The Montreal Canadiens return home with zero points on the bench in their first two games of the season, a dreaded outcome for a team that needed to start on the right foot to quell the many doubts generated by the roster’s tremendous rotation over the latter. months and some unexpected drama to cap off the offseason.
Life was anticipated to be difficult for this team with Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi going to different markets, with Shea Weber too injured to continue his career, with Carey Price entering the NHL / NHLPA player assistance program just days away. from the falling of the disc. in Toronto, and with Joel Edmundson, Paul Byron, Mike Hoffman and Sami Niku offside to start the season.
But it wasn’t supposed to be as tough as it looked in back-to-back losses to the Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabers on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
It’s early, and it’s usually wise not to overreact to what you see in the first 10 games of an 82-game season, let alone what you see in the first two. Case in point: While the Canadiens were being pumped 5-1 to the lottery draft favorites in Buffalo, the Leafs were missing 3-0 in a game they inevitably lost 3-2 to an inferior team from Ottawa and the reigning, two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who was trampled 6-2 by the Pittsburgh Penguins of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on opening night, gave up six in a game they barely managed to beat a Detroit team Red Wings who won just 19 of 56 games last season.
But even if there is no cause for panic in Montreal, Canadiens fans have reason to be concerned. If coach Dominique Ducharme, in abandoning his line combinations after the fourth period of the season, didn’t make it clear, well …
When asked after the loss what concerned him most, Ducharme replied, “The whole thing.”
Seeing the Canadiens’ flat line to start Thursday’s game after losing 2-1 at Toronto 24 hours earlier probably didn’t sit well with him.
They allowed the first seven shots of the match, several odd runs and a pair of unanswerable shots that led to goals from Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons before 18 minutes had been played.
We don’t know what was said in the locker room at intermission, but the message was pretty clear on ice from then on. Artturi Lehkonen advanced from the fourth row to remove Cole Caufield from his spot alongside Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli in the first row, and Caufield lined up alongside Jake Evans and Brendan Gallagher and pushed Joel Armia to Lehkonen’s original spot.
“We were better at the beginning of the second,” Ducharme said, “but then penalties cost us.”
After taking two in the first period and allowing Girgensons to capitalize on one of them, the Canadiens took three minors in the second and allowed another power play goal.
They ended the night having allowed three of them six times, and their own work with the men’s advantage was only slightly better than the night before, when they went 0-for-4 and, frankly, they were embarrassed at a spread of five against. -Three.
Samuel Montembeault, the newly acquired backup goalie from substitute-turned-starter Jake Allen, might have been the silver lining to this game, a parachute for a Canadiens team in free fall, but he wasn’t. The 24-year-old’s first goal was a shot to the wrist from 45 feet, and he probably would have liked to get a couple more back.
Not that this result was on Montembeault, who was playing his first NHL game since before the pandemic closed the 2020 season.
“We didn’t help him much, especially with the amount of penalties,” Ducharme said.
To be fair, the Canadians didn’t help Montembeault at all.
“We’re not trying to be the celebrating team right now,” Gallagher said.
The Canadiens backup captain summed up pretty well what should be removed from the loss to the Sabers and this dangerous start to the season, saying: “These points at the beginning of the year are critical, you don’t want to put yourself in a hole. So obviously, to start 0 and 2, there is a lot of urgency in the next one. “
You hope to see it from him, from Toffoli, Suzuki and Caufield (who are supposed to deliver a high-end open but have combined for zero points so far) and from an entire defense corps that seems baffled.
Ducharme made some changes there too, against the Sabers, with Alex Romanov taking the place of Brett Kulak alongside Jeff Petry and Chris Wideman taking turns with Ben Chiarot as the night progressed.
Not that it helped.
“We were bad in every way, including the way we competed,” Ducharme said. “We do not play with the identity of our team.”
You know, the one that led the Canadiens to three Cup wins last July.
Gallagher offered the remedy.
“For us to be successful, we are good when we are mentally ready and the other team does not have time or space and we are more difficult to face,” he said. “We have to improve our physique and be a difficult team to play against. We need to get rid of those opportunities that we are giving up. There are too many rush of strange men and we are putting the boys in difficult situations. We have to be smarter, we have to be more mentally sharp and we have to play a stricter game. “
Maybe the Canadiens can do that Saturday when they open the Bell Center to the New York Rangers. It is best to avoid turning a dreaded start into a disastrous one.