as one goal. That happened in just three wins (Oct. 23 against the Detroit Red Wings, Nov. 11 against the Calgary Flames and Dec. 16 against the Philadelphia Flyers).
True, the Canadiens lost against the Jets, giving up four more the rest of the way, but it was more so what the loss represented. The Canadiens weren’t going to give up when the going got tough. They’d get going instead.
Admittedly, the Canadiens still have a long distance to go still before they can consistently compete. They’re not a playoff team yet and there’s still a lot of work to be done roster-wise. But, culturally speaking, they’re on their way, to the point that, down the stretch, the losses will continue to pile up, but it’s not the losses that matter anymore. It’s how they play in them that does.
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.