What happened to your Montreal Canadiens over the 240 miles between Detroit and Toronto?
Friday night, the team had a 19-3 third period shot advantage against the Western Conference-leading Red Wings. In one of the more dominant offensive displays of the season, the Canadiens looked like Central Red Army, circa 1975, and if Jimmy Howard hadn’t played like Vladislav Tretiak, the game would have gone to OT.
Last night, the Canadiens were outshot 11-4 and outscored 2-0 in the first period by one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. They were outskated, outhit and outfought for every loose puck.
How did a latter-day Red Army turn into the Zimbabwean National Guard in 22 hours?
In a segment televised on L’Antichambre, François Gagnon asked Jacques Martin about the Jekyll-and-Habs transformation of his players.
“It’s a good question,” the unhappy coach replied. “You should ask them.”
So Gagnon did.
And Jeff Halpern told him: “I’d like to offer a reason or an excuse, but there aren’t any. We came out flat and had nothing. It’s inexplicable and inexcusable.”
Whom shall we blame?
Did Martin and his staff not prepare their team properly?
Tony Marinaro thought so. On L’Antichambre, Marinaro suggested the Canadiens came out playing a cautious, trapping game that is the antithesis of their natural style, thereby handing initiative to the home team.
Don’t know that I buy that (or Marinaro’s insistence that David Desharnais should have been dressed for the game).
The comeback against Detroit may have had the Canadiens thinking they didn’t have to do much more than lace up to secure two points in Toronto.
And starting Alex Auld was basically saying “This is how much we think you suck”. That had to motivate the Leafs, who needed a W much more than the Canadiens, what with food being flung these days at the ACC.
What did we learn from that suckfest?
Their early season success and (precariously) lofty position in the standings notwithstanding, the Canadiens can’t let up against any team in the NHL.
Twenty minutes of intensity doesn’t do it, against great teams like Detroit or bad ones like Toronto.
And now thw worst part of a tough December schedule begins, with Philadelphia and Boston on consecutive nights at the Bell Centre.
If Scott Gomez’s shin injury keeps him out of the lineup, the Canadiens will be severely overmatched at centre for these games.
I love Halpern. At $600,000 he’s the bargain of the year … as a third- or fourth-line centre.
But bumping Halpern up to Top Six linemates and minutes is going to be problematic, to say the very least, when the Canadiens face Mike Richards/Jeff Carter/Daniel Brière on Wednesday night, followed by Patrice Bergeron/David Krejci/Marc Savard.
Tomas Plekanec can’t play 60 minutes. And as much as I love Lars Eller and his development to date, he’s not a Top Sixer yet.
Nor do I like the prospect of playing those two powerhouses when the most-minutes defence pairing is Roman Hamrlik and … well, who, if Jaro Spacek can’t go? (The bloody ACC, where Canadiens Dmen go to die.)
P.K. Subban was minus-3 in his hometown. He and Alexandre Picard were brutal on Phil Kessel’s goal (and Auld was out of position). Yannick Weber was decent for his 18:42; but if Spacek is out, the three young Dmen are in for major minutes.
If Spatch is on the shelf for a while, Pierre Gauthier may have to pull the trigger on acquiring another defenceman. He’ll hate dealing from a position of weakness, but Gauthier might have to act expeditiously to avoid a middle-third-of-the-schedule tailspin by his overachieving hockey team.
December is about to get very hairy, with seven games on the road.
A cross-continental Colorado-Dallas-Carolina trip will be followed by a two-day Christmas break. Then there’s a Boxing Day game on Long Island and a visit to Washington. The Canadiens close out 2010 with a back-to-backer – their eighth of the season – against Tampa Bay and Florida.
If Gomez and Spacek are out of the lineup for the rest of the month, this team is in trouble.
I don’t know what Carey Price asked for in his latter to Santa (an experienced Dman?), but what he’s going to get is a ton of vulcanized rubber.
• • •
The legions of Jacques Martin non-admirers will light up phone-in show switcboards early this week, frothing at the mouth about how the coach ahs undermined P.K. Subban’s confidence.
Gimme a break!
If a three-game enforced hiatus broke the spirit of P.K., then the young man is a lot more fragile than he had his adoring fans believe.
And while Subban watched from the pressbox, the Canadiens beat New Jersey, San Jose and Otawa by a cumulative score of 12-3.
P.K. will be good, maybe great.
But with defencemen not named Bobby Orr or Denis Potvin or Nicklas Lidstrom, it takes time.
• • •
And finally, a really excellent and thoughtful analysis from Jean-Vincent Fournier )JVF), a Canadiens fan living in Paris:
I don’t think JM messed up PK’s confidence by
benching him, but for a few (crucial) games, he has made him more
tentative and less efficient.
I doubt that’s what he intended to do, but that’s the final result.
intrigues me, though, is benching one your finest young defenders after
having played him 25 minutes in the game, more than any other
defenseman, if I’m not mistaken.
He goes from
being your finest player on the ice to being persona non grata for 3
games. Never mind thoses 25 minutes, almost from the day he was called
up, PK has often been our most utilized Dman, the only one (with Markov
out) who can skate the puck out of our D-zone and cross the opponent’s
blue line with speed and maybe even some creativity.
That’s what Markov brought us and it made us that much more efficient as a team.
That’s what PK brings.
Not even Weber, whom I think is going to be a fine defenceman and whom I like very much, can do that.
yeah, PK is going to make mistakes, maybe even a lot of them. He’ll
miss a slap pass to a wide open Cammalleri on the PP, use an inordinate
windup to sell his slapshot to the whole world, dangle a little too
much, yap a whole lot, but couldn’t all of that be controlled by simply
limiting his ToI and talking to the guy rather than just sitting him in
My two cents about last nights’
game: A silly lineup produced silly results. I would have put Desharnais
in there, just to see what he can do at this level and most of all,
because if there’s one thing this team sorely lacks, it’s O-F-F-E-N-S-E!
Maybe, just maybe, the little guy could provide us with some.
He’s done it everywhere else in his career, against all odds, so why not
Final point: Some people don’t like PK’s attitude, I’m
having a little problem with Cammalleri. He loses the puck too often in
our D-zone and misses the net too often at the other end of the ice.
There’s something different about him this year, he’s not the same
Is it being taken off the Plekanec line? Is it personal
problems? Is it because PK has taken a little bit of the spotlight away
Whatever it is, I’d like him to become the same lethal sniper he was when he joined us.
That breakaway last night?
No way he misses that a year ago. And if he scores that goal, it could have been a whole different ballgame…