Vancouver Canucks 2 at Montreal Canadiens 5 – 2022-11-09 recap

This was a better effort by the Canucks than the scoreboard indicated.

In the eternal battle between “structure” and “personnel” we see the plucky Montreal Canadiens team, that has failed to make the playoffs in each of the last 3 82-game seasons. Over the years, if anything, they’ve been a team that is very good at forcing the opposition to play to their level. This is a very structured team, one that has always performed better than the sum of its parts.

This was true under Claude Julien, a little less true under Dominique Ducharme, and a little more true under Martin St. Louis. The Canadiens have, over the last few seasons, had an ability to possess the puck, work organized breakouts, and have a system in place that protects their young defencemen. They’ve lacked gamebreakers at any position other than goaltending, and it always felt that with the team down a goal with the goalie out, in a 6-on-5 situation, the team’s biggest weakness was that there was nobody on the team you’d be scared of if they had the puck. Maybe Cole Caufield is going to become that player someday.

The point is that this Montreal Canadiens team is the ceiling when you look at having a flawless structure, but still that personnel issue. This is a .500 team at best, and the first team to ever finish 32nd overall at worst. They’ve gotten about as far as you can, which includes some memorable playoff performances and victories over bad opponents. They punish your mistakes and don’t make many, but also don’t create very many plays.

The Canucks may not have been the worst team in this game. They out-shot and out-chanced the opposition. They hammered one of Montreal’s pairings off the rush, and hammered one of them off the forecheck. They gained the offensive zone more often with control, and had their best game of the season breaking the puck out. But this game was also the first time all season that I could look at multiple goals that went past Thatcher Demko and thought “he probably could have had that one”. At the other end, the Canucks just didn’t have the same success burying their chances, including hitting the post twice on long range efforts during that third period powerplay.

In a vacuum, this game would be fine. You can handle losses where you outplay the other team and don’t get the bounces, especially if you’ve won 4 of your last 6 coming in. But, sports don’t take place in a vacuum devoid of context. The Canucks need to quickly make up ground so they aren’t out of the playoff hunt by American Thanksgiving. An 0-7 start can be erased by a 7-0 run or something similar, like 7 wins in 8 games or 9 wins in 11 games. The Canucks can’t afford to drop points to teams like Montreal and stay in the playoff hunt.

And, make no mistake, that is the bar that Canuck management set with the moves they made coming into the season. They re-signed JT Miller and added Ilya Mikheyev. They’ve traded two picks now for roster players in Riley Stillman and Ethan Bear. They aren’t so much “all-in” on this season, but the organization has made it clear that the playoffs are the measuring stick, so I will be judging them off that.

When it comes to structure or personnel however, they’re just not good enough. This is a game they were the better team, but not one to be proud of. Those wins matter. My confidence that this team can rattle off 5 straight isn’t high.

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