If the goal is to make the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens are running out of chances to make that happen.
The Habs lost yet again on Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Habs led 2-1 into the third period but went on to lose 3-2 in overtime after a Brandon Tanev goal sent the visitors home happy.
Habs goaltender Carey Price didn’t speak to the media afterward, and head coach Claude Julien declined to comment on the winning goal and ultimately kept his press conference brief.
“As a team, our decision-making at times was poor tonight,” Julien said. “Created some scoring opportunities for Pittsburgh and even cost us the game at the end. That’s what’s disappointing because we all know that right now we can’t really afford to not be sharp mentally and I think that was the biggest challenge for us tonight.”
The loss has the Canadiens on a five-game winless streak. It’s not as long but getting dangerously close to their season-long eight game winless streak from back in November where they dropped points to non-playoff teams like the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, and the Detroit Red Wings. The latter two teams the Habs will face off with again in the coming days.
“It’s not fun, no one wants to lose,” Canadiens forward Max Domi said after Saturday night’s loss. “We’re battling some adversity right now. We have for parts of this year and we’ve overcome it. I mean, at this point in the year, you can’t let it drag on too much. Got to find ways to get those two points.”
The Habs trail the Philadelphia Flyers by six points for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by seven points for the third and final playoff spot out of the Atlantic Division. Divisional opponents like Buffalo and Florida are ahead of them in the standings.
It puts a lot of pressure on two new players, defenceman Marco Scandella and 36-year old Ilya Kovalchuk, to get them out of this mess. Depending on how this team plays, it might not matter.
Kovalchuk didn’t play Saturday, but Scandella did his best in his Habs debut as he played alongside Cale Fleury. The NDG native had a shot that rang off the post and out, four hits, and blocked three shots. If he keeps his play up, the team will be much more comfortable putting him in a top-four defensive pairing as opposed to Brett Kulak.
“I made a few errors that I’d love to have back, but I think I played well enough,” Scandella said. “It’s really fun with the forwards playing the way they are. A lot of talent here.”
But Scandella can’t afford to just be good enough. It’s a similar deal for Kovalchuk, who hasn’t played since early November. The team will need him to be a reliable option on the power play and to provide scoring if called upon.
The Habs have the Winnipeg Jets, the Red Wings, Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, and the Senators as their next four games. If the Canadiens don’t come out of that stretch of games with a handful of points, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s work in the last few days will have been all for naught.