If there was ever a tonic for whatever was ailing the Montreal Canadiens, a showdown against the rival Boston Bruins was it. Their thrilling win over the Bruins just a few weeks earlier seemed to set the Canadiens on the right path and shooting up the division rankings, while the Bruins sagged a bit following the loss. However, since the loss of Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin, the Canadiens had suffered four tough losses in a row to some of the NHL’s lowest teams.
The Canadiens were given a chance to wipe the slate clean, using the Bruins as a launching pad for a winning streak once again. Patrice Bergeron was ruled out for the Bruins’ road trip, which promised to make life a little bit more manageable for the Canadiens.
In the early minutes, the Canadiens looked to have put their disastrous Saturday behind them, swarming all over the Bruins in the offensive zone and snuffing out the Bruin attacks in the defensive zone.
Despite the heavy shot advantage, the Canadiens surrendered the first power play of the game as Brendan Gallagher took his first penalty of the year. Joel Armia had a great look while on a short-handed rush, but fired his shot wide of Jaroslav Halak. With the puck back in their control, the Bruins struck quickly, David Krejci put a perfect pass on Sean Kuraly’s stick, and Kuraly one-touched it off to Jake DeBrusk, who fired it past Carey Price for a Bruins lead.
Montreal responded as they have all year, with their top line leading the way and erasing the deficit. Gallagher started the breakout, leading a pass for Phillip Danault, who in turn dished off to Tomas Tatar. Tatar centred a pass for a charging Gallagher, who created a giant rebound off of Halak. Shea Weber jumped all over it to tie the game at one goal apiece.
The tie was short-lived as a more than questionable call on Nate Thompson sent the Canadiens back to another penalty kill. Quick movement got the puck to David Pastrnak who lasered a shot by Price, his 12th power-play goal of the season.
The makeup call came shortly after, and the Montreal power play failed to take advantage of it late in the period.
A careless turnover by Jeff Petry to end the period ended up on the stick of Brad Marchand, and going into the intermission the Canadiens were suddenly down two goals as Marchand danced around Price to score.
Eight seconds into the second period the Bruins drove their lead to three. Pastrnak drove through the Canadiens’ zone and rifled a shot through Price. Anders Bjork then took a feed behind the Canadiens’ defence, breaking in alone to make it 5-1 and ended Price’s night after 11 shots.
The Canadiens tried their best to battle back, but an attempted clear by Jeff Petry was kept in and Pastrnak completed his hat trick by tipping the shot by Keith Kinkaid, making it 6-1. There was no miracle comeback in the books, as the Bruins pushed their advantage to six, and then seven goals late in the third, burying what was left of Montreal’s pride on the way to an 8-1 victory.
Montreal plays the New Jersey Devils — the team that kicked off this five-game losing streak — on Thursday, and a full 60-minute effort for the first time in a long time has to be the order.
Normally I advise caution and not making rash moves in a slump, but the defensive lapses, continuing penalty-kill struggles and mistakes are pushing that to its limit. Something hasn’t been right since the start of the month, and as the real deals and the pretenders start to separate, the Canadiens find themselves in a familiar spot: not in a position to tank, but struggling to break into the upper echelon of the league.
It’s becoming apparent something has to be shaken up, but it is a perilous spot for Marc Beregevin to work in. He has built up the cap space to make something happen, but also wants to avoid delving too deeply into his prospect pool. It’s come to a point where something has to give. While the Canadiens have the prospect depth, they’re lacking NHL-ready prospects, so if they trade away roster players they’re rushing players who might be in over their heads.
There is not a simple solution to any of this, and it’s why none of us is the general manager, but the time is now for some sort of action. The franchise can’t be satisfied with this sort of slide.
Bergevin has to do something, however, and that means he cannot sit on both sides of the fence anymore. He either has to sacrifice that cap space and assets for immediate fixes, or turn over to the youth and build up through the draft for another year. It is not an easy choice, but it’s one he has to make, because just shuffling the lineup isn’t patching any of the holes in the team’s construction.