With a bottom of the division, low-scoring track record, the Montreal Canadiens have become the team that opposing coaches choose their backup goaltenders to face, and on Tuesday night, they showed why this is the case.
For the fourth time the season, the Canadiens faced an opponent’s second-string netminder. The result, against Aaron Dell and the San Jose Sharks, was a 4-1 loss. Unable to muster up any sort of goal-scoring consistency as they near the mid-mark of the season, frustration is building up quickly in the Canadiens’ dressing room.
“We’re here to perform for ourselves in [the dressing room,] and for the fans out there, and lately we haven’t given them anything to cheer about,” said defenceman Jeff Petry following the defeat. “It’s frustrating for us, and it’s frustrating for them, but the only ones who can do anything about it are the guys in the dressing room.
“It’s something we need to work on and try to get better and try to get out of this as quickly as possible,” added Petry.
Habs Unable to Score Goals
The lack of scoring against the Sharks was not a result of a diminished effort or a shortage of opportunity, however. Twelve minutes into the first period, the Canadiens had already managed to record 10 shots on goal, with four coming on three power-play attempts. Overall, the Canadiens fired 30 shots on goal, but had almost nothing to show for it.
Montreal’s lone goal came on a 5-on-3 power-play in the second period when Andrew Shaw directed a Max Pacioretty pass off his leg into the net for his 10th of the season, second highest on the team thus far. While it is encouraging to see Shaw producing, it is never a good sign when he is near the lead in goals on the roster.
The inability to put the puck in the net has been an issue that has plagued the Canadiens for years, but the extent to which is has hampered the team is most obvious this season. Over the past four seasons, the Canadiens have averaged 2.7 goals per game. This season, in 40 contests, they have managed 2.53. Currently 27th in the league in terms of goals for, Montreal finds themselves 14 points out of the final playoff spot in the Atlantic division, and without any answer for their scoring problem, the deficit seems insurmountable at this point in time.
“Tonight was a bad game from our group. We had spurts of good play but we just didn’t have everyone on board,” said Pacioretty. “That’s frustrating all things considered. Coming back from a road trip and knowing where we are in the standings and knowing how many games we’ve dropped, that’s upsetting.”
Needing to Remain Together
The loss to San Jose was the fifth in a row for the Canadiens, a streak which began against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec 23. In that span, the team has only scored four goals, while averaging a mere 6.3 dangerous scoring chances per game. While the losses continue to pile up, those inside the dressing room insists that the team is sticking together to try and get through the hard times.
“When you go through slumps like this, you have to start from the basics, do the little things right, help each other, and play for each other,” said assistant captain Tomas Plekanec. “We’re one group, and we’ve got to stay together as a team, and I believe we will do so.”
The Canadiens record now stands at 16-20-4. With 42 games remaining this season to regain any ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the schedule is not getting any easier from here on out. Along with a matchup against the NHL’s top team in the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, the Canadiens will play 27 games against teams currently in a playoff position. Time is running out fast, and with a tough road ahead, Montreal must regroup sooner than later.
“The answers are in the room,” said Charles Hudon. “We need to regroup together and stay united.”
I cover the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket for The Hockey Writers. I am currently a student at the University of Concordia studying journalism in the hopes of one day becoming a full-time sports reporter. I have previously covered the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League for Pro Football Spot.