It’s a paradox. The Montreal Canadiens have now dropped five in a row, but they’re not playing poor hockey. However, good teams find a way to win, and right now the Canadiens are finding a way to lose.
They lost to the Washington Capitals on Sunday, 8-4.
The Canadiens were shut out in their contest against the New York Islanders Friday night, when they desperately wanted to get a result for Carey Price during in his first game in 282 days. It wasn’t from lack of trying. They made 44 shots. But sometimes the puck just does not go in.
Still, zero per cent on 44 shots can’t last.
In the first period against the Capitals, Montreal fired another 15 shots. The second shot of the second period by Jake Evans was a ripping slap-shot to finally score. The Canadiens had 72 shots between goals — a horrific shooting percentage, but it’s more a reflection of bad luck than bad hockey players.
After a couple of Capitals goals, Ryan Poehling responded with another Habs’ goal. Poehling is going hard to the net. That’s what he did to register his seventh of the season. Poehling has a great work rate and is difficult to take off the puck.
Poehling got his second of the night charging hard to the net to pick up a rebound.
Nick Suzuki scored the final Canadiens goal to reach the 20 milestone for the season. Suzuki’s shot was a bullet into the top corner.
The club is playing engaged hockey late in a season that does not matter at all. They are still playing with pride, and learning how to be better players. The credit goes to them for caring that much. It also goes to their head coach for working teachable moments to create an improved team looking to more than this season’s results come next October.
Nothing worked this year until it was way too late. There was a tremendous amount of injuries. The season’s starting coach was stubborn, insisting on a system that was not working. They fired a General Manager who gave too many big contracts to aging players.
However, even with all of that going against them, the recovery has been strong. The fan base is optimistic for the future. When you are fighting for 31st place, ‘optimistic’ is a wild yet wonderful thing to feel, even with some speed bumps still coming.
There hasn’t been much finger-pointing since mid-season in this space because it felt a lot like over-explaining what fans already know. However, it has to be pointed out the teams has been pretty weak defensively. There are real holes on that blue line.
Alexander Romanov and David Savard were on for the first five goals-against. That’s a problem because both are going to be on the blue line next season. This defence has some work in front of it.
There are many who feel this club is going to turn it around next season and become playoff contenders again. This is quite hopeful because the blue line is either poor or young. On a good day, that talent is too young. On a bad day, there’s just not enough talent.
There is no fantastic day in the mix here — yet. The pipe dream is that Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, and Romanov turn this thing around quickly, but it just doesn’t happen that often.
It’s going to take some experience before the likes of these three young Canadiens can change a game in their favour. The jury is still out whether they can be more than complimentary players. It takes primary talents like Maker, Adam Fox, and Charlie McAvoy to win games with their 25 minutes of ice.
It takes a Cale Maker talent to excel at a young age and change the fortunes of a team.
Acquisition of Kris Letang would change all of that. Letang could transform a defence if he was acquired. Though he is older now, he might be exactly what the young Habs need to understand how to transform their games.
It might be worth it to try for Letang. This defence is not ready to contend next season. Down the road, but not next season. That brings us back to a popular question: How long do they envision the rebuild will take? If they want change fast, they make a play for Letang. If they understand this process is going to take some years, they stay the course.
There is much consternation that Jordan Harris didn’t dress again, but let’s turn that over for a different take. It could be that the decision is truly easy for management. If you watch Harris play, you’d have to agree with that. Barring something weird in the off-season, Harris is a lock next fall. He’s skating smoothly. He’s slowed the game down nicely. He makes heads-up plays. He has been very impressive.
When playing Corey Schueneman and Chris Wideman as the third pair like against the Capitals, the organization could be saying they haven’t made a decision about what do do with those players. They may need to see more of what they can do.
Schueneman has been a pleasant surprise this year, but what about next season? He is making league minimum and is a restricted free agent. The Canadiens have to decide his worth for the organization, and it’s not written in stone. He will get an offer, but for how much and how many seasons?
Even more difficult is the decision to be made about Chris Wideman. He’s helped the power play and shown some good offensive skills There aren’t very many who can fill his role. However, Wideman is 32 and may not fit into the team’s plans next year. He may have to finish with a flourish to guarantee an offer from Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton.
So Martin St. Louis is making sure he looks at everyone. That’s not a slight on Jordan Harris. They already know what they have in Harris. He doesn’t need to play all the games to gain hockey experience. One more game or less is not going to change the pathway of his career. His pathway looks secure. That can’t be said for Wideman and Schueneman.