Competitive Losing Best Of Both Worlds For Montreal Canadiens

Mar 21, 2024; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN;  Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Newhook
Mar 21, 2024; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Newhook / Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens are going to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The last time the Canadiens missed the playoffs three years in a row was from 1999-01 which was perhaps the most abysmal time in this franchise's history.

The only other time in their over 100 year history that they missed three straight postseasons was in 1922, so you could say this is not a common occurrence for this franchise.

It isn't an ideal place for an NHL team to be, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism this year. While the past two seasons saw lengthy stretches of terrible play, losses piling up by the half dozen and a complete lack of goal scoring for weeks on end, we have not seen that same level of ineptitude this season.

The overall standings have not changed all that much, with the Canadiens finishing dead last (32nd) in 2021-22, and were fifth worst (28th) last season. This season, they are in 27th, which puts them well outside the playoff picture yet again.

However, two seasons ago they finished with 55 points in the standings and improved to 68 last season. Right now, they are on pace to wrap up this season with 74. It clearly isn't enough to rocket up the overall standings, but it does show incremental progress. It is a little more difficult to measure, but the way they are losing this season actually shows tremendous growth.

Just take a look at their recent schedule, well, aside from their most recent game which was a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. The Canadiens have faced a litany of tough opponents in the month of March, and though they often come out on the wrong side of the score, they are keeping games close, not allowing a lot of goals against, and are competing with Stanley Cup contenders on a nightly basis.

They started the month playing the playoff bound Tampa Bay Lightning and lost 4-3 in a shootout. They beat the wildcard bound and red hot Nashville Predators 4-3. They lost to the contending Carolina Hurricanes but were down 2-1 with five minutes to play before a late goal and an empty netter put the game out of reach.

A weird bounce with five minutes left against the Toronto Maple Leafs led to a 3-2 loss. They hung in with the Boston Bruins until overtime before dropping a 2-1 game and there was another overtime loss to Stanley Cup hopeful Edmonton Oilers as their stars were mostly held in check during regulation time.

The only game the Canadiens really should have won was a decisive 3-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Otherwise, they are just barely being edged out by playoff bound teams, mostly ones that have high hopes in the postseason as well.

This is tremendous for the Canadiens team that has plenty of young players playing big minutes, especially on the blue line. Players like Kaiden Guhle are getting a ton of minutes against star players every night and though the Canadiens are losing, they are right there when playing against the best teams in the league.

We have also seen plenty of great games from Cayden Primeau and Sam Montembeault in goal, suggesting the Canadiens have a great young goaltending tandem for the foreseeable future. By this time in year's past, the Canadiens were losing games in the first period and almost looked disinterested.

This season, even after playing 69 games and heading into the home stretch knowing the playoffs are out of reach, the team is playing well and holding their own against the league's best. With a few tweaks in the offseason and some internal growth from the young players already on the team, there is plenty of reason to believe this team can be a playoff contender next season.