Canadiens defenceman Mike Matheson is the first to admit he hasn’t been playing well lately, but the 29-year-old veteran insists he isn’t lacking confidence.
Nor has the new ‘A’ on his sweater, after being named an assistant captain before the season, affected his game.
“Talking about confidence, it’s so easy to have confidence when things are going well,” Matheson said Wednesday after practice in Brossard before the Canadiens took their charter flight to Detroit for Thursday night’s game against the Red Wings.
“When they aren’t you have to remind yourself what kind of player you are and know, when things aren’t going well, that’s not you,” he continued. “I think that helps you put things in perspective. You’re able to say ‘that’s not me’ and move on.”
Matheson is logging more ice time than any of his younger defence partners, including a shade over 24 minutes during Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay at the Bell Centre. But Matheson also had a plus/minus rating of minus-3 against the Lightning and was on the ice for all four first-period goals by the visitors, including one on the power play.
That followed last Saturday’s 6-3 loss at St. Louis, when he again was on the ice for four Blues’ goals. Matheson, at times, also has been guilty of more giveaways than normal this season. He has played all 12 games for Montreal, and has two goals and seven points, but is also minus-6.
Perhaps this is the result of being the second-oldest — behind the injured David Savard — defenceman on a team that has an abundance of young players that are prone to mistakes as they develop. And perhaps Matheson is attempting to take on too much responsibility to compensate for their lack of experience.
“I don’t think I need to play a certain way just because of my age compared to other guys on the team,” he said. “I’d say I’m still the exact same player as last year. I just haven’t been playing my best.”
When a player is struggling, he often talks about simplifying his game — and Matheson is no exception. The difficulty, however, is attempting to keep things simple when Matheson feels the responsibility of making a significant impact for the Canadiens.
“That’s one of the toughest things,” he admitted. “Sometimes you feel like forcing it isn’t working. Playing simple isn’t working. That’s when it can get frustrating.
“It’s a fickle thing. It’s easy to have (confidence) when things are going well. You can lose it in a second if things aren’t going well and you’re not careful. Drawing on your experience is definitely very important. Knowing I’ve been through a lot worse and come out the other side of it. My confidence is still there.”
Matheson wasn’t the only Canadiens player eager to forget the game against the Lightning.
Goaltender Jake Allen received the starting assignment — after being presented with the Molson Cup for the month of October — but barely had time to work up a sweat. He allowed four goals on nine shots and was replaced by Samuel Montembeault before 14 minutes had elapsed.
Allen was beaten on the first shot he faced, 22 seconds into the game. The final goal he allowed was a shot to the short side from the left wing that should have been stopped.
“None of us were sharp in the first,” Allen said on Wednesday, while also sporting a new mask. “It was a tough period. A couple of tough bounces. From myself out we weren’t sharp. We all must take responsibility, including myself. It was definitely an eye-opener and a wake-up call for us.”
Allen, to his credit, took the normal spot of a backup goalie beside the bench after being replaced, rather than disappearing into the dressing room to lick his wounds.
“You sit right down and support your team right away,” he said. “I’m not a believer of guys that go into the locker room. I hate seeing that. Sit your butt on the bench, where you deserve to be. That’s where you’re supposed to be. It’s part of it. I’ve been there lots of times. You have to move on.”
The Canadiens have gone four games without a victory, salvaging only one point from an overtime loss at Las Vegas, and have seen their record drop to 5-5-2. The Red Wings (7-5-1) have been one of the NHL’s early-season surprises, but are coming off a 5-3 loss Tuesday night against the New York Rangers.
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Photos: Tampa Bay Lightning at Canadiens, Nov. 7, 2023