“Don’t panic. But if you must panic, panic in an orderly fashion.” So far as Canadiens fans are concerned, forget it. Panic is the order of the day. On the other hand, the master of orderly thinking is Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin, who has to move the deck chairs around well enough to inject life into his team while not destroying the things that got them into the third round of the playoffs.
Martin likes to describe it as “making adjustments”. After that first game 6-0 disaster his “adjustment” was moving out Benoit Pouliot in favour of Sergei Kostitsyn. One seven-minute player for another. To be fair, the Canadiens were a better team on Tuesday, but I saw nobody pointing a finger at Kostitsyn as the reason for the improvement. And, ultimately, the Canadiens were shutout again.
So, another “adjustment”. Tonight, seven defencemen. Ryan O’Byrne will bring his 6’5″ presence to the defence for the first time in the series and Sergei Kostitsyn is out again. Marc-Andre Bergeron will get whatever power play time is available and very little else.
Will O’Byrne make a difference? In his four regular season games against the Flyers he has led the team in “hits” twice. A total of nine over the four games. He also blocked six shots. He’ll be a needed big body if he can avoid the periodic brain fades which often have led to bad penalties.
But defence, or the perennial whipping boy-the goaltender, is not the Canadiens biggest problem right now. You don’t win if you’re shutout. Georges Vezina never won a game in which his teammates were blanked. Neither did George Hainsworth, Bill Durnan, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy.
For whatever reason, and there is reason to think the Flyers have a lot to do with it, the good scorers on the Canadiens have joined Elvis and left the building. Tomas Plekanec has no goals his last ten games. Linemate Andrei Kostitsyn has nothing since his hattrick 14 games ago in the Washington series. They’re in such a slump that Jacques Martin is doubling their left winger Michael Cammalleri on a line with Gomez and Gionta. There he’s filling in for Benoit Pouliot who has nothing to show in twenty-two games and now finds himself in press-box purgatory. With or without Cammalleri, Gomez’s goal-less streak is now at 15 games. Basically, if Cammalleri or Gionta don’t score the Canadiens offense has been hopeless so far in this series.
In order to get Cammalleri away from Chris Pronger and the Richards/Gagne/Carcillo line and, at the same time, fill a gaping hole on the second line caused by the deterioration of Benoit Pouliot’s game, Martin has been doubleshifting Cammalleri on the Gomez line. On Tuesday, Cammalleri logged just under 14 minutes with Plekanec and Kostitsyn and another six minutes with Gomez and Gionta. By the end of the night, Cammalleri had put in and extraordinary total of 24:16 ice time. Only Roman Hamrlik logged more in the game, but only by 35 seconds. Brian Gionta was second among forwards at 21:38.
We’ll probably see a lot more of that tonight. But don’t expect anything more radical than that. Martin doesn’t have realistic options that would allow him to radically shake up the look of his team outside of tinkering, or “adjusting” his top two lines.