MONTREAL — There the Montreal Canadiens of 2021-22 were, offering a reminder as to why they sit in last place in the NHL with four games to go.
Everything that put this team in that position early on — and kept them there despite a significant boost in play under Martin St. Louis from late February through March — was on display against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. You know, the Flyers, losers of six straight, occupiers of the 30th-best record in the NHL coming into the game, seen dressed beforehand in undershirts decorated with team logos and the catchy slogan, “Something to prove.”
This was supposed to be a season of redemption for them, but it proved to be something else entirely.
But on this night, the Canadiens gave them a glance and said, “Hold our beers.”
For a team looking to finish strong and take some positives into next year, this was a game to forget.
You know it’s bleak when the best thing to happen to you over 60 minutes of play is the officials making one of the biggest blunders in recent NHL history.
Ah yes, it was after giving up the game’s first goal for an NHL-leading 50th time this season — and securing a first-period deficit for a league-leading 43rd time — that Brendan Gallagher, from the bottom of a goal-mouth scrum, shovelled a pass to Mike Hoffman with his hand. Hoffman scored into a wide-open net from the top of the crease to make it 2-1 Flyers, breaking a career-worst 21-game goal drought, and then he and Gallagher played the whole thing like they just got away with robbing a bank in broad daylight.
Not only did referees Eric Furlatt and Brendan Schrader miss it in real time, Furlatt refused to grant Mike Yeo a challenge, even though Yeo was entitled to one.
The Flyers coach was cool afterwards, with the game in hand 6-3 and the botched call having no impact on the result.
“They said there's a mistake that happened,” he said, “and you know, obviously, I think the big thing for us is we didn't let that derail us. We've been trying to talk about that a lot. How you deal with adversity, whether it's game to game or in the course of the game, and I thought that our guys did a good job with that tonight.”
We suspect Yeo would’ve been livid had the outcome been different, but the Canadiens never threatened to make it remotely so — even after Jake Evans scored his 12th of the season to tie the game 2-2 in the sixth minute of the second period.
They followed that up by allowing a goal to Oscar Lindblom a minute and 21 seconds later, and another to Travis Konecny with just under seven minutes to play in the frame.
We imagine Carey Price, holding himself to even a medium standard, would’ve said after the game that he’d have liked to have stopped those shots that made it 4-2 Flyers. He probably wasn’t enamoured with the two that beat him in the first period and — even without speaking to him — we would say he definitely didn’t love the one goal James van Reimsdyk scored to give the Flyers their sixth of the night.
Price’s performance was reminiscent of what we saw from Canadiens goaltenders through November, all the way back to when he was rehabbing from knee surgery and the team was hapless and well en route to cratering out in the standings.
They looked like those guys again on this night, in their 78th game of the season.
At least Price could say it was just his third game since July of 2021.
In the first period, the Canadiens passed up their best scoring chances, literally, with Rem Pitlick trying to set up three separate plays from the best shooting position he could possibly be in.
It was rough at the other end of the ice, too, where Kale Clague couldn’t defend van Riemsdyk on the Flyers’ first goal and struggled to defend anyone else throughout the night. He, partner Chris Wideman and the line of Hoffman, Gallagher and Christian Dvorak all (deservedly) finished minus-three.
And the Canadiens were as frustrated off the ice as they were on it.
"I think a little bit is feeling the game slip away," said St. Louis. "And Philly was kind of sitting back and waiting in the neutral zone, which is where we had a tough time executing. The clock’s ticking… It’s just a combination of many things. But I understand the frustration, I’ve been there."
He should thank his lucky stars he wasn’t there for it during the months leading up to him replacing Dominique Ducharme.
Sure, St. Louis got a taste on Thursday, but this night was different than the six others that saw the Canadiens lose to put together their worst streak under his watch.
They competed hard in those games, but not hard enough in this one. It was all-too-familiar, and a perfect reminder of how the Canadiens put themselves in a position to potentially secure the best odds at drafting first overall — in Montreal — this summer.