Montreal Canadiens Limp Into Midway Mark Of The Season

Jan 11, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; San Jose Sharks defenseman Henry Thrun (3) checks Montreal
Jan 11, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; San Jose Sharks defenseman Henry Thrun (3) checks Montreal / Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens officially reached the midpoint of their regular season schedule on Thursday night. It will not go down as their best game of the season.

The Canadiens 41st game on the calendar saw them host the lowly San Jose Sharks who have established themselves as the worst team in the league. The Canadiens looked like they wanted to challenge them for that banner on Thursday.

The Sharks were clearly the better team for the first 55 minutes of the game, taking over for long stretches and dominating possession time. The Canadiens pretty much took the second period off and watched the Sharks fire shots at Sam Montembeault in the Canadiens goal.

The Canadiens finally claimed some offensive momentum in the final few minutes when their goaltender was pulled for an extra attacker, but they would not be able to tie the game and lost 3-2 in regulation. It was not the prettiest way to end the first half of the season, and was a headscratching effort in a seesaw season.

The Canadiens were not expected to compete for a playoff spot this season in the tough Atlantic Division. As it turns out, the division isn't as dangerous as previously thought as the Tampa Bay Lightning seem to have taken a step back while the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings have not taken a big step forward like many predicted they would.

The Canadiens completed the first half with a record of 17-18-6, winning a league low (now tied with the Sharks) eight games in regulation time. Extra time has been their friend as they have won five times in overtime and another four games via the shootout while losing six times in extra time to earn a single point.

This has helped them stay afloat, and they have avoided lengthy losing skids along the way. They got off to a 5-2-1 start which surprised a lot of people, especially since Kirby Dach was lost to injury in the team's second game. That was followed by a four game losing streak, which has been their longest skid of the year, though one was in overtime.

The Canadiens then rebounded to defeat the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins in overtime in consecutive games which were both impressive efforts. Then they lost four games in a row in regulation, which was their lowest point of the season. The Canadiens rebounded by winning three of their next four games, all on the road, but then lost two in row. They rotated between winning and losing in their next four before getting things back on the rails in the middle of December.

A 3-0-2 stretch that saw them collect eight of a possible ten points heading into their Christmas break put them within a couple of points of a playoff berth. It gave a faint glimpse of optimism for a team that most had written off months earlier, but it was short lived.

The Canadiens started their post-Christmas schedule with three straight regulation losses before rebounding to beat the Dallas Stars. That was followed by a disheartening 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres although they bounced back with an impressive 4-3 win over the league leading New York Rangers after that.

To ensure everyone knew they didn't actuallly turn a corner after that big win, they gave two of their worst efforts of the season in an overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and then that awful Sharks game to end the first half.

It all adds up to a team on pace for 80 points this season and seemingly destined for a top ten, but not top five, pick in the NHL Draft. All things considered, especially the extended absences of Dach and Alex Newhook, this team has outperformed everyone's expectations.

Had you known at the start of the season that this roster would be without two of its best offensive players for the majority of the season, you would have bet on them being a bottom five team, if not worse.

They have been able to avoid the basement of the standings, at least for now, due to respectable goaltending from their three netminder system, solid defensive play from their stable of young blue liners and just enough offense to win almost as many games as they lose.

They way they closed out the first half was concerning, and we could see them secure less than 40 points in the second half, but you have to admit the team has exceeded expectations thus far in 2023-24.