How to watch
With the spectre of COVID-19 looming on March 10, 2020, the Canadiens quietly left the Bell Centre after a 4-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. They saw their record drop to .500; a 31-31-9 record that had them 24th in the NHL with very little shot of making the playoffs.
Then a plan was reached to hold a 24-team post-season after a long pause as the pandemic took hold. A Canadiens club that had struggled all year suddenly looked good versus the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Habs also had plenty of good moments playing only Canadian teams last year, found another gear in the playoffs, and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Now back to playing versus the full complement of NHL teams with some critical roster deletions, Montreal has been abjectly terrible.
The team currently sports a .263 points percentage entering its 20th game. For context, the last-place club a season ago — the Buffalo Sabres — finished with a .330 mark. The year before that, the historically bad Detroit Red Wings ended with a .275 points percentage (eight of their 39 points came from sweeping Montreal that season). With a regulation loss to a Predators team returning to the Bell Centre for the first time since the lockdown, Montreal will have only a quarter of the available points from the opening quarter of the season
Tale of the Tape
|51.0% (14th)||Scoring-chances-for %||49.0% (19th)|
|2.00 (31st)||Goals per game||2.69 (22nd)|
|3.53 (30th)||Goals against per game||2.63 (10th)|
|13.6% (28th)||PP%||26.2% (6th)|
|71.0% (29th)||PK%||79.0% (22nd)|
|0-1-0||H2H Record (19-20)||1-0-0|
Some of these games haven’t found the Habs particularly close to claiming the victory, and Thursday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was their most lopsided of the season so far thanks to a 6-0 goal being scored in the dying seconds. It was their ninth loss of the year by at least three goals.
It’s true that the current roster is weaker than the one from the post-season; David Savard won’t reach the level of Shea Weber, especially that shown by the captain during the playoff run, and Christian Dvorak is far from a direct replacement for Phillip Danault. But those downgrades, as significant as they are, can’t explain just how far the team has fallen. It’s very rarely the case of them just coming up short with a slightly inferior roster than their opponent, but being completely outclassed for multiple periods in many games.
The injection of youth is helping somewhat. Cole Caufield was one of the few forwards who attempted to make things happen versus Pittsburgh, and at least gave the crowd some moments of entertainment with drives through the middle of the ice. Ryan Poehlnig and Michael Pezzeta are doing their best to keep the fourth line competitive despite finding themselves outmatched versus top players from time to time. And last game we also got to enjoy the play of Mattias Norlinder, who was arguably the most poised blue-liner on the ice in his NHL debut, and served his first point in the top league on a silver platter to Tyler Toffoli, who couldn’t deliver it into an open cage.
If they can’t convert on those opportunities tonight, one of the hottest teams in the NHL will be waiting to make them pay. The Predators have overcome a 1-4 start to the year to move into a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and could be a point out of the Central Division lead with a win.
It’s not surprising that Roman Josi is putting together another great offensive season for the team. It is a bit surprising that Matt Duchene is right there with him given how he had performed since leaving the Ottawa Senators organization. He played 100 games in his first two years in Nashville and contributed 55 points. That’s not bad production for a third-line player, but hardly what David Poile expected after signing him at $8 million per season for seven years. Now, Duchene leads the team with nine goals through 16 games, and ranks third in the league with thee game-winning markers.
It also helps that Nashville is a top-10 defensive team, allowing the few offensive stars they do have like Duchene and Mikael Granlund to outscore their opponents. Juuse Saros has finally taken over in the crease after years of questions about why he was playing second kantele to Pekka Rinne, and he’s currently providing another season performance right around a .930 save percentage.
Goaltending will be one of the areas in which Nashville has the upper hand, as Montreal’s current choices are the rookie Cayden Primeau and an out-of-his-depth Samuel Montembeault. Both are capable of making some big saves, but not going toe-to-toe with one of the top netminders in the NHL. No matter who gets the call, the Canadiens will need to protect the ice around their goalie, and that’s been a rare occurrence in this season that has the Habs drfiting to the bottom of the standings.