One of my picks to go deep into the playoffs this season was the Montreal Canadiens. They were ousted by the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, but had the second most points in the conference. The Habs had one of the best goaltenders in the league in Carey Price, captain Max Pacioretty, who had 37 goals last season and a solid defensive core led by P.K. Subban. They looked like they were one of the stronger teams in the conference once again and had the potential to be a Cup favorite.
Early on in the season, Montreal looked like they were on a pace that would be unmatched by anyone in the Atlantic Division. On Nov. 27, the Canadiens had 36 points, the offense was clicking and Price looked like an early Vezina favorite, despite a lower body injury that kept him out for nine games in the middle of October. However, Price aggravated the injury again in a game against the Rangers on Nov. 25 and hasn’t been back since. Early on, 25-year-old backup Mike Condon was doing a good job keeping Montreal afloat, and the team’s hot start kept it atop the division, but after a while the team started to struggle and saw itself dropping out of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference playoff picture.
As of Sunday night, the Canadiens were fifth in the Atlantic Division with 56 points, 12 behind the surging Florida Panthers and four behind the fourth place Detroit Red Wings. Aside from their struggles in the division, the Canadiens find themselves in 11th in the Eastern Conference and three points out of a playoff spot. Condon wasn’t able to maintain his torrid pace and Montreal dropped to 19th in the league in goals against per game, giving up an average of 2.7 while acquiring Ben Scrivens from the Edmonton Oilers in an effort to solve its goalie issue.
Everyone believed that the team simply needed to weather the storm until Price’s return and it would be fine. Not only is it taking Price longer to return than expected, but the Canadiens are also struggling immensely. The Habs only average 2.7 goals per game, good for 12th in the league, and have the 16th best power play in the league, scoring only 18.2 percent of the time. Subban leads the team with 41 points and Pacioretty leads all goal scorers with 19, but the team is not getting contributions from its bottom six, and seems to be losing more and more confidence with every loss. Now, Price’s return doesn’t seem to be the automatic fix that Montreal believed it would be because they have other issues that need to be addressed that are out of Price’s control.
Of course, Montreal will welcome Price back when he is healthy. He will be a significant improvement over the Condon, Scrivens and Dustin Tokarski revolving door they’ve been throwing out on the ice. However, if the Canadiens are unable to address their other glaring issues, they will find themselves out of the playoffs this season.