Here’s some good news:
Carey Price and P.K. Subban won’t have to face Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz at the Winter Olympics. They’ll all be on Team Canada.
Evgeni Malkin and Andrei Markov will be together on Team Russia – which will spare the Canadiens’ defenceman the embarrassment of being turnstiled by the Pittsburgh superstar.
But happier times won’t last forever.
Four days after the games end, the Canadiens will pay another visit to the Consol Energy Center.
And by Feb. 27, their playoff hopes may be flickering like the Olympic flame in Sochi.
Your Montreal Canadiens are playing badly … and it’s not a recent phenomenon.
With each loss and/or unlikely win, it becomes more evident that the conquest of the Stanley Cup champions at the Bell Centre was an aberration.
The REAL Montreal Canadiens have played .500 hockey over their last 18 games – including that win over Chicago in The Game of the Season That May End Sooner Than Hoped For By Everyone (especially Geoff Molson, who likes playoff revenue).
RDS’s Marc Denis cited a troubling stat during the intro to Wednesday night’s 5-1 stomping in Pittsburgh.
Up to Dec. 10, the Canadiens had allowed an average of 2.06 goals per game. In games since then, the average is 3.01.
When a team that has trouble scoring is allowing three – and, lately, often more – goals per game, the losses are going to pile up.
The Canadiens are still third in the Atlantic Division. But the race for playoff spots is tightening up. And this team is trending down.
One forward line distinguished themselves in Pittsburgh: David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallgher competed hard on every shift, even after the Penguins built an insurmountable lead through the first 40 minutes.
As he does night in and night out, Tomas Plekanec gave it his best shot. It’s not Pleks’s fault he’s flanked by Brian Gionta, an aging and undersized RW, and Lars Eller, whose fragile confidence seeps away a bit more in each game where he has to impersonate a LW.
I can’t remember the various permutations and combinations Michel Therrien concocted for his third and fourth lines. At least Louis Leblanc got to play 7:49 – six minutes more than Joonas Nättinen did in Toronto.
And Nathan Beaulieu ended the game at plus-1.
Woo-hoo! The future is bright.
It actually might be.
But the present sucks.
Moreover, an honest appraisal of the depth of talent on a team like Pittsburgh inevitably leads to the sobering realization that the Canadiens are not ready to compete, on a consistent basis, with the NHL’s elite teams.
Yes, they looked great against Chicago.
But the Canadiens have been thoroughly beaten by L.A., St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
Carey Price looked shellshocked in Pittsburgh. Sure, he faced only 21 shots. As has been the case for a while, however, it’s the quality of the shots Price is trying to stop.
Wide-open looks, gilt-edged scoring chances, long stretches during which the Canadiens are hemmed in their own end.
Sidney Crosby’s power-play goal, the culmination of unhindered passing by Crosby, Kunitz and Chris Letang? There isn’t a goaltender in the league who could have stopped that.
The defence corps in front of Price is in disarray.
Michel Therrien presumably thought he could stabilize his back end by reuniting Subban and Markov. It didn’t work.
P.K. took two bad penalties and was minus-3 in his 21 minutes of ice time.
Markov was turnstiled twice by his Russian teammate to be. The Canadiens’ Dman is showing disquieting signs of having run out of gas at about the 40-game mark.
How much will Markov have left in the tank after Sochi? And what kind of realistic assessments and expectations are being brought to the table at his contract negotiations, which reportedly began this week?
I’ll leave it to the Commentariat to suggest ways out of this mess.
From where I’m sitting, at the 50-game mark, your Montreal Canadiens just don’t have the horses.
And I don’t know what Marc Bergevin can do about it, other than preaching patience as the endless rebuild drags on.
Fire the coach?
Yeah, maybe. Therrien personnel moves and in-game strategizing leave something to be desired.
But let’s get real, peeps.
Scotty Bowman might not play Douglas Murray almost 20 minutes against a Cup contender.
But even with Toe Blake as his assistant, Bowman would be challenged to win consistently with this lineup.
On to Detroit.