This Canadiens team that perfected losing in December and January has added to the recipe in February. It’s no longer just about dubious coaching decisions, poor goaltending, defensive ineptitude and offensive impotence; the competitive spirit of the team has been downgraded to listless.
The clearest evidence came in the first period of Monday’s game, when Arizona’s Max Domi got tangled up with Canadiens forward Jacob De La Rose. Domi punched him three times in the head, and De La Rose just sat there and took it — much like his team just sat there and took it as they were outscored 4-1 in the final two periods of the game.
Brendan Gallagher excluded (he scored on a hope play after taking two crushing hits on the same shift), Montreal’s appointed leaders took the night off.
Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty was on for three goals against and finished with one shot on net and two attempts that missed. Assistants Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov combined for two shots on net (both of them off Markov’s stick) and a minus-1 rating.
“Tonight was our worst game of the season,” said Plekanec.
It’s a remarkable fact considering the Canadiens have lost 23 games since goaltender Carey Price went down with a knee injury on Nov. 25. But it’s a fact.
Montreal’s no-show in Arizona came against a Coyotes team that had lost all but one of six games they had played in February.
A team so down on its confidence usually has to gut it out to rise out of that kind of slump, but not against these Canadiens.
“We know that’s a fragile team over there right now,” said Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno of the Canadiens on Jan. 3. “You’ve got to keep on them, stay on them, and they find a way to lose.”
It seems nearly every team that’s beaten the Canadiens since has followed that plan to the letter. The Coyotes certainly did, but they also got a free pass in this one.
On Monday, the home team got the early lead and just kept coming. There was no response from their opponent. The Coyotes outshot the Canadiens in each period, they out-hit them, they beat them on 55 per cent of the faceoffs; they outworked them in every facet of the game.
“We need guys to be playing with heavy hearts and emotion,” said Subban. “We didn’t have that today.”
The Canadiens will have heavy hearts from here to the end of the season. Their playoff hopes, which were hanging by a thread Monday afternoon (13.7 per cent), are all but dashed.
It would take a complete reversal in nearly every department for the Canadiens to get back into the hunt. There are three teams ahead of them in the race for the second wild-card spot in the East. Atlantic Division rivals Tampa, Boston, Detroit and Florida are respectively six, eight, nine and 14 points up.
The Canadiens were once 11 points ahead of the next-best team in their division. They are currently nine-points up on the Toronto Maple Leafs — the current favourites in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes.
You have to wonder what kind of damage was done to the Canadiens when general manager Marc Bergevin committed to doing nothing to help the team’s cause back on Jan. 21 — when hope was still very much alive.
His boldness in affirming coach Michel Therrien’s job through the end of the season has since been rewarded with two regulation wins in 10 games.
In what’s been one of the most embarrassing seasons of the 106 the Canadiens have played, the general manager going back on his statement would be the cherry on top.
“If you’re ever in a foxhole, you want that guy next to you. That’s what Michel is to me,” said Bergevin about his coach three weeks ago.
The players made it clear on Monday that they don’t agree.