Montreal Canadiens Fortunate That Once Dominant Division Rivals Struggling as Well

May 29, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
May 29, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /

The Montreal Canadiens 1-5-0 start to the season is nothing short of terrible. When a team scores just four goals in its first five games they deserve to be at the bottom of the standings.

The Canadiens did that, and did it against some bad competition as they lost three in a row to teams who did not qualify for the playoffs last season. Not only did they lose to non-playoff teams, but they were crushed by the Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks.

It couldn’t get much worse, but they have had some luck on their side.

The Canadiens are back in the Atlantic Division this season and a common refrain from outsiders last season was the Habs would not have even made the playoffs, let along the Stanley Cup Final, if they competed in their normal division all season. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins as well as the Florida Panthers would have shoved them to 6th place in their own division.

Whether that would have occurred or not is up for debate since the Canadiens did not play a team outside of Canada until the third round of the playoffs. Guessing what would have happened had they faced the Panthers and Bruins in the regular season is a fool’s errand.

But they are back in the Atlantic Division now and will play these supposed powerhouse teams. One of the few things that have gone the way of the Habs so far is the subpar performance of two of these teams who many predicted to finish well ahead of the Canadiens.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have won two consecutive Stanley Cups and were a common choice as a top contender once again this season. They haven’t really looked the part.

The Lightning started the year getting beat up 6-2 by a Pittsburgh Penguins team that did not have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin due to injury. A couple of overtime wins would follow but then they lost 4-1 to the Florida Panthers and once again came out on the wrong side of the score on Saturday night when they faced the Colorado Avalanche.

That’s a 2-2-1 start and neither of the victories were in regulation. They also lost Nikita Kucherov long term and now feature Habs fourth line winger from last season, Corey Perry, on their first line. The team lost a lot of depth in the offseason with the departure of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Tyler Johnson and Barclay Goodrow.

They aren’t the same four line juggernaut they were for the past two seasons.

The Maple Leafs have looked even worse than the Lightning thus far. They did take out the Habs in their opening game by a 2-1 score. They followed that up by splitting a pair of games with the Ottawa Senators before losing three in a row to the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and then being thoroughly dominated by the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1.

A 2-3-1 start to the season while being outscored 19-12 is not what the Maple Leafs and their fans had in mind for this season. The offensive minded squad is averaging just two goals per game, barely ahead of the Habs who had just four goals after five contests.

The Maple Leafs are going to start scoring more frequently. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner can’t get shutout every night. Well, at least not until the playoffs.

The Lightning are going to soon win a game in regulation, it’s just a matter of time.

It’s far too early in the season to start looking at playoff races or anything like that. However, it is good news for the Habs that while they struggled, the Lightning and Maple Leafs did as well.

The Habs barely scored a goal in their first five games, but they are just three points back of the Maple Leafs and Lightning after six games and four points back of a “playoff spot” as the third seed in the division.

The Canadiens did not position themselves well to begin the season, but their division rivals didn’t bury them in the standings by opening up an eight or ten point gap after six games. The Canadiens can’t be happen about much so far this season, but the slow starts of the Maple Leafs and Lightning are one thing that can give them a little hope to get back in this race quickly.

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