On January 15th the Canadiens went in to Ottawa riding their first six game road winning streak in 33 years. The Senators, who had won only three of their previous ten games, beat up the Habs on almost every level en route to a 4-1 victory.
It left Canadiens fans scratching their heads and asking themselves why the Canadiens are no-shows so often against the league’s have-nots.
Wednesday night the Canadiens meet the Senators again and once again fans are having anxiety bouts despite the fact the Habs have the second best winning percentage in the NHL. Their trepidation is not unfounded. Against the league’s bottom feeders the Canadiens have been horrible. They are 4-4-2 against the bottom five teams and winless in five games against Buffalo and Edmonton. Conversely, in those so-called “statement games” against the NHL’s top-ten their record is 10-6-1.
In reality, this is not only a Canadiens problem. It is a constant among the very good teams, especially the President’s Trophy winners, over the last decade.
The NHL schedule is an 82 game marathon and much as coaches and fans would like to see ultimate effort eighty-two times, it just isn’t going to happen.
First; unlike a couple of decades ago, parity has narrowed the talent gap between the haves and have-nots to the point where good teams can’t just throw a glove on the ice against mediocre ones and expect a win. Secondly; in the shootout age, even the best teams are destined to lose between 25 and 30 of their 82 games or about a third of the schedule. There’s little glory or self satisfaction in beating up on the Oilers and Sabres of life and the tendancy is to emotionally take the night off. ,
Scotty Bowman coached the two greatest regular seasons in NHL history. In 1977-78 his Canadiens lost only eight games and posted a still-standing record 132 points. In ’95-’96 with the schedule now at eighty-two games, Bowman’s Detroit Red Wings won a record sixty-two games and fell one point short of the Canadiens points record. They lost 13 that season.
Bowman will be the first to tell you that those days are gone, forever buried in the mediocrity of post lockout parity and shootouts.
So maybe it’s best if we don’t obsess on the Canadiens record against Arizona, Edmonton, Buffalo, Minnesota, Dallas and Ottawa, all of them non-playoff teams who have taken up nine of the Canadiens 18 losses this season and dwell on what they do against the teams they might have to beat come playoff time. Against them this season they have a 28-10 record.