Remember Jacques Martin, the coach the Canadiens fired Dec. 17, when they were two points out of eighth place?
If Martin were still around, he would attribute the loss in Philadelphia to special teams. The Flyers scored three of their goals on the power play – the first time this season the Canadiens penaty-kill has surrendered more than two.
And the Canadiens fired blanks on their five power plays, including a 5-on-3 that lasted 1:21. Philadelphia’s penalty-killers had four shots on Peter Budaj, matching the total all those PPs directed at Ilya Bryzgalov.
It was grim. After an emotional win over Ottawa in a physical battle at the Bell Centre Friday night, the Canadiens were devoid of fire and spirit in Philadelphia.
After beginning the season series with a 5-1 romp at the Bell Centre Oct. 26, the Canadiens lost 3-1, 4-3 and 4-1. The Flyers seem headed for an intriguing Battle of Pennsylvania in the first round of the playoffs.
The Canadiens are headed for a long period of golf and reflection. The loss eliminated them from playoff contention.
They’ve been Dead Team Skating for a while.
In January, we were talking about the chances of the Canadiens playing .660 hockey and punching their postseason ticket with 90 points or so. But the less delusional among us knew it wouldn’t happen.
The playoffs couldn’t happen, not with this lineup.
And they shouldn’t happen, because sneaking into eighth place or getting nipped at the wire and ending up ninth or 10th would only serve to create false hopes and inhibit the hard work that has to be done to improve this team.
It won’t be easy.
The Canadiens have the third worst record in the NHL.
The Hamilton Bulldogs have the third worst record in the AHL.
In lifting themselves back into the playoff picture, the Ottawa Senators promoted talent from an Binghamton team that won the Calder Cup last year.
No such bumper crop of young, NHL-ready talent will be showing up at the Canadiens’ training camp in September.
On L’Antichambre Saturday night, the panelists – Michel Therrien, Denis Gauthier and François Gagnon – sized up the Canadiens in terms of core assets.
Start with the goaltender – and it was a relief to hear Carey Price express optimism about his contract negotiations during a pre-game chat with Pierre Houde on RDS.
On defence, the Canadiens’ core includes P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin. The Antichambre guys weren’t sure about Emelin’s potential to become a Top Four Dman, but I’m more sanguine than they.
Up front, there’s David Desharnais and his linemates, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty; Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller. Again, the Antichambre guys aren’t sold on Eller. They project him as a third-line centre and would include him a trade package.
After that, it’s Brian Gionta, a year older and coming off an injury-plagued season, and …
Well, is there a Top Six forward in the house?
Since being acquired in mid-January, Rene Bourque has three goals – none in his last 13 games. The snapshot of where Bourque is at was the 2-0n-1 break against the Flyers, when Plekanec NEVER EVEN THOUGHT about passing to his linemate.
Bourque doesn’t hit. He doesn’t fight.
A player who had two 27-goal seasons in Calgary is sleepwalking in Montreal. And Bourque has four years left on his contract.
Blake Geoffrion hasn’t scored 27 goals in the NHL. Impeccable bloodlines notwithstanding, the grandson of Bernard Geoffrion and great-grandson of Howie Morenz has been a healthy scratch for five games.
Geoffrion is a half-step slow and doesn’t play physical. At 24, he is at the crossroads of his career.
Louis Leblanc is only 21, and the jury is still out on the 2009 first-rounder. I like Leblanc’s work ethic, but he has to get stronger. And perhaps this is a player who will top out as a third-line winger.
The Canadiens seem headed toward a lottery draft pick – Go Leafs, go! – and perhaps they can pluck an impact player who will show up at camp and dazzle everyone.
But can they pull a Philadelphia?
In 2006-’07, the Flyers finished last in the Eastern Conference. But Paul Holmgren, who had replaced Bobby Clarke as general manager, was sowing the seeds of a revival.
A complex trade that sent Peter Forsberg to Nashville brought Scottie Upshall, Kimmo Timonen and, crucially, Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia.
The Flyers have not missed the playoffs since that last-place finish, and Holmgren has wheeled and dealed to keep them competitive. He is not afraid to make bold moves, like losing Joffrey Lupul to acquire Chris Pronger and, more recently, trading away Jeff Carter and the Flyers’ captain, Mike Richards … who, a couple years ago, was an untouchable touted as the 21st century Bobby Clarke.
The team that beat the Canadiens handily – without Pronger – includes 19-year-old Sean Couturier, 20-year-old Brayden Schenn, 22-year-old Jakub Voracek and 23-year-old Wayne Simmonds.
James Van Riemsdyk, who’s injured, is 22.
On D, Coburn, Matt Carle and Nicklas Grossmann are 27.
And Claude Giroux, the best francophone player in the league, is 24.
This team is going to be good for a while.
We’ll know, as the playoffs progress, whether the expensive signing of Bryzgalov will exorcise the Flyers’ Achilles heel.
But the Philadelphia GM has a pair of brass ones. He’s been creative, proactive and bold – three adjectives we don’t often use to describe Bob Gainey or Pierre Gauthier.
Can the last-place Canadiens retool on the fly, like Philadelphia has?
We can only hope.