On January 3rd 2010 the Canadiens opened the decade with a 1-0 Bell Centre loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Ryan Miller out dueled Carey Price in goal. The decade ended with Charlie Lindgren in goal and a 3-1 loss at Raleigh North Carolina.
All things considered, the Canadiens decade was a failure. Not on the level of the Buffalo Sabres or Edmonton Oilers but few in Montreal would want to write home about a decade-long regular season record that was barely over .500 (394 wins-389 losses).
The decade started with a Bob Gainey team rebuild which included free agent signings Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, the trade for Scott Gomez and the cynical jettisoning of Saku Koivu. It concludes with yet another rebuild, this time based on Marc Bergevin’s youth movement.
Bergevin was the third general manager of the decade. The Canadiens also have had four head coaches, two of them retreads. They have gone through eleven backup goaltenders. Shea Weber is the third team-captain in the last ten years.
Put bluntly, stability has not been a Canadiens strength.
The Canadiens will enter the new year with a 7-11-3 record over their last 21 games. They desperately needed success in the two Atlantic division games in Florida and failed miserably.
After dropping both, attention shifted to a Eastern Conference wild card four-pointer at Carolina. The Hurricanes went into the game holding the last wild card berth and a six point lead over the Canadiens. That lead is now eight points. If that gap holds, and there’s little reason to think it won’t, the best hope of avoiding a Montreal playoff miss for the fourth time in the last five years will be finding a way to finish in the Atlantic Division’s top three. Considering the Canadiens have lost 14 of their last 21 games and the quality of the teams ahead of them, optimism is difficult.
Let’s start with the goaltending.
To the surprise of many, including myself, Claude Julien opted for Charlie Lindgren against the Hurricanes. Lindgren gave his team a better quality of effort than what we saw from Carey Price in the two Florida games. It wasn’t enough to win the game, but he made all the stops he was supposed to make and a few that were on the outstanding level, especially that lunging cross crease goal line glove save on Sebastian Aho early in the third period. He is charged with a loss, but through no fault of his own.
IN THE HOLE AGAIN
This stuff must be driving Julien absolutely nuts.
Artturi Lehkonen took an offensive zone penalty in the game’s second minute. It was the sixth straight offensive zone penalty called against the Canadiens. Carolina scored on the power play and never trailed in the game.
On the other side, the Canadiens came into the game with the league’s best road power play. They had three chances and six minutes of power play time. They managed only one harmless shot goal.
The Canadiens were without Brendan Gallagher from 17th minute of the second period. He took a solid check from Jordan Staal and in falling he suffered an accidental knee-on-head collision with Ben Chiarot followed by a hard fall to the ice. This one has concussion written all over it. The Canadiens are already without Drouin, Armia and Byron. Anything long term could turn a desperate talent situation critical.
It’s easy to talk about Nick Suzuki. He never seems to have an off night. This game was no exception. It’s Ryan Poehling who caught my eye in this game. Since his second recall he’s been concentrating on playing as close to mistake-free defensive hockey as he can. For the first time Poehling allowed his offense to come to the fore. He was credited with his first goal since the end of last season until a video review took it away from. Off what I saw in Carolina, his confidence has reached another level. Two of Poehling’s three shots on goal were considered ‘high danger’. He also posted four hits. His 15:52 ice time was a season high. Before the Gallagher injury he was on the third line with Kotkaniemi and Cousins.
…..Max Domi continued to salvage his season the Canadiens only goal, giving him goals in each of his last six games. All six of those goals have come on the just-ended road trip. The team record is nine games in a row set by Denis Savard. Half of his twelve goals have come in the last two weeks.
…..Charlie Lindgren was good but Carolina goaltender Petr Mrazek was better. The Canadiens were credited with fifteen high danger scoring chances. The Hurricanes had 14 on Lindgren. Shots on goal favoured the Hurricanes 36-30.
….Swedish Centre Lukas Vejdemo’s NHL debut was uneventful in the 6:04 ice time given him. He was given only one shift in the third period. It speaks volumes to the Canadiens quality of organizational depth that, with the absence of Gallagher Julien was prepared to finish the game with ten forwards.
….The loss dropped the Canadiens to twelfth in the Eastern Conference. As mentioned, they trail Carolina by eight points for the last wild card berth and they trail Tampa for third and final Atlantic Division playoff spot by four. Tampa has two games in hand.
….Last year was an outlier but most seasons it takes 95 points to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. With 42 games remaining in their season the Canadiens need to collect 53 additional points to reach 95, which means they need something like a 26-16-1 record.
It doesn’t get easier. The Canadiens return home to face Tampa for the second time in six days Thursday at the Bell Centre followed by Pittsburgh Saturday night and Winnipeg Monday. They’ll be at Detroit Tuesday.