You don’t need a lot of fancy statistics to understand the Canadiens are a bad hockey team.
If you’re optimistic, you can look at the standings and point out the Canadiens are only one winning streak away from a playoff position. They are only two points behind Boston in the race for third place in the Atlantic Division and only five back of Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot. And, don’t forget, there’s a lot of hockey to be played.
Realists will tell you it’s time to start hoping for a good lottery pick.
The race with Boston is illusory because the Bruins have four games in hand. As for the wild-card spot, a team has to play .565 hockey to reach the 95 points that secured eighth place last season, and the Canadiens are back under .500 after losing to Edmonton on Saturday night.
Going into the season, the major concern was defence after the team parted ways with Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu and stud prospect Mikhail Sergachev, who currently has more points than any player on the Canadiens’ roster.
But the defence is the least of Montreal’s worries.
In a season when scoring is up across the NHL, the Canadiens’ production is down. That was the No. 1 concern coming out of a playoff loss to the Rangers in the spring, and the only change has been to swap Alexander Radulov for Jonathan Drouin. The Ste-Agathe native has talent and potential, but coach Claude Julien is still trying to find two wingers to complement his skill set.
The only player on pace to reach 50 points this season is fourth-liner Daniel Carr, who has seven points in the five games since he was recalled from Laval. There are players who should be embarrassed that Carr, Nicolas Deslauriers and Byron Froese have set the standard for hard work on this team.
The biggest concern has to be Carey Price. A week ago, he was the NHL’s second star of the week and a big reason why the Canadiens were on a five-game win streak. During that run, he had a 1.20 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage. In the current three-game losing streak (0-2-1), Price has revisited the nightmare that was the start of his season. He had a 4.42 goals-against average, an .864 save percentage and was pulled Saturday after giving up four goals on 14 shots.
Price has an 8-9-2 record with a 3.16 GAA and an .899 save percentage. Those numbers don’t say greatest goaltender in the world. They don’t say $10.4 million a season. They don’t say Carey Price. The Canadiens need Price at the top of his game because the supporting cast isn’t good enough to overcome goaltending that is less than mediocre.
Time for Mete to go:Victor Mete has had a largely positive experience as a 19-year-old rookie. He has played 27 games, earned four assists and his plus-minus rating is the best among the Canadiens’ defencemen at plus-5. But after starting the season as Shea Weber’s partner on the No. 1 defence pairing, he has been a healthy scratch for the past two games and Julien isn’t confident using the youngster in defensive situations.
Mete is averaging a shade under 15 minutes, but on half-a-dozen occasions, his ice time has slipped below 10 minutes, which isn’t good for his development or his confidence. The Canadiens should send him off to the world juniors and re-evaluate his position when the tournament ends on Jan. 6.
Primeau off to a strong start: The Canadiens have a knack for finding talent in the latter rounds of the draft, and the latest example is goaltender Cayden Primeau, who was selected in the seventh round (199th overall) in June. The 18-year-old son of former NHLer Keith Primeau made 26 saves as 10th-ranked Northeastern defeated 14th-ranked Boston College 5-2 Saturday. Primeau is having an outstanding freshman season with a 6-3-1 record, a 2.06 GAA and a .920 save percentage. Northeastern had four power-play goals, including one from New Jersey Devils draft pick Jeremy Davies, a sophomore who played minor hockey for Lac St. Louis. The Huskies are coached by Loyola High School alumnus Jim Madigan.