Let’s face it, peeps: The magical misery tour that is the 2011-’12 season is over.
Oh, the body may twitch around a bit on the slaughterhouse floor. The Canadiens may win a couple games, and the more credulous among us will get very moist in anticipation of a March miracle.
It’s been over for a while. But now it’s really over.
No more math calculations. No more talk of a furious finish.
The Canadiens will not make the playoffs because they are not a playoff team.
Whether they’re a last-place team – which is the current predicament – is another discussion.
But an objective analysis of what we watched from Washington (which has its own issues) would suggest the Canadiens lack the talent – and, more ominously, the will – to play postseason hockey.
The players know it. They won’t say so on the record, of course, but the guys in uniform are acutely aware of this team’s shortcomings.
Shall we list them:
• The Canadiens are a one-line hockey team. David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty are the only forwards who exert offensive pressure and scoring power on a nightly, shift-to-shift basis.
• They are woefully thin and soft on the backend. Randy Cunneyworth dresses seven defencemen, and P.K. Subban still has to play 24:36 minutes, Josh Gorges 22:36. So who’s their second pairing? Yannick Weber and Chris Campoli had more ice time than Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin. As illustrated by Mathieu Perreault’s goal, Tomas Kaberle – two more years at $4.25 million – simply cannot play even-strength hockey.
• Tomas Plekanec is having a miserable season. His minus-18 is … wait for it … 235th among te 237 players who have seen time at centre this season. In defence of Plekanec, however, it should be pointed out that he’s played with every winger on the team … except the two who are good.
• Through 40 minutes of the penultimate game preceding the trade deadline Andrei Kostitsyn had NO STATS. Until he recorded a shot on goal and had two blocked during the third period – which was basically 20 minutes of garbage time – AK46 contributed absolutely nothing to the game. And he finished with no hits.
• What can you say about Scott Gomez that hasn’t been said already … about bird flu? The highest cap hit on the roster played 12:24 – low for Gomez, but enough time to be on for three Washington goals. Dale Hunter put Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik in the pressbox. Randy Cunneyworth had Gomez and Kaberle on the ice.
• Carey Price has played 3,271 minutes this season. That’s 90 minutes – a game and a half, if you will – more than runnerup Pekka Rinne, who plays for a good team. No one on the team takes losses harder than the Canadiens’ franchise goaltender, and Price has lost 32 of his 54 starts.
• Rene Bourque and Petteri Nokelainen couldn’t play for contending teams.
• Louis Leblanc had 8:23 of ice time. Lars Eller played on the wing against Washington. At least he saw 18:24 of ice time, but the kid has been bounced from centre to wing and from line to line all season. It will be criminal if the Canadiens screw up this kid’s development.
• Which brings us to the coach. Look, Randy Cunneyworth is a great guy, admirably honest in his dealings with the media and, presumably, with his players. But he is not a great in-game tactician, and the coach’s 11/7 lineups preclude rolling four lines efficiently.
How well does the coach prepare his team for the opening faceoff? As they’ve moved into the most crucial segment of their schedule, the Canadiens have trailed 1-0 in six consecutive games. They’ve been outshot in nine straight first periods.
Look, hockey is a results-oriented business.
When Jacques Martin was fired on Dec. 17, the Canadiens were 13-12-7 and two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Under Cunneyworth, the team has gone 11-16-3. They are eight points out of eighth, and I have a better chance of dating Kate Upton than the Canadiens do of closing that gap.
The best-case scenario has Pierre Gauthier unloading some deadwood by Monday afternoon. No sane general manager would take Kaberle or Gomez, but the Ghost might be able to squeeze out some value for Campoli and Travis Moen.
Ales Hemsky has signed a two-year extension in Edmonton and is off the market. AK46 has more points than Hemsky this season. There are rumours of a Brothers K reunion in Nashville, with the Canadiens getting the rights to talented headcase Alexander Radulov. I’d make that deal in a heartbeat.
There are dangers – beyond fan disillusion – of playing out the string through six weeks of a lost season.
The wise men of L’Antichambre – Vincent Damphousse, Bergie, Mike and Gaston Therrien – warned of cliques forming on the team, guys playing for their stats and avoiding anything that might cause injury.
It’s a bad example – with untold long-term consequences – for the young players who represent the future of the club.
Let’s hope the role model for Eller and LL is Erik Cole, who will play hard until the last dog dies.
Twenty more games – and it ain’t gonna be pretty.