The Montreal Canadiens‘ stranglehold on the Atlantic Division is looking more and more tenuous by the day. It makes you wonder what general manager Marc Bergevin is thinking as he watches from on high.
The only team in the National Hockey League that’s been worse in recent weeks than the Canadiens — who have three wins in their last 10 — is the one that beat them on Tuesday.
The 30th-placed Colorado Avalanche, who lost 10-1 to the Canadiens in Montreal on Dec. 10, scored two goals before Tuesday’s game was three minutes old and added two more before night’s end to hand their opponents a 4-0 loss.
Make that four in a row for Montreal, the longest losing streak of its season.
Will Bergevin intervene before the Canadiens stare down the barrel at consecutive loss No. 5 in Arizona Thursday? You have to think he’ll be tempted.
The Canadiens landed in Denver up eight points on the Ottawa Senators and 10 on the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were fortunate that the former lost 5-0 to the visiting St. Louis Blues on Tuesday and less so thanks to the latter pulling out a 3-1 win at Air Canada Centre over the Dallas Stars.
But the Senators hold four games in hand, and the Leafs have three. If the Canadiens don’t reverse their fortunes over their next three games, they’ll spend their upcoming bye week, from Feb. 13-17, praying that the wide gap they created between themselves and their divisional foes won’t narrow considerably.
Here’s the thing: teams don’t just buck multiple negative trends overnight.
The Canadiens have now been held without a goal in consecutive games, they’ve scored just three over this four-game skid — over which they’ve been held to an average of 22 shots — and they’ve failed to score a power play goal in their last 12 attempts.
Their penalty kill also dropped to 23rd overall after allowing yet another goal — this one giving Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen his first career hat trick.
It’s in times like these — not counting 2015-16, when Carey Price missed 70 games — that the Canadiens have been able to rely on their MVP goaltender to bail them out.
But Price, who struggled through the months of December and January, has put up a sub-.900 save percentage through three February starts. Those are the kind of numbers that might keep Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien up at night, wondering just how secure his job is.
More accomplished men in Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien were just sacked under similar, goalie-driven circumstances.
While Hitchcock was on an expiring contract and Julien had been on uneven ground for some time in Boston, Therrien is signed through 2019, and Bergevin has to have a move or two up his sleeve before taking a single step down that road. The Canadiens GM shown in the past he’s not one to act in haste. But if he’s got something on the go, it wouldn’t hurt him to expedite the process.
Meanwhile, Therrien’s pushing buttons left and right.
He set off a city-wide panic when he played Alex Galchenyuk at wing against Edmonton Sunday. The third overall pick in 2012, who was drafted to play centre and hadn’t up until last season, was anything but effective there. Therrien moved Galchenyuk back to the centre position for Tuesday’s game.
He also dumped David Desharnais to the fourth line, moved Torrey Mitchell to the wing, and scratched Jacob De La Rose.
By the start of the third period in Colorado, with the Canadiens down 3-0, the coach moved Alexander Radulov off Montreal’s top line and put Andrew Shaw next to Max Pacioretty and Phillip Danault. If he was trying to create a spark by reuniting Radulov with Galchenyuk and Paul Byron, who had success as a line earlier this season, nothing came of it.
At the other end of the ice, defenceman Mark Barberio, who was waived by the Canadiens and picked up by the Avalanche last week, added insult to injury by notching assists on the final two goals of the game.
There weren’t any cameras panning to the Montreal GM for his reaction but you can bet all eyes are on him now.
The Canadiens are reeling.