The Montreal Canadiens are on a busy stretch with three games in four nights. The stretch began with a loss in Detroit and concludes Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
The middle contest took place on Sunday in Boston. Montreal had a 2-1 lead after the first two periods, but fell to Boston 5-2.
READ MORE: Montreal Canadiens lose in overtime to Detroit Red Wings (November 13, 2021)
Samuel Montembeault faces the greatest hockey challenge of his life. This is for him right here at the age of 25. This is your moment of truth. The Canadiens have injury problems with Carey Price and Jake Allen out, and Sam is the man now. There is no one else for the club to top this.
Montembeault hasn’t faced this challenge so far in his career, but the big change is that Montembeault is now older and more mature. Experience is important for a goalkeeper, even emotionally you are more prepared after having been in the previous moment.
He excelled in this one, keeping the Canadiens in the game when they were dominated, allowing 20 shots in the second half. The best save was a 2v0 that slid down to stop one of the game’s best scorers, Brad Marchand.
Montreal 2-1 after two and the Canadiens had a chance in the third period because of their third goalkeeper.
Another player who has struggled throughout his career to rise to the next level and find success is Michael Pezzetta. Pezzetta was a sixth-round pick. He even had a stint on the ECHL.
A hockey career looked bleak for him. He wasn’t expected to have a chance to make the NHL at any point, but no one told him that his chances were horrible. Pezzetta continued to persevere and in his seventh NHL game, he deflected a shot for the first goal of his NHL career. The smile on the bench was as wide as the bench. It’s time to feel good on another sad night.
READ MORE: Montreal Canadiens fall to Los Angeles Kings in overtime, 3-2 (November 9, 2021)
It was a microcosm of the entire disappointing season midway through the third period. There was some pressure on the Canadiens with the score tied at 2, but it looked like they were handling it well. A shot came from 45 feet that hit Montembeault. Jeff Petry thought he was clearing the rebound safely behind the net. It was not. Somehow his attempt to clear hit Charlie Coyle’s head and he bounced neatly off the net behind Montembeault.
Here’s the thing: Petry could try to tip that off Coyle’s head 100 times on purpose, and 100 times he wouldn’t have been able to make that puck bounce at that slanted angle of Coyle’s head toward the net. The Canadiens didn’t recover from that billiard trick. They deflated and allowed the safe goal 4-2 shortly after.
It was a good effort from Montreal. During the first period, they were the best team. They were leading 2-1 heading into third, but then fragility hit after a hellish rebound.
Game, set, match: Boston.
READ MORE: Montreal Canadiens Dominate but Loses to Vegas Golden Knights (Nov 6, 2021)
What fans are wondering right now is whether this is all there is to the Montreal Canadiens this season. Will it still be this bad all year long? The answer is no. No way. Right now, the Canadiens are on track for less than 50 points on the season, and there is absolutely no way it will continue to be this horrible all season long.
In fact, it should be much better than this overall. The club will likely not finish under-50 in points, although the start meant that a playoff spot was surely already lost. Montreal would have to finish the season around 44-22 to reach 98 points, which is historically a playoff spot. We all know that such a record is not possible. That record is tough for the best teams in the league.
So what are the true goals for the rest of this season? If the Canadiens management is doing this right, they will make sure to finish in the bottom 10 in the league, which means they would keep their first-round pick and Arizona would get Carolina’s pick. If Montreal finishes in the bottom 10, they give Arizona their best pick. Obviously that wouldn’t make any sense, which is why you’ll see Marc Bergevin manage his lineup in terms of injuries and a trade deadline that will sell off assets that can’t help in the coming seasons. The goal is to be better than this, but not good enough to leave the bottom 10.
Call of the Wilde!
Can Canadiens achieve that goal of massaging this finish? Yes, they can, 100 percent. In reality, the club, statistically speaking, in analysis, is doing much better than it has shown on the scoreboard. The club is in the middle, 16, in several categories, including Corsi and Expected Goals.
The reason they are so much worse right now is their PDO. PDO is a statistical combination of savings percentage and trip percentage. It is often referred to as the barometer of hockey “luck.” The reason is that it tends to return to the mean the larger the sample size. So right now, the Canadiens are close to the worst in the entire NHL in PDO. The return to the mean will improve the club’s historically horrible seven percent shooting, and the historically abysmal save percentage of .896 will also improve with the return of Carey Price.
The club’s shooting percentage is the second worst in the league. The club’s save percentage is fourth worst. These numbers will change remarkably, and with it the luck of the club will change.
The Canadiens’ shots will find the net much more than they do, and the goalie will save the puck much more than today. This adds up to a club that will find itself in the middle of the group. However, finishing above 10th worst would be extremely naive, so don’t expect that to happen. The DJ is too smart for that.
Expect a natural weakening of the lineup when it matters at the trade deadline, while keeping the team’s strong core intact for seasons to come. The Canadiens will use the same formula in use in the NHL for an age this season. At the trade deadline, unfortunately, the Canadiens will be sellers this year. The math is that overwhelming.
That doesn’t sound like much fun for this season, but it will actually be more fun than this. The club is too talented to finish with 50 points. There are many more victories in sight than you’ve seen thus far, so enjoy what you can. The prediction here is that the club will score 65 points in the last 65 games of this season for 75 in total. That will have them drafting around the sixth.
That’s a pretty daring look for the rest of the season here. Truth be told, 75 points as a prediction when they are on track below 50 is extremely bold. Let’s see how it unfolds.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after every Canadiens game.
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