About last night …

I would have written this after the game in Boston but was overtaken by the trade and all the attendant craziness:
Your Montreal Canadiens are not a horrible hockey team.
I think they are better than their record indicates, and there are solid elements – though perhaps not quite enough of them – that offer hope for a better future.
But the future is not now.

Too pessimistic?

Ridiculous to run up the white flag midway through January?

Maybe so. The Canadiens have 38 games left, and if the effort against Ottawa was any indication, they’re going to battle in every one of them.

Carey Price won’t quit. After another dispiriting shootout loss – he is 1-6, this season, beaten on 10 of 20 shots; and it’s worse at the Bell Centre: 0-5, 7 goals on 11 shots – Price talked about “desperation mode.”

“The only way is playing in playoff mode until the playoffs,” Price added.

With this team, that’s easier said than done.

By gaining a point for the shootout loss, the Canadiens have reached 40 on the season. A year ago, they hit that mark in Game 32, a 4-3 win over Boston on Dec. 16.

Shall I trot out the playoff math models again?

For fun this time, let’s say 88 points will be enough for an Eastern Conference team to sneak into eighth place. So after getting 40 points from their first 44 games, the Canadiens will need 48 in 38.

I can’t see it. But I’m a card-carrying pessimist, the legacy of my eastern European heritage. My ancestors slept lightly, knowing at any moment the Cossacks might come and set their village ablaze.

So even in the security and comfort of my suburban abode,  I tend to hear hoofbeats.

But maybe it’s Rene Bourque riding to the rescue. He’s an Alberta Métis, so there must be brave horsemen in the family tree.

Perhaps Bourque will supplement the Canadiens’ core group of true warriors: Price, Erik Cole, Josh Gorges, Tomas Plekanec, Travis Moen, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, David Desharnais and Lars Eller.

Oh, and the Russian stud defenceman who sat in the pressbox so we could savour the blueline artistry of Hal Gill, Chris Campoli and Tomas Kaberle – the last of whom was used in the shootout, with Plekanec, Cole and Andrei Kostitsyn sitting on the bench.

I like Randy Cunneyworth. He’s an honest, decent man who’s universally respected by hockey people. He doesn’t deserve the steaming pile of sewage he’s endured in Montreal.

But the coach did not have a great night against the team he used to captain.

I didn’t like sitting Emelin.

I didn’t like using Kaberle in the shootout.

I didn’t like Campoli getting almost as much ice time as Raphael Diaz.

For the first time since he took over from Jacques Martin four weeks ago, Cunneyworth complained about the officiating. He was particularly annoyed by losing a goal to the interference penalty on Andrei Kostitsyn (shown in Dave Sidaway‘s Gazette photo).

Cunneyworth also thought the Delay of Game call on Gorges was cheesy.

But the referees did not cause the Canadiens 28th loss of the season – 15 of which have come at the Bell Centre.

You can’t pin the league’s worst power-play on the zebras.

Or a popgun attack that’s produced three goals in the last nine periods and an OT.

Or zone play that becomes a (ethnic slur deleted) fire drill under the kind of pressure St. Louis laid on for 60 minutes and Ottawa cranked up after Kyle Turris’s goal brought them to life in a game the Canadiens were controlling nicely.

Price praised the Senators as “a hard-working team … when they have momentum, they’re very good.”

Ottawa has scored 66 third-period goals this season. The Canadiens have 36.

In games tied after two periods, the Senators are 8-1-4, the Canadiens 2-4-2.

Simply put, one team is clutch and the other isn’t.

The team that handles late-game pressure is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

And the team that doesn’t is 12th, with a dismal 16-20-8 record.

On Jan. 15, 2011, the Ottawa Senators were 17-22-6. They had 40 points, which is where the Canadiens are at today.

Fast forward 12 months.

Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Daniel F. Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar are healthy this season. Jared Cowan has been a revelation. Erik Karlsson is a star.

Paul MacLean is a relentlessly positive coach who’s getting the most out of his players.

A year can make a huge difference in the NHL.

Ask Guy Boucher.

Maybe starting with the Rangers game, which he will watch from the bench Sunday night, the Canadiens will click into the playoff mode Carey Price talked about.

But if not, if the season continues its current down-the-dumper trajectory, take heart from what has happened in our great nation’s capital.

•  •  •

Mike Cammalleri scored the Flames’ only goal, on the power play, in their 4-1 loss to L.A.

His 15:22 of ToI included 2:40 on the PP.

Cammalleri had three SoG, went 2-1 on faceoffs, took a holding penalty and was minus-2.

He played with Mikael Backlund and Lee Stempniak, the line that started the game for Calgary against Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner.

In other alumni news, Jaro Halak won a shootout …

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