The Buffalo Sabres are on a two-year run that is historically awful in the annals of the franchise, despite recent improvements they are not a very good hockey team.
The Montreal Canadiens have been worse for a couple of months now.
And not by just a little bit: Since December, they’ve been expansion-team terrible.
All of which is to say there probably shouldn’t be much surprise at losing to Buffalo, but here we are.
Such is Montreal’s ineptitude – the Habs entered the game on a 5-19-1 run dating to Dec. 3 – pessimism has become the default setting among fans.
When Montreal took a 2-1 lead into the third period, the uneasiness was palpable as the Sabres tied the game on a power play, and Johan Larsson’s sweet tip past Mike Condon with eight minutes to play only fed into the fatalism.
Indeed, le tout Montréal is not very happy about its team, which is bad enough that no one stood out enough to win the monthly Molson Cup for January.
Empty seats have started dotting Bell Centre in ever-growing numbers, restaurant and bar receipts in proximity to the rink are tanking and there are reliable reports scalpers are demonstrating an unusual openness to haggling.
The faithful have even grown exasperated with defenceman P.K. Subban, Montreal’s favourite showman and philanthropist – a second-period offensive foray by Subban that resulted in a feeble shot drew a collective groan and a smattering of boos.
The worst part: Subban understands. A few games ago, he said that if he were in the stands, he’d be booing, too.
And franchise goalie Carey Price – whose recovery from a bum leg has coincided with his team’s death spiral – appeared to pull up lame during a skating session on Wednesday.
But the thing about hockey teams is they rarely accept their fate. The turnaround is always just over the horizon. All they need is a lucky bounce or two.
As Nathan Beaulieu said a little while back: “One win is a fluke; two is a streak.”
Well, the fluke will have to wait – not that the Habs didn’t put in a decent effort.
The rink even raised the decibel level a little past borderline sentient in the second period, when Alex Galchenyuk grabbed a puck from a faceoff and put a breath-taking dangle on Buffalo’s best defensive forward, Ryan O’Reilly, before tucking a backhand past goalie Robin Lehner.
It followed a power-play goal by Dale Weise, who scrambled a puck in after Montreal captain Max Pacioretty’s mis-hit pass bounced up off his foot.
When Jamie McGinn tied it with a power-play goal midway through the third, Pacioretty was stopped on a breakaway not long after and soon the Habs were down after a minor defensive lapse. Again.
Rarely have the Habs been so unlucky for so long.
So while the fans are demanding that general manager Marc Bergevin fire the coach and trade the nucleus before showing himself out, the players must choose optimism.
In the context of the club’s long history, this run isn’t even that bad.
In 1939-40, for instance, they had a 2-18-2 stretch over two months. In 1925-26, they lost 12 in a row and went 2-13-1 to close out the season.
More contemporaneously, the Habs tallied only 70 points in 2000-01, when a fiery young coach named Michel Therrien took over for Alain Vigneault and promptly went 1-10-2 in December.
Actually, never mind that one.
At least Montreal hasn’t finished dead last in the NHL in consecutive seasons as Wednesday’s opposition had.
Buffalo captain Brian Gionta and defenceman Josh Gorges both enjoyed successful tenures in Habs colours, but neither expressed much sympathy for the plight of their former teammates and their demanding fan base. Gionta scored an empty-netter to make the final score 4-2 Wednesday night.
“We’re trying to figure out how to win games ourselves. You people are asking me how I feel about Montreal; we’re behind Montreal,” Gorges told NHL.com before the game.
The question the Habs can’t bear to ask is: for how long?Report Typo/Error