Pat Hickey: Can I rescind my Canadiens playoffs prediction?

I blame wishful thinking when I assumed good health for the club and a young team that would quickly learn from its past mistakes.

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A week ago, someone foolishly suggested in this space that the Canadiens would make the playoffs this season. That overly optimistic (dumb?) prognostication was based on two projections.

The first was that the Canadiens couldn’t go through a third straight campaign with a parade of crippling injuries that saw the team set an unenviable record of 751 man-games lost last season. That broke the previous NHL mark of 720, which the Canadiens established a year earlier.

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The second assumption was that the second-youngest team in the NHL would learn from its past mistakes.

So much for wishful thinking.

The best news this week was that defenceman Kaiden Guhle has been listed as day-to-day after he suffered what appeared to be a wrist injury in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Wild. A lot of people were holding their breath after Guhle left the game because, earlier in the day, the Canadiens announced that second-line centre Kirby Dach was finished for the season. Dach tore his ACL and MCL after a knee-to-knee collision with former Canadiens first-round draft choice Jarred Tinordi.

Dach’s future will depend on a surgeon’s skill and his diligence as he goes through the rehab process. The Canadiens have ruled him out for this season and there’s a good chance we won’t see him in uniform for the start of next season.

The knee injury is the latest in a series of setbacks for the 22-year-old Dach, raising the question of whether he’s injury-prone or just very unfortunate.

He was limited to 18 games with Chicago in the 2020-21 season after he broke his wrist while playing for Canada at the world junior championships. A series of injuries late last season forced him to miss 24 games, but the move to Montreal appeared to rejuvenate him and he had a career-high 38 points in 58 games. He got off to a good start this season, picking up two assists and playing a physical game in the Canadiens’ season-opening 6-5 shootout loss in Toronto.

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Alex Newhook, another young player who the Canadiens are hoping will benefit from a change in scenery, is filling in for Dach up the middle for now. Christian Dvorak, who is recovering from knee surgery, should be back in the lineup soon. Both players are much better than Dach in the faceoff circle, but Dvorak doesn’t have the same offensive upside and Newhook is more valuable on the wing.

Nothing special here: Montreal’s special teams have been an embarrassment and there’s no sign of improvement in the early going.

The power play has scored once in 11 opportunities and ranks 25th with a success rate of 9.1 per cent. The power play went 0-for-5 against Minnesota and gave up two short-handed goals.

The Wild added three power-play goals on eight opportunities and the Canadiens’ penalty-kill dropped to 24th with a success rate of 73.12 per cent.

The Canadiens have been solid when playing 5-on-5, but the special teams have been on the ice for an average of nearly 18 minutes a game, which ranks 24th in the league. When a team is spending so much time on special teams, it’s difficult for a coach to maintain the flow in line changes. Some players are forced to play too many minutes and others get cold sitting on the bench.

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The best way to avoid giving up power-play goals is to avoid taking penalties, but Montreal is the most penalized team in the league with 29 penalties, including 24 minors, for a total of 85 minutes in three games. Carolina is next with 68 minutes in four games. The Canadiens have drawn 21 penalties, but many of those were coincidental penalties.

Some minor injuries: The Canadiens injury woes are not confined to the big team. Two prospects — defenceman David Reinbacher and forward Emil Heineman — are currently on the sidelines.

Reinbacher, who was the fifth overall choice in the June draft, suffered a knee injury while playing for HC Kloten in the Swiss NLA. The good news is he won’t need surgery and should be back in 2-3 weeks.

Heineman, who was regarded as one of the key pieces in the 2022 trade that sent Tyler Toffoli to Calgary, is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion while playing for the Laval Rocket.

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