“Ten to nothing is a score that requires some explanation.” I’m not sure that’s something the modern-day Montreal Canadiens have been telling themselves today, after last night’s 0-10 road loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets — seems like they may be more interested in getting to tonight’s game with Philadelphia to play their way out of having to account for last night’s debacle. That opening line dates back, in fact, to 1921, when a correspondent from The Ottawa Journal watched Canadiens of an earlier incarnation the very first time they lost by that disconcerting margin.
That it’s happened four times now in Canadiens history is, in its way, impressive. But precedents don’t make it any easier to deal with, for the team or for its fans. The wording they saw this morning in the headlines of Montreal newspapers was enough to curdle the stoutest Hab-loving heart. Pulvérisé was how La Presse framed the game, in which Canadiens’ back-up goaltender Al Montoya suffered through the entire excruciating game; Le Journal de Montreal opted for Piétinés à Columbus and, decked below, Le Canadien subit une raclée.
Over at The Gazette the dispatch from Ohio was spiked throughout with the words crushed, embarrassing, humiliated, trainwreck, ass-kicking, total meltdown. Columnist Pat Hickey noted that Friday also marked coach Michel Therrien’s 53rd birthday. “I don’t remember being a part of a game like that,” said Therrien. “There’s not much positive to take from it.”
Back home at the Bell Centre Saturday night, Al Montoya took the night off, leaving Carey Price to fend off the Flyers by a score of 5-4. It was the first time in the annals of Montreal’s 10-0 losses that the same goaltender who’d suffered the defeat hadn’t retaken the net for the next game. A look back:
December 24, 1921
“Ottawas achieved a clear cut and decisive victory over Canadiens by the mammoth score of 10 to 0 Saturday,” was the hometown Ottawa Journal’s opening take on the first of Montreal’s historical whompings — the Canadiens were, in a word, smothered.
It was Christmas Eve, just three games into the new season. Both teams had a win and a loss under their belts. Ottawa was the defending Stanley Cup champion; Montreal’s powerful (if slightly aged) line-up featured Georges Vézina in goal with Sprague Cleghorn and Bert Corbeau on defence while forwards included the legendary Newsy Lalonde and Didier Pitre. In a day when a different kind of analytics held sway, much was made of the weight players carried into battle, and The Ottawa Journal noted that Montreal averaged an impressive 176 pounds per man while the team’s aggregate tonnage came in at 2,465.
Ottawa was fast and from the start had Montreal “puffing like grampuses.” In the third, the Habs looked “juvenile.” The Senators had several bright rookies, including Frank “King” Clancy, deemed the architect of the rout by one local paper. Scoring the second goal in the opening period, “he brought the crowd to their toes in a thunderous cheer.”
Cy Denneny scored three goals for Ottawa, and Frank Nighbor added a memorable one (“it was a cuckoo,” to be exact). Goaltender Clint Benedict was good, “as a happy as a kid with a Christmas stocking” with his shutout; Nighbor’s poke check was Punch Broadbent’s determined backchecking were also cited by the Journal as playing decisive parts in the home side’s win. For the third game in a row — the entire season to date — Ottawa took no penalties. All in all, the crowd of 5,000 was “tickled giddy.”
Vézina? “The Chicoutimi Cucumber looked more like a well perforated slab of Roquefort. Vez stopped plenty, but he was handling drives from inside his defence that kept him on the hop, and was frequently forced out of his nets in desperate sorties, trying to split the Ottawa attack.”
As for Montreal’s forwards, Didier Pitre stood out. He “played hard,” the Journal allowed, “and while he has to bend forward to see his skates, uncoiled some whistling drives that would have knocked Benny’s roof into the south-end seats had they hit on the cupola.”
Newsy Lalonde seemed “passé” to the Ottawa eye — though to the correspondent from Montreal’s Le Canada, he was brilliant and gave one of the best performances of his career.
There was hope for Montreal, on the western horizon. Leo Dandurand was Montreal’s managing director (he was also one of the team’s new owners) and word was that he’d signed up an Ottawa youngster by the name of Aurèle Joliat who’d been playing out in Saskatoon.
In the end, he wouldn’t play for the Canadiens for another year, and so he was of no help when the Canadiens played the Senators again four days later at the Mount Royal Arena. This time they lost in overtime, 1-2, with Punch Broadbent beating Vézina for the winning goal — on a “flip shot from the side.”
February 21, 1933
It was another 11 years before Montreal conspired against themselves to lose so large again, but not everything had changed: Leo Dandurand was still the team’s managing director and smothered was still the best word (in The Winnipeg Tribune this time) for a game Canadiens managed to lose by ten goals to none.
Would it surprise you to hear that the blood was running bad between Montreal and Boston back in the winter of ’33? They’d played a pair of games back in January, with the Canadiens winning the first, 5-2, at home before succumbing a few days later (2-3) in Boston. That second game was particularly nasty, with Boston defenceman Eddie Shore in a leading role. The crosscheck on Johnny Gagnon and the fight with Sylvio Mantha was the just beginning; the referee and judge of play were both injured at Shore’s hands. Bruins’ coach Art Ross was ill and missed the game. In a complaint to NHL president Frank Calder, Dandurand accused Boston owner Charles F. Adams of instigating the ugliness.
In the aftermath, Shore was fined $100 and told to behave: “Pres Calder intimated,” The Boston Globe advised, “that if Eddie starts any more rumpuses he will most likely draw indefinite suspension.” The referee, Cooper Smeaton, was reported to be resting in bed with two fractured ribs. He just happened to have been on duty back in 1921 for that inaugural 10-0 showing.
It was with all this in the near background when Montreal went back to Boston in February and lost 10-0.
The Boston Daily Globe didn’t gloat, too much: the headline that called the game a slaughter also turned the focus from the losers to the 16,000 fans looking on at Boston Garden. For them, it was A Goal-Scoring Treat.
Bruins who enjoyed themselves particularly included Marty Barry (five points) and Dit Clapper (four). Shore contained himself, collecting two assists, a tripping penalty, and a cut over the eye.
The only shot that troubled Tiny Thompson was directed at him accidentally by a teammate, Vic Ripley.
Back in Montreal, The Gazette didn’t said what had to be said. “The Flying Frenchmen put on about the most woeful exhibition in their history.” Along with Dandurand, coach Newsy Lalonde might have been one to recall that wasn’t quite so. Howie Morenz played as though “his speedy legs were shackled” (Boston paper took the view that he was “effectively bottled.” Boston reporters commended Canadiens’ goaltender George Hainsworth for “unusually fine saves” on Dit Clapper and Red Beattie. Back in Montreal, the Gazette noted that he had 17 shots fired at him during the third period. “He missed seven of them to cap the most wretched performance of his career.”
The Canadiens trudged home. Two days later, when they hosted the Chicago Black Hawks, Hainsworth was back at work. He had an injured ankle, it turned out, and the Gazette divulged that it caused him “acute pain throughout.” Still, he stopped 14 shots in Montreal’s 2-0 win for his sixth shutout of the season.
January 5, 1942
The Canadiens weren’t very good in those early war years. In January of 1942, they were sitting in the NHL’s cellar with a record of 6-15-1. By the end of the season, they’d rise to second-last (ahead of the Brooklyn Americans), and that would get them into playoffs, if for no more than an opening-round loss to Detroit.
Dick Irvin was the coach and his goaltender was Paul Bibeault, 22, playing in his first full NHL season. Maurice Richard was still several months away from making his Habs’ debut and the rest of the roster — well, beyond Toe Blake, the names it included were Ray Getliffe, Joe Benoit, and Charlie Sands, doughty yeoman all, but not exactly stars.
Still, the opening weekend of the new year started well enough for the Habs. Playing at home on the Saturday, the Canadiens schooled the Red Wings by a score of 4-1. Sunday the teams faced off again in Detroit. Cue Monday’s Montreal Gazette headlines, which broke the 10-0 news with the words rout and crushing defeat.
Leading the way for the home team were Syd Howe (two goals, three assists) and Ken Kilrea (five assists). “The busiest persons on the premises were Paul Bibeault, Montreal’s rookie goalie, and the goal judges who kept punching the red lights.” He wasn’t, shall we say, at his best: before the first period was halfway over, Buck Jones beat him with a shot from 50 feet while Howe scored on a 40-foot backhand.
Was Bibeault unwell? Saturday night he’d been brilliant, moving with the speed of a cat (The Gazette), and stopping Sid Abel on a penalty shot. Tuesday The Gazette carried news of coach Dick Irvin’s report back to GM Tommy Gorman, and he said that Bibeault was ill “before and during the game.” The paper presumed it was ptomaine — food — poisoning. He’d been stricken on the train heading for Detroit and while Irvin had considered calling up a replacement, either Bert Gardiner or Pee-Wee Gauthier, Bibeault had been feeling better — before the game started, and he wasn’t.
Irvin wasn’t happy with the Red Wings: finding Bibeault easy to beat, they “rubbed it in,” he said.
For columnist Marc McNeil, the Canadiens had a bigger problem. No, Bibeault wasn’t at his best, but it was the team that collapsed. A few goals went in and they lost “the old drive and ginger.” Toe Blake may have played well, but he wasn’t an inspirational player, not like Elmer Lach or Murph Chamberlain, both out with injuries, or Terry Reardon, who could only play home games, due to wartime restrictions.
That’s what Montreal was missing: Reardonesque passion. “He’s talking on the ice, and he’s yelling on the bench, singing out to his teammates in a high voice, encouraging them, beseeching them, urging them on.”
“An articulate pepper-pot like that means a lot to a team’s morale.”
Heading on to Chicago for Montreal’s next game, coach Irvin announced that Bibeault’s health was entirely restored. One way of reporting what happened would be to say that the outcome was only half as bad: the Black Hawks won, 5-1.