Is it possible to say confidently that the Canadiens are in a slump?  Or maybe it’s a contagious lack-of-finish; which is pretty much the same thing.

After their fizzle against the Ottawa Senators Wednesday night, it’s one or the other.  Or both. This was the Canadiens third straight loss, all of them against teams who are likely to finish in the bottom third of the NHL standings at season’s end. Jonathan Drouin hasn’t been in the lineup for the three consecutive losses. Neither has Paul Byron.. Can the absence of those two make that much of a difference? Maybe not, but it seems like the domino effect of the necessary forward line shakeup has been felt.

And so much for that favourable November schedule. Yes they beat Boston and Washington. But so far this month they have also played seven games against teams that were behind them in the standings. They are 2 and 5 in those games, losing to Dallas, Philadelphia (OT), New Jersey, Columbus and now the overtime Ottawa loss.  Already the idea of making a success of November is gone and the spectre of that December schedule looms.

FIVE-ON-FIVE

It was always my opinion that the Canadiens didn’t have enough talent to maintain their record as the league’s top even-strength goal scoring team.. For twenty games they were right up there. Now those goals have become harder to get. Over the last three games the Canadiens have scored only four at even strength. None against Ottawa despite a period in which they controlled almost 86% of the shooting attempts (24 to 4) and failed to score. Senators goaltender Craig Anderson had a lot to say about that, but there was also evidence of lack of finish around the net which made his job easier.

The Canadiens are still first in five-on-five goals but they better not look back, the hounds are on their heels.

THE KIDDIE CORPS

Propaganda has been telling us that this is a team that can make the playoffs. Maybe so. If they do, success might hinge on the three 20 year-olds who are seeing regular ice time. All three of them had their moments in this game.

Nick Suzuki scored the Canadiens only goal. That was his sixth of the season which puts him second among rookie goalscorers. (Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson has seven) Three of his goals have come in the last four games.

Defenseman Cale Fleury made his presence felt all night starting with a heavy hit on the Senators Vladislav Namestnikov that put him out of the game. In the second period Fleury missed on a breakaway at one end and saved a goal by clearing the crease behind an out-of-position Carey Price.

And the 19 year old Jesperi Kotkaniemi finally reported in. Kotkaniemi seemed to be shaking off some of the intensity problems he’d been having and for the first time this season was competitively involved. He wasn’t perfect but the improvement was noticeable.

THE GOALTENDING

Different backup, same situation. If Claude Julien has already lost faith in Keith Kinkaid, and he has good reason, what does that mean for Carey Price’s reduced workload. Price started both ends of the back-to-back this week. Last season, because Antti Niemi was ineffective, Price started nearly every game the final two months of the season. Are we about to see a repeat? Could Laval’s Cayden Primeau be any worse (1.87GAA/.934 save% with the Rocket)?

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….The switch to left wing on the Suzuki line hasn’t helped Max Domi come out of his slump. His goal scoring drought is now nine games.

….The Canadiens won the special teams game. Suzuki scored on a power play and the penalty killers killed six minutes shorthanded including a first period high sticking double minor to Victor Mete. Ottawa totaled only two power play shots.  The Canadiens penalty killing is still worst in the league at close to 70%.

….As usual the Canadiens did a nice job of honouring Guy Carbonneau for his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame this week.  The fans did their part by giving him a prolonged standing ovation during the pre-game presentation.

….Charles Hudon has a lot to prove and seems bent on doing just that. Playing on the fourth line he had three shots on goal and hit a goalpost. His game was mostly mistake free. And right after the game he was again sent back to Laval. In all probability he’ll be recalled Saturday morning. It’s a technical roster move.  If he were to remain on the Canadiens roster for 30 days he must go through waivers again. Based on the current state of his game, he won’t clear waivers a second time.

MOVING ON

The Canadiens will host another struggling hockey team in the New York Rangers Saturday night but beware. The Rangers are coming off Wednesday night’s home ice win over the Washington Capitals.  Next week it will be home games against Boston and New Jersey followed by a back-to-back weekend: Saturday at home to the Flyers followed by Sunday in Boston.