SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ah, the Golden State. With sunshine beaming down and palm trees swaying, it’s a beautiful place.
It’s a place where people go to make their dreams come true.
For the Montreal Canadiens, however, it could be the place where any dreams of making the playoffs officially get buried. They’ve already dug the hole with a 1-6-0 start to the 2021-22 season — which was deepened by an embarrassing 5-1 loss to the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday — and now they’re standing on the edge of it and hoping not to be dealt a death blow by three teams who have historically killed them on home ice.
On Thursday, at SAP Arena, the Canadiens will attempt to win a game for the first time since Ricky Martin last topped the charts. They haven’t won any of the 12 they’ve played against the Sharks in San Jose since squeaking out a 3-2 overtime win in 1999, and they’ve been shut out in a quarter of them and outscored 50-24 on aggregate. After that, this coming weekend’s back-to-back matinees in Los Angeles and Anaheim will see the Canadiens try to beat the Kings in their own building for just the third time in their last seven attempts and the Ducks at the Honda Center for the first time in as many tries.
We don’t love their chances. Especially after reviewing the tape from Monday’s game in Seattle, where all the good feelings from Montreal’s first win of the season –a 6-1, soul-soothing beatdown of the Detroit Red Wings — evaporated before 10 minutes of the second period were played.
It wasn’t so much that the Canadiens lost, but how they did against a Kraken team they knew were chasing their first-ever win at Climate Pledge Arena and were hungry to begin reversing their own rough start to their inaugural season. It looked very much the same as their 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Game 2 of the season, and just as similar as their 5-0 loss to the Sharks at the Bell Centre a week prior.
Jeff Petry said afterwards that it didn’t just look that way.
“It’s the same game we played in Buffalo, same game we played at home against the Sharks,” he said, “and it doesn’t work and it’s frustrating.”
The Canadiens have spent days talking about eliminating the bad patterns in their game — the early goals surrendered, the sloppy turnovers in the neutral zone, not being aggressive enough in front of the net and in battles for the puck, and not adhering to the system for long stretches of games — but have done little to change them.
On Monday, they gave up the game’s first goal for the sixth time in seven games, and it was scored only 1:02 into the first period. They fed a team that came into the game having generated the least rush chances per 60 in the NHL five goals off the rush. And when the chances were on their sticks, they either hit Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer with them or fired them wide of the net.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said a deflated Josh Anderson after the game. “I really don’t.”
“Tonight, we didn’t deserve to win at all,” he added.
On the troublesome patterns in the Canadiens’ play in general, Ben Chiarot said the biggest concern is how they defend.
“We just look a little out of sorts, not on the same page,” he said. “We give the other team too much time and too much space to skate, and that gets us on our heels, gets us running around. That seems to be a common theme when we have these kinds of games.”
Petry pointed out what has been obvious to anyone watching these losses pile up.
“We’re skating away from guys with the puck,” he said. “We’re not close to support, we’re not second into battles, we’re just disconnected.
“I think everyone’s working hard, (but) I think we’ve got to work smarter and execute.”
The Canadiens have reached emergency status on that front.
They’ve got one of four CBA-mandated days off this month on Wednesday, and then they’ll resume skating Thursday morning before attempting to bounce back immediately and notch their first win in San Jose in over two decades.
It’s going to be a particular challenge against a Sharks team that may have lost its last two games but won its first four and appears much better than most people gave them credit for heading into the season.
Even with the Kings and Ducks combining for just three wins in 13 games since the season started, it won’t get any easier for the Canadiens when they fly south.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way,” said Anderson. “We’ve got to get ourselves together here.”
With their season already on life support, the Canadiens don’t have a choice. Their slim playoff hopes could be none by the time they pack up and leave California.