Canadiens, Senators should be desperate for much more next season

Brady Tkachuk played well netting two goals and one assist although the Montreal Canadiens tied it up and brought it to shootout. Drake Batherson was the only one to score Final score 5-4 (SO).

It was a spirited affair between two bitter rivals, with eight goals, 69 shots, 58 hits and plenty of bitterness exchanged before it ended dramatically in the shootout. 

Drake Batherson scored, Joonas Korpisalo stopped Nick Suzuki on the final breakaway, and the Ottawa Senators raised their arms at Canadian Tire Centre to celebrate a win almost none of their fans wanted them to achieve.

Meanwhile, most Montreal Canadiens fans, who feared seeing the gap in the standings between their team and the Senators eliminated with a win, were relieved when it ended 5-4 in favour of the home team.

Ugh.

It’s sad, isn’t it? 

We were just thinking about how great it would be to see these teams play a game like this against each other — especially this late into a season — with much more on the line than just draft lottery implications; how exciting it would be to see them battling for playoff positioning rather than battling for who’ll end up swirling to a lower rung of the NHL’s toilet bowl.

But here we are again. 

Both teams are now just two games from getting flushed. They were both dumped into the water weeks ago, discarded from the playoff race well ahead of schedule, and all their fans have left to cheer for is a one per cent better chance — but, at best, an 8.5 per cent chance — of drafting Macklin Celebrini.

The Canadiens currently have it, sitting in 28th place in the NHL, while the Senators are now at 6.5 per cent after having leapt over the idle Arizona Coyotes and into 26th place. 

Sure, their fans are celebrating it. But the Canadiens certainly aren’t. 

This was Montreal’s ninth loss in a row to this Ottawa team, which hasn’t found a way to beat anyone else with any consistency over the last few seasons. It was also a 19th loss (regulation, overtime and shootout combined) to an Atlantic Division foe in 24 games this season — a record that has had a monumental impact on them finding themselves in a place they were hoping not to be in after 80 games played.

You couple those things together and they should be a main source of concern for why games between the Canadiens and Senators — which should still provide fireworks, regardless of position in the standings — won’t necessarily mean much more at this time next year.

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Even if the Canadiens should feel good about the progress they’ve made both individually and collectively this season, their opponents down the 417 have offered them a cautionary tale to consider since the puck dropped in October.

Perhaps no team in the NHL — outside of Buffalo — has provided stronger proof of progress not necessarily being linear than these Senators. There was hope after a strong end to a wonkily-navigated 2022-23 season, and after a reasonably good off-season, that a game on April 13 would have playoff implications for them. Instead, they erased it with an embarrassing tumble backwards.

Oh, the Senators stood tall on this night, with captain Brady Tkachuk scoring two goals to get to 37 on his season (two more than he scored last season for a career high) and the boys in black and red erasing four separate deficits en route to a victory. But it only guaranteed that the best they can hope for is to finish with six fewer points than they earned last season, rather than eight fewer.

They will have a new general manager, and a new head coach by next fall, and those are just two of several changes they’ll have to make to get to where they should be going after all this time rebuilding.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens, who are only two seasons into the process, are going to have to get a whole lot better just to keep up. 

It was nice to see them go punch for punch with the Senators in this game, with Cole Caufield scoring two goals to get to 27 on his season, Mike Matheson scoring a beautiful shorthanded goal to get to 10 goals and 61 points and goaltender Cayden Primeau making 40 saves. But they have much more to aspire to.

They should want much more, the Senators should be desperate for much more, and fans on both sides should demand it to see this rivalry heat up to scorching levels over the coming years.

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