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The good news is that the Montreal Canadiens held Connor McDavid off the scoresheet last night, stopping a small points streak for the superstar forward. The bad news is that the Edmonton Oilers still scored seven goals on the two goaltenders Montreal had to deploy. The worst news of all is that no one on the team seemed to mind the lopsided effort in the game.
It’s obvious to everyone now that the Canadiens aren’t just going to miss the playoffs, but probably finish in one of the bottom positions in the standings. There are just too many key pieces missing for them to be competitive in the NHL this season. But even those who cheer for a loss every night want to believe that the addition of some new pieces before the start of next season will get start things moving in the right direction. At the moment, the team is a listing ship with no apparent course, and that’s not offering much promise at all.
Perhaps having no fans in the stands after a long road trip stripped the club of its usual motivations when coming home, and constant losing is a difficult thing to get excited for, but there are other things the players can focus the rest of their season on. Ideally the veterans who will be sticking around (a few of them, like Tyler Toffoli and Brendan Gallagher, have expressed their desire to remain in Montreal) will devote the rest of the season to helping out the younger players on the team.
The All-Star Game that’s coming up in a week’s time typically serves as the unofficial midpoint of the season, and for Montreal that latter half will be a chance to shift their mindset on what to take from this forgettable year. There is a long break after tonight’s game before that talent showcase and then the second phase of the campaign, so this match versus the Columbus Blue Jackets is a good time to set the tone for the final 39 games.
Tale of the Tape
|45.6% (28th)||Scoring-chances-for %||45.6% (26th)|
|2.21 (31st)||Goals per game||3.00 (15th)|
|3.86 (32nd)||Goals against per game||3.59 (30th)|
|14.3% (31st)||PP%||15.5% (28th)|
|72.8% (30th)||PK%||79.8% (18th)|
|1-2-0||H2H Record (19-20)||2-0-1|
One group of players that should be exempt from the talk of lack of effort is that of newcomer Rhett Pitlick, centre Jake Evans, and winger Josh Anderson. They’ve been standout performers in their four games together, combining their speed and will to battle for pucks and using their offensive skills to get the rewards.
Anderson will be happy he found at a bit of chemistry with his linemates just in time to face his former team. Like just about every player on the squad, he’s probably not having the type of season he expected, but he’s also not so far off his career-best production rate that earned him 47 points in 82 games back in 2018-19. This partnership, if left to develop, could help him rise above that 0.57 points-per-game rate.
There will be another speedster in the lineup this evening, and by the sounds of his comments, Paul Byron will look like his old self from several years ago, as that is when he first began having hip issues that gradually slowed him. He will give a new look to the lineup wherever he’s inserted.
Brendan Gallagher may also be back in after an absence of one month. These two additions will leave Dominique Ducharme with a choice of how he wants to approach his roster construction, something of a luxury in this 2021-22 season.
The Blue Jackets are starting to fall too far back of their peers in the playoff race, which should provide plenty of motivation for them to be at their best. The top four teams in the Metropolitan Division are in a tight grouping a long way up the road, and there’s a gap of 14 points to even the second wild-card team — the Boston Bruins. If they’re going to make a charge is has to start now, first versus the last-place Canadiens, then tomorrow night versus the team at the opposite end of the standings, the league-leading Florida Panthers.
Columbus’s Achilles heel has been goals against. They’re down with the likes of Montreal and the Arizona Coyotes in that regard. Defensive play is a serious issue for the club, giving up the most scoring chances per 60 minutes of play in the league. A five-on-five save percentage significantly under the median of .920 isn’t letting them get away with that poor defending, as Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can’t bail them out. We’re likely to see the former tonight as Merzlikins is saved for the tougher matchup on Monday.