There are two schools of thought regarding last night's pathetic lack of firepower on the part of our beloved Canadiens. One group says the Habs had more than thirty shots and only poor luck kept one of them from finding twine.
The other group, and the one to which I'm increasingly listening, says the Canadiens were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league for the last two seasons and nothing has changed. Excuses can mask the core issue for a while, but in the end the truth remains. Sure, the team is already dealing with key injuries. It's also true that the players have had little time together and are probably a bit short on chemistry just yet. Still, those excuses fail to explain why the Canadiens dominated the first period, then gave up the ghost in the last two.
Pierre Gauthier needs to examine the kind of team he's compiled, and compare that with the style of play Jacques Martin demands. Many of the players have proven they can score at other levels and with other teams. Yet, placed in Montreal, their production drops, almost across the board. Homegrown players like Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec regularly score twenty goals, but you have to wonder if they wouldn't produce more with another coach in another system. Others have. Matt D'Agostini scored two goals in forty games under Martin. Last year in St.Louis, he had twenty-one. Sergei Kostitsyn had seven goals in the 47 games he played for Martin. In Nashville...not exactly the '80s Oilers...he had 23 in 77 games.
Whether there's a failure to communicate between Martin and his players or Martin's system just doesn't produce a lot of goalscoring, there's a problem in Montreal. The team can't score even though the individual players have proven they can. Unless something changes, it's going to be another year of Carey Price playing out of his mind to preserve 2-1 and 3-2 victories. If he doesn't, if he gives up a couple of goals early, there's little chance the team will recover. When it's time for him to start thinking about his long-term contract next year, it won't be a plus for him to know he's got to be perfect every night or the team will lose.
There's also a problem with the powerplay, which has been the one positive in the scoring desert of the last two years. P.K.Subban is trying to do everything and making costly errors instead, but there are few blueline alternatives. There's little cohesion, and there doesn't seem to be much of a plan. Kirk Muller, who last year worked with the kids like Subban and planned the PP, is gone and appears to have left a greater void than we were expecting.
Of course, it doesn't help when a coach has two big scoring wingers, one whom he benches after an iffy penalty call and one who gets third-line linemates and fourth-line ice time. Neither Andrei Kostitsyn or Erik Cole were used in a way that would maximize their abilities. When a team can't score much to begin with, the coach doesn't have the luxury of playing games with the people most likely to pot one.
This is not to let the players off the hook. In the second and third periods last night, they did nothing to help their cause. They need to be better...a lot better...than they looked in that sad forty minutes. Still, one can't help thinking they'd have a better chance if they played a system more open to scoring goals. The Canadiens certainly have their share of bad luck when it comes to lighting the lamp, but the style they're playing just adds to the suck.