It won’t take much more of this for Marc Bergevin to realize his Montreal Canadiens don’t have what it takes to be a playoff team.
The general manager was in attendance on Thursday to watch the Canadiens lose their third consecutive game—this one a 3-1 decision to the Lightning in Tampa Bay—and if he was paying close enough attention he surely noticed some troubling things.
If Bergevin didn’t, the stat sheet (and the out of town scoreboard) revealed plenty.
Let’s get to our takeaways.
Top players bottoming out
It has to be most disconcerting for Bergevin to see that the Canadiens’ top players aren’t generating the chances needed to bust out offensively.
Granted the Canadiens were playing for the second time in as many nights and against a rested, league-leading Lightning group, but the desperation level just wasn’t what it needed to be for the guys expected to lead the charge.
Captain Max Pacioretty, who came into the game with zero goals in his last 10 and one in his last 19, recorded one measly shot on net. Second leading goal scorer Paul Byron failed to record one. And Tomas Plekanec, who came into the action with one goal in his last 23 games, didn’t even register an attempt.
Drouin finished with three shots and could do nothing but watch from Canadiens goaltender Carey Price’s crease as Lightning forward Brayden Point buried what proved to be the game-winner 30 seconds into the third period.
As an aside, Mikhail Sergachev, whom Drouin was traded for on June 15, was dangerous all night, recording two shots on net and making several quality plays in close to 19 minutes of action.
Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen had one decent look on three shots he put on net, but he remains stuck on two goals for the season. Phillip Danault, who now has just four goals in his last 27 games, had just one shot on net. And Andrew Shaw, who has nine goals on the year, has two goals in his last 10 games and also only recorded just one shot in this one.
Brendan Gallagher managed to extend his team-lead to 15 goals with a power-play marker in the second, and he’s on pace for more than 30 this season. Alex Galchenyuk was beyond reproach with his performance, recording five shots, nine attempts and coming oh-so-close to scoring.
But two out of the top-nine forwards having their game in order isn’t enough to get the job done, and if that wasn’t clear in Tampa Bay, it should be abundantly clear to Bergevin now that the Canadiens have failed to score more than two goals in 22 of their 38 games this season.
Scratch that. Good defence wins.
That’s why Bergevin signed Karl Alzner to a five-year, $23.1 million contract. It certainly wasn’t because he thought Alzner could help the team offensively with his 19 goals in 591 NHL games prior to lacing them up with the Canadiens.
There was a grace period for Alzner to adjust to his new team. When he started off on the wrong foot, it was a passable excuse that he was getting acclimated to new teammates and finding his rhythm in zone defence as opposed to the man-on-man coverage he had played throughout his entire career with the Washington Capitals.
But there’s no excuse to lean on now for the amount of mistakes Alzner’s making in his own end.
On Wednesday in Carolina, he gifted the Hurricanes their first goal with a sloppy giveaway on what should’ve been a routine zone clearance. And on Thursday in Tampa, with his team 10 seconds from heading into the second intermission with a 1-0 lead, Alzner got beat in a foot race by Nikita Kucherov to negate an icing and he got caught staring at Kucherov as he set up Steven Stamkos with a no-look pass from behind the net. Tie game.
Alzner got caught behind the net on Point’s winning goal, too.
It’s not a question of effort with this player. He has played 629 straight games—many of them through considerable pain—to put together one of the longest active ironman streaks in the NHL. He jumps in front of pucks, engages in battles and plays with a lot of heart.
But the game has gotten exponentially faster, and Alzner, who wasn’t fleet of foot to begin with, has never looked slower than he has this season—particularly when it comes to his reaction speed.
That’s bad news for a team that’s relying on him for 20:40 per game on average. That they feel the need to rely on Alzner as much is a statement on how poorly equipped the Canadiens are on the back end. And his spotty play is particularly tough to absorb considering defensive stalwart Shea Weber is currently sidelined indefinitely by a foot injury.
The gap keeps widening
By the time Bergevin left the arena in Tampa, divisional rival Boston had picked up a point in a shootout loss to Washington to put themselves 10 points ahead of the Canadiens in the standings. A few hours later, divisional rival Toronto crushed the Arizona Coyotes 7-4 to extend their lead on Montreal to 11 points.
And divisional rival Florida, who will play the Canadiens Satuday, took a one-point lead in the standings with their 3-2 win over Philadelphia.
The idle New York Islanders and Rangers, occupying the two wildcard spots in the East, are eight points up and each hold a game in hand on Montreal.
The Canadiens have to win 30 of their remaining 44 games to break past the 95-point mark. That’s what it took to qualify for a playoff spot in the East last season.
Even if Bergevin is a glass half-full type of guy, he can’t ignore how unfavourable the odds are for his team. It’s time for him to turn the page on this season and get his plans in order to make the Canadiens better next year—if he hasn’t already.