Okay, I'm back. First of all, to be fair, I think I should tell you a little bit about the background of my trip to Montreal. I try to go once a year to see the Habs in person. The sense of something momentous about to happen in the Bell Centre is pervasive and persuasive. For me, it's been truth. Last year, for example, I was at the Rangers game, when the Canadiens won in OT on Mike Cammalleri's hat trick goal. It was impressive. So, this year, even though things haven't been going great lately, I decided to go to the game with hope.
I have children, so the first thing I had to do, after working since 5:30 in the morning, was drive three hours to bring the kids to their grandparents for the weekend. Then, drive another hour and a half to get to the airport. There was a huge snow storm happening, so my flight got cancelled. I then had to rebook for another flight four hours later, which went to Toronto, then on to Montreal. All told, it took 30 hours of travel to even get to Montreal.
We got to the game tonight to a great sense of expectation. The team had been bitch-slapped so thoroughly in Boston (seriously? a DOUBLE shorty?) that people in the crowd were stoked. Surely, we thought, the Canadiens would fight back with pride and backbone. They'd prove their feisty nature wasn't crushed after that Bruins game.
The puck dropped. The Canadiens lost the faceoff and meandered around their zone with some bad passing and ill-advised clearing attempts. Next shift...same thing. Finally, after about two minutes of messing around fruitlessly, Tomas Plekanc, surely playing hurt, lost the puck at the blueline and the turnover resulted in the first Caps goal.
After that, we expected push back. We thought the team would stand up and say, "NO! We will NOT be shut out three games straight." What we got was something different. There were many culprits in the screw-up club. Roman Hamrlik was probably the worst D on the ice, with his many turnovers and soft plays on the boards. Andrei Kostitsyn was playing like his brain was still on ice back at his apartment. And the eternally bad Scott Gomez was eternally bad.
There were several moments that stood out. Once, Gionta laid a big hit in the corner, and the puck popped out. Nobody was there to collect it. Another time, Plekanec was behind the net with the puck, with nowhere to go because there was no one in front. Still another time, a Cap had the puck on the boards and Gomez was "battling" for it. That involved him sticking his ass out behind him and poking at the puck with his stick. God forbid there should have been body contact of any kind.
One observation of mine, after I decided to consciously watch for it, was that the Canadiens defencemen, with the marked execption of P.K. Subban, collectively and consistently failed to make one single completed forward pass. Outlet passes were in skates, or just past sticks or behind players. As a result, everyone had to slow down or stop altogether to pick up the pass and the Caps lined up to stop the rush. Bad decisions by the D really are shutting down the team's offence.
After the game, I was really despondent. It came to me that the behaviour we've seen the last few games is very reminiscent of the Flyers series last year. The Canadiens got shut out twice in the first two games, just like they have this week. After two dramatic series wins, they were done. They just didn't have anything else to give. Looking at them now, with the injuries they've dealt with (and are likely still dealing with, even though the hurt players are trying to come back), they look like they've got nothing left. This team is done.
I can almost have sympathy for most of them. They've battled through injuries to themselves and teammates, they've handled an immense learning curve by all the new players and they've still managed to win through a great deal of adversity. Now, though, they're done. The only one who has no reason to be done is Scott Gomez. He's had lots of icetime, but not worked very hard during it. He's not been hurt. He's a slacker and a drain on the organization's resources. At the end of the game tonight, people were booing him and I understood why.
In spite of it all, there was good, though. Carey Price was steady. P.K. Subban was the only D who could make any kind of offensive play, while still fighting hard for pucks in his own zone. Lars Eller was the team's best forward, making some nice physical plays and moving the puck well on the rush. These are all guys who'll be important for the future. The problem is, their supporting cast is supposed to be the team of today. That's not happening. Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri, Plekanec, Kostitsyn...none of them have stepped up and made the team better.
My friend who watched the game with me tonight thinks it's Jacques Martin's fault. Well, inadvertently anyway. He says Gainey built a fast, skilled team, then he hired a dull, conservative coach. The players and the coach are not well matched, and the things Martin's lacking hurt the team's chances of winning.
Right now, outside my hotel room window, I can hear drunken idiots singing "Ole." They have no idea why they shouldn't be singing, and that's very sad.