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.


JF said...

J.T. - If pushing the panic button means firing the coaching staff and possibly the G.M., I agree this is not the time. Teams in panic mode are liable to make poor decisions and sacrifice the long-term for the immediate future. Quite apart from the fact that there aren't a lot of French-speaking candidates out there, we need only look at the decade and a half of futility that followed the last wholesale firing to realize it's not the answer right now.

At the same time, I think this is more than a slump. The Habs have played six games, and in half of them they have either folded at the first sign of adversity or, as was the case last night, simply not been prepared. Not only did they look unprepared, they seemed to lack any motivation. In a long season, there are bound to be some bad games, but it's far too soon for the team to look so uninterested. And, looking back to last year, there seemed to be too many games like last night. So something is wrong. It is the job of the coaching staff to get the team prepared. At the moment they're not doing it.

Whatever happens with the immediate situation, I think it's going to be a long, tough season. We've been looking at the team through rose-coloured glasses; they're nowhere near as good as most of us liked to think, although I don't think they're as bad as they've looked in most games this season. Leaving aside the Markov situation, the blunders made in the off-season, of which the two most glaring were not keeping Hamrlik and not signing a big, tough, faceoff-winning centre, are having and will continue to have a huge impact.

Kyle Roussel said...

Clearly, I agree. It's also worth noting that we both cited the Devils from last year in our Friday morning blog post.

Lemaire had the Devils on pace for a 102 point season (29-17-4), and it was not nearly enough to make the playoffs (they were 12 points shy of 8th). He would have needed a lot more time to make up those 12 points. Needless to say, the margin for error in Montreal is all but evaporated. A move in December will be too late if they don't noticeably improve NOW.

Anonymous said...

The Habs this season including the pre-season have looked a lot like the 10/11 Devils; flat, listless, unmotivated and totally inept.

The loss of Hamrlik and Halpern doesn't explain the lack of effort that has engulfed the whole roster. Against Buffalo the Habs skated hard and dominated every aspect of the game except the score. Last night and most nights this year they've been flat and unmotivated.

The question is why is this happening? If only a few players weren't skating you could blame it on them, but when a whole team isn't working you have to look at the coaching staff.

Martin and company have to get a consistent effort out of this team soon. If they don't then they'll need to update their resumes.


Anonymous said...

Looks like Tony was correct all along about Gainey, Gauthier and even Burke.

Burke was hired less than 3 years ago by Toronto, Gainey and Gauthier both were hired in Montreal almost 8 and a half years ago!

Molson end this regime on Saturday night - bring in your own people to save this season.

the Maritimer said...

I never thought this team was very good. Mediocre at best. Gainey tried to rebuild on the fly with whatever free agents were available built around the trade for Gomez. Now they are extremely weak down the middle. Gomez' best (New Jersey) days are long behind him. Plekanec is a good but small #2 and Eller is not ready. They've got decent wingers but they have a hard time getting scoring chances from their sub-par centers and terrible defence. Price is the only reason they are competitive at all.

Anonymous said...

I love that you've really thought this through. You've approached it with logic and a bit of heart, and your analysis is spot on. I, however, have no compunction blaming Price's pink pads and mask and a complete lack of Kirky behind the bench. I don't do logic right about now. I'm too busy blaming my game worn Hamrlik jersey for the team's streak.

dusty said...

Another great post JT and a terrific comment from JF.

Watched the Pittsburgh feed last night and the voices of the Penguins noted how the Habs make opposition goalies look like George Vezina. The replays of Darche's breakaway and Gorge's point blank shot to Fleury's crest graphically illustrated their point. The Habs just can't score enough to be competitive night in and night out.

There is a lot of blame to go around and PG has to take most of it for continuing to stock the team with soft players. Powe, Carcillo, Asham and Steckel (there's more I'm sure) were all available for fourth line duties and penalty killing but he signed Darche and Desharnais and will continue to abuse Pleky and Gionta on the PK. Now I like DD but several times I saw him backing off from puck battles. He of 5'6" can't be expected to battle for 82 games. He is a poor signing. Cole is a work in progress but the warning signs were all over him after his stint in Edmonton. Maybe he'll get it together but the Habs need a sure thing not a gamble when committing 18 mil for 4 years.

As for JM he must share a good part of the blame as well. Fairly or not, coaches are the first to go and he should be on a short leash. Poor performances against the leafs and Panthers would do it for me. At that point the Habs would have to leap frog 8 teams and get over 90 points in the last 73 games to get into the playoffs. All that in the parity NHL, the league of loser points. Not possible with this disorganized group of softies.

The question of course is who can coach this team. Cunneyworth doesn't speak french and in english he sounds like a JM clone. Not much passion there. So I guess the players and we fans will just have to make the best of it. All this while Molson laughs all the way to the bank with premium game tickets abounding. The word premium and Canadiens don't belong in the same sentence.

Anonymous said...

Gauthier won't fire his Ottawa coach unless his own head is also on the block. Molson should cleaned house when he bought the team.

Methinks if Toronto beats the Habs on national TV tomorrow night, both Gauthier and Martin are done here.

The damage Gauthier and Gainey did by trading away all those #1 and #2 draft picks and that horrendous Gomez/cap trade are why this team needs to finally cleanse themselves of Gauthier/Gaineney and their now 8 year rebuilding plan.

Gauthier has been in NHL management for 30 years and NEVER once had his team even get as far as the Stanley Cup Finals. And Les Canadiens are supposed to be the Lakers or the Yankees of hockey! Habs fans deserve more for a man to be Canadiens DM.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any immediate fix for this season,there is just not enough talent on this team and not much help is available in Hamilton.Gainey was always one of my very favorite players and I thought he would be a great GM also but alas the three smurfs that he signed are never going to lead us to anything.
Darche and DD are no doubt nice guys but are nothing more than AHL players.
Why does every other team(almost ) have a better 4th line. They don't have to be fighters,just big enough to hit and stir things up.
White is willing but lets be real,he is not going to do much to put the other team off their game.
Its going to take a long time to fix this mess and I would rather be at the bottom or the top-I hate the 'just made the playoffs' position and then the normal early exit
Sorry for all the negative thoughts but I'm really bummed out at the moment..
Please keep the blog going ,Leigh Anne, we really need it !!

dusty said...

Prust-Boyle-Fedetenko. Now there's a fourth line. Darche-Engqvist-Palushaj not so much. Thanks PG.

Raj said...

JT, either way, I see it as a win-win. If we tank (inadvertently, of course, the storied Flying Frenchmen would never do so deliberately), we get good draft picks, if we don't we have a post-season to get excited about. The game last night disappointed me but so did the road trip around Christmas last year where we lost to the likes of Colorado and Dallas. I think the team will be competitive and I don't think JM has lost the room. I'm sure there would be rumblings much louder than we've heard if that were true.

Let's keep our fingers crossed. Keep up the good work on the blog.

dusty said...

Don't blame you for not posting for this game. What a horror show. If Riemer isn't hurt the leafs win easy. Only the Monster could have given the Habs a point they did not deserve.

Watched some of the Panther game. If the Habs think they can beat Fla without a super human effort from everyone, they are seriously deluded.

Don't want to even think of what happens when the Flyers come to town.

Welcome to last place. Get used to it Habs. It looks like you'll be there for a while.

Anonymous said...

Love the sweater. Always will but lets face it there is major suckage on that team!!