Consecutive 5-2 losses at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold the NHL’s worst record at 19-27-5, have made this the low point of Montreal’s season to date.
The Canadiens now have six days to think about how they’re going to climb out of one of the most disastrous stretches of hockey they’ve played in 106 years of existence; six days to pine over 19 losses in their last 24 games.
“I wish we were playing tomorrow,” said Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher. “But, take advantage of your time off and when we come back, first game, we gotta find ways to collectively get points.”
And how does Gallagher propose the Canadiens do that?
“We’ve all got to where we are through hard work, through constant determination and never giving up,” said Gallagher. “If we do that, continue to stick to your beliefs and your values, in the end you’ll end up where you want to be.”
Where the Canadiens want to be is in one of the eight available spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Where they find themselves is in 11th place, three points out of the final position — currently held by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have played two less games than the Canadiens have.
Montreal was in first place in the East on Dec. 3, but one glance at the out of town scoreboard during Tuesday’s game revealed just how pitiful their situation has become.
While the Canadiens were chasing down 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, 3-2, 4-2 and 5-2 leads for Columbus, the Carolina Hurricanes passed them in the standings with a 5-0 win over the Stanley Cup champions in Chicago.
If that wasn’t disheartening enough, Montreal’s captain, Max Pacioretty, left Tuesday’s game at the halfway point and did not return after getting hit in the face by Subban’s slapshot.
That happened roughly 10 minutes after the Canadiens announced that forward Daniel Carr, who’s been one of their only players putting the puck in the net of late, will miss the next three months with a right-knee injury suffered in Monday’s game.
“As bad as you want to feel for yourself, no one feels sorry for you,” said Gallagher.
The fans at the Bell Centre showed no pity for the Canadiens Tuesday, booing them as they failed to convert on their first six power plays of the game.
Subban, who is one of Montreal’s most beloved players, became a target for boos after he gave away a puck that led to Columbus’s third goal. He compounded the issue with a giveaway that led to Columbus’s fourth goal.
It doesn’t get much lower than that.
“[The fans are] passionate,” said Subban. “I probably deserved a few boos tonight.”
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien agreed.
“In P.K.’s case, he needs to concentrate a bit more on not giving the puck away like he did on the third and fourth goal against,” said Therrien in French. “Those are plays you expect your No. 1 defenceman to execute.
“We have to move the puck a lot quicker. I think our defencemen — they know.”
But Montreal’s execution has been failing consistently for two months, and that problem extends throughout their whole team.
Since Dec. 1, goaltenders Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens have combined for the league’s worst save percentage, while the forwards and defence have combined for the league’s lowest goal output. And Therrien hasn’t made any discernable changes to the tactics.
“I firmly believe every player in this locker room still believes [in the strategy],” said Gallagher.
But you have to wonder how the Canadiens can maintain their conviction, especially if they’re to sink lower than low in the coming weeks.
Goaltender Carey Price, whose lower-body injury has limited him to 12 games this season, is still scheduled to miss at minimum the six games the Canadiens will play between Feb. 1 and Feb.12.
Maybe Subban is right, this could get worse.