If the Montreal Canadiens want to hang on to the final playoff spot in the North Division, they’ll need to start winning some games. In particular, it would be intelligent to take some points from the Calgary Flames, the team that stands the best chance of catching them and taking their spot.
But the Canadiens are in the midst of some brutally struggling times, and last night they unsurprisingly failed to offer much resistance in a 5-2 loss to Calgary.
The game actually started well enough. Montreal played a great first period, punctuated by a Nick Suzuki goal that felt like it gave them a real chance to win. They were getting pucks on net, generating rebounds, and if they could continue that trend they looked to be in good shape.
But Johnny Gaudreau tied the game on a laser shot with less than a minute to go in the first. Once he scored his second of the night to make it 3-1 midway through the second period, you could tell the game was already over despite more than half of it still remaining to be played.
There’s really no point providing a full recap of this game beyond that. Tyler Toffoli did bring his team within one late in the second, but the Flames would restore their lead and protect it well enough that the Habs never really posed a threat to get back into it. An embarrassing loss, and one that stokes the flames of fear that s
The Habs are now on the edge of a monumental, embarrassing collapse.
Earlier this month, they had an eight-point lead on Calgary with five games in hand. They’re now holding just one game and are up by half that margin. They went from a near lock to make the playoffs to teetering on the edge. If they can’t find an answer to their current problems soon, Calgary will overtake them.
The problem is that they’ve tried essentially everything. The coaching staff has been overhauled, and they added veteran depth players both before the season started and again at the trade deadline. Either this team’s results in the early season were a fluke, or their problems are purely systemic, because on paper they should be better than they were in that first month.
I opined yesterday that the Canadiens should be inserting Cole Caufield into their lineup. They didn’t, and if their zero power play goals in yet another important game isn’t evidence enough, they have to do it now. Tomas Tatar left last night’s game in the third period and is listed as day-to-day for now, so if he misses time that does leave a spot open to potentially give Caufield some action.
But expecting Caufield to somehow put this team on his shoulders as a rookie coming out of the NCAA is a lot. Tatar’s shoes alone are big enough to fill, and even with him the team is struggling, so it’s decidedly unwise to expect that Caufield alone turns things right around.
Unfortunately, this is really the last card they can play. Brendan Gallagher won’t be available until the playoffs, and unless Toffoli can start scoring hat tricks every night, they need to find more scoring. Caufield should help, but they’ll also need to get more out of the rest of the roster as well.
If they can’t, they’ll realize one of the worst collapses in recent memory.