While the rest of the world is enjoying brunch this morning, your Montreal Canadiens are in Brossard holding a rare Sunday practice.
You’re reaching for croissants. They’re searching for answers.
There are six games left in the team’s regular season.
Four are on the road – where the Canadiens 18-18-1 record is the worst among 16 teams that currently hold playoff spots in the NHL.
We can take solace, perhaps, from a sense of déja vu.
The Canadiens lost their 76th game last season, 42 to New Jersey at the Bell Centre. It dropped their record to 37-31-8.
Then they lost Game 77 at home, 2-1 to Carolina, before Jaro Halak posted back-to-back shutouts of Philadelphia and Buffalo.
The final three games of the 2009-’10 season were a shootout loss on the Island, a loss in Carolina and an overtime loss in Toronto.
The Canadiens snuck into eighth place, and no one thought they had a prayer in their opening-round series against Washington.
“History repeats itself,” said the great hockey coach Karl Marx, “first as tragedy, second as farce.”
The Canadiens’ current run combines the tragedy and farce stages. Getting annihilated in the Revenge on Chara Bowl was tragic. Three first-period shots and three penalties on home ice against Washington is farcical.
The Canadiens had 18 SoG last night. That’s a season low – just nipping the 19 the Canadiens managed against San Jose at the Bell Centre on Dec. 4 – a 3-1 win!
Rookie Braden Holtby will never have an easier shutout than last night’s. Like Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas this week, Holtby was under absolutely zero duress.
Not the least annoying aspect of the most recent loss in Boston were those TV closeups of Thomas smiling through his mask. The Bruins’ goaltender made 41 saves, and he was still laughing.
Carey Price has stopped smiling. Arpon Basu got to him early in the room last night, and his piece describes Price showing signs of frustration before adopting his customary air of calm for the media scrum.
Basu also offers some interesting thoughts on Scott Gomez. He thinks the target of Bell Centre boo birds and talk radio yahoos has to rescue his season to get the team back on the right track.
But can Gomez do it?
Zdeno Chara’s devastating hit on Max Pacioretty set off a domino effect on the Canadiens’ attack. Without Max-Pac, who was emerging as the power-forward complement to their skills as a passer and scorer, respectively, Gomez and Brian Gionta have faltered badly. Combine this with Tomas Plekanec’s injury, the ongoing struggles of Michael Cammalleri and you have the formula for three shutout losses.
Travis Moen has Pacioretty’s size but neither his speed or skill. Andrei Kostitsyn was tried on the line last night; but he has never ben able to figure out Gomez, and vice-versa.
What would you do to get Gomez and Gionta going?
Try Benoit Pouliot as their LW?
It’s not like there are a lot of attractive options. The Canadiens are the lowest-scoring of 16 teams sitting in playoff spots, and that’s not surprising when they have players like Moen and Halpern as part of their Top Six rotation.
Washington, which is second in the Eastern Conference, has scored only five more goals than the Canadiens, 205-200. But they’ve allowed 16 fewer (182-196), and you could see why last night.
The Caps play a variation of the Jacques Martin puck-support system that Montreal coach-bashers love to hate. If you watched the game on TV, there were always five white jerseys in the frame, close to the puck in all three zones.
The system cuts down on quality chances against. If you have good goaltending, the system gives you a chance in every game.
The Canadiens have good goaltending … great, in fact.
But they don’t have Washington’s quick, puck-smart defence corps.
And they can’t score goals.
Are we witnessing a repeat of last season’s desperate finish?
The Canadiens should make the playoffs. They are seven points up on ninth-place Carolina, so barring an epic collapse …
Nah, don’t even want to think about it.
Atlanta is at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
Must. Win. Game.
• • •
Guest Comment, from newbie BoomBoomMax:
We keep bringing up the losses of Markov and Gorges, Gomez’ inability to hit his stride, ‘snipers’ hibernating through extended periods of time, the line juggling, the tough schedule, players playing hurt and last but not least, Dan Stanchion’s dirty hit on Paciorety (Well, that’s the NHL’s ruling anyways as Stanchion got suspended indefinitely and Chara is still out there mugging smaller players)… In my humble opinion, none of that fully explains the players’ total lack of passion on the ice.
If I may speak in metaphors. Martin looks like a University professor who ran out of ways to explain Risk Management Economics to his students… Sure, Hal is a stud and Carey is Class President, but all in all, the bulk of the group is oblivious… Grades are not improving and the final exam is right around the corner. Worst, I think they might be starting to realize that this might not be what they wanted to study in the first place.
Cammaleri always wanted to be a rockstar, Pouliot, a pilot, Plekanec was contemplating a career as mechanical engineer and PK got caught by the teacher, writing poetry rather than listening. Gomez is the easy going guy who took the class thinking he would meet cute girls, but ended up back in his old girlfriend’s arms (Gionta’s) and the love is way gone. But I digress…
Sure they are getting paid big money to attend Professor Martin’s class, but they sure don’t seem to give a damn anymore… Yet, I am not holding Jacques entirely responsible for what has become of our sixth seed bubble team, but I sure hope he brings a twist to his teachings or I fear the players will eventually drive him out of town….