The good news is your Montreal Canadiens won’t face the big, tough, skilled and well-coached St. Louis Blues again this season.
Unless the teams are Stanley Cup finalists.
I’ll call a Timeout here while readers change out of the pants they soiled by laughing so hard.
There may be hockey in St. Louis when the Cardinals are playing baseball this spring. The Blues are that good.
Montreal in late May may be seeing as much hockey as major league baseball, i.e. none.
As has become increasingly evident as as autumn fades and winter looms, this team is not a Cup contender.
They just don’t have the horses – at least, not yet.
Over the past couple weeks, the Canadiens have played two Western Conference powerhouses, the Blues and L.A. Kings.
They’ve lost both games by a cumulative score of 11-1.
It was 120 minutes of men against boys, contenders against pretenders.
And circle Januar 11 on your calendars. The Saturday night visitors to the Bell Centre: Chicago.
Peter Young, submitting a Comment on the live-game blog, pretty much nailed it:
The Blues’ positional play is superior to that of the Canadiens, which, tonight at least, was almost a scattergun approach. That’s the reason why you have Blues players nearly always available to pick up rebounds at both ends of the ice. And that’s the reason they had so many players free in the slot to shoot almost at their leisure on Price. The Blues play to a system; the Canadiens don’t appear to have a system, at least not one that’s visible.
Young adds a note of optimism:
There is indeed a quality gap between East and West. But let me say, once again, that our day will come. We have some players of very high quality and a smart general manager, who will learn quickly from his mistakes. We have a future; don’t write off that future just because we’re not there yet.
It’s been painfully obvious, in the losses to L.A. and St. Louis, the Canadiens are not there yet. What was disheartening, in both games, was the yawning gap between the Canadiens and two elite teams.
In his postgame media scrum, parts of which were telecast on L’Antichambre, Michel Therrien said his players “didn’t want to pay the price” against St. Louis.
“We need a better work ethic,” the coach added, “if we’re going to have a hope of winning.”
When one of the reporters mentioned the Canadiens’ ongoing excellence on the penalty kill – 6/6, including another Brandon Prust double minor, against St. Louis – Therrien said his players work hard on the PK – but not on anything else.
On L’Antichambre, Denis Gauthier – who played for Hitchcock in Philadelphia – said the coach’s mantra is “heavy sticks, heavy bodies.” It’s a grinding, physical style that contests – and usually wins – every loose puck on every inch of the ice.
Gauthier described playing against a Hitchcock team as “exhausting”.
“They’re very structured,” said the retired defenceman. “They give nothing away cheaply.”
To counter that style, a team needs 18 skaters working their butts off from opening faceoff to final siren. The Canadiens didn’t.
There were many dreadful performances, but some stood out:
• Alexei Emelin was on the ice for four St. Louis goals and looked particularly lost during the first period, when the home team skated off to a 3-0 lead that proved way too steep a hill for the Canadiens to climb – especially against a Ken Hitchcock team.
• Brandon Prust, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller took penalties in the offensive zone.
• Rene Bourque, who started his career in the Western Conference and has the body to crash and bang with the big boys from out there, was invisible for 12 minutes.
• Andrei Markov, paired with Emelin since the Phoenix game, is not as effective as he was with P.K. This was particularly obvious against a team like St. Louis, whose star-studded defence corps threw a protective wall around Jaro Halak and moved the puck efficiently up ice all game long.
A couple grim stats:
• The Canadiens haven’t scored a first-period goal since Brian Gionta beat Cory Schneider Dec. 4 in New Jersey. That’s eight straight games in which the Canadiens have been unable to seize early momentum and diminish the pressure on their goaltenders, who have to be impenetrable for this team to have a ghost of a chance.
• Brendan Gallagher’s second period goal was the first the Canadiens have scored at even-strength in regulation since Alex Galchenyuk beat Jhonas Enroth at the Bell Centre on Dec. 7. The team went 356 minutes, 35 seconds – almost six complete hockey games – without a 5-on-5 goal.
And for all their current ineptitude, the Canadiens remain fourth in the Eastern Conference, comfortably clear of the cutoff for participation in the playoffs that will lead to a revenge series against St. Louis.
Aw, just when you were getting used to dry pants …