Canadiens’ losing streak extends to five, threatens to break team’s spirit

Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt each scored a goal in the final 10 minutes of regulation to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

A 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon might have been a good result for the Montreal Canadiens’ draft rankings, but it was a terrible one for the team’s morale.

They played well in this one. They took 1-0 and 2-1 leads and dominated the Devils at five-on-five. They also limited New Jersey to just nine shots on net through the first 24 minutes of the hockey game before holding them to zero through the first 9:50 of the third period.

But it didn’t matter in the end.

Every mistake the Canadiens made cost them, they failed to capitalize on enough of the ones the Devils made to change the outcome, and the game left them shaking their heads over a season-high fifth loss in a row.

Maybe it gets the Canadiens closer to securing a top-five draft pick by season’s end — they have the sixth-worst points percentage in the league and have played two more games than the Arizona Coyotes, who are just two points back from them in 28th place — but these are the types of streaks they’ve wisely tried to avoid since the beginning of October knowing they’re the type of deflating sequences that can stunt development and threaten to plunder a team’s spirits.

It wouldn’t quite be fair to suggest the Canadiens’ spirits have been down since coming out of the bye week, with Sean Monahan’s trade to Winnipeg on Feb. 2 turning a longshot chance at a playoff berth into a non-existent one. Commendably, they’ve kept them up and battled hard in almost every game since.

But losing consistently makes that harder to come by, and more losses right now could do some real damage with 24 games to go in the season.

Martin St. Louis knows.

The Canadiens’ coach told reporters in Newark that he’ll try to keep his team focused on the truth — that the process has been relatively healthy and that’s something to tether positivity to.

But St. Louis knows nothing will reinforce belief in the process more than a win at this point.

“It has to flip,” St. Louis said. “You can’t just deserve better or continue to play well and end up losing and accept that. It takes more.”

Devils need much, much more to make playoffs

For a team that gave up 11 goals over consecutive losses to take a step back in the ever-tightening playoff race coming into this one, the Devils didn’t exactly inspire confidence on Saturday that they’re headed in the right direction.

We know, they haven’t had the goaltending this season, and they’ve dealt with their fair share of injuries throughout.

But they had more than enough talent at their disposal to give the Canadiens a much better fight than they did on Saturday, and they barely got their gloves up.

You’d have thought the Devils would’ve come out swinging, but they were disconnected from the start, and they almost came completely undone by the end — giving Nick Suzuki his second goal late in the game before nearly giving up the tying goal to Alex Newhook seconds ahead of the final buzzer sounding. There was an alarming lack of desperation in their play.

The Devils were lucky to win, and lucky to not lose any more ground in the race — remaining five points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second wild-card position in the East.

Sure, they’re fortunate to have a couple of games in hand, too.

But if the Devils play those ones like they did this one, they won’t stand a chance of making the playoffs.

Anderson’s slump more than just bad luck

Josh Anderson started the season without scoring in his first 23 games and, after Saturday’s game, has managed just one goal in his last 20.

Has the Canadiens’ winger been unlucky? Absolutely.

But, as colleague Marc Antoine Godin of Radio Canada pointed out during the game, he’s missed the net with a team-leading 30 per cent of his shot attempts this season, and that’s got nothing to do with luck.

Anderson had Montreal’s two best chances in this game — a perfect setup in the slot on a two-on-one in the first period and a breakaway from the blue line in after New Jersey made it 3-2 in the third — and he failed to put a shot on net with either one of them.

Tough to watch.

“You obviously feel for him,” said Brendan Gallagher. “You know he’s been around for a long time, he shows up for work, he wants the entire team to have success, he’s an awesome teammate, so you want to see him break out of the little funk he’s in …”

The 29-year-old could use a bit of luck in that pursuit, no doubt.

But Anderson is not going to get any if he keeps missing the net with his best opportunities.

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