The Montreal Canadiens are in a busy stretch with three games in four nights. The stretch began with a loss in Detroit and concludes Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
The middle contest took place Sunday in Boston. Montreal had a 2-1 lead after the first two periods, but fell to Boston 5-2.
Samuel Montembeault is facing the biggest challenge of his hockey life. This is it for him right here at the age of 25. This is his moment of truth. The Canadiens have injury issues with Carey Price and Jake Allen out, and Sam is the man now. There is no one else to get the club through this.
Montembeault has not met this challenge so far in his career, but the important change is Montembeault is older now and more mature. Experience matters for a goalie, even emotionally you are more ready having been in the moment before.
He was outstanding in this one, keeping the Canadiens in the contest when they were dominated, allowing 20 shots in the second period. The best stop was a 2-on-0 that he slid across to stop one of the best scorers in the game, Brad Marchand.
It was 2-1 Montreal after two and the Canadiens had a chance in the third period because of their third-string goalie.
Another player who has fought through his career to get to a higher level and find success is Michael Pezzetta. Pezzetta was a sixth-round draft choice. He even had a stint in the ECHL.
A hockey career was looking grim for him. He wasn’t expected to get a chance to make the NHL at any point, but no one told him his chances were horrible. Pezzetta kept persevering and in his seventh NHL game, he deflected a point shot for the first goal in his NHL career. The smile on the bench was as wide as the bench. It’s the feel-good moment on another sad night.
It was a microcosm of the entire disappointing season halfway through the third period. There was some pressure on the Canadiens with the score tied at two, but it looked like they were handling it fine. A shot came from 45-feet that hit Montembeault. Jeff Petry thought he was clearing the rebound safely to behind the net. He wasn’t. Somehow his clearing attempt hit the head of Charlie Coyle and rebounded perfectly into the net behind Montembeault.
Here’s the thing: Petry could try to bank that off Coyle’s head 100 times on purpose, and 100 times he would not have been able to make that puck bounce with that canted angle off Coyle’s head into the net. The Canadiens didn’t recover from that billiards trick shot. They were deflated and allowed the 4-2 insurance goal soon after.
It was a good effort by Montreal. For the first period, they were the better team. They were leading 2-1 heading into the third, but then the fragility hit after a hellish bounce.
Game, Set, Match: Boston.
What fans are wondering right now is whether this is all there is for the Montreal Canadiens this season. Will it remain this bad all year? The answer is no. Not a chance. Right now the Canadiens are on pace for fewer than 50 points on the campaign, and there is absolutely no way that it will remain this horrific throughout the entire season.
In fact, it should get a lot better than this overall. The club will surely not finish sub-50 in points, though the start has meant a playoff spot is surely lost already. Montreal would have to finish the season with a mark around 44-22 to get to 98 points, which historically is a playoff spot. We all know that that record is not possible. That record is difficult for the best teams in the league.
So what are the true goals for the rest of this season? If Canadiens’ management is doing this right, they make sure they finish in the bottom 10 of the league, which means they would keep their first-round draft choice and Arizona would get Carolina’s pick. If Montreal finishes out of the bottom 10, they give their better pick to Arizona. That would obviously make no sense whatsoever, so you will see Marc Bergevin manage his line-up in terms of injuries and a trading deadline that will be selling off assets that can’t help the following seasons. The goal is to be better than this, but not so good as to leave the bottom 10.
Can the Canadiens achieve that goal of massaging this finish? Yes, they can, 100 per cent. The club is actually, statistically speaking, in analytics, doing far better than they have shown on the scoreboard. The club is at around the midway point, 16th, in a number of categories, including Corsi and Expected Goals.
The reason that they are so much worse right now in record is their PDO. PDO is a statistical combination of save percentage and shooting percentage. It is often referred to as hockey’s “luck” barometer. The reason is it tends to revert to the mean the bigger the sample size gets. So right now, the Canadiens are close to the worst in the entire NHL in PDO. The reverting to the mean will see the club’s historically horrific seven per cent shooting improve, and the historically abysmal .896 save percentage will improve as well with the return of Carey Price.
The club’s shooting percentage is the second-worst in the league. The club’s save percentage is the fourth worst. These numbers will change markedly, and with it will change the fortunes of the club.
The Canadiens’ shots will find the net much more than they have, and the goalie will save the puck a lot more than at present. This adds up to a club that will find itself about the middle of the pack. However, finishing higher than 10th worst would be extremely naive, so don’t expect that to happen. The GM is far too savvy for that.
Expect some natural weakening of the line-up when it matters at the trading deadline while keeping the strong core of the team intact for following seasons. The same formula in use in the NHL for an age will be done by the Canadiens this season. At the trading deadline, sadly, the Canadiens will be sellers this year. The math is that overwhelming.
That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun for this season, but the truth is, it will get more fun than this. The club is far too talented to finish with 50 points. Many more wins are in the offing than you have seen so far, so enjoy what you can. The prediction here is the club will get 65 points in the final 65 games this season for 75 overall. That will have them drafting around sixth.
That’s a pretty bold look at the rest of the season here. Truthfully, 75 points as a prediction when they are on pace for fewer than 50 is extremely bold. Let’s see how it plays out.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.