To say the month of December has been one to forget for the Canadiens is a gross understatement. Since losing netminder Carey Price at the end of last month, Montreal has gone 2-7-1 and its hold upon the Atlantic Division has evaporated with the slump. Not only has this slide coincided with losing Price to injury, Montreal also lost its alternate captain and one of the team's best scorers in Brendan Gallagher the same week. December has hit the Canadiens hard, but are they done for?
Not exactly. Sure, it's quite bleak heading into their final game before the Christmas break. They've allowed the Bruins back into the Atlantic race after building a double-digit point bubble and their grip atop the league is gone with Washington and Dallas fighting for that first spot. The Canadiens just look lost without their best player and greatest offensive threat. They have 16 goals in their last 10 games, a statistic unbecoming for a team sitting at fourth in the league in goals scored. The goaltending of backups Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski hasn't been able to steady the ship, either.
Their latest loss against the Nashville Predators was quite the showcase with a listless offense and goaltending that does not nearly inspire the confidence provided by Price. Nashville tacked on four unanswered goals before Montreal found the back of the net late in the third on the power play, ensuring the Canadiens' fourth straight loss in a 5-1 defeat. For a team limping along with injuries, it's tough to get anything going when you're missing your best players.
Still, it's not as if we didn't know Montreal would falter without Price and Gallagher. Maybe not to this extreme, where once all was going right to start the year has suddenly turned around in a twist of fate. However, we knew something like this was coming, as it happens to all teams when they lose two key pieces in their system. The Canadiens will get them back within the next month, with Gallagher the likelier of the two to return before their Winter Classic on New Year's Day, so it cannot be all doom and gloom forever.
It's surprising to see the Canadiens as a whole falter, but Price and Gallagher are more integral to this team than many first believed. Will Montreal immediately jump back to its high-flying heights once both players are back in their spots? Hard to say. However, the Canadiens are not as bad as their miserable December has indicated and won't fall too much further before they turn it around.
Nashville Predators 5, Montreal Canadiens 1
3 things we learned
1. Both the Penguins and Blue Jackets started AHL goalies
In a rare case of injuries and pure luck, both the Penguins and Blue Jackets put out goaltenders who originally were in the AHL to start the season. Two 21-year olds in Matthew Murray and Joonas Korpisalo got the starts for their respective teams, with Murray snagging his first win for the Penguins with just two goals allowed on 22 shots. If those guys were the starters, I don't even want to know who was backing them up on the bench.
2. Stars, Capitals stay tied at the top
With wins Monday by each side, both Dallas and Washington remain deadlocked at the top of the NHL with 52 points. While both sides each have 25 wins and two post-regulation losses, the Stars have one more defeat and one more game before the Christmas break. The Captials have been on a better tear than the Stars, however, with a 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games compared to the 6-2-2 record in Dallas' last 10.
3. Shayne Gostisbehere continues to impress for Philadelphia
Though no goals were scored in his name, the Flyers rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere added two assists in Philadelphia's comeback win over the Blues. The rookie defenseman had key assists on the second and third Flyers goals, using his defensive skills to break Philadelphia's 3-2 strike out of their zone before setting up Jakub Voracek on the one-timer pass from point to point. The Flyers have done well as of late, and it might just be because of the Gostisbehere effect.
Shayne Gostisbehere (6G-8A) has 14 points in 18 games. The #Flyers have at least a point (10-4-4) in 14 of 18 games.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 22, 2015
Evgeni Malkin got taken down on a knee-to-knee hit that caused a lot of strife in the Penguins' win over the Blue Jackets. Malkin skated off the ice and did return to play, but the hit sparked the Penguins' beatdown of the Blue Jackets to help them snap a five-game losing streak.
Stat of the Night
A key to Washington's recent success? The team's bottom six.
A reminder that entering this game, the Caps are 12-0-1 when getting a goal from the third or fourth line.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) December 22, 2015