Following Sunday’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Rangers, many Canadiens fans were left asking a fairly significant question:
What kind of team do we have here?
That they’re asking is significant because, per the standings, Montreal’s the best team in the NHL. The Habs sit first with 33 points, are 8-2 in their last 10 and have sparking records both at home (9-3-0) and on the road (7-3-1).
The conversation becomes complicated, though, when Montreal’s losses come up. Because the Habs don’t just lose games — they LOSE games:
Oct. 13: Tampa Bay 7, Montreal 1
Oct 27: Edmonton 3, Montreal 0
Oct 30: Vancouver 3, Montreal 2 (SO)
Nov. 2: Calgary 6, Montreal 2
Nov. 4: Chicago 5, Montreal 0
Nov. 18: Pittsburgh 4, Montreal 0
Nov. 23: New York 5, Montreal 0
Combined score: Opponents 32, Montreal 5.
It’s a colorful, dizzying array of butt-whippings. Some are understandable (the Lightning game came at the end of a four-game roadie), some aren’t (the blowout to Chicago happened two nights after the embarrassing home loss to Calgary).
Still confusing, though.
“A game like this leaves you scratching your head,” P.K. Subban said after the Rangers loss, per the Gazette. “We will be fine. We’re still a very positive group. We have to generate more. We just didn’t play our game.”
Some have blamed the schedule makers. Montreal’s played a league-high 23 times already — Florida’s played 18, comparatively — and opened its season with seven of 11 on the road (Montreal’s also played five back-to-backs already.)
“We didn’t play a good game [vs. New York], but we have to look at the big picture,” head coach Michel Therrien said on Sunday. “We played eight games in 13 nights and we won six of those games.”
Fair point. But what if the blowout losses are more than fatigue?
A theory, then: Montreal’s too reliant on goaltending. It seems if Carey Price and/or Dustin Tokarski have an off night, so too do the Habs, and it’s almost a given Montreal will concede a number of good scoring chances nightly. The Canadiens are not a brick wall defensively; they have a questionable defensive unit that’s undergone a number of changes already this season (most notably by bringing in Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Allen.)
Offensively, the club struggles to compensate in these situations. Montreal ranks 21st in the NHL in goals per game (2.5), 26th in power play percentage (12.7) and fails to generate enough on nights when goalies aren’t razor-sharp.
Now having said all that, let’s be reminded of what’s written at the top: This is the NHL’s first-place team. The counter-argument is that a loss is a loss, regardless of the score and, over the course of an 82-game season, stinkers are going to happen.
You can put Subban in that camp.
“I don’t think it matters whether you lose by five goals or one, it’s still a loss,” he explained. “When we lose, it’s when we turn the page. (The concern is) the losses where you’re scratching your head and wondering what we have to do better. We know what we have to do better.
“We’re going to take a few days off and regroup and we’re going to be a positive group. I don’t think there’s anything to be negative about now.”