Some numbers for you, none of them flattering for the Montreal Canadiens:
One, as in one power-play goal for the Canadiens in their last 21 attempts. Two, as in two consecutive Canadiens losses to the Ottawa Senators, who are bringing up the rear of the all-Canadian North Division. Three, as in three Canadiens losses in four games against those pesky Sens. Four, as in the minimum amount of penalties the Canadiens take per game. Five, as in five Canadiens losses in the last six games. Six, as in six Canadiens losses in their last eight games.
Here’s a big one: 69.5, as in millions. That’s what Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin paid out to Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli to fill three of four needs he had identified going into the off-season. This was after he addressed his most pressing one with the acquisition of backup Jake Allen and just before he solidified the bottom end of the roster with Stanley Cup winners Corey Perry and Michael Frolik.
I might be the world’s worst mathematician, but even I can see this adds up to head coach Claude Julien’s job being in jeopardy. If you think the GM is going to sit on his hands while his team slips further away from an inspiring 7-1-2 start to the season, think again.
Internal expectations were high to begin with, with owner Geoff Molson and Bergevin saying the Canadiens had everything they needed to be a playoff team this year. They were kicked up a notch or two with a season-opening 4-0-2 road trip. And we doubt they’ve dropped off despite this recent skid from first to barely clinging to fourth in the division with a 9-5-4 record.
So the most pertinent question now is, how much time does Julien have left?
Early in his second tenure with the Canadiens, after taking over for Michel Therrien on Valentine’s Day, 2017, Julien said, “I don’t panic, I fix things.”
We won’t know until the Canadiens get through Thursday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets if enough of those things were sufficiently fixed in Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss, which easily could’ve been a win — with Brendan Gallagher making a near indisputable case for why his goal to make it 5-4 in the final five seconds of the third period should’ve counted as the deciding one.
First, watch the play here:
“I’m still searching for an explanation that makes sense,” Gallagher said. “We sit down at the start of every season and the NHL prepares a video for us. The referees see the exact same video. We’ve seen clips — there was a clip last year, a New York Islander player bumped (Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik) Andersen in Toronto, Andersen had time to reset, puck went in, goal counted. On this play I’m knocked on my ass, I have time to reset, you can’t tell me the goalie doesn’t have time to reset. The only explanation I got — Okay, I’m in the blue plaint. (But) I’m working my way out of the blue paint. We’ve seen that same video — plenty of examples where the player’s working his way out, he’s pushed into the goalie, the goal counted.
“We watched this video, the refs watched this video. For some reason this example is different. I don’t know why. To me it’s ruining the product, I don’t know, the inconsistency.”
That’s some genuine and justifiable frustration. And you can bet it’s not going to dissipate too quickly given what it would’ve meant to the Canadiens had that goal counted.
“When you score a big goal like that with two or four seconds left, a big goal that you think is a good one but it gets called back, it certainly takes your breath away,” said Julien. “And it was a win we really needed, so we got a bit unlucky there.”
Here’s where the Canadiens can’t blame luck: They started the game 15 minutes late. You can point to three mistakes on the goal they gave Drake Batherson in the second minute of play — none of them more obvious than Brett Kulak leaving his position to play an odd-man rush as though the Senators had even numbers breaking the zone — and then Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a needless and entirely avoidable charging penalty 200 feet away from his own net and the Canadiens’ penalty kill once again failed to find any cohesion.
Brady Tkachuk scored his first of the night on what was probably the least threatening of four attempts the Senators had on that man-advantage, and the whole sequence emboldened how much of an area of concern this aspect of the game is for this team, which now sits 22nd in the NHL in the category.
Erik Brannstrom made it worse with the first goal of his NHL career — a power-play point shot Nick Suzuki was late to block, one that slipped through traffic and Carey Price’s legs.
It took a broken play that led to a Jonathan Drouin goal in the fifth minute of the second period to finally get the Canadiens fully into the game. They woke up after Ben Chiarot fought Tkachuk 13:56 into the first period, but they didn’t quite get out of bed until Drouin slipped that puck through Matt Murray for his second goal of the season.
Montreal was unquestionably the better team from that point forward, except in one aspect that could’ve saved them from having to depend on a last-ditch effort and a couple of attempts in the skills competition that is 3-on-3 overtime and the shootout. I’m referring to their power play, which got its first opportunity 11:28 into the game and couldn’t execute a single zone entry.
A second chance came after Montreal’s engine started revving in the second, and the team managed zero shots on net. And the last Canadiens power play started at the 3:29 mark of the third and only managed two shots — none of them from closer than 44 feet.
Julien mentioned an adjustment he made to put Shea Weber back on the first unit alongside Jeff Petry, and the shots came off of their sticks, but they were one-and-done opportunities — the kind this team has said it needs to get away from to gain some traction on the power play.
Nothing has changed there. Nothing has changed on the penalty kill. Nothing has changed about the Canadiens taking far too many penalties.
“I think it all goes hand in hand with our game,” said Julien. “We’re going to try to retool stuff, but so much of that comes with confidence, and your best players, if they’re not confident, they don’t execute properly. So that’s what this whole game is about is playing with confidence. And when you have confidence, you make the right plays and the right decisions. That’s what we’re struggling with right now is showing it in all parts of our game.”
Everything in that comment applied to Price on this night. Heck, it’s applied to him on most of the 11 nights he’s played on this season.
The 33-year-old, who came into the game with a sub-.900 save percentage, made ridiculous save after ridiculous save. But three of the four goals were ones Julien accurately stated “he’d for sure like to have back.”
Still, Price tried to keep his cool after the game.
“Obviously it’s not the result or the way I want to play,” he said. “So, it’s a process I’ll just have to stick with and figure it out.”
Does the coach have the same luxury? Will he be given the chance to ride this out with the Canadiens?
That depends on whether or not Bergevin sees the situation the way Gallagher does.
“I’m honest with you guys — I’ll tell you when we play bad, I’ll tell you we made some mistakes. This team competed today, this team battled hard,” said Gallagher after saying the first 15 minutes of the game were inexcusable.
“And if that effort’s there every night, we’re going to get out of this little funk that we’re in and be fine,” Gallagher added.
Will the Canadiens emerge as the team Bergevin expects to see come Thursday against the Jets?
They have to, because if they look anything like the team Julien said “got off to a poor start” and “looked rattled and nervous,” if they continue to be a mess on special teams, and if Price continues to run hot and cold, none of that will bode well for the coach.