Canadiens' loss to Coyotes proof they don't need to tank to bottom out

Clayton Keller scored his 14th goal of the season, and the Arizona Coyotes used goals from five different players to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 5-2.

Let’s clear up one inaccuracy regarding Monday’s matinee between the 31st-ranked Arizona Coyotes and 32nd-ranked Montreal Canadiens: This was not actually, as it was dubbed, “the Tank Bowl.” This was a game between one team that threw in the towel on its season before it even started and another that came into October trying to build off its first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since 1993.

Both lost.

Start with the Coyotes. Their fire sale began last year and by the time it’s done they might not even have an arena to play in. This horribly-run franchise ventured into the regular season having already accumulated six picks to add to their own in the first two rounds this coming draft, unabashedly and unapologetically diving deeper into what seems like an eternal rebuild and prepared to gleefully cross off every loss that brings them closer to the top of the draft order. So, Monday’s win over the Canadiens, which put them three points up in the standings, brought them further away from their goal.

And while legions of Canadiens fans unquestionably lept off their couches to celebrate Coyotes forward Clayton Keller burying this game in regulation with an empty-net goal to make it 5-2, their players wallowed in the embarrassment of it all, which was best summed up by NHL part-timer Laurent Dauphin, who said, “We want to win every game, and that’s what we tried tonight,” before adding, “It didn’t work.”

This wasn’t “the Tank Bowl.” This was the “the Toilet Bowl,” with the Coyotes plunging the damn thing and finally flushing the Canadiens down to the sewer.

Oh, the stench of it. That’s the only thing the Canadiens are taking out of this, with little hope the post-game showers washed it off.

“When you start the season, this isn’t what you expect,” said Jonathan Drouin, who assisted on both goals his team scored to join Nick Suzuki as the leading scorer on the Canadiens. “We’re going through a hard time at the moment. And I know it’s a cliché, but we’re trying to stay positive. So, this wasn’t a good day or a good game for us. It’s hard to accept… For sure, it hurts.”

It should.

This was Game 37 of what is trending towards becoming the worst season in Canadiens history. It was their 30th loss, their 25th in regulation, and it happened against a team hoping to lose to them. That’s Thor’s hammer straight to the pills.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens, who came into the game having lost 11 of 12 games since the start of December, really wanted to win. So much so that coach Dominique Ducharme pulled goaltender Cayden Primeau out of it before the start of the third just to, in his words, “spark the team,” towards a comeback.

Down two goals, with Sam Montembeault now behind them, the Canadiens responded with just three shots through the first 15 minutes of the period. They appeared about as inspired as they did at the start, when they allowed two goals in less than nine minutes.

The intention might have been good, but the execution was abysmal.

Ducharme talked about players failing to limit the Coyotes' time and space in the neutral zone because he found they hesitated to choose between the options available to them. He talked about a lack of cohesion among his defencemen on the goal that made it 2-0 Coyotes and of sloppy coverage and support from his forwards on the one that made it 4-2. And in mentioning all of this he was repeating what he had said ad nauseam through the first 10 games of the season, of which the Canadiens lost nine—five of them in embarrassing fashion.

“I don’t think our players are at their full potential,” Ducharme added. “They’re capable of more than that.”

There are ghost stories more believable than that statement at this point.

But whether or not you or I believe it, this team is trying to convince itself it’s true. And with more than half a season to play, regardless of how it looks, it has no interest in participating in “the Tank Bowl,” even if you want it to.

“It’s outside noise,” said Drouin. “Everyone has a right to their own opinion. If they’re at home, they want to write stuff on Twitter, Instagram, newspaper, we don’t control that stuff. I think we have to control what we can in that room with all the staff and the players and we can’t really worry about if fans want us to win or not. We’re not going to give up on this season. There’s stuff you can build, even though you’re in last or you’re in the last five teams in the league. We don’t have a game to waste. We have young players, we have stuff we want to build for the next years and even this year, so we can’t give up on that stuff.”

Do the Canadiens even have to?

They’ve sunk this low already without trying to tank, so might as well keep going.

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