Sunday, October 23, 2011
The Canadiens season is rapidly becoming a carnival guessing game. How many clowns can fit into the tiny car? How much does the fat lady really weigh? How many games can the sucky hockey team lose before something gives? The popular guess is, not many more.
The Canadiens are in that position in which you know one more clown can't possibly squeeze into that car. The fat lady is 400 pounds and the Habs, at 1-6 to start the year, are spiralling into a void of suckage not seen since something gave...in a big way...in 1995. That year, the team started with a handful of losses and Serge Savard and Jacques Demers, Cup winners just two years previous, found themselves on the street. In considering that sequence of events, one might recall that neither Pierre Gauthier nor Jacques Martin has the luxury of resting on his Cup-winning laurels.
The terrible cycle in which the team is caught means they either keep the goals against low and can't score themselves, or they score enough to win, but give up more than they get. Carey Price has been good enough to win on most nights, but he's been waiting four games to get his hundredth win.
Every power play looks disorganized and fruitless; no surprise with Tomas Plekanec on the point and Mathieu Darche on the first wave. Scotty Bowman always says the trick to good coaching is having the right people on the ice at the right time. There's certainly a time and place for Darche, but first-wave PP is probably not it. Erik Cole hasn't done squat in a Habs uniform, so maybe a coach should think about jump-starting him with some PP time. Perhaps a good coach should recognize that Tomas Plekanec, who's got a cannon off the rush, doesn't have quite the same shot on the point. Maybe a successful coach would recognize that there are better shooters and Plekanec's skills are in making sneaky passes and setting up the guy who's willing to break for the net.
Cole's a story unto himself. After a less-than-stellar stint in Edmonton, and a bounce-back on his return to Carolina, there was great concern at the time of his signing in Montreal that he only plays well with Eric Staal. As a heart-and-soul kind of player, he's got to be willing to sacrifice himself to play his game properly. It was clear when he signed that he came to Montreal for the money, and while nobody would accuse him of not trying, he can't make himself love his new team the way he did his old one. It's got to happen naturally, and it hasn't happened yet. The Habs need what he can bring, but he's not bringing it.
Then there's the defence, or what's left of it. The three guys with fewer than 100 NHL games between them are holding up surprisingly well. It's their experienced teammates who are making the most egregious errors. Josh Gorges alone has been directly responsible for two dreadful mistakes that have led to backbreaking goals. P.K.Subban's getting denuded by Paul Stastny is still fresh in our minds as well. It's not really their fault. Gorges is meant to be a 3-5 defenceman and he's essentially playing top minutes at the moment. We forget Subban's got one NHL season under his belt and Hal Gill has 1000 NHL games, but looks like he's 1000 years old half the time. Short of a trade, there's no help coming in the forseeable future, unless you consider Jaroslav Spacek your personal Jesus.
If there's one positive from the most recent disappointment, it's that the team is no worse with Scott Gomez out of the lineup. Lars Eller, in fact, did an excellent job in the second-line centre position. He set up Travis Moen (who sits in 11th spot in the league in goals scored) for a beautiful shorthanded goal in the first, and made a nice pass to Andrei Kostitsyn on his goal as well. He was also 56% on faceoffs and led the team with a plus-three rating. He killed penalties (but didn't get any PP time...that's Darche's spot, after all) and he used his size to make room for himself. The kid is going to be good, and if he keeps up this level of play in Gomez' continued absence, he'll be proving there's no need to hold onto the vastly underwhelming veteran.
That's a small comfort in the face of some very large problems. The Canadiens are rapidly approaching the point of "somthing's gotta give." The clown car is full.
Posted by J.T. at 5:47 AM