(Gazette photo by Peter McCabe)
Montreal fans like to torment Leaf supporters by chanting “’67!”, a mocking reference to the last year Toronto won the Stanley Cup.
Here’s new one they might want to try:
The Canadiens have won one of their first seven games this season.
It’s their worst start since 1941.
That year, the NHL season began Nov. 1. The Canadiens lost their opener to Detroit, then tied Chicago before losing to Toronto, twice to Brooklyn and to the Rangers.
The Canadiens didn’t get their first win until Nov. 23 – then they lost five more. They finished sixth in a seven-team NHL that season, winning only 18 of their 48 games.
But 1941 was tough all over. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Fascism was on the March. It looked grim.
Now doesn’t that contextualize the Canadiens’ difficulties?
Yes, they are dead last in the Eastern Conference – and they’d be last in the league if the NHL didn’t have a team in Columbus.
The Canadiens have two goals on the power play this season. Their PP efficiency is 6.9 per cent – 29th in the league.
The Canadiens had the NHL’s seventh best power play last season, with an efficiency of 19.7.
But fear not!
If Jacques Martin keeps using Mathieu Darche in 5-on-3 situations – as he did against Toronto – I’m sure that 6.9 will be up to 7.0 in no time at all.
That’s not a knock on Darche, who is a good, honest hockey player who leaves it all out on the ice and earns every nickel of his $700,000 annual salary.
But on a team that is losing with a PP that’s struggling, Darche had 3:12 seconds of power-play ice time.
Erik Cole – who had five hits, battled for the puck and may have played his best game as a Canadien – wasn’t used on any of the team’s four power-play opportunities.
When asked about it after the game, Jacques Martin got a bit testy. The coach cited Cole’s power-play stats in Caroline last season: three goals.
Fine. He’s not a PP specialist.
But Cole was the prize UFA signing of the off-season. He’s making $18 million over four years … and he had as much power-play time as Aaron Palushaj and Andreas Engqvist.
I don’t get it.
Martin also blamed Cole for one of the two bench minors the Canadiens took against Toronto. With three calls through seven games, the team is on pace to exceed last season’s league-leading total of 14 Too Many Men penalties.
Want more grim stats?
After yielding two PP goals to the Leafs, the penalty-kill’s efficiency is 81.2, 20th in the league. Last season the Canadiens were seventh with 84.4 efficiency.
Travis Moen leads your Montreal Canadiens in scoring, while Brian Gionta has taken the most penalties.
What the heck is going on here?
What’s happening is the Canadiens are digging themselves a deep hole that will be hard to climb out of.
Calgary and New Jersey had similarly lousy starts last season. Both teams missed the playoffs – even though the Devils caught fire after Jacques Lemaire took over behind the bench.
We keep waiting for a spark to get the Canadiens going, and there were a couple of inspirational goals against the Leafs: the Travis Moen shortie to open the scoring less than two minutes in, a patented AK46 wrister to make it 2-1, Mike Cammalleri’s one-timer to tie it at 3 and another one by that sniper Moen to give the Canadiens a third-period lead that had the Bell Centre rocking.
But this is a fragile team that can’t stand prosperity.
With the exception of the Winnipeg game – which seems long ago and aberrational – the Canadiens have not held a two-goal lead this season. And they’ve blown one-goal leads in losses to Calgary, Colorado, Buffalo and the Leafs.
Now you wanna get really depressed?
NHL stats have Carey Price 41st among NHL goaltenders – just ahead of Jaro Halak.
Price’s GAA of 3.13 is 45th in the league. His 87.8 save percentage is 46th.
Price made some highlight reel saves against Toronto. But through seven games, he’s given up five goals to the Leafs and Avalanche, four to Calgary.
And enough negativity.
Lars Eller played like a Top Six centre. He was 9-7 on draws, had two assists and blocked three shotsHe was easily the best Canadien … and we’ll be saying that on many nights for a lot of years. Eller and Moen – who is, not coincidentally, in a contract year – were plus-3.
Eller had four minutes of PK team but – go figure – all of 12 seconds on that red-hot Habs power play.
The Canadiens practice Sunday morning and they play Florida at the Bell Centre on Monday night.
Then it’s a mid-week back-to-back – home to the Flyers, in Boston – before the Bruins visit to complete what’s been a grim October.
The Germans got as far as the outskirts of Moscow in 1941.
Maybe winter will help the Canadiens.
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Oops, I nearly forgot to mention that Roman Hamrlik played 21:23, blocked three shots and was plus-2 in Washington’s 7-1 spanking of the Red Wings.