The 5 Biggest Letdowns of Montreal Canadiens' 2013-14 Season So Far
The Montreal Canadiens sit third in the Eastern Conference with eight games remaining in the 2013-14 season. All things considered, it has been a successful year.
A few more wins down the stretch and the Canadiens will reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second-consecutive year. They'll try to atone for last year's embarrassing five-game collapse against the Ottawa Senators.
Even the most successful teams have their share of downs, however, and Montreal is no different. There have certainly been some players, and some moments, that have been disappointing this season.
Here are the five biggest letdowns of the Montreal Canadiens' 2013-14 season so far.
5. Daniel Briere's 1-Point December
When Daniel Briere signed a two-year contract in Montreal last summer, it had the makings of a great story. A hometown boy returns to lead the local team in the twilight of his career.
Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way.
Let's start by conceding that Briere has been better in the second half of the season. He does have eight goals and six assists in 32 games since January 4 and has been a pretty solid depth forward, filling in wherever Michel Therrien needs him.
But his start to the year was painful to watch, and it culminated in December.
On December 4, Briere had an assist against the New Jersey Devils. It was his 10th point in 19 games as a Hab. It was also his last point for a long time.
After that game, Briere would go on a horrendous pointless drought that spanned 10 games and didn't end until January 4. The slump forced Michel Therrien to make Briere a healthy scratch three times, on December 19, 31 and January 2.
It was not the start Briere was hoping for in Montreal. General manager Marc Bergevin was surely regretting the signing.
Briere's play has improved of late, and he looks more comfortable in Michel Therrien's system. He is also known as a playoff performer. A few goals in the postseason will surely erase the bad memories created early in the season.
4. Lars Eller
Since Lars Eller was acquired by the Canadiens in the 2010 Jaroslav Halak trade, everyone has been waiting for him to reach his potential. He is, after all, a former first-round pick with all the tools needed to be a star center in this league.
Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet, and that's why this season is yet another letdown for Lars Eller.
The year started out well for Eller, as he paired up with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher to form one of the hottest lines in the NHL over the first couple weeks. Since then, it's been a frustrating season, however.
Eller has just 11 goals and 12 assists in 71 games this season. He's also a team-worst minus-17.
His most recent points, a goal and an assist on March 15, snapped a 24-game slump which saw him earn just a single assist. During that time he was a healthy scratch and the target of trade rumors. It was one of the ugliest slumps you'll ever see a talented NHL forward go through.
It has been yet another disappointing season from Eller. It will be interesting to see what the Canadiens do with him in the offseason as he is set to become a restricted free agent. His play in 2013-14 sure hasn't warranted a long extension in Montreal.
3. Max Pacioretty's Start to the Season
Max Pacioretty led the Canadiens in scoring for each of the past two seasons, but he still hadn't proved that he was an elite player in the NHL. He was known for going on prolonged scoring slumps where he would disappear on the ice.
Perhaps 2013-14 would be the year he turned the corner.
As it turns out, Pacioretty is having a career year in terms of goals and seems to have developed into an elite NHL scorer. But when you look at his start to this season, it didn't appear that this was going to be the year he progressed.
Pacioretty opened the year with goals in Montreal's fourth and fifth games of the season. Not a bad start. One night later, however, Pacioretty injured his leg in Winnipeg and promptly missed the next eight games.
He returned to the lineup on November 2 in Colorado, but clearly wasn't himself. He would record just a single assist in the next seven games.
After 13 games played of the 2013-14 season (the Habs had played 21 as a team), Pacioretty had two goals and two assists. That's not nearly enough production from your top offensive player.
Pacioretty would break out of his slump with a hat trick on November 19 against Minnesota. Including that performance against the Wild, he has scored 30 times in his last 52 games.
2. Four Straight Blowouts in January
The Montreal Canadiens had a stretch of games in mid-January during which they would be tested against some of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. In the end, they failed miserably.
The four-game road trip began in Toronto where the Habs squared off against their bitter rivals. The game was tied at three late in the third until James Van Riemsdyk scored with five minutes remaining. The Maple Leafs added an empty-netter to seal the win.
It was then off to Pittsburgh. The Penguins came out flying and scored five times in the first 35 minutes, chasing Carey Price from the net. The Habs lost 5-2 and had given up five goals against for the second straight game.
The next stop was Detroit, where the Red Wings opened up a 2-0 lead and won the game 4-1. At no point did Montreal look as if it had a chance to win. Three games, three losses, 14 goals against.
Montreal then returned home to face Washington. Alex Ovechkin greeted them with an early second-period goal that opened the floodgates for the Capitals. They would go on to score three more times in the period, chasing Price for the second time in three games. Final score: 5-0.
The Canadiens had lost four games in a row by a combined score of 19-5. It was their ugliest stretch of hockey of the season.
Montreal would beat Carolina three days later, a win that would kick off a 5-1-1 streak leading up to the Olympics.
1. No Post-Olympics Price
After Carey Price dominated on the world stage and led Team Canada to a gold medal, fans of the Montreal Canadiens were ecstatic. They were proud of their team's goalie and could not wait to see Price back in the red, white and blue. It appeared that Price was ready to carry the Habs to the playoffs.
But then, in his first practice back in North America, Price hurt his leg and was declared out indefinitely. He ended up missing eight games in total, and the post-Olympics buzz was killed.
In those eight games sans Price, the Habs went 3-4-1 and allowed an ugly 3.5 goals per game. They also saw their playoff cushion fall to a mere six points.
The team needed Price back—and fortunately he returned to the lineup on March 15. Since then, the Canadiens have gone 6-1 and now have a nine-point lead on the ninth-place Toronto Maple Leafs with eight games remaining.
Price's injury was a big letdown when it happened. He was at the highest point of his career, and the injury killed the momentum. Thankfully for the Habs, he does look healthy now and ready for the playoffs.
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