One glance at the roster Marc Bergevin assembled for this year’s version of the Montreal Canadiens would’ve incited most to predict they’d be an average team.
They were right on course to prove that through their first 19 games, losing seven of their first eight before firing off seven wins in their next 11. And then they were the first team in the NHL to suffer a regulation-time loss to the 31st-ranked Arizona Coyotes last Thursday.
A 6-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at the Bell Centre on Hockey Night in Canada certainly helped reinforce what the statistics say about the Canadiens: They are not average. They are bad.
One quarter of the way through the season they rank in the bottom-third of the league in nearly every relevant category—from their place in the standings (27th) to their goals per game average (2.32!) to their goals-against average (3.50!) to their… well, we’ll save some of this for what follows.
Before we get into it, here’s what Canadiens coach Claude Julien said on Monday before the team departed for Dallas:
“We realize where we are in the standings, we realize what’s happening with our team. What I’ve seen of late, when things aren’t going well, is we’re able to play very well but we’re not able to maintain that play for 60 minutes. That’s what hurts us. Often it’s because we come out for the second or third period and we’re not the same team.”
Confirmed. There’s been a lot of that through the first 21 games of Montreal’s season.
• For a team that has underwhelming offensive ability and a defence that no one could possibly consider to be among the NHL’s most mobile units, they generate a lot of offensive zone time and lead the league in shots per game (36.3).
• Brendan Gallagher has scored nine goals after putting up just 10 for all of last season. In a recent conversation, we joked with him that he was never supposed to score 20 goals in a season again after suffering broken fingers in his left hand each of the past two seasons.
“Still might not,” he quipped. “My brother Nolan was sending me blogs about that over the summer just to rattle me.”
Looks like it served to inspire him.
• Victor Mete earned a spot out of training camp and made it this far into the season as a 19-year-old who was drafted 100th overall in 2016. He played the first 12 games of the season on the team’s top defensive pairing with Shea Weber. That all has to count for something.
• Cap space. They have enough of it to add a few all-stars to their team at the deadline (Current amount is $7.1 million, which enables them to add players making a combined total of $24.3 million at the deadline—according to CapFriendly.com)
• The team has scored on 6 per cent of its shots and been shut out five times already.
• Carey Price’s stats. Before he went down with a suspected left knee injury he posted the worst numbers of any goalie with 10 or more starts. An .877 save percentage and a 3.77 goals-against average would be unbecoming of Canadiens fourth stringer Antti Niemi, but they are incredibly ugly figures for a guy who just signed an eight-year, $84 million contract that only kicks in at the beginning of next season.
• Not being able to spend all that cap space on some help to this point in the season.
• The power play (15.2 per cent, 29th in the NHL) and the penalty kill (76.7 per cent, 25th in the NHL).
TRENDING: Downward. Not much further to tumble, though. So the good news is, better days are ahead.
BOLD PREDICTION: If the team is below .500 on January 15, Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty—among others—will be traded before the Feb. 26 deadline. Barring a complete reversal in the team’s performance, it might just happen regardless.
GRADE: D-. Bergevin said the changes he made to last year’s blue line—losing Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev and adding David Schlemko, Karl Alzner, Joe Morrow and Jakub Jerabek—meant the team was better off in that department. Even if we assume he foresaw Mete’s emergence before making this statement, it was laughable then and it’s… well, it’s just sad now.
Bergevin completely remade a defence that finished fourth in the league in goals against per game last season and did very little to upgrade the offence that finished 15th in goals for. Jonathan Drouin was a nice addition at centre, and it would look that much better if Alexander Radulov was on his right instead of plying his trade with the Dallas Stars.
In spite of how the off-season was handled, Bergevin insisted at the annual golf tournament in September that the Canadiens were fit to earn a playoff berth. They’re going to need a miracle from here to the end of the season to prove him right.
They’d get an ‘F’ for their first quarter of the season if it wasn’t for the nice run they put together to offset their worst start in 76 years. But, hey, a ‘D-‘ is not the mark you go home bragging to mom and dad about.