I thought I'd be rational today and conduct an exercise in positivity by listing the reasons why the Habs aren't that bad. Unfortunately, I could come up with only six, and who makes a list of six things? Even more unfortunately, it was very, very easy to come up with ten reasons why they are that bad. I laughed at the leafs last night, but the Habs are only two desperation OT goals better than them. Now, I'm well aware of the fact that it's only five games into the season and there's a lot of hockey to be played. I also know the wholesale replacement of half of last season's roster as well as the coaching staff requires patience and time to work. I fear, however, that the hockey remaining to be played will be bad hockey and the new players will not come together in success. In fact, I think the very term "success" in the case of the Habs is actually a new word coined from the phrase "sucks to excess." Here's why:
10. The fourth line. Sure, Glen Metropolit is reliable, but when you're icing players like Georges Laraque and Greg Stewart, you can't play them more than five or six minutes of the game without risking their costly errors. That severely limits the team's depth when there's an injury or when the coach needs to mix things up.
9. The defence. The D is struggling now without Markov and O'Byrne, obviously. But the fact is, the team will have to soldier on without them and the remaining defence is not pretty. They're slow and not physical. Spacek is the only one with decent offensive numbers in recent memory, and he's yet to find that touch in Montreal. They're trying, but trying isn't going to give them abilities they don't have.
8. Injuries. Last season was lost largely because every single important player lost time with a significant injury. We're starting early on the same trend this year. If Hamrlik, who was hurt late in the third last night, can't play Thursday, we're going to see yet another Bulldog in the lineup. The Bulldogs are not going to win too many games in the NHL.
7. Gomez. The man is not a first-line centre. He's a great playmaker and can put up a ton of assists, but he doesn't score goals and has been dining out on that one spectacular season in Jersey for years now. Gomez would be a great second-line player, if he wasn't being outplayed by Tomas Plekanec. I hated the trade to get him, I hate his contract and so far I'm unimpressed with what he's doing on the ice.
6. The Kostitsyns. These guys were pencilled into two of the top-six forward positions before training camp began. Now we've seen Sergei demoted with attitude issues and Andrei nailed to the bench for the entire third period last night. That leaves only four top-six forwards, and that's not going to cut it.
5. Special teams. Both the PP and the PK are near the bottom of the league. The powerplay is hurting without Markov, in its limited appearances (thanks, refs!). The penalty kill is atrocious. Special teams win and lose games, and right now, they aren't winning any for the Habs.
4. The rookies. Pacioretty and Stewart aren't ready for the NHL. Weber is adequate for a low-minutes role and Chipchura and D'Agostini are visible only because they're wearing red. None of these kids is either ready or able to make enough impact to lift the Habs from bad to good.
3. The coach. Martin says he has a system, but if that system includes singling out players for punishment like he did by benching Kostitsyn for the entire third period after the latter made a bad pass, I don't like the system. The team needed a goal and with two minutes to go, Martin played Georges Laraque and Hal Gill instead of putting Kostitsyn out there. I know he was trying to make a point about responsible play, but in his stubbornness he didn't give the team its best chance to win. That's fine in Florida, but it's not going to cut it in Montreal. Maybe Kostitsyn wouldn't have scored either, but Martin knew bloody well Laraque didn't have a hope in hell. It's not the first questionable decision we've seen from him either.
2. Goaltending. Carey Price has yet to show any kind of consistency and seems to have returned to his habit of giving up one bad goal per game. Jaro Halak doesn't get into a groove unless he plays three or four games in a row, which won't happen for him as long as Price is healthy. The biggest issue with goaltending, though, is how much the team relies on it being perfect...an unreasonable expectation under any circumstances. Price stole the only two wins this team has to its name this season. Just imagine: without him stopping forty-plus shots in those games, the Habs would be tied with the leafs for last.
And the number one reason why we should be bracing for a really bad season and the ridicule that comes along with it is:
1. Offence. The Habs can't score. Brian Gionta can, but the rest of them? Ugh. Gainey has spent thirteen million dollars for two players with one goal between them in five games. For that money, they could afford Ovechkin. Tomas Plekanec is busting his butt every night and has nobody to convert his plays. There's no offence coming from the blue line and Max Lapierre is proving he's a very good fourth-line centre with not much in the way of a scoring touch either, which makes the third line pretty much impotent as well.
Honourable mention: Effort. Except for the anomoly of the Vancouver game, which might be excused because of travel, changing time zones and a tough game in Calgary the night before, not to mention the Canucks' desperation to win a game, the Habs have been trying. They're not mailing it in for the most part. They're showing up ready to give it their best shot, and they're still coming up short. That's one of the scariest things of all. At least last year we could say, if they only played the way they can they'd be winning more. This year we can't say that because they actually are playing hard. It's the winning that seems to be tough for them.
So, there we are. Five games haven't given me much to be excited about and I don't see any of it changing overnight. Still, being a Habs fan to the core, I'll accept the reality and brace for some pretty bad hockey while irrationally hoping things will turn around when Markov comes back. The team has six games at home now to try and improve. We'll see if any of the items on this list can be removed by then. For all our sakes, I hope so. This is much too early to know your team isn't very good.