The Montreal Canadiens are trying to stay close to a playoff spot, but the challenge is getting harder with a serious injury every ten days. Montreal is two points out of the playoffs after a 5-4 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
Head Coach Martin St. Louis was forced to change his lines again after the injury to Alex Newhook. Back together was Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Sean Monahan. They were the best line of the night for Montreal. Caufield took a ton of shots, but still, he does not have the same finish as last season.
Caufield was on his way to the first 40-goal season for the Canadiens this century when he hurt his shoulder and needed surgery last January. Caufield was shooting at a percentage clip of over 16 per cent when he departed for the year. This season, he has his lowest shooting percentage since he was 15 years of age at only eight per cent.
It’s difficult to know what is going on with the Caufield finish. He is getting the shots. His rate of shots taken is actually higher than last season. He is around the net a lot. He is getting the good looks. Suzuki is finding him as well as ever.
They’re just not going in. Caufield could have had three against Detroit is the good news. That he had zero is the bad news. It should turn for him soon. Caufield and his line are playing well. He was one of the best players of the night. He was dancing. He is difficult to check with a variety of moves.
Suzuki scored his first in ten games to make it a tight contest early in the third, with a perfectly placed shot on the power play. It was his seventh goal of the season. Sadly, that’s tied for the team lead with Caufield and Newhook. At this pace, it looks like yet another year without a 40-goal scorer, as both Suzuki and Caufield are on pace for only 26.
Another player who was strong was Joel Armia. He scored a shorthanded marker on a terrific shot far side on a two-on-one. Armia when he is playing well, with his big frame hard to take off the puck, is a monster. However, like many monsters, they only make occasional appearances.
The Canadiens were trailing by two, but they stayed in the fight almost always. Late, it was Josh Anderson with his best play of the season. Credit to him for not shooting when he had a chance. It must be so tempting to just keep firing when a player is looking for his first of the season, but Anderson found a better play. He spun around when he was in the slot, and found Gustav Lindstrom for the tying marker late.
What a thrill it was for Lindstrom as he scored against his former club. The Canadiens might not score much, but the defencemen sure do. Montreal leads the league in goals by defenders. Now to just get those forwards going better than one of the worst in the league.
It’s unusual how poorly the Canadiens are starting games this season. Consistently, they are not ready for puck drop. For the fifth straight game, Montreal allowed the first goal of the contest. Again, they didn’t get a shot until their opposition had put a half-dozen or so on the board.
Montreal simply wasn’t hustling in the first period. A glaringly sad example happened on the power play. Justin Barron lost the puck at the Detroit blue line. He was behind the attacker, but by a small margin. He elected to dive to try to impact the play. That took him right out of the play instead. The Red Wings had a breakaway.
From a Montreal point of view, it was still salvageable after Jake Allen made a great breakaway save. However, he lost the puck and began looking around for it when it was in the crease. Anderson could have been there, but as the first man back, he skated behind the net.
One would think that with the extra-man advantage, surely, the second man to get to the crease would be a Canadiens player. Sadly, no. They were all puck watching allowing Christian Fischer to tap home the easiest goal of his life.
The poor first continued with Montreal, once again, giving up an odd-man rush. One conclusion you can take from hockey almost 100 per cent of the time is the team that gives up more odd-man rushes is likely to lose. Daniel Sprong scored on a 2-on-1 to make it 3-0.
Another brutal opening period. The rest of the game was a chase that they finally caught up late in the game to force overtime. Jake Walman won it in the first minute of the extra five with a wicked shot from inside the face-off circle.
The most popular word to use is ‘unbelievable’ but how can something be unbelievable when it happens every single year. Last off-season, the Canadiens organization even fired people on the training and medical staff to get better results, but the injuries keep piling up.
Alex Newhook has a high ankle sprain, it was announced Saturday morning. Newhook skated hard toward the goal on Thursday night, then lost his balance, and fell awkwardly into the twine of the net. The twine did not give. Newhook’s ankle did. He is gone three months. Expect to see Newhook back in the line-up in March.
There are three players who the Canadiens wanted to see develop most this season — three players who they invested a lot in, and who they believe have high ceilings. Two are gone for extended periods. Kirby Dach is out until next season, and he may not even be ready in September. Newhook is gone for 10 to 12 weeks.
The other key player is Kaiden Guhle, who suffered injury after injury last year, but is healthy now — so far. You have to always put that caveat in there because injuries and the Canadiens seem to go hand-in-hand.
The numbers are astronomical. According to Cap Friendly, Montreal has $24,353,333 off the roster on injured reserve or long-term injured reserve. That’s 26.4 per cent of the roster not playing, and out for a considerable length of time.
Last season, the Canadiens set a record for most man-games lost in a season. The Canadiens haven’t been around since breakfast. They’ve been around 114 years.
This year is no better. In fact, it’s worse. At this pace, they won’t be able to fill the roster in Trois Rivieres for their ECHL affiliate. Sidelined are David Savard, Jordan Harris, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Arber Xhekaj, Christ Wideman, Dach, Newhook, and Carey Price. It’s only the second of December.
Price is a cap cost of $10.5 million until 2026. And this General Manager is trying to build a winner now?
It is impressive that the Canadiens are still in the playoff hunt. With the level of roster sidelined, they could have packed it in when Dach went down in the second game of the season. Credit to all of the players giving it all for their head coach.
At the end of it all, if one day, they actually can all be healthy, they might actually be a better team than anyone has any idea. One day, surely, this processional to the hospital has to stop, or at least, slow down.
One day. But that was the refrain last year, and the year before that and the year before that…