The hardest thing for a fan to accept is the fact that the team for which they cheer is lousy. By their reaction the last two Bell Centre games the mass denial of Canadiens supporters has officially ended. It was clear to even the most die-hard among them that there is no redemption for this version of their team.
The team has dropped four home games in a row and with 21 games remaining they stand one point out of the Eastern Conference cellar. Additionally, with only eleven, the Canadiens are tied with the abysmal Columbus Blue Jackets for fewest home wins in the entire league. If the Blue Jackets are ‘abysmal”, in what category do we place the Canadiens?
Everyone has a pet theory when it comes to the team’s routine failures. They run the gamut from coaching, to Scott Gomez; from Pierre Gauthier to poor personnel; from the power play to injuries. Pick your favourite. You can make a good case for any, or all of them.
But, when they carve the epitaph on this season’s gravestone the words will be “Failed to Compete”. All you need to know was demonstrated in those last four home games. In all four, the opponent posted lopsided first period shots on goal. Total first period shots for the four games was 53-19. (Vs. Carolina it was 16-6; Boston 12-5; New Jersey 12-4 and Dallas 16-6), They were behind 1-0 after twenty minutes in all four games. This ‘failure to liftoff’ isn’t new. It’s been a regular feature of the season and speaks to team character. It is up to the coaching staff to prepare a team tactically for a game. Team emotion has to come from the dressing room itself. Players are responsible for preparing themselves mentally and a large part of that comes from the team veterans.
Over the last three years, we’ve heard about the strength of the Canadiens leadership group. Gionta, Gomez, Gill, Cammalleri, Moen, Gorges and Markov were the backbone of the team. And for two years they were. Who can say why the chemistry broke down this season, but whatever expected influence from the veterans has not been as evident. We may point to the fact that Gomez and Markov and now Gionta and Moen have endured long term injuries and have not been around the team; Cammalleri and Gill have been traded. Of the group, only Josh Gorges has been in the room for every game and practice. It could be a matter of an overall chemistry breakdown. Whatever the cause, the Canadiens have been a rudderless uncommitted group.
Emotionally, the team never seemed to shake that awful season opening 1-5-2 record. They managed to climb back to .500 hockey by mid-November but then it was win-one/lose-one until December 15th when they started a five game losing streak. They haven’t seen .500 since. Heading into Washington Friday they’re three games under at 24-27-10.
Bob Gainey faced a similar leadership problem three years ago and he tore the team apart starting with his captain Saku Koivu. It appears that, Pierre Gauthier is faced with the same thing.
If anybody will take them, Andrei Kostitsyn, Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche and Chris Campoli will be gone by Monday’s 3.00pm deadline. Then Gauthier will be wrestling with long-term contracts of Gomez and Kaberle.
With every team in every sport, it all comes down to a “will to win”. Or, to dredge up another cliche – “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The Canadiens, more often than not, have not shown the will and, as a result, this season they lost their way.