You want the good news or the bad news? The good news? Well, even though the Habs lost to the Caps last night, it wasn't the worst game they played all year. The bad news? The worst game they played all year was the one against the Isles on the same road trip from hell.
The team is going through one of those bad stretches when everything they do turns to crap. It starts off not really giving a damn in a game against the leafs, that ends in a loss. Then the little bad habits...coasting to the bench on a line change, reaching with the stick instead of taking the body, passing into traffic rather than breaking for the net...that don't add up when the team is winning start to accumulate. The losses add up too, and the hole gets a little deeper with each one until the losing starts to feel insurmountable and frustration leads to more bad behaviour.
RDS illustrated some of those bad habits last night. Brian Gionta, with the puck on the boards had two options: chip it straight ahead to Tomas Plekanec waiting for a pass at the blueline, or pass through three guys to try and hit Travis Moen on the other side of the ice. Instead of making the easy chip, he tried the low-percentage pass and was, naturally, intercepted, which led to a Caps chance. On another sequence, Gionta had the puck with a clear shooting lane on the right side. Instead of taking the shot, he chose to pass through a crowd across the crease. The puck again got knocked away and the scoring chance was blown. RDS didn't make a big case about it, but there was another telling play on the too-many-men on the ice penalty the Canadiens took. The Gomez line was changing up for the Eller line and Pacioretty and Gionta motored to the bench. Gomez coasted, so Eller, who came over the boards with his linemates,passed him on the way to the bench and, of course, the Habs got called.
The only way to break out of a slump like the one the Habs are in is for the team's leaders to take things into their own hands. The difference is not in coaching or systems or luck or anything else except their own effort. There are a lot of Canadiens feeling sorry for themselves right now, and it shows in their tentative play and dumb decisions. The leaders on the team, like Gomez and Gionta, need to be come out one night and skate their asses off. They haven't been doing it for the last three weeks and the rest of the team follows suit. That's why they're leaders. You can't have Tomas Plekanec taking dumbass stick fouls and then be mad at Benoit Pouliot when he does the same thing. You can't have Jaro Spacek making ill-advised pinches and throwing himself out of position in an attempt to recover, then be surprised when we see P.K.Subban making similar plays.
The Canadiens' veterans are better than this. They have the skill to play better hockey, and the experience on which to draw in order to get out of this hole. They just have to do it. It starts with hustle, and that's the main thing that's been missing during this slump. Guaranteed, if the team comes out against Tampa determined to get to every loose puck first, they will look a hundred times better than they have. The only weapon the Canadiens own is their ability to make skilled plays at high speeds. They have the personnel on the top two lines to be a serious offensive threat, but it all starts with the effort of the veterans. If Gomez, Gionta, Plekanec, AK and Cammalleri come out flying tomorrow night, and if they continue to skate hard all game, they have every chance in the world to win.
The addition of James Wisniewski on the blueline (a great move by Gauthier) should help in the recovery. He adds a bit of grit, is capable of taking some of the minutes load off Spacek and Hamrlik, and can shoot hard on the PP. A solid team effort with a stronger blueline corps can only be a good thing. A word of caution to people who think Wisniewski is going to be the new "saviour" in Montreal, though. While he's certainly an improvement over Alexandre Picard, Wiz is just one player. He can fill a role, but he's not Lidstrom, and if the rest of the team, starting with the veterans, doesn't pull it together, he won't singlehandedly turn the Habs around.
The good news today is the slump won't last forever. Sooner or later, the veterans' pride will kick in and they'll just go balls to the wall to pull off a win that'll turn things around. The bad news is we have to wait until they get desperate enough to do that, and we can only hope the playoffs aren't in the toilet by the time it happens.