Things have been bad for the Montreal Canadiens lately.
Well, they lost forwards Jonathan Drouin (expected to be out two months after wrist surgery) and Paul Byron (expected to miss a month after knee surgery). On top of that, they blew a 4-0 lead on home ice to the New York Rangers, who were playing their second game in two nights. And on top of all that, they got obliterated 8-1 at the Bell Center last night against their biggest rival, the Boston Bruins.
Add it all up, and the Habs have dropped five games in a row. Most of those losses have come against mediocre opponents like the Devils, Senators, Rangers and Blue Jackets. Yeah, that’s a problem.
Struggling in November isn’t uncommon for this group. After a strong start last season, the team fell apart in the second month of the season. But Shea Weber‘s return from injury in late November (he had missed the whole year up until that point) gave them the spark they needed to get back on track in December of 2018.
Now, where is the spark going to come from?
There’s some serious cause for concern here. First, the team’s penalty-kill and overall defensive structure is a mess, which is shocking considering their head coach, Claude Julien, has built an impressive resume based on his defensive mind. Goaltender Carey Price isn’t on top of his game right now, which is also a problem because he’s the only one capable of masking their defensive warts.
Many in Montreal heap too much blame on Price because it’s the easy thing to do, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been good enough during this five-game losing skid.
“Obviously, it’s not fun to be a part of it but life goes on,” Price said after the ugly loss to Boston on Tuesday night, per the Montreal Gazette. “There’s always a way to turn things around. Every team goes through some tough scenarios in a season and we’re going through one now. We can’t dwell on it too long. I’ve been around long enough to know you can’t pout our way out of it. Tomorrow we go back to work and find a way out of it.
“The good part is that we have a lot of guys who have been though this. On both sides of the puck we have to be better. There’s never just one thing.”
Outside of everybody playing better, the Canadiens will probably need to look to their general manager for some help if they’re going to get this season turned around. That’s not to say that this slide will continue much longer, but it’s not just about this losing skid. This is a Habs team that was eliminated from playoff contention on the last weekend of the regular season in 2018-19. The expectations were for them to get back to the postseason this year. In order to make that goal a reality, they’re going to have to spend the $8 million in cap space they have left.
Yes, Marc Bergevin tried to sign Sebastian Aho to an offer-sheet over the summer, but it didn’t work. Now, he needs to find a trade partner to make sure his team gets back to playing meaningful hockey in April. Making a deal when your team is desperate is never a good idea, so Bergevin will have to get creative. The move doesn’t have to come today or even tomorrow, but it needs to happen soon.
In order for this team to become a slam dunk to make the playoffs, they need to add a legitimate scorer, a left-handed puck mover on defense and some size throughout the roster. Will they be able to get all that before the trade deadline? Unlikely. But Bergevin has to sacrifice some of the youth in the pipeline or some of the draft picks they’ve accumulated if the goal is to make the postseason this year.
Pulling off major trades are never easy, so he’s going to have to make tough decisions over the next little while. Whether or not he makes the right ones will have a direct impact on his team’s playoff chances.
The pressure is on.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.