Friday, October 21, 2011
It might not be time to push the panic button just yet, but the Canadiens are rapidly descending through the recognized stages of suckage. They started with "unprepared" and have at various times achieved levels of "frustrated," "overwhelmed" and "unlucky." Last night they finally hit a new low with "totally outclassed."
After a game against Buffalo in which they did many things right and were stymied only by Ryan Miller's heroics, one might have logically assumed the Canadiens would recognize the positives and try the same things against Pittsburgh. That didn't happen. Instead of building on the good things from Buffalo, they came out looking listless and uncommitted against a severely depleted Penguins team.
It's hard to find a reason or even a lame excuse for why that might have happened. Injuries can't factor in because the Pens were more hurt than the Habs. Fatigue's not the answer, because the Canadiens have played among the fewest games of any other team in the league. It came down to the fact that Dan Bylsma's team, despite missing all of its stars, was ready to play from the moment the puck was dropped. Jacques Martin's team was not.
There'll be a lot of talk today about the players having tuned Martin out already. The question should be more along the lines of whether they had ever tuned him in to begin with. Martin might not be the most exciting coach, but he's at least managed to keep the team on an even keel for most of the last couple of seasons. The only thing different this year is that he lacks a translator. Previously, Kirk Muller, who speaks player, was the conduit between the team and the coach. He was very, very well-liked by the players, so maybe that level of trust and understanding is missing this year. Certainly his influence on the PP is missing. It's rarely looked so inept for such a stretch of games in the last two years.
Then again, maybe Muller's absence has nothing to do with the malaise we witnessed last night and on other nights in this young season. Maybe the Canadiens' mix of well-paid, but not exactly star veterans and inexperienced youth is just not good enough to compete with other teams who've improved since last season. In a league featuring the kind of parity we see in the NHL, it doesn't take much for one team to fall out of the race. With three-point games keeping points totals artificially inflated, it's difficult to climb the standings when you slip early. Look at the Devils last year. The perennial playoff team got off to a dreadful start and even a supernatural late-season drive couldn't salvage a playoff spot. On the bright side, they finished the year with dignity and they got the excellent young Adam Larsson in the draft. Somehow, though, it's doubtful Jacques Lemaire would come out of retirement to try and save the Habs.
So, six games into the season isn't quite time to push that big red panic button, but losing five of those six games is definitely a wake-up call. If the Canadiens are to right this ship, this has to be the mid-season losing streak. A playoff team can afford one, maybe two slumps in a season. If this is one of those, the team can still be fine. If it's a pattern for the rest of the season, the Canadiens might be this year's Devils and the time for the panic button will come sooner rather than later.
Posted by J.T. at 1:43 AM