MONTREAL— The Montreal Canadiens were booed off the ice on Monday.
They were booed off the ice after just one period. They were booed off the ice after falling down 3-0 and down 19-6 on the shot clock after 20 minutes.
Their fans were down on them in a way they hadn’t been through the first 40 games of the season.
Consider that this reaction didn’t come directly after the Canadiens returned from their most recent road trip with just one win in seven games and lost 4-1 in a hard-fought game to the New York Rangers to open 2023 at the Bell Centre, because the problem that night (last Thursday) wasn’t the same as the one on this night. Also, consider that this happened after the Canadiens finally appeared more engaged in every department than they had in a month to capture what they felt was a momentum-swinging win against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday because that made the way they came out on Monday that much harder to swallow.
The crowd’s reaction to the Canadiens looking as disengaged as they possibly could be through the first 20 minutes was appropriate. The fans, who are in large part completely understanding that this team is in a rebuild that means it’s expected to lose much more than it wins, booed because all they ask for in return for their money is effort and the Canadiens weren’t close to delivering their best one.
After the game, Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis was asked if he felt at all consoled by better efforts from his team in the second and third periods of this 4-0 loss to the Seattle Kraken, and he responded, “The second and third really mean nothing when you have a first like that.”
It was a first that saw the Canadiens allow two of three goals by completely missing assignments and leaving players wide open in premium scoring positions. It was a first that had them fail to collect three shots on net before the Kraken scored their third goal in the 15th minute of play. It was a first that came just 48 hours after finally executing properly in the defensive zone in a win and just 24 hours after a rare Sunday practice was held to reinforce the importance of continuing to do so.
The fans were perturbed.
St. Louis was irate.
“They know I wasn’t happy,” he said after he was asked about what he said to his team at first intermission.
We asked St. Louis how he felt the players should feel.
“Embarrassed,” he said.
At least one of them was.
Nick Suzuki stood at the corner of Montreal’s dressing room after the game and called his team’s performance “pretty unacceptable.”
Then he took the blame for it, saying, “It kind of started with my line’s first shift there. Kind of got hemmed in for almost two minutes, and we know we had to have a better start. It started with my line and kind of trickled down from there. And down 3-0 after the first isn’t a good spot.”
He’s a first-year captain in the NHL, still just 23 years old, and he’s going through the hardest stretch of his season — goal-less in his last 11 games, held to just five points over his last 15 and off the scoresheet in 10 of them — and he knows he can’t be among the many passengers in such a lackluster period.
But Suzuki needs help.
He hasn’t had much of it on the ice since Sean Monahan went down with a foot injury on Dec. 5, and he didn’t get nearly enough of it in the room after the entire team put in an embarrassing effort against the Kraken.
While Suzuki was falling on his sword after the game, Juraj Slafkovsky, Arber Xhekaj and Samuel Montembeault were also made available because they had all fared decently and were asked by the Canadiens’ public relations staff to stick around.
Jake Evans and Josh Anderson, who were Montreal’s most implicated players —especially after the first, when they turned frustration into anger and led the charge in making sure the Canadiens responded — were requested and would’ve been in there had they not been in the trainer’s room receiving treatment.
But no other players decided to stand with Suzuki and share the blame. His linemates weren’t there, other members of the team’s leadership group weren’t there, and that was unacceptable too.
That’s something that needs to change if this team is going to continue to evolve both on and off the ice.
More of the players should take the initiative to stand with their captain and respond — and not to appease the media, but to use the media as a direct conduit to speak to their fans and show them they’re accountable.
The Canadiens didn’t do that through their play on Monday, and they got what they deserved from fans in attendance.