The Montreal Canadiens are in a death spiral, and no matter how well they play, they don’t appear capable of recovering.
The Canadiens fell to the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 5-2 Sunday. It was their fourth straight loss, their ninth straight loss against a Western Conference opponent and their 16th loss in their last 20 games.
That’s a whole lot of losing.
The Canadiens, who were leading the Eastern Conference standings on Dec. 2, are currently in the second wild card spot. By the time they go to sleep Monday night, they could be displaced from the playoff picture for the first time all season—a win for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the St. Louis Blues would make it a reality.
These are the types of circumstances that typically lead to drastic changes.
You have to wonder if Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, who is 148-83-27 in three and a half seasons with the team, can keep his job.
Meanwhile, Montreal’s coach has had the league’s reigning MVP, goaltender Carey Price, for all of 12 out of Montreal’s 46 games this season.
Therrien has also transformed the Canadiens into the fifth-best possession team in hockey (53.2 per cent Corsi For). They ranked 23rd last season (49.1).
But Therrien and the Canadiens can’t seem to buy a win, and if they’re to collect as many points as it took to clinch a playoff berth in the East last season (98) they’ll have to win 24 of their remaining 36 games.
That’s a tall order.
When the Canadiens lost nine of 10 games in December, general manager Marc Bergevin met with the media to say the thought of firing Therrien had never crossed his mind.
“When we were 19-4, 19-5, we were talking about Michel Therrien as a possibility [to be on the coaching staff for Canada] for the  World Cup of Hockey,” Bergevin told reporters in French ahead of Montreal’s game with the Lightning on Dec. 28. “I have confidence in Michel Therrien and the players, there’s no doubt about that.”
If Bergevin’s confidence in Therrien is still intact, his faith in the players has to be wavering. They have failed to score three or more goals in 15 games of this 20-match free-fall, and they’ve dropped two of the five games in which they did manage at least three.
There’s no denying that a lot of Montreal’s pain has been self-inflicted.
But bad luck has been a factor, too.
Those were the numbers heading into Sunday’s game with a Chicago team that was seeking its 11th straight win.
So, what happened Sunday night?
Montreal allowed the game’s first goal on Chicago’s second shot on net, which came just 2:40 into the first period. Canadiens forward Dale Weise was within checking distance of Chicago’s Erik Gustafsson, but he made an ineffective poke at the puck and let Gustafsson breeze right by before setting up an unmarked Richard Panik in the slot.
The Canadiens bounced back with a goal from Lars Eller and took the game to intermission tied 1-1 despite being outshot 10-6 in the first period.
What happened in the second period was unbelievable.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scored 13:38 in on a play that was clearly offside.
Therrien and his staff missed it. They have a tablet on the bench to review every goal, they have eyes in the press box in communication with them, but no challenge came.
“The information didn’t arrive on time for us to make a decision,” said Therrien in French.
Toews scored a second goal five minutes and one second later on a play that was clearly icing.
There was nothing the Canadiens could do about that.
But Montreal battled back with a power-play goal to make the score 3-2 with 9:38 remaining in the third period.
And then Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu made an inexplicable decision a minute and 11 seconds later, leaving the NHL’s leading scorer, Patrick Kane, all alone in front of goaltender Ben Scrivens for Chicago’s fourth goal.
Chicago’s Marian Hossa scored an empty net goal to seal the deal.
“I don’t think we’re far from finding solutions,” said Therrien.
But unless the outcomes begin to fall in Montreal’s favour immediately, Therrien might not be around to see his team to the other side of all of this misery.
“It’s important for us to stick together as a team,” said Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher. “We’re going to get out of this, and the only way we’re going to do that is by sticking together as a group.”
But the prospect of significant change to the makeup of this Canadiens team looms larger with every loss.