The Canadian is late.

Not late for his games, although still a little, knowing that he allows the first goal almost two times out of three. It’s more subtle than that.

At the start of the season, in an interview with La Presse, the organization’s vice-president of hockey operations, Jeff Gorton, expressed the hope that his club would play “meaningful” matches for as long as possible. Let’s say until March.

However, after 18 meetings, the Canadian is already three points behind his first 18 outings of 2022-2023. A campaign concluded with a low harvest of 68 points, remember.

The team scores fewer goals. Defensively, it’s pretty painful; without the brilliance of the goalkeepers at the start of the game, the number of goals allowed would be even higher than it already is.

In 2023-24, no one has won fewer games in 60 minutes than the Habs – two in total, none of which came in November. After four consecutive defeats, the club is in last place in its division and 15th in the Eastern Association. Out of 16.

Could the bike have derailed? Maybe, maybe not. However, to keep the dream of meaningful matches in March alive, we will have to give a serious push. A bad trip to California, where the team will play three games in four days this week, could perhaps already sound the death knell for this season.

Given the reconstruction in which the organization is immersed, the ranking is rarely mentioned in the locker room. The players, however, still watch him, we understand.

Sean Monahan agreed: A few wins would be welcome. For the team, obviously, but also for its players.

“You never want to be in that position,” he said. After losing a match, you think about what you could have done better; we make it a personal matter, it stays with us for a long time. We don’t want to be in that state of mind. We need to get back on track quickly. »

When he talked about meaningful games, Gorton had a caveat: management wouldn’t make it an obsession, because “growth” takes precedence.

We thus return to one of the key themes of Martin St-Louis’ credo: the “process” before results.

However, the “process” is taking its toll, as the Canadian has just played two of his worst matches of the season. Perhaps the worst, last Saturday, in Boston. “Unacceptable” performances, Nick Suzuki said again on Monday morning.

Last Thursday, against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Montrealers made more mistakes and bowed to an opponent who was visibly better prepared. On Saturday, the St-Louis men played sluggishly, said the head coach the same evening.

With his head at rest, the pilot returned to the collapse against the Bruins. “We chased the puck because we weren’t working together on the forecheck. When guys aren’t in the right place, when we’re not skating and we’re not anticipating, we’re chasing the puck. A good team like that makes you pay. »

It would probably be an exaggeration to describe Monday’s practice as “punitive.” But the Canadian players had a good sweat. After intense one-on-one exercises, mostly in confined spaces, St-Louis took advantage of the last minutes of the session to have everyone skate, including goaltenders, from one end of the ice to the other. An initiative which, without being unprecedented, is certainly not unrelated to the recent setbacks of his team.

The goal behind this exercise? “Responsibility,” the coach explained succinctly.

The latter is known for rarely criticizing his players, at least publicly. And he doesn’t often take out the stick in training. The last few days therefore demonstrate annoyance on his part. And it doesn’t go unnoticed.

“It gives [his actions] a lot of impact,” Matheson noted. Nobody questioned [his decision]. When it is the norm for a coach to throw tantrums, there is no longer any impact. »

Calling your players “soft” is also seen as daring, even risky. There too, the message got through.

“We were slow with the puck, we committed turnovers,” Suzuki said. We played weakly against a team that played hard. »

And to repeat: “This is unacceptable, and we know it. »

The ball is now in the players’ court to bring their game, or even their season, back to the “acceptable” side. So as not to fall into insignificance long before spring.