Halfway through a pre-holiday-break trip that features clashes with the four Western Canada teams, the Montreal Canadiens already have two victories in their pocket.
The Canadiens, who have collected wins over the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, face the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday having won five of six games. Montreal has won six of eight games since losing eight straight (0-5-3) in a swoon that had the fans of the fabled franchise calling for heads to roll.
It’s quite the turnaround, and one that many other teams in the NHL would love to replicate.
“A combination of better play, better defensive play and fortunate bounces,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price replied when asked what changed. “It seems to be the usual recipe for success.”
“I think the last couple games in that losing streak, we played good hockey, too,” Canadiens forward Joel Armia said. “It was just a matter of getting a couple wins, get the confidence back. I think everybody knows in this locker room that we’re a good team and we can win games. I think just get those couple wins, and we got the confidence back.”
They have run with it, too.
“You want to win hockey games,” said Montreal forward Max Domi, who snapped an 11-game goal drought when he scored Thursday in Calgary. “The western road trip is a big turning point in the year. If we can come out with as many points as possible on this roadie going into a couple days off into Christmas, I think that’s a good thing to do. We have to keep it going.”
Edmonton is on the other side of the spectrum, having gone from atop the Western Conference to a losing skid. The Oilers, who endured a 5-2 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night, have dropped two straight and managed only one win in their past seven games (1-5-1). Looking even further back, they have only three wins in the past dozen games (3-8-1).
They’ve also dropped four straight at home (0-3-1).
“There were times early in the season we won some games we probably didn’t deserve to win, and lately there’s been games we played well enough to win and didn’t,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “You’ve got to keep pounding away at it.”
There are a few reasons for Edmonton’s struggles, namely a lack of five-on-five scoring and not playing with the lead often enough.
“We’re playing catch-up and we’re finding out the hard way it’s a hard league to win in when you’re doing that,” said Zack Kassian, one of the few Oilers who is excelling of late, having netted four goals in six games.
As frustrating as their recent struggles are, the players are doing what they can to avoid becoming too downcast.
“Obviously you’ve got to find a way to get wins, but we’re working hard, defending better than we have before — the numbers may not suggest that, but it feels that way,” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. “We’ve got to find a way to create some offense.”
That said, simply saying they’re not losing confidence isn’t the same as actually having confidence, which Tippett reminded his charges.
“When you’re not getting the results you want — call it a sag, call it frustration — you’ve got to work your way out of it,” he said. “Confidence is earned. When you don’t have confidence, you have to go out and earn it back.”
–Field Level Media