These are the games the Montreal Canadiens must win.
If the Montreal Canadiens want to be in the playoff race in March, they must win games against the conference’s bottom feeders.
Thursday night, they not only lost to the Buffalo Sabres 5-1, but they were also embarrassed by a team most are expecting to be in the lottery for the first pick of the 2022 NHL draft.
“We made it easy for them,” said defenseman Jeff Petry.
There weren’t many positives to take from the second game of the Canadiens season. The goaltending from Sam Montembeault was below average, the offense was non-existent, and there were seemingly more Canadiens players playing the role of spectator than there were fans in the building.
“We were bad in every way, including the way we competed,” said head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Montembeault, 24, made his first start in goal with the Canadiens, and although he wasn’t given much support, he wasn’t good, either. Goaltending wasn’t why the Canadiens lost, but it didn’t mask their defensive breakdowns, which Carey Price does routinely, and Jake Allen does occasionally.
“Not the result I was expecting,” said Montembeault. “I was a little pissed after the second. I felt like I was doing a pretty good job in the second like stop passes in my feet and making some saves–and then two bad bounces went in, and then I was up to four goals.”
To be fair, the Sabres were fresh and playing their home opener. Montreal was playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road. But this isn’t a back-to-back on the road at the end of a trip in January. This is the beginning of the season, and the Sabres should serve as the free space on the bingo card.
So why was their play so lackluster?
At some point, the Montreal Canadiens will feel the loss of captain Shea Weber. The loss to Buffalo could have been one of those nights where his presence in the room made a difference. He won’t be around soon, placed on LTIR, and will likely miss the entire season.
Others are going to have to step up, but his voice is irreplaceable. Brendan Gallagher leads in his own way. Jeff Petry is as important on the ice as he is in the room. Tyler Toffoli and Ben Chiarot have a wealth of experience to draw from, but none of them are Shea Weber.
The season is only two games young, and there’s a lot of racetrack left, but points are at such a premium. A loss in October to Buffalo could be the reason you miss the playoffs in April.
Games like this one feel too much like two seasons ago when they couldn’t beat the Detroit Red Wings, losing to the then-last-place team in all four meetings.
The Canadiens will play at home in a full building for the first time since March 10, 2020, when they host the New York Rangers on Saturday night. They need to earn their first points of the season while trying to avoid digging an early-season hole that will be tough to dig out.