First, let’s look at what did not happen Saturday night.
Claude Julien did not leave Carey Price in nets for nine goals against the Detroit Red Wings.
Price did not stalk off the ice, glare at Julien, then tell Geoff Molson he had played his last game for the Canadiens and wanted to be traded.
Réjean Houle was not around to take Pierre Lacroix’s call.
Price was not traded to Colorado along with team captain Shea Weber for a couple of mid-level snipers and a young goaltender who was not up to the pressure of following a legend in Montreal.
The team was not sent hurtling toward mediocrity with inept management, a hotheaded coach and a series of catastrophic decisions that would ripple through the organization for years.
It was not, in other words, Dec. 2, 1995, a date that will live in infamy as long as players wear the CH and fans with long memories go back to the night when Mario Tremblay found a new way to humiliate Patrick Roy — not long after the practice at the Forum when he had fired a hard shot at his prize goaltender’s throat.
On the other hand, the Canadiens might want to avoid booking the Wings for Saturday night home games in the future.
The most recent loss was not, mercifully, one that will linger for decades. For some reason, games against the Red Wings seem to take on enormous significance at times — like the St. Patrick’s Day game in 1955 that turned into the Richard riot, or the game 40 years later that cost the club the services of St. Patrick.
Yes, Detroit is the worst team in the NHL and, yes, the Canadiens did find a way to lose to them on home ice for the second time this season — but this was one of those losses you simply have to shrug off. When you outshoot a team 43-20 and lose, it’s just one of those things.
It has no significance, except you ran into a hot goaltender, your snipers were perhaps a little tight — and you lost two points that would come in very handy at season’s end, where the points lost to the likes of the Red Wings and Devils will loom large.
Jonathan Bernier will never be confused with Roy or Price, but on a given night, he can give you fits. The funniest and wisest take on Bernier’s performance came from Habs fan Mimi Dostie in the Twitterverse. “Bernier stole this one,” Dostie wrote. “That’s it. That’s all. We should have dressed Nelson Mandela.”
That’s it. That’s all. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
The first thing about Saturday night is not to read too much into it. Goalies do steal games and Bernier stole one for Detroit. It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, it doesn’t bode well for the inevitable playoff jostling come late March, but it does not mean there are profound flaws in the organization.
It doesn’t mean a trade is needed to shake things up, everyone should be fired or (as one fan suggested) Marc Bergevin’s fellow GMs won’t deal with him because he gave Sebastian Aho an offer sheet. And it does not mean the opposite: it simply doesn’t signify, one way or the other.
Now had the Wings outshot the Canadiens 43-20, there might be cause for concern — but that wasn’t the case. Ryan Poehling played a terrific game and surely deserves to stay on the roster. Brendan Gallagher took too many penalties, but he’s Gallagher, the very last player on this roster I’m going to knock.
Through the first period when they fell behind 1-0, it seemed the Habs were playing not to lose, which is inevitably the way to lose. But they shook that off and came at Bernier hard enough the Detroit goaltender and his shot-blocking teammates are no doubt wearing the bruises today. By the time the Canadiens broke through with a Tomas Tatar goal, it was too little, too late.
In games like this, you need a Cole Caufield, bona-fide sniper who can score in the tightest space. But Caufield is at least a year away, Jonathan Drouin is still injured and the Canadiens don’t have a wealth of offensive talent up front. They score enough goals, but they score by committee and sometimes that committee doesn’t meet.
A prolonged road trip might seem like the last thing the Canadiens need, but at least they won’t be as tight as they sometimes are at home. Someone said Saturday night this could be a make-or-break stretch for the Habs, with seven away games sandwiched around the Christmas break.
It’s always that way. I’ve seen Canadiens teams destroyed by the Christmas marathon and teams that unexpectedly came together away from the friendly confines.
How could the Canadiens lose to Detroit twice? How could Mike Tyson lose to Buster Douglas? How could Team USA beat the Soviets at Lake Placid? How could the 1971 Canadiens take out the Bobby Orr Bruins?
It happens. The important thing is not to panic. Leave that to Ronald Corey.