Another game, another loss. The Montreal Canadiens are going nowhere fast, except towards the bottom of the NHL standings. Last night against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Habs had one of the most dominant performances not only for them, but in hockey… that was in the first period. They completely outplayed Vegas and had it not been for the brilliance of Robin Lehner, Montreal should have come out of that period with a three or four goals’ lead. They outshot the Golden Knights 20-1 and were up 2-0.
But then, they found a new way to lose, allowing five consecutive goals, two of them in an empty net. Vegas, who had yet to score a goal on the man advantage all season, scored two power play goals against the lowly Habs. Montreal lost that game 5-2 as Vegas only needed 18 shots to score those five goals.
If you want to sum up the Canadiens’ 2021-22 season in one sequence, it would have to be at the end of that game, after Vegas’ second empty net goal. After the puck bounced right and left only to find its way in the back of the Canadiens’ net, Mike Hoffman broke his stick on the goal post and as he bumped with the boards, he fell on his own. Yup, that’s how it’s going in Montreal.
Just this week, we talked about how there were many reasons factoring into the Canadiens’ implosion this year and that still stands. But there is one that sticks out like a sore thumb. One that would go a long way into avoiding collapses like the one we witnessed last night. They simply don’t have a true legitimate number one defenseman. They have failed to replace Shea Weber in the off-season, knowing full well that he would not return. And that’s on the General Manager.
While circumstances are important, one cannot ignore that Seth Jones changed teams. Dougie Hamilton was a UFA. Duncan Keith was traded for peanuts. Even former 8th overall pick Rasmus Ristolainen changed teams. Vince Dunn was left unprotected for the Expension Draft and was on the market. Matt Dumba was in the rumours but he’s still with the Minnesota Wild.
The Canadiens not only knew that Weber wasn’t coming back. While they didn’t know he’d be entering the NHL/NHLPA Assistance Program, they were well aware that Price needed knee surgery and would miss the start of the season. That’s why they gambled and left him unprotected for the Expansion Draft and protected Jake Allen instead.
The lack of foresight by Marc Bergevin on that important aspect, or his lack of understanding of what a 25-30 minutes defenseman means to a team is the most costly mistake he’s made thus far as a GM in the NHL. Yes, worse than the signature of Karl Alzner. Instead, he’s stocking up on defensemen in the mold of what he, himself, was as a player: stay at home, bruising defensemen.
I’m not preaching for Bergevin to be fired. I’m not jumping on any bandwagon. But I strongly believe that whether he stays or he goes, Molson must make that decision clear very soon and the GM’s number one issue to fix on the list is finding that number one defenseman, preferably right handed, at the cost of unloading salary elsewhere.