The first game of the post-Pierre Gauthier era was one of the worst the Canadiens have played in a while.
they had 20 shots on goal, few of which unduly troubled Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers fired 29 at Carey Price, and the the Canadiens goaltender was not at his best on either Brad Richards’ long-range power-play score or a Michael Del Zotto shot that squeezed through Price’s pads.
You could forgive Price for being a tad distracted. The goaltender will become a restricted free agent if the Canadiens don’t sign him by July 1.
Everyone expects the team to lock up its cornerstone in a long-term deal. And it is reasonable to assume Price’s agent, Gerry Johannson, was in negotiations with Gauthier.
But the general manager is gone. And the coach who offered a sanguine, if slightly delusional, assessment of the team’s play in New York will be following the GM out the door.
During his press conference on Thursday, Geoff Molson made frequent reference to “winning culture” as something his team will have to cultivate.
On the evidence of the Friday night game, the owner might be waiting a while for his fond wish to come true.
After morning skate in New York, Erik Cole said changes in the executive suite mean “everyone should be aware of the fact everyone is being evaluated top to bottom.”
If that awareness exists, it was not on display against the Rangers. The Canadiens played without intensity or emotion. For the first time since the team dropped out of playoff contention – and notwithstanding brave words from the room, the season has been all over but the crying for quite a while – the Canadiens looked like they were mailing one in.
If they play that way in Washington on Saturday night and through the last three games of the schedule, it’s going to be ugly to watch.
But at least evaluation – by Molson and consigliere Serge Savard – will not be skewed by garbage-time heroics.
There is hard work ahead for the new general manager.
In a very interesting interview on Ottawa sports radio Friday, Pierre McGuire talked about his interest in the GM job. McGuire reiterated his “seven-player profile” of a winning NHL team: two dominant centres, a power forward, a power-play and/or penalty-kill specialist, a minute-eating defenceman, a puck-moving Dman and an elite goaltender.
“If you look at Stanley Cup winners, certainly since the lockout, they fit this profile,” McGuire said.
The Canadiens have two power forwards, albeit on the same line: Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty
Specialists? David Desharnais for the PP, Tomas Plekanec for the PK.
P.K. Subban eats minutes.
Andrei Markov – who evidently was not seriously injured in that scary collision in NYC – moves the puck.
Notwithstanding all the nonsense with which residual Halakites contaminate the Comments section, Carey Price is going to be very good for a very long time.
But dominant centres?
Ah, there’s the challenge for someone … perhaps McGuire himself, although he’s a longshot.
The point is, despite the stinkeroo we saw Friday night, many crucial elements are in place. The new general manager will need a scalpel, not a chainsaw.
But for all of Molson’s evocations of the excellence to which he bore witness as a wee wealthy lad, the team waering blue Friday night is a lot closer to a Cup than the guys in white.
The Rangers have everything on McGuire’s grocery list – including Ryan McDonagh, a minute-munching defenceman who would be playing beside Subban if Bob Gainey hadn’t included the prospect as a throw-in of the Scott Gomez trade in the summer of 2009.
Back then, before Gauthier imposed a Kremlin wall of secrecy around everything that happened on the seventh floor of the Bell Centre, Trevor Timmins was allowed to talk to the media. When questioned about trading away McDonagh, Timmins managed a rueful smile that spoke volumes.
The Canadiens took McDonagh with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2007 draft. Not many teams had the Minnesota high-school product rated that highly, but Timmins knew what he was getting (unlike the previous summer, when the Canadiens took David Fischer).
Scouting did not come up during Molson’s press conference.
I think Timmins and the guys he’s got scouting juniors have done a good job.
The pro scouting department, which was Gauthier’s fiefdom, is another story.
Yes, there was solid evaluation what James Wisniewski and Erik Cole could bring to the Canadiens.
But Gomez, Benoit Pouliot, Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle, Rene Bourque … the poor Geoffrion kid …
Am I leaving out any names in the Montreal version of the Westminster Kennel Club?
The new Canadiens general manager faces a challenge in filling out the Pierre McGuire dance card – plus about 15 other roster spots.
And that’s not all.
Barry Trotz won his 500th game Friday night. During Trotz’s tenure in Nashville, the Canadiens have been coached by Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Claude Julien, Bob Gainey (twice), Guy Carbonneau, Jacques Martin and Randy Cunneyworth.
Molson said all the right things in evoking the Canadiens glorious past as a beacon, lighting the way to a better future.
Then his team stunk out the Garden.
There’s work to be done.