About last night …

If the coach has no answers, what are fans supposed to think about this maddening hockey team?

This is a translation of what a seething Guy Carbonneau said in French moments after your Montreal Canadiens – fresh off what we thought was a season-defining conquest of the Stanley Cup champions in Detroit – played 12 minutes of hockey against José Theodore and an AHL defence in Washington.

"I’m very disappointed. I don’t know what’s going on with this team. The guys seem incapable of being prepared. 

"We knew they had many injured players. We also knew they hadn’t lost at home this season. We warned the team before the game. But it goes in one ear and out the other."

The scary phrase that jumps out at you:

"I don’t know what’s going on with this team."


Houston (or maybe Hamilton), we have a problem!

If Carbo doesn’t know, who does?


Totally bummed out by the game, I watched L’antichambre and 110% last night.

It didn’t help me sleep – although the 10 p.m. beer and pizza slice might have had something to do with that.

Pierre Rinfret, who was the play-by-play man on CKAC for seven seasons, talked about the Canadiens as coach-killers:

Alain Vigneault – Gone, and doing fine in Vancouver

Michel Therrien – Gone, and doing fine in Pittsburgh

Claude Julien: Gone, and doing very well indeed in Boston

And now Carbo, who admits he doesn’t know what’s going on with the team he’s been signed to coach for another three years.

What can a coach do?

Fine a millionaire $500? 

Send players to the AHL? Waiver rules and roster limits make that problematic.

A beat writer who covered the Canadiens during the glory years of the 1970s explained Scotty Bowman’s way of handling his club.

"He treated them all with equal contempt, from Rick Chartraw up to Guy Lafleur. And resentment of him became a unifying factor."

A more contemporary coaching weapon – indeed, almost the only one in Carbo’s arsenal – is ice time.

Alex Kovalev played 13:58 last night. Steve Bégin played 15:39.

Tomas Plekanec played 12:34. Maxim Lapierre 15:06.

Andrei Kostitsyn played 11:33. Mathieu Dandenault 14:29.

We had Tom Kostopoulos on the Saku Koivu line, which worked against Detroit. We had Bégin playing with Plekanec. And as Carbonneau had threatened to do, he used the fourth line on the power play, which rang up another 0-for in three opportunities.

Alex vs. Alex?

Ovechkin, the new superstar of Russian hockey, had a goal, eight shots (and another eight were blocked) and eight hits. Kovalev had four shots, one blocked and two giveaways.

In the Canadiens 5-4 squeaker over the Islanders Nov. 1 on Long Island, Kovalev opened the scoring and capped a third-period comeback by bagging the winner.

He hasn’t scored since – a 12-game drought, his longest since February, 2004.

Kovalev says he wants to play until he’s 50. He may have aged 15 years this month – and he’s certainly set the odometers of his coach and Canadiens fans to spinning.

Kovy looks like he’s lost a step or four in his north-south game. And his east-west moves aren’t fooling anyone.  They’ve seen the DVD.

Kovalev carried the team last year. Now he’s letting them down.

Carbonneau is probably tempted to put Kovalev in the pressbox and play Matt D’Agostini against Buffalo tonight. But it’s a risky move. A proud player will be furious, and there’s no guarantee Kovy’s anger will be channeled into production, rather than season-long sulking.

And it will be seen as a sign of panic – confirmation that this team ismnot nearly as good as we thought it was coming out of training camp.

Maybe they aren’t.

What’s certain, however, is the Canadiens are woefully inconsistent and rarely play to their potential.

Through twomonths and 22 games, two excellent, 60-minute efforts: a shutout of woeful Ottawa and a heroic conquestof the Red Wings.

Is that the coach’s fault?

Is there a leadership vacuum? Rinfret pointed out that while Vigneault, Therrien and Julien went through the revolving door, the constant was the captaincy of Saku Koivu.

Look, I love Koivu. A great man on many levels. And along with Josh Gorges and Carey Price, the Captain has played A+ hockey in every game this season. I can’t remember a bad Koivu shift.

He leads by example. But a mass contagion of underachievemen suggest the example doesn’t take.

After a game like last night’s, Mark Messier would go around the room getting in people’s faces.

Who’s going to do that for the Canadiens? Maybe Georges Laraque should be captain.

I’m not looking forward to being at the Bell Centre tonight.

One Ryan O’Byrne miscue, one Andrei Kostitsyn neutral-zone giveaway, one Kovalev dipsy-doodle that neither dipsies nor doodles and the boos will rain down on a fragile hockey team.

The Canadiens play 10 of their next 11 games in what could e become the not-so-friendly confines of the Bell Centre.

If this season heads south as winter begins to lay its icy grip on Montreal, there’s a world of hurt waiting to envelop the Canadiens.

The coach – and his general manager – had better figure out what’s going on with their hockey team … and soon.



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