Montreal Canadiens: After Inconsistent Start, Where O’ Where has This Team Gone?

Nov 6, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher David Savard and Tyler Toffoli. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher David Savard and Tyler Toffoli. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Penguins 6-0 drubbing of the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday is something I don’t need to discuss. Nor do I need to discuss their 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Even as I’ve been away from writing for the past while due to my studies, there’s a lot that can be said about the Canadiens performance to start this season, and these two games perfectly demonstrate both sides of the coin that are the 2021-22, Montreal Canadiens.

Against Pittsburgh, Montreal looked like their usual low-offense, high turnover selves. Cayden Primeau did what he could after a solid performance against the New York Rangers last Tuesday, but yet again the team in front of him couldn’t answer the call, nor offer support. Jeff Petry is off to possibly the worst start of his career with just two assists and a -7 rating over 19 games. Free-agent additions in David Savard, Mike Hoffman and Cedric Paquette have struggled heavily with either performance issues or injuries.

Cole Caufield has been far from the Calder Trophy favorite he was expected to be, and is understandably in need of more development, and, well, no Carey Price, no Shea Weber, no Joel Edmundson, and things become a bit clearer, don’t they? Well, that’s what I thought, until Saturday night’s match against the Predators, where Montreal played more to their 2021 Playoff form, benefiting from timely offense and a solid, if shaky night from Samuel Montembeault.

Yet, ultimately, both these performances point to the same issues that has plagued the Canadiens thus far this season, which has frustrated both sports fans and sports writers alike, and it begs the question, where o’ where has this team gone? Though it seems like old news at this point especially compared to this less-than-ideal start, what the Canadiens accomplished in 2020-21 is something that in my mind has brought it’s fair share of negatives in spite of the overwhelming amount of positives.

While it was incredible to watch Montreal dominate and pull off shock after shock, and personally satisfying as a long-time follower of the Canadiens in a mostly-dismal era, the expectations that have come with that Stanley Cup Finals run have dogged this team when they never could’ve lived up to it. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are simply a different time in the NHL season, and the lucky breaks, incredible defensive play, and clutch performances the Habs ran by is something that nearly all Cinderella, and most playoff teams in general, run by.

After a 5-13-2 start to the 2021-22 season, as inconsistencies pile up, where o’ where has the Montreal Canadiens team of old gone?

Where would this team be had Marc-Andre Fleury not coughed the puck up to Josh Anderson in Game 3? Where would they be if the Leafs hadn’t blown a 3-1 series lead off a terrible giveaway from former Hab Alex Galchenyuk? Couple this with a terrific penalty kill and timely offense, and this team, in many ways, was the pinnacle of what has been a tough era under GM Marc Bergevin. Yet, they were rendered human once more in a five-game Finals loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and that trend has continued thus far this season.

I’ll admit that this season has still managed it’s feel-good or promising stories, and occasional solid performances, whether it be Nick Suzuki living up to his hefty contract extension, or Michael Pezzetta and Alex Belzile finding roles in the Canadiens bottom six. Yet, unfortunately, these haven’t been able to save the numerous other issues that have plagued Montreal to a dismal 5-13-2 record to start the season, and the occasional good performances, just point out the Canadiens numerous problems that have prevented them from being the playoff contender some thought they could be.

Bergevin did what he could during this past off-season to try and continue to build upon what was an incredible season in 2020-21, and, when the Canadiens have played well, they’ve looked like a team that could do just that. Yet, more often than not, that hasn’t been the case, and I’m not sure if Montreal can ultimately dig themselves out of it. Sure, they’re win over Nashville was impressive and good for morale, but when offset by a dismal performance against Pittsburgh, 2021-22 has become a game of Russian Roulette for the Canadiens, and it’s one in which the odds are not in their favor.

Multiple players have shown glimpses of promise with the team that have been offset by games where they flat out disappear. Chris Wideman, Christian Dvorak, and even Brendan Gallagher are just a few of the many players that have been inconsistent in a time where the Canadiens need nothing but consistency. Jake Allen has done what he can early on in this season to answer the call, and has two shutouts and a solid 2.78 GAA, but he can’t be relied upon to carry this team all season, and Montembeault and Primeau haven’t done much to convince head coach Dominique Ducharme their capable as second options. Having done everything he can to limit their minutes, it seems as though Ducharme wouldn’t trust either of the two with his lunch in the office fridge, let alone any consistent starts.

As the 2021-22 season rages on with a number of surprises, feel-good stories, and flat-out dominant performances, the Canadiens continue to bide their time in the NHL’s cellar along with similar lottery favorites in the Seattle Kraken and Arizona Coyotes. Yet, with the occasional solid performance, it leaves Habs fans wondering what this team is truly capable of, and whilst it seems as though there’s something lurking underneath, as long as the Canadiens can’t string together a consistent run, it’ll be a continued scavenger hunt to find out where the heck, the Canadiens have gone.

light. Related Story. How to rebuild Habs in 3 steps