MONTREAL — It was impressive—the Montreal Canadiens, owners of the NHL’s worst record and a team that had allowed at least five goals in 17 of their first 42 games, somehow topping themselves in Game 43.
Saturday night, in Montreal, in an all-Canadian matchup with the Edmonton Oilers on Hockey Night in Canada, the Canadiens completely embarrassed themselves. Even in a week that started with a lacklustre 8-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild, they managed to hit a new low.
We didn’t think it could be done, but the Canadiens proved us wrong, and they did it shortly after the national anthem was sung and the puck was dropped—rolling out the welcome mat for Evander Kane on his third shift in his new uniform and leaving him unchecked in front of the net for a tip Canadiens goaltender Samuel Montembeault moved away from.
It was less than a minute and a half after Kane scored that Zach Hyman wiped his feet on that mat and tipped in an identical goal from the lip of the crease. On this sequence, Ben Chiarot, playing left defence, shifted over to the right and chased a cycle all the way up to Montreal’s blue line, while Lukas Vejdemo stood by Hyman and watched him give the Oilers the 2-0 lead.
It was on the very next shift that Canadiens forward Rem Pitlick, who has done mostly good things since being claimed off waivers from the Wild on Jan. 12, scored Leon Draisaitl’s 30th goal of the season for him, fumbling and booting the puck past Montembeault.
If Canadiens fans had been in attendance, most would’ve left the building after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins quickly answered Josh Anderson’s second-period goal to make it 4-1 Oilers. Any remaining would’ve booed on their way out after watching Hyman and Draisaitl bookend Tyler Toffoli’s power-play goal to make it 6-2 Oilers with more than 25 minutes to play.
Alas, no one was there to toss a jersey on the ice after Derek Ryan made it a 7-2 final with just over 30 seconds remaining in the third period. Not that anyone would have needed to after the Canadiens laid down in theirs all night.
Good? There was close to none from the Canadiens.
Bad? There was a lot of it, but Jeff Petry giving up a 3-on-O break minutes before Ryan scored was up there.
Ugly? Petry, Brett Kulak, Ryan Poehling, Mike Hoffman and Laurent Dauphin barely acknowledged Zack Kassian after he drove into Montembeault behind Montreal’s net and took a roughing penalty with the score already 5-1 Oilers.
“Looking back at it, I didn’t see the actual (hit). I just saw Monty go down,” said Petry. “For me, it’s not a place to go and have to fight a guy like that. But I think, looking back, replaying it in my head, you should at least get in his face and have a word with him. I think that’s something that is on me and on the other guys on the ice, too, you know—stand up for our teammates.”
With just under six minutes to play, Michael Pezzetta righted that wrong, getting in a good shot in a fight he instigated with Kassian. He ended up getting punched into Edmonton’s net, but at least he cared enough to do it.
A team that displayed so little passion on Saturday has to consider the long-term ramifications of losses like this one.
This is a team that, well before hitting the halfway mark, gave up on the playoff race and accepted that its mission moving forward was to establish good habits, build back a strong identity and enjoy some personal and team growth to set the foundation for next season. Jake Allen had first said it early in January, and Paul Byron, Tyler Toffoli and Petry all repeated it on Saturday.
But there was nothing to take out of the game against the Oilers but disappointment.
“I think everybody has the right intentions going into games, and like tonight, it’s starting to get away from us,” said Petry. “And we kind of felt defeated before the game’s over and not competing as hard as we should be for the entire game. Whether we’re up two, down five, whatever it is, it just seemed like we kind of stopped that compete and that drive to continue to keep the puck out of our net and keep it close.”
Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme, who panned the team’s reaction to Kassian’s hit on Montembeault, didn’t want to blame this one on effort.
"I want to see five red jerseys go into the corner. I'd never ask one person to fight, but I want to see five reds in the corner."--Ducharme on the non-response to Kassian hit on Montembeault.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 30, 2022
“We had a plan,” he said. “McDavid didn’t have a point, we did a good job there. We gave up 24 shots, 12 scoring chances. If you told me that this morning, I would’ve said I think we have a good chance of winning.”
But he saw how those first three goals went in. He saw the Canadiens give up more goals immediately after scoring their own. He didn’t like what happened with Kassian, and he shouldn’t like what’s going on with his team.
It’s been happening all season, but it was especially bad on Saturday.