The Montreal Canadiens' recent skid couldn't have arrived at a worse time.
Not to say there's ever a good time for four losses in a row, but that's the Habs' reality and in doing so have seen themselves drop into wild card territory behind the hated Toronto Maple Leafs.
Granted, Montreal has two games in hand, but with the three teams ahead of them all riding hot streaks - the Boston Bruins earning points in four straight, the Tampa Bay Lightning on a three-game winning streak and the Leafs having earned points in seven of their last eight - the alarm is rightfully going off.
It's not just the losses or even the standings that are of highest concern to Montreal fans.
The Canadiens have given up at least four goals in each of their last six and Carey Price has been chased out of the net in two of his last three games. Even the lone win that they have managed to garner over the stretch – a 5-4 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 16 – was a puck that trickled past Craig Anderson and led to a firestorm with P.K. Subban's game-winning celebration.
Add that to a near-goalie fight against the Pittsburgh Penguins last Wednesday and the Canadiens are grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons.
So what gives?
Mired in the longest stretch of futility since general manager Marc Bergevin took over, the Canadiens don't have a single player among the NHL's Top 50 scorers and their current leading scorer is a defenceman (Subban). A defenceman - mind you - that will once again be the centre of contract negotiations and all sorts of rumours until his name is once again down on a contract.
However, with 55 points through the first 44 games of the season, perhaps the Habs should be granted some slack as they endure this skid.
After all, the Detroit Red Wings - currently two points back of Montreal and in the second wild card spot - rattled off a six-game losing streak in December. The Maple Leafs, too, lost four straight before going on their current streak, giving up even more goals in their four-game skid than the Canadiens have on their current slide.
Even if they should win both their remaining games, the Canadiens will post their worst monthly record of the season for January. They will then have five games in eight nights in early February to try to make some hay before the Olympic break.
But then what? If Price or Subban are unable to thrive – or not even feature – for Canada at the Olympics, will it affect their play after the break? Will the likes of Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov return jubilant if Russia captures gold at home? Or will they be crushed by disappointment?
The Canadiens have time to turn the ship around with more than a third of the schedule left to play, but the closer the playoffs get, the tougher the games will get. The Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning are both keeping pace with one another, meaning a failure to gain ground could soon result in a first-round date with one or the other. Or even the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Or even failing to make the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
So are the Habs going through a bad stretch? Or are they just a bad team?
As always, it's Your! Call.