SUNRISE, Fla.— The Montreal Canadiens played a bad game, and it’s fine to say it.
It’s actually crucial to say it. Less so for us, and more so for them. Because even if there was some positive to take out of charging back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the top-ranked home team in the NHL 4-4 in a span of 1:42 in the second period, it’s pivotal for the Canadiens to face reality. Namely, that for most of the other 58 minutes in the game, their performance was well below what it had to be in order to give themselves a real chance at beating this impressive Florida Panthers team.
They can’t come out of the game lying to themselves about it and then just expecting to reverse course against another top Hurricanes team in Carolina on Thursday. So, a comment like the one Joel Edmundson made after Tuesday’s 7-4 loss was pertinent.
“You’ve gotta give them credit,” he said, “they were on top of us, they did a good job. But at the same time, you’ve gotta look yourself in the mirror and bear down on those chances. Every play matters. (Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis) stresses that every day.
"It doesn’t matter if you’re 200 feet away from the net; every play matters and it could be the difference in the game. You’ve just gotta bear down and win your battles.”
There is a balance to strike, of course. It can’t all be negative. If there’s anything the Canadiens proved to themselves in playing far too many games like this one earlier in the season, it’s that beating yourself up and wallowing in a bad performance leads to more bad performances.
But learning that balance between a harsh self-assessment and trying to remain upbeat about the good parts of a loss is a growth opportunity for this team, and that’s what these remaining games are about. They’re certainly not about outcomes, with the Canadiens staring up at every opponent from last place in the NHL standings; they’re about finding ways to break bad habits quickly while maintaining good ones.
The evidence of the Canadiens' bad game might not have been on the NHL’s official score sheet, with the team credited with just five giveaways all night when they clearly had over 15 in the first period alone, but they were quite bad. Nevertheless, confidence wasn’t broken. And that has much to do with a higher self-standard that’s been established since St. Louis took over in the second week of February and a belief that’s grown within the group.
“You can definitely see there’s a difference,” said Edmundson, who scored his first goal since May of 2021 to get the comeback started in the second period. “It doesn’t matter how many goals we’re down or if we’re winning, there’s no quit in our dressing room. We believe we can be in any game or beat any team. We don’t want to get down that early or by that much, but stay positive in the dressing room and we knew we could inch our way back into that game.”
And that belief can carry the Canadiens into Carolina after going through some more self-reflection on what went wrong in a disappointing third period in Florida.
“Coaches are very honest with us,” said Nick Suzuki, who scored his 50th point of the season with an assist on Edmundson’s goal but had a tough night and finished minus-3. “There’s a lot of bad points in the game, and some good points. When we do video as a team, we always bring up the bad stuff and it’s not always positive and you need to learn from these games.”
The tape will reveal what the Canadiens already know, and not just about themselves. Because the Panthers—from Aleksander Barkov to Claude Giroux and to Jonathan Huberdeau, who had two goals and equaled Joe Juneau’s record for most assists recorded in a single season by a left winger with his 70th of this campaign—also showed just how good they are.
“Tonight, they were faster than us on the ice,” said St. Louis. “They forced us to make a lot of turnovers. They were in our face, and they have good sticks. They work really hard in the offensive zone to recover pucks and made it a hard time for us getting pucks out.”
It’s part of the reason the Panthers possess the NHL’s second-best record.
The Canadiens bottomed out earlier this season because of the issues that plagued them in this game. They couldn’t rebound because, as Suzuki put it, “It felt like we were in a hole and we were never going to get out of it and just the mental strength to come in every day, try to get better, I think we did a poor job of that as a team and that’s why we lost so many games.”
But they’re different now from who they were then.
Acknowledging this performance was below their most recent standard while still maintaining a positive attitude was a sign of that difference. And there’s reason to believe they’ll make the necessary adjustments for next game.
The Canadiens may not win against the Hurricanes, but it’s likely their process will be better.