Remember a few short months ago, off-season talk focused on what few openings there were on a nearly-set Montreal Canadiens lineup?
That was then.
A 1-2 start and ugly home opener loss is now.
(Photo by Pierre Obendrauf of The Gazette)
Time to panic?
Fire the coach?
Work the phones for trades?
But points won and lost in October can be very important when April rolls around. And your Montreal Canadiens are looking very much like a team that is going to need every point it can get in April.
The Calgary Flames are not an NHL powerhouse. They missed the playoffs last season (albeit with two points fewer than the 96 that punched the Canadiens’ ticket), and will be a battle with the Western Conference’s other mediocrities to make postseason play in 2012.
What if it were the Philadelphia Flyers skating around the Canadiens’ zone untouched last night?
The Pittsburgh Penguins? Washington Capitals?
The – gulp! – Boston Bruins?
Despite outshooting the visitors 36-21 – plus firing 24 shots that were blocked – the Canadiens looked awful.
The D was a mess and got intermittent support from the forwards. The shot totals are misleading: none of the forward lines had any cohesion, and Jacques Martin was juggling by the end of the second period.
From where I was sitting, the only forwards who looked good were Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller.
Brian Gionta had more penalties than SoG.
Tomas Plekanec burned himself out on the PK … and that problem is a ticking time bomb.
Scott Gomez and David Desharnais? Meh.
Travis Moen did his job. He had six hits against Calgary and was far from the worst skater wearing a red jersey.
But Moen as a Top Six?
Newcomers Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz weren’t the worst defencemen on the ice. That dubious distinction fell on Hal Gill, who was minus-2 in less than 13 minutes of even-strength ice time.
But for a team that managed only 21 shots, Calgary looked like an offensive juggernaut. All four goals were scored by unchecked players with good, clear views of Carey Price.
The goaltender was not available in the Canadiens’ dressing room after the game. Price was beaten twice to the short side and did not furnish the all-world performance this team needs to win hockey games.
Let’s go back to the summer scenario.
The acquisition of Erik Cole gave the Canadiens a Competitive Top Six. Andrei Kostitsyn, in a contract year, would join two promising youngsters, David Desharnais and Lars Eller, on a third line that offered hope os some scoring. Rugged Ryan White, Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche and maybe Andreas Engqvist, a righthanded defensive centre who kills penalties and wins faceoffs, would vie for fourth-line ice time.
The defensive pairings: Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban. Gill and Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek playing out his contract, probably with Emelin. Yannick Weber (on a one-way contract) and Diaz would be the candidates for seventh D.
The roster looked good, eh?
Not good enough to make the top four of the Eastern Conference, but definitely a team with possibilities in the Parity Division.
Then Markov missed training camp … and his recovery from a second knee surgery is so problematic the report he won’t need a third is seen as good news.
Chris Campoli went down. Then Jaroslav Spacek.
Emelin and the undersized Diaz and Weber became regulars.
Ryan White sustained a sport hernia early in camp, missed the preseason and is out indefinitely after surgery.
Mike Cammalleri suffered a fluke skate cut. He’s gone for a while, and Moen is on the Tomas Plekanec line with a slow-starting Cole.
And the walking wounded have a day to prepare for Colorado, another hungry team that missed the playoffs last season.
Pierre Ladouceur has a game report card in La Presse. The grades, on a scale of 10, are predictably poor – including 5.6 for P.K. Subban, who played a team-high 23:30 and looked tired in the third period.
The Canadiens outshot Calgary 12-1 over the last 20 minutes. But it was garbage time and everyone knew it – including the thousands of fans who had emptied seats for which they’d paid Premium Game prices.
There wasn’t much of a premium last night.
Even the home opener ceremonies came off as lame until the MSO played O Canada.
Maestro Kent Nagano’s tempo was out of synch with fans singing the anthem – a disconnect that was a harbinger of things to come.
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The Canadiens’ PK unit gave up two Calgary goals, and the power-play pitched another shutout.
The PP – which desperately misses Markov and could have used Cammalleri – is an anemic 1-for-13 through three games.
Calgary is not a physical team. Once the Canadiens start playing thumpers, the PP better get in gear as a deterrent or they’re gonna get killed.
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The Canadiens claimed another sellout last night, extending a streak that began in 2004.
While all seats were sold, there looked to be a lot of empty ones in the Reds.
And by the last 10 minutes of the third period, the habitually rockin’/rollin’ Bell Centre looked like an Atlanta Thrashers home game.
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Michael Farber, looking really good after his illness, was back in the pressbox last night.
Farber said Brian Burke was in constant touch with him as be went through treatments and rehab.
Say what you will about Burke, the Leafs’ GM is a stand-up guy – for his son and for ailing journalists.
When Farber had heart surgery a few years ago (nicest guy in the world, my man Michael, and it’s one thing after another), Burke sent a gift with a card that read “I didn’t know journalists had hearts – Brian”.
Burke is what my people call a mensch.
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Guest Comment from gK_HabsFan:
Alright, so I was at the game, and here are a few thoughts:
1) Wow they sucked! The place was emptying, and it emptied FAST!
2) Yes we got 30 plus shots on net, but most of them were “One and Dones”. Absolutely no sustained pressure in the offensive zone!
3) Most of the goals we gave up were due to defensive cramps, and the Flames capitalized.
4) Gomez and Gionta aren’t generating anything! NOTHING! A lot of our veterans weren’t all that great tonight, but they showed very little IMO. I expect more out of Gionta, and Gomez… well…
5) Subban was struggling out there! He tried to do too much with the puck in the defensive and offensive zone.
6) Can we please stop the PP experiment with Pleks on the point. I prefer him down low, where he excels, as opposed to manning the point. He has no chemistry with Subban, and he doesn’t look comfortable there.
7) Cole has to play better.
8 ) Emelin is impressive. Didn’t notice him out there all that much during the first two periods, which is kind of a good thing when you’re a defensive defenseman. But during the 3rd I saw him hitting more, and being more engaged in the game.
9) Out of all the forwards, Eller was definitely our best! He was winning puck battles, getting a few opportunities and playing well defensively. He began the game on the 4th line, moved up to the 3rd line, and finished on the 1st. I want to see him playing a more prominent role if Gomez and Gionta continue to play poorly.
10) I wouldn’t say the Flames outplayed us. They just had their chances and capitalized on them. After the 2nd goal we just couldn’t gain any momentum and generate anything offensively