The Montreal Canadiens have not had success as of late, to put it lightly. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games, and their only win came against the lowly Detroit Red Wings. If you want to make the final playoff push, you’re going to have to beat teams of a higher calibre than the Red Wings. The Canadiens are in danger of missing the playoffs after being in at least a wild-card spot for most of the season. What happened?
There are two types of reasons for the Canadiens’ current and ill-timed slump. External reasons, or reasons beyond the team’s control, and internal reasons, reasons that are within the team’s control. Let’s start with the external reasons. The first reason is the Columbus Blue Jackets loading up on rental talent at the trade deadline. They were going all in on this season, hoping to go far in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets acquired the likes of Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Keith Kinkaid and Adam McQuaid. It took the new players a little while to find chemistry with their new team, but now they have a lot of chemistry with their current roster, and Columbus is on a roll. They are now three points up on Montreal in the standings and sit in the second wild card spot. They are more than able to overtake Carolina for the first wild card spot. This hot streak that Columbus is on has pushed Montreal to the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. Another external reason for the Canadiens’ slump and subsequent drop in the standings is the Carolina Hurricanes’ continued hot streak. The Hurricanes went from extended mediocrity to 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, vaulting them to the first wild-card spot. They and Columbus’ hot streaks have pushed the Canadiens to the outside. The last external reason for the Canadiens’ slump is their schedule. The Canadiens recently went on their annual, and usually dreaded, California road trip. The Canadiens historically have done terribly in California, losing 20 of their last 23 there. To show how bad they are in California, consider this statistic: they haven’t won in San Jose since 1999. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, their third-line centre, wasn’t born in 1999. This trip was no better. The Canadiens lost 2 of their 3 games in California, including an 8-2 rout at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. The trip really sucked the momentum out of this team, and started this slump that they are going through now.
And now for the internal reasons for the Canadiens’ slump. The first internal reason is fatigue. The Canadiens’ play a pure speed game, which gets them past their opponents and gives them a chance to win every night. Unfortunately, when one’s team skates at top speed every game for 60 minutes for 82 games, one’s team gets tired. The Canadiens are able to start every game at top speed, but they can’t finish every game at top speed anymore. They are very tired during the third period, giving teams who play a more balanced-out game an advantage, because they preserved more energy for the third period. There are two ways to rectify this issue. The first way is for coach Claude Julien to give players easier and less frequent practices. If a team is suffering from fatigue due to their rigorous skating during games, it would be unwise to put the team through rigorous skating in practices. Julien likes to have a hard-working conditioning-style practice. This is useful at the beginning and middle of the season, but when it comes time for the final stretch to the playoffs, the players need to focus their energy on the game. Therefore, Julien needs to lay off his team in practice. The second way to rectify the issue of fatigue is to build up enough of a lead in games through the first two periods that it is safe to sit back a little bit in the third. This solution is not foolproof, however. The Canadiens could give it their all through the first and second periods, but only get a goal or two by the other team’s goalie because he’s having a good night. As well, no lead is completely safe. The Canadiens themselves came back from a 5-0 deficit against the Rangers for the biggest comeback in NHL history. If the Canadiens were to sit back during the third, they would be vulnerable to a comeback from the other team. Comebacks are the most embarrassing of losses. Another internal reason for the Canadiens’ slump is their lack of scoring. They have just one goal over their past two games, and they scored more than two goals only once over their past five games. As the Canadiens know very well, you can’t win games without scoring goals. Therefore, the Canadiens have to score. How does one fix this issue? Shoot. The Canadiens had the right idea on Saturday night, firing 48 shots on Chicago’s Corey Crawford. He was out of this world that night, and that’s why Chicago won. Not every goalie will be as otherworldly as Corey Crawford. If the Canadiens shoot, they will score. It wouldn’t hurt if Jonathan Drouin got out of his scoring slump, either.
No matter what the cause, this slump has really hurt the Montreal Canadiens’ season. It came at a key time when they need to win games, and now their playoff hopes are in jeopardy. Luckily, there’s hope. The Canadiens only sit three points out of the wild-card spot. There are ten games left to play. That’s 20 points still available. The Canadiens only face truly high-quality competition for the last four games. All it takes is for the Canadiens to win a couple, and for the Blue Jackets to lose a couple. I don’t see Columbus going on a ten-game winning streak. All it takes is a couple of wins for us, a couple of losses for them. There’s hope. Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo