The Canadian played the 39th game of his season on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, and from a strictly technical point of view, he has not yet reached the halfway point of his 2023-2024 schedule. But this detail is not going to prevent us from drawing up some (almost) mid-season observations all the same.
Is this team part of an Atom category minor hockey league, in which everyone has to play? No, and the latest news is that the Canadiens are a National Hockey League club. Given this state of affairs, the net should fall to Samuel Montembeault more often. For what ? Because while no one in this organization is going to say it, he’s clearly the best of the club’s three goalies, a conclusion already evident before Saturday’s game, in which he turned away 45 of 48 shots in his direction. . With all that, the Quebec goalkeeper has taken part in 18 of CH’s 39 matches, and if this club wants to win more often between now and April, Montembeault should be the chosen one in two out of three matches, especially since he is the club’s only goalkeeper with a winning record. We obviously understand that in an ideal world, the Canadian would like to trade Jake Allen in exchange for two first-round picks and a top prospect, but that’s not going to happen, so it would be a good idea to let go of the concept of the “showcase” for a veteran goalkeeper whose value is already known to everyone.
Speaking of which, it should come as no surprise that Jake Allen is still here on this date and at this time of year. Since the start of the Canadiens’ season on October 11, a grand total of 10 transactions can be listed on the NHL’s official website. Of these, no transaction involved a guard. In fact, we have to go back to September 19 to be able to see a transaction involving a goalie, that of Casey DeSmith, who did not even have time to come and have an overpriced latte in Old Montreal before being told to go directly to Vancouver. In short, the goalie market is not exactly booming at the moment, and that partly explains why there are still three goalkeepers in the Montreal locker room.
We look at the NHL standings on this short Sunday and what do we see? We see the Canadian in sixth place in his division, but also, we see the same team only five points from a place in the playoffs. Between now and the end of the month and his week off before the All-Star break, the Canadian will have to play ten games, six of which will pit him against clubs that are part of the playoff picture at the time of writing this. . In other words, the Canadian’s immediate future should be a little clearer when he returns from the break on February 6 in Washington. If the team is no longer in the running by that date, expect a few departures between now and the trade deadline on March 8. On the other hand, if the club is still in the game, could management be tempted to no longer follow the plan and go into acquisition mode? We’ve seen weirder things before.
There is another approach that is also possible: that of not trying to acquire anyone else because there are reinforcements who will arrive soon. We already know that two attackers, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Tanner Pearson, have started skating again in Brossard, which suggests an imminent return to play in both cases. For his part, Alex Newhook is not there yet, but an optimistic scenario suggests that he could make a return around the middle or end of February, having injured his left ankle during a game against the Florida Panthers on November 30 at the Bell Center. At the time of this misfortune, the Canadian had mentioned an absence of 10 to 12 weeks, which leads to the period of play mentioned above. Before falling in action, Newhook had collected six points in his previous six games. It remains to be seen, obviously, if the Canadian will still be competitive when he is ready…
And it is here that we quote, as it should, the legendary Bill Parcells, once an American football coach and also a philosopher in his free time. Old Bill liked to say that a team is what its record says, and that has never been more true than in the case of the Canadiens, who have a record of 17-17-5. The CH is a .500 club, that couldn’t be clearer, and the last two matches amply demonstrated what we already knew, namely that this team is capable of good performances, and less good ones too. It’s an improvement over last season, but good little .500 clubs don’t sneak into the playoffs.