Last year could be described as nothing but adversity for the Montreal Canadiens. Nothing ever seemed to go right. Even when things did seem to turn in the Habs' favour, they quickly turned for the worse and a cloud basically hung over the team all year.
From the outset of this season (the regular season at least), the Canadiens have also faced adversity, and unlike last year they’re not folding under pressure. Yes, they’ve lost four games, in one of which they didn’t even score a goal, but in each game they’ve started to show growth in different facets.
In the season-opener, the Habs surrendered the lead in the final minutes only to persevere and score the game-winning goal with just 18 seconds left on the clock. In Detroit, they were under siege for the opening 20 minutes and despite the loss, they tightened up the defensive issues and at least put forth the effort to attempt a comeback. Fast forward to a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Playing well but unable to buy a goal (sound familiar?), the Habs reel off three straight goals including Kirby Dach’s OT winner.
Jumping ahead to Saturday night, the Habs' game against the St. Louis Blues was a roller-coaster of a contest. A slow start led to the Blues taking a lead thanks to some defensive issues, and then the Habs came back to tie it late in the period with a Nick Suzuki deflection.
The second period was riddled with mistakes of a team still working through their phase of discovering their identity overall, and when Jordan Kyrou made it 3-1 there was a point of divergence. Last year’s Canadiens would wilt, likely surrendering another two goals or more as they meekly looked to leave the arena.
This year’s Canadiens, however, uncorked five straight goals, including two brilliant finishes from Cole Caufield, and a blistering rocket of a shot from the returning Juraj Slafkovský. The most impressive about the last two goals was that they came on the much-maligned Canadiens' power play. With just one power-play goal on the season, the Habs needed something from their man advantage with a huge opportunity in front of them, and they finally made it happen.
Christian Dvorak got to be the real hero at the end of it all with two goals in 45 seconds giving the Habs a cushion as the Blues pushed the Montreal defence to its limits in the final minutes of the game. Even when Vladimir Tarasenko scored on a Kaiden Guhle mistake, the team held firm to secure the win for Jake Allen in St. Louis.
The win over the Blues represents what this season is supposed to be about for the Canadiens. Wiping the slate clean from last year and starting to lay the groundwork for future success. The Canadiens are going to lose a lot more games this season, that is an almost indisputable fact right now. However, if they are playing in a way where they aren’t rolling over, it’s a huge step forward from the previous year.
Welcome to Montreal’s Year Zero. They already went (mostly) scorched Earth, and now they begin to rebuild it with a new attitude on and off the ice.