Since the Montreal Canadiens started training camp, everyone was talking about higher expectations. Their start to the season proved them right, but after their 5-0-2 start, the team is a rather pedestrian 4-5-0.
Against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, their first game in a week, the Canadiens had their chances to win. The rust didn’t cost them, but their mistakes did in their 5-3 loss.
The first question to Canadiens head coach Claude Julien after the game was whether the disallowed goal was the turning point in the game. It was a call the Canadiens disagreed with, and it would have been easy for Julien to take the bait. He refused.
“It would have been a big goal but for me it’s more than that,” Julien said. “The mistakes we made tonight... mentally we were not on point.”
Julien wouldn’t even blame the penalties directly for the power play goals the Maple Leafs used to take control of the game.
“It wasn’t just the penalties, it was the way we killed them,” he said. “When you look at the goals we gave up it was more mental errors instead of the penalties themselves.”
The players also took responsibility for not executing.
“On that first goal, I’ve got to be in that lane. I have to take that pass away. That was pretty much a freebie for [Auston Matthews],” said Canadiens defenceman Joel Edmundson. “When we get big kills, that gives us energy. We gave them too much time and space. They have guys who can shoot the puck well and they took advantage.”
Psychologist Nathaniel Branden said “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
It was fitting, then, that Julien was also asked whether it was acceptable to have those mistakes after the team had a week off to work on systems and avoid the mistakes that Julien said cost his team the game.
“To accept certain things is not being very committed to winning. We expect more out of ourselves,” Julien said. “It’s disappointing tonight. We had our legs, we had our opportunities. Had we been sharp mentally and really cut down some of those mistakes we could have won the game but we shot ourselves in the foot with those kinds of mistakes. That’s on us.”
“I don’t think we should sit here and say it’s acceptable after being off for a week.”
While acceptance seems like it is a passive step, it’s actually not. The Canadiens could have used excuses to explain away their loss but they didn’t. Julien, based on his words, won’t accept the mistakes, but he accepted the fact that they happened. The next step towards change is action. That’s where the Canadiens have to choose to eliminate the mistakes or not.
Otherwise the expectations they have for themselves will simply end in disappointment.