ANAHEIM — It was only the eighth game of the season, but for the Canadiens it was already a big one.
Coach Claude Julien even admitted that after the team’s morning skate at the Honda Center before facing the Anaheim Ducks.
“It is big,” Julien said. “You don’t want to go back (home) having lost three games. We need to find a way to win hockey games … it’s as simple as that. How important is this game? I think how important is our team to play better is what we’re looking at right now because it’s not good enough.
“We’re a much better team than what we’ve shown so far,” the coach added. “This group can be much better and it has to show people that it is much better by having a better commitment to certain areas and that’s what we need to do here tonight.”
The Canadiens sure didn’t play like it was a big game — especially in the first period — eventually losing 6-2 for their seventh straight defeat and their third on the California road trip as their record dropped to 1-6-1. The only team in the NHL with a worse record than the Canadiens now is the Arizona Coyotes, who are 0-6-1.
The Canadiens were already down 2-0 on goals by Dennis Rasmussen and Derek Grant before Jordie Benn got Montreal’s first shot on goal at the 5:22 mark. The Canadiens were outshot 21-7 in the first period and Antoine Vermette also scored for the Ducks to put them up 3-0 at the intermission.
This against a Ducks team that had seven players on the injured list — including captain Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, their two leading scorers last season.
“I don’t have an explanation,” Julien said after the game about his team’s first-period performance. “All I know is it’s not acceptable and the second period was the team that we should be from start to finish. It’s pretty simple. We show how we can play, but we’re not capable so far of doing it for 60 minutes.”
The Canadiens outshot the Ducks Ducks 30-10 in the second period and got goals from Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher. Did Julien read his players the riot act during the first intermission?
“That’s stuff we can keep internally,” the coach said.
But things fell apart again in the third period as the Canadiens gave up three goals in less than two minutes to Brandon Montour, Grant and Chris Wagner. Game over.
The Canadiens outshot the Ducks 51-45, but Carey Price didn’t play like Carey Price again and his goals-against average is now 3.94 and his save percentage .881.
The Canadiens have the worst offence in the NHL, scoring only 1.50 goals per game, and the second-worst defence, giving up an average of 4.13. The Coyotes are allowing an average of 4.29 goals per game. Right now, the Canadiens are a lot closer to being in the lottery for the No. 1 pick at next year’s NHL Draft than they are to making the playoffs.
Last season it took 95 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, so the Canadiens will now need 92 points over 74 games to hit that mark. That works out to a 46-28 record — depending on how many loser points they might get in overtime.
So yes, it’s early in the season but games are already getting big with the Canadiens back in action Tuesday night at the Bell Centre against the Florida Panthers. Another loss at home and this could really get ugly in a hurry with a disgruntled and disappointed fan base.
“It’s frustrating, no doubt,” Price said. “I don’t know a human on Earth who wouldn’t be frustrated at this point. But I think the biggest thing right now is we know to park it and move on once we leave this rink.”
Is going back home a good thing or a bad thing the way this team has been playing?
“It’s always a good thing to be at home,” Price said.
Julien was asked where his frustration level was after the game.
“Very high … very high,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. But at the same time, as frustrated as I am I’m the one who’s got to find some solutions here, who’s got to turn things around. I also have to stay the course here and find the solution. It’s part of my job and I can’t be excused from what’s happening because I’m part of this group. Through thick or thin, I’m going to be part of this group and I’m going to take as much of the blame as anybody else.”
Julien knew this was a big game.
Too bad his players didn’t play like it was.