If the coach was satisfied with his team’s effort in its latest loss, who are we to criticize?
“A coach asks his team to work hard and compete,” Michel Therrien said. “We did tonight. The result just wasn’t there.”
One part of Therrien’s analysis is indisputable:
As was the case in Toronto on Saturday and Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the result was a loss for your Montreal Canadiens.
As for the team’s work ethic and compete level … well, maybe Therrien’s behind-the-bench (for now) perspective offered a different view than what was telecast into my basement.
Perhaps the Ol’Blogger is becoming jaded and bitter. It’s been a morale-sapping winter in Montreal, and the cold weather has coincided with a cooling-off period in which the Canadiens have managed 18 points in their last 20 games.
That’s a smidge below .500 hockey. And unless the situation improves, I’m afraid this team is going to slip below a wild-card playoff spot by the time the NHL takes a two-week Olympic break.
The Canadiens will play eight games before Sochi.
Six are on home ice.
The Bell Centre run begins with a visit by Washington on Saturday night. The Capitals have lost five straight, the latest Friday night in New Jersey.
Washington is sinking like a stone in the Eastern Conference standings. Alexander Ovechkin is injured, and Mikhail Grabovski had to leave the game against the Devils after nine shifts and six minutes of ice time.
Based on recent form, then, the Caps would appear to be ripe for the plucking, an ideal opponent to open the Canadiens pre-Olympic feast of home cooking.
The Canadiens, however, can’t be relied upon to pluck anyone – with the possible exception of the customary 21, 273 who will fill the Bell Centre Saturday night. That crowd could get ugly if they start to think they’re being plucked.
Which could happen the way this team is trending.
Gaston Therrien, who breaks down replays on L’Antichambre’s in-studio big screen, highlighted the Niklas Kronwall goal that gave Detroit a 3-1 lead. The RDS Xs-and-Os guy said it was “hallucinant, le nombre des erreurs” that led to the goal.
You don’t need a translation. Later in the show, Therrien used “hallucinant” again to describe the number of great scoring chances opponents are getting because of the Canadiens’ errors and coverage breakdowns in their own end.
Carey Price has given up four goals or more in his last five starts. But with few exceptions – Price might want another stab at that Riley Sheahan laser to his glove side – the goaltender has been brilliant.
Anything less and Price would be giving up six to eight goals per game. That’s how good opponents’ chances have been.
And that’s how awful the Canadiens have been playing in their own end.
And it’s not because they’re burning all their energy on offence. In contrast to the shooting gallery Price faces every night, the Canadiens – their shot totals notwithstanding – have a popgun attack that features low-percentage perimeter shots an average NHL goaltender could stop in his sleep.
That’s assuming the Canadiens can gain the zone and generate something resembling sustained offence. But unlike their opponents, who cruise through the neutral zone and cross the blueline unimpeded, the Canadiens’ attack is either P.K. Subban shakin’ and bakin’ or dump/chase/occasionally retrieve.
Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta and Lars Eller had 15 of the 31 shots on Jonas Gustavsson. Can anyone remember a game in which the Canadiens had contributions from more than one forward line?
Detroit opened the scoring, during a 5-on-3 power play, when Dan Cleary parked in Price’s crease and obscured the goaltender’s view of a Henrik Zetterberg shot. The Wings have benefited from a succession of fearless forwards who will attack the blue paint: Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi.
The only Canadien with the stones to face crosschecks from the defence, slashes from the goaltender and slappers whizzing in from the point is Brendan Gallagher – all 5’9″ of him.
And so the power play – one of the Canadiens’ strengths when the season began – has scored three goals in its last 28 opportunities over nine games.
Maybe Nathan Beaulieu can help the PP. For the third straight game since his call-up, Beaulieu looked like an NHLer.
Not so much.