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Game of the Week: Montreal Canadiens vs. Anaheim Ducks

Habs' early struggles continue in seventh straight loss

The Montreal Canadiens’ season is off to a rough start.

The Canadiens (1-6-1) were slapped with their seventh consecutive defeat Friday night with a 6-2 thumping from the Anaheim Ducks (3-3-1) at Honda Center.

It was a game where Montreal’s offensive woes continued. Although the Canadiens are one of hockey’s most storied franchises and most successful of all-time, they have struggled to score consistently in recent years.

The Canadiens are also notorious for depending heavily on star goalie Carey Price to backstop a defensive corps that looks middle-of-the-pack and keep the score close in games where Montreal scores few goals while being heavily outplayed. That trend from the last several seasons is catching up with them.

The game

Most of Anaheim's goals Friday against Montreal came from getting players close to Price and getting bodies and pucks to the net. It's something coaches often discuss when using cliches in media scrums, but it's a tactic that usually works.

To the Canadiens' credit, they pulled to within one during the second period by making similar moves, but highlight reels suggest the Ducks' size and strength were too much for Montreal to handle.

The Canadiens outshot the Ducks 51-45, but that means little to nothing if a team doesn't score more than their opponent. A hot goaltender may have been part of Montreal's downfall Friday night, with Anaheim starter John Gibson making 49 saves.

Price turned aside 39 shots, which isn't bad given the game's outcome, but he hasn't been able to mask Montreal's weaknesses in this recent stretch the way he has in the past. 

In past seasons, Price was seen as a modern netminding hero by many when he consistently kept the Canadiens in games despite less than stellar teams in front of him. His career save percentage is .920, and his goals-against average over 516 games played is an impressive 2.42. 

But Price, 30, may be breaking down from being such a big part of Montreal's regular-season success, even if his (and the team's) playoff performances haven't been worth writing home about lately.

On the Ducks' side, forward Derek Grant looked good in scoring his first two NHL goals. The 6'3", 215lb forward didn't play much in his previous gigs with the Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres or Nashville Predators, so he may get to shine in Anaheim.

Friday's game also suggested there's one strength Anaheim has that Montreal doesn't, and that's depth. The skill and talent the Ducks have in their lineup means they need not rely on big-name veterans like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to carry the team on their backs.

Perry picked up an assist Friday against the Canadiens while Getzlaf was scratched. Getzlaf has played in two of the Ducks' seven games this season, but he suffered a lower-body injury September 27, 2017.

Lesser-known players scoring most of the Ducks' goals against the Canadiens on Friday means Anaheim may be a lethal team to face going forward if its depth players stay hot.

Troublesome patterns for Montreal

The NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint. The Canadiens are eight games into an 82-game campaign, and they have 74 contests left heading into Tuesday's matchup against the Florida Panthers.

It's probably too early to write Montreal off just yet, and one hot streak may change the Canadiens' story altogether, even if it hides their shortcomings for a bit longer. 

To the Canadiens' credit, head coach Claude Julien said in an article by NHL.com writer Dave Stubbs dated October 11, 2017, that the team isn't panicking at this point.

We don't like the way we've started but I still see some potential in this team that once we turn it around, we're going to be fine.

But the fact it took a shootout on October 5, 2017, for the Canadiens to beat the perennially rebuilding Buffalo Sabres, who are 2-5-2 out the gate, is concerning.

Friday's game was also the third time in eight games Montreal has lost in a blowout. The other two were a 5-1 thrashing from the Los Angeles Kings on October 18, 2017, and a 6-1 blasting from the Washington Capitals on October 7, 2017. 

Wins and losses all look the same in the standings, but if the Canadiens' opponents are already picking them apart this easily, then it will likely be a long season in Montreal this year. The Canadiens are 30th out of 31 teams already, with the winless Arizona Coyotes (0-7-1) as the only squad trailing them.

In Montreal's first eight contests, they only scored 13 goals while allowing 33. A goal differential of -20 doesn't bode well for a team that's had this many chances to contend for the Canadiens' first Stanley Cup since 1993.

To put the scoring stats into perspective, the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning have 36 goals-for and 24 goals-allowed in nine games.

Stay tuned

On a more positive note, the Canadiens could reverse their fortunes (or a lack thereof) Tuesday against the Panthers (3-4-0), another struggling team. 

Florida has lost three of their last five games, but the Panthers will look to build their second two-game win streak of the season against a Canadiens team that's seen better days as of now.

What do you think of the Canadiens' slow start to the season? Are there any other trends reflected in Montreal's last game against Anaheim? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Nathan DeLong

Journalist and graduate based in New Brunswick, Canada. Fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the NHL in general. Follow me on Twitter @DeLongNathan95

Game of the Week: Montreal Canadiens vs. Anaheim Ducks

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