For game 30 on the season, the Montreal Canadiens entered their affair in Pittsburgh with only six wins. It’s a remarkable total. It promised to be difficult without Carey Price and Shea Weber, but wow.
The Canadiens are without 10 regulars, but they did have Jeff Petry back from injury. The Penguins skated to a 5-2 win.
It was a night with some hope rising up. The Canadiens have been the second-worst power play and penalty kill this season, but in this one they looked good. Pittsburgh had a 5-on-3 power play for one minute and 43 seconds and the Canadiens were able to get the job done.
On the power play, the Penguins were able to successfully kill their 31st straight, but Montreal looked extremely good on their second period two minutes with the extra man.
The Canadiens spent the entire two minutes in the Pittsburgh zone and got some quality looks with outstanding puck movement.
The feeds kept coming to Cole Caufield and he looked good. Jonathan Drouin was on that power play as well for two minutes. His puck retrieval was excellent on many occasions. Nick Suzuki also strong. It was the best the power play has looked in a long time.
The power play is a work in progress, but it was promising.
Drouin also opened the scoring for Montreal in the second period. He put on a sweet move forehand-backhand to roof it for the tally. Drouin got the opportunity thanks to a sweet pass from Laurent Dauphin.
Montreal was in the game at the time, down only 2-1. They had shown some good moments on a night when they were ready to compete.
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Late second period, it was Drouin who was outstanding again. He dangled with the puck and would not be denied. It was the best game of Drouin’s season. He fed it to Jesse Ylonen and he absolutely wired it for the first goal of his career.
The Canadiens were fighting hard and trailed only 3-2 after two.
The same old things that have plagued the team this season: defensive breakdowns; poor marking; no gap control. No reason to pile on in this section anymore, if there is nothing new.
This is what a rebuild looks like. This is what it looks like when 10 regulars are out of the lineup. Seven straight losses for the Canadiens. Two goals or fewer for the 22nd time in 30 games. Five goals allowed or more for the 10th time. It is what it is. It is this.
The NHL has a COVID-19 problem — and it’s getting worse.
There are 25 players in the last 36 hours who have entered into COVID protocols. There are now five teams who have had part of their schedule postponed because of COVID-19. There are over 160 players in a league of around 700 players who have tested positive this season.
The league is not looking at suspending any of its season at this point. However, they do realize that the situation is not under control, and they are looking for ways to mitigate the problem.
It’s the hope here that the league understands science. We are not hearing from the NHL what the status is of the players in terms of effective vaccination. Only one player in the entire league, Tyler Bertuzzi, is not vaccinated, but how long ago did the players of the league get their shot?
Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens’ struggle continues with 2-0 loss to Chicago Blackhawks
That is the issue all over the world at the moment, with Omicron spreading like wildfire. The variant is breaking through vaccinations that are expiring. Scientists say that the vaccine works only at a 25 to 30 per cent efficacy after six months against the Omicron variant.
This is why booster shots are being recommended in many nations, though Quebec is lagging behind on this. Scientists say that a booster shot brings effectiveness against Omicron back to 85 per cent.
It almost seems as if the players of the NHL are basically without protection from the virus due to waning effectiveness of their original vaccine shot. It is impossible to prove this as the league has not let anyone know this information.
It is also possible that the league will not go to the Olympics in China this February. The Chinese government has said quarantine is possible for as long as five weeks for Olympians. How can it be acceptable that a player is left behind in China for a month while his team pushes for a playoff spot?
Everything is fluid, as it has been since mid-March of 2020 as this nightmare pandemic continues to devastate. The one positive is the cases are mild for these NHL players.
May it stay that way for every single one of them.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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