Who took the joy out of the Canadiens season?
Barely three weeks ago Gord Miller was force feeding doubters that the Habs were one of the best teams in the NHL. Gord even used the word elite. (Yeah let’s blame Gord since some of you already blame him for spoiling potential shutouts.)
Or maybe you think it’s because over the last two months (+) Carey Price is no better than Mike Condon was a year ago.
Perhaps it’s Marc Bergevin who had a terrific off season but created so much damage a year ago (including a new two year deal for Tomas Plekanec) that he’ll need one more off season to fully recover.
It could be the coach, who has this nasty habit of making sure his team flies out of the starting gate only to wilt early in the New Year.
Or maybe it’s just the new NHL reality which ensures that all teams are more or less created equal and what you see during any given stretch might just be a mirage (See: Washington Capitals regular season vs Washington Capitals playoffs).
The Habs played reasonably well at home vs St. Louis. A better performance by Al Montoya would likely have resulted in two points, or at least one. But the next night in Boston was a predictable mess. Was anybody good? Well, I was impressed by Alexei Emelin going down to block a Zdeno Chara slapper on a Boston power play with less than 40 seconds to play. Seriously, I was.
Other than that the Bruins – who need their bye week just as badly as the Habs do as both teams hit the 58 game mark of their schedule – looked quicker, sharper and just plain better in every aspect of the game. Energized by a new coach? Sure. It’s difficult to argue otherwise. Short term anyway.
“We seem to have lost our identity” said Price after the game. I thought Carey Price was the Habs identity. Augmented by a fast counter attack and relentless pursuit of the puck. Where did it all go? And how permanent is it?
It’s difficult to imagine four days away from the rink will not benefit Price and Shea Weber and Andrei Markov and Emelin and Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty – all of whom began their season in the summer. But what if it doesn’t? Like, Plekanec looks done as a scorer. There is no punch left in his shots on goal. Sure he has value in other areas of the game but that’s a big chunk of ice time down the middle for a team that right now couldn’t score at The Bunny Ranch.
The most important forward on the team coming out of the break will be Alex Galchenyuk, assuming he’s still a Hab. As these losses have piled up he has become the new whipping boy for many in the media, especially those who are friendly with Michel Therrien and/or Bergevin. Galchenyuk has been a shell of the player he was before a knee injury knocked him out of the line up for six weeks, which in fact, eventually became eight weeks. He’s not getting better, he’s getting worse. An offensive dynamo who is clearly regressing. Is this “part of the process”?
The chemistry that Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov had early in the season was undeniable. Yet it took two full periods in Boston for Therrien to throw them back together, while Phillip Danault was invisible from the opening face-off. As the Habs pressed for the tying goal Saturday against the Blues, Galchenyuk was not one of the six Montreal skaters on the ice. He eventually got out there only after Patrick Berglund completed his hat trick with an empty netter to give St. Louis a two goal lead. (Hey, but at least the blame-Pk Subban-card can no longer be played.)
You think Danault, at this stage of his young career, is really a top line centre? You think Bergevin believes that?
Is it really a surprise that Paul Byron didn’t continue to score goals on a regular basis? Or that Torrey Mitchell hasn’t scored a goal since many of you were starting to compile a Christmas shopping gift list? (How do you justify putting him on the ice for over 13 minutes a night?)
Weber’s game has taken a nosedive. Yet how did Zdeno Chara, nine years older (and who also started this season in the summer) look so much better while logging even more ice time?
Nathan Beaulieu, who looked so good against St. Louis, looked so bad in Boston. And that is basically Beaulieu in a nutshell.
Special teams? The power play had a chance to take control of the game early with over 90 seconds of 5 on 3 time. They managed two shots on goal and finished the night 0-6, while surrendering a shorthanded goal to Chara who made Radulov look like a disinterested defender. Some nights the power play has looked unstoppable. Overall it’s still top 10 in the NHL (8th at 21.4%). But it is wildly inconsistent. Currently on a 1-19 skid. And the PK unit can’t seem to crack 80% (79.4% or 22nd in NHL).
So, yeah it’s been a harsh winter for the Habs. Again. A lot of questions to ponder. What’s most puzzling is how badly they have played as their injured regulars slowly returned to the line up. This makes no sense.
Based on his previous history, Marc Bergevin will likely hope that everybody can hit the re-set button and play up to their potential instead of the expansion team mode they’ve been in for too long. He needs to get the Galchnyuk situation straightened out. That is to say, if his coach won’t play him on the top line then Bergevin needs to find him a legit top 6 winger. And as somebody who played defense for 20 years in the NHL he can clearly see way too many holes in his own end. He’ll make a move or two. And if that doesn’t work you know what follows.
Because if Bob Gainey can fire Guy Carbonneau…