I listened to CKAC on the drive home last night and Martin Lemay reeled off some adjectives to describe the Canadiens performances.
In translated form: Disgusting, pathetic, ignoble, stomach-turning, disillusioning, shabby …
I’ve probably missed a few. But Lemay captured the mood in Montreal after yet another home-ice embarrassment. And he was bang-on in talking about the particularly painful impact of a Saturday night loss.
Patients in children’s hospitals, Lemay said, wake up smiling on Saturday mornings. They spend the day in joyful anticipation of watching their beloved Montreal Canadiens on TV.
That enthusiasm is shared by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Montrealers. The importance of the Canadiens transcends sports. Passionate attachment to the team is something that unites this demographically diverse and frequently fractious city.
Seconds before the Canadiens take to the ice at home games, Bell Centre PA announcer Michel Lacroix, booms out "Accueillons NOS Canadiens!"
Lacroix emphasizes the possessive pronoun because while George Gillet signs the paycheques and Bob Gainey decides who’ll get them, the team skating out to rapturous applause in the NHL’s biggest arena is OUR Canadiens.
The CH symbol is everywhere in Montreal (including my right bicep). To a greater degree than any other NHL city, including Toronto, Montreal lives and dies with its hockey team.
And we’re dying.
Martin Lemay is dying.
One would hope the kids in the hospitals, God bless ’em, won’t die. But on six Saturday nights this season, the Montreal Canadiens have broken their little hearts.
It can only happen once more this year. The Leafs are here next Saturday. Then the next Saturday game at the Bell Centre is Jan. 5.
By then, maybe the Canadiens will have figured out what ails them and taken certain steps to correct it.
To be honest, I’m not optimistic. As the bartender said to Diva Dion, "Hey, Céline, why the long face?"
• Goaltending, which was supposed to be the team’s strength, is a mess.
• Team speed, another alleged forte, is a myth. Sure the Canadiens look fast against Toronto and Boston. But they’ve been outskated by Buffalo, Nashville, Detroit and Carolina.
• Canadiens can’t score. Their 30-goal man has three this season and is being booed out of town. Their captain hasn’t scored since 2:40 of the first period in a 7-4 win over the Boston whipping boys on Nov. 17. And they’re the only team in the league that has two defencemen playing forward.
• System? What system? The aforementioned slick-skating teams easily break up Canadiens’ rushes, effortlessly clear their zones and consistently gain the Canadiens’ blueline without breaking a sweat. The other team is first on the puck and wins most of the one-on-one battles. Opponents routinely rack up at least 30 shots on goal; and unlike Canadiens’ total of 36 last night, the other guys get quality chances.
• Canadiens against teams that aren’t from Boston: Won 10, lost 11, lost another four in OT/SO.
• And finally, show of hands please: Everybody who thinks Guy Carbonneau is the coach who can turn this mess around.