In the four evening games on Hockey Night in Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the only Canadian team to earn two points and put up much offence. That game was a wild one -- and they nearly blew another 4-1 lead, which would have gone over well -- and it was a "garbage bounce" that gave the Leafs their win, and a share for top spot in the league again.
Luke Fox has you covered on the Leafs story from Saturday night. Here is how we saw the other three games.
Canadiens continue to struggle as they march to the basement
Jake Allen never had a shot at revenge.
Allen was facing his former St. Louis Blues mates for the first time since a 2020 trade sent him to Montreal. In St. Louis' net Saturday was Charlie Lindgren, who was also facing his former team for the first time since the Canadiens organization moved on from him. It was advantage Lindgren all night.
The Canadiens' trip to the league basement continued Saturday and it's not a question of effort or what version of the Habs you might get on a given night, but if they can score enough to keep things interesting. The lineup is a bare bones version right now, with most of their top defencemen, veteran scorers, and No. 1 goalie on the sidelines. Tyler Toffoli was added to that list Saturday as it was announced he'll miss eight weeks after having hand surgery.
Following Thursday's shutout loss to Chicago, it took the Canadiens seven minutes to record their first shot on goal against the Blues. In the second period, the Habs didn't record a shot until roughly 12 and a half minutes had passed. Perhaps the momentum would have played out differently had Joel Armia -- a top-sixer at the moment -- been able to convert on an early, glorious opportunity, but these are the signs of their times. Too many scorers out of the lineup and not enough finishers to match up with a team as polished as the Blues...or most others.
So it's six losses in a row for the Canadiens and for the fifth time in eight games they didn't score more than even one goal. Their franchise history-worst special teams units kept tumbling, killing one of three penalties taken and failing to score on the one power play they got. The Canadiens have lost 20 regulation games now, tied with Arizona for most in the league, and 13 of those losses were by three goals or more.
Teams with 13 or more 3-goal losses thru 29 games, since 1999
1999-00 Thrashers (Finished last in NHL with 39 PTS)
2019-20 Red Wings (Finished last in NHL with 39 PTS)
2021-22 Canadiens ??
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) December 12, 2021
With the season all but lost there's a lot of time to ponder the future here over the next few months. Ben Chiarot will probably get traded by the deadline for a draft pick, but it was interesting to see someone like Brendan Gallagher show up on this week's trade candidates to watch list from Jeff Marek. Habs fans can perhaps get a glimpse of that future at the WJC over the holiday season, not just to see defence prospect Kaiden Guhle, but to get an early look at prospective No. 1 overall draft pick Shane Wright (Canada's roster is expected to be announced Sunday or Monday).
It's been that kinda year and Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Blues was that kinda game.
— Priyanta Emrith (@HabsInHighHeels) December 12, 2021
Oilers booed at home after fifth straight loss
With five straight losses now, Edmonton's primary concerns are all coming into focus. Depth, defence and goaltending.
In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Carolina, we should point out Mikko Koskinen was not the problem. Rather, Koskinen kept the Oilers alive until an unfortunate bounce and poorly handled puck by the goalie led to Carolina's insurance marker. But at the other end of the ice Frederik Andersen stole the show, with a number of highlight saves and key moments that snuffed out any opportunity for the Oilers to tie the game. Andersen is a long-time No. 1 and something of a proven asset -- Koskinen remains a stop gap and not a solution.
But against the Canes, Edmonton was presented with something of a measuring stick game. Carolina has been on a slow build up to contender status themselves, constructed on a foundation of sound team defence and a deep blue line, then added on to from there. Now that's all maturing and this feels like their best team of the past decade at least.
The Oilers were outchanced in this one, but Carolina's penchant for clogging passing lanes and having strong sticks frustrated Edmonton's entire lineup and kept their final shot count even lower, even though they had some quality looks. Leon Draisaitl got a single shot on goal at 5-on-5, Connor McDavid got three, but neither scored a point. It was just the third time Edmonton's two superstars were kept off the scoreboard in the same game this season and that usually means they lose.
after losing their fifth game in a row, the edmonton oilers get boo'd off the ice. pic.twitter.com/jvmy0mW27A
— zach laing (@zjlaing) December 12, 2021
It's another reminder of the road ahead for Edmonton. Where the Canes built around defence, the Oilers built around two supreme talents, the type of which a lot of teams don't even have one of. But when those two players are shut out, the Oilers tend not to have enough else to throw at you. This lack of forward depth has bit the Oilers in back-to-back playoff defeats and remains a sore spot today.
Edmonton got 23 shots on goal against Carolina. Two came from the bottom-six forwards.
Something to watch out of this game that could make matters worse is the status of Zach Hyman. He took a hit from Brady Skjei in the third period, left the ice favouring his right shoulder, and did not play another shift. Needless to say, losing Hyman would only exasperate the depth issue for this team as the losing streak hits five games.
Edmonton left their home ice to boos Saturday night and next face the Leafs on Tuesday.
Dave Tippett said Zach Hyman didn’t finish the game for precautionary reasons and was being checked by the medical staff. The Oilers are off tomorrow. We should know more on Monday.
— Daniel Nugent-Bowman (@DNBsports) December 12, 2021
What to make of Calgary's first bump in the schedule
One of the more notable differences between the Calgary Flames and the rest of the top 10 teams in the NHL (and Calgary is still in that group) is that, after a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Flames' home record is a tepid 4-3-4.
In 2018-19, the last time Calgary finished atop the Pacific Division, they had the league's third-best home record, but were much closer to .500 the past two seasons, and now this.
Saturday's game wasn't even a bad one for the Flames. They registered 68 per cent of the shot attempts and 68.75 per cent of the scoring chances against the Bruins. Honestly, a better night from Jacob Markstrom and maybe this one turns out differently.
But these are the sorts of wins a polished, proven team like the Bruins accumulate a few of through a season. They're pros at making what few opportunities they get count and now, with Saturday's win, they move into an Eastern Conference playoff spot for the first time this season.
So how do the Flames get to that level of reliability?
This is the first bump in the road for Calgary, with four straight losses piling up this week. Their start has been full of positives (and they are still first in the Pacific), but a lull was always inevitable over 82 games. What counts is getting out of it quickly, and finding what made you successful again.
"When you look at the last 4-5 games we've played against teams that when they get a lead can really check and that's how we gotta play too," Darryl Sutter said. "The pocket of adversity tonight would be that we didn't score the first goal and have had really average goaltending the last little while. So if you're a team that doesn't have secondary scoring and you get average goaltending then you're up against it."
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) December 12, 2021
In these four losses the Flames managed just eight goals. They've allowed the first goal in five of their past six games and haven't won a single game yet this season where they trailed in the third. Andrew Mangiapane, still making a case for Team Canada (if NHLers go), has slowed to two goals in nine games -- and goal scorers can be streaky so that's nothing to panic over per se. The first line has kept chugging through this time, but without Mangiapane going, Calgary's secondary scoring becomes a little challenged.
So as the season develops and trade chatter picks up, Calgary's need for another goal scorer will come into focus. In the first intermission Saturday, the HNIC panel mentioned San Jose's Tomas Hertl as a possible target, a 28-year-old centre/left winger with 13 goals and 19 points in 27 games. It would be an option that could pump up a second line, or offer a more dangerous third.
It's a stretch like this -- and a game like Saturday's that just needed one game breaker -- that reminds us there's work to be done here and ponder how aggressive GM Brad Treliving might be when it comes time to make a move.