Coaches react in different ways to the kind of effort the Canadiens put into their game Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild. They can punish the team by ordering up an exhausting off-day “bag skate” as Guy Carbonneau did in the middle of a road trip a couple years ago. They can simply hold a light practice or optional skate. The third option is to keep the players off the ice completely. Thursday in Chicago Michel Therrien, perhaps thinking a rest is the best tonic for a team that is in the midst of a four-games-in-six-night stretch, opted for the latter.
The Canadiens who have lost four of their last five and are 1-1 on the road trip, will play the Hawks Friday night and fly 1600 kilometres south to Dallas for Saturday night’s game against the Stars. In goal for the weekend, count on Carey Price in Chicago and Dustin Tokarski for the Saturday night game.
LIFE AT THE TOP
“We aren’t making plays. We weren’t executing and we got away from our game plan. …..When we get away from that we’re an average team.”
Those were Paciorety’s thoughts following his team’s horrible overall performance against the Minnesota Wild Wednesday night. Inadvertently, he was pointing up how tenuous the Canadiens position is near the top of the NHL standings.
Elite teams in the NHL can get away with a periodic off night and still come away with two points. The Canadiens aren’t one of them. So far this season, any sign of a discipline breakdown or a deviation from game plan has had disasterous results. If the Minnesota Wild weren’t a team with similar offensive problems to the Canadiens, the final result Wednesday night would have taken on the proportions of the losses against Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Calgary, Chicago, Pittsburgh and the Rangers during which they were outscored by a combined 30-3.
The Canadiens front office is aware of the team’s shortcomings as is anyone who watches the team on a regular basis. It is why any talk of reaching the Stanley Cup finals this year is very muted.
Just as an aside – Is it me or, is Pacioretty emerging as the Canadiens number one dressing room go-to spokesperson?
BOURNIVAL BACK TO HAMILTON
Of course the Canadiens sent Michael Bournival back to the Hamilton Bulldogs for another conditioning stint. They had no other option. At the same time the Habs recalled forward Drayson Bowman.
Bournival’s entire season has been made up a total of 19 shifts and 12:32 ice time in two games. He was a healthy scratch the first twelve games as Michel Therrien stubbornly leaned towards veteran Travis Moen on his fourth line and kept force feeding the unproductive Rene Bourque into his nightly lineup. Bournival got in the lineup for trhe first time November 4th, just in time for that home ice thrashing at the hands of the Blackhawks. The next night at Buffalo the Sabres Cody McCormick ended things for him by separating his shoulder late in the first period.
So Bournival gets his second conditioning stint in Hamilton. The Bulldogs will play three games in less than 72 hours this weekend including tow games against the Toronto Marlies. . His conditioning will be evaluated after that.
Bournival brings speed and tenacity to the Canadiens lineup. It’s something that has been missing on their fourth line. After the Moen and Bourque trades, and with his availability, Therrien has either gone with seven defensemen or been forced into using the likes of Bowman or most recently Eric Tangradi to fill his spot.
Outside of Bournival, after 26 games the Canadiens have listed only two man-games lost to injury. Alexei Emilin missed the third and fourth games with an upper body injury. Other than that the hockey club has been extraordinarily fortunate in that department. All tolled, the Canadiens have lost 15 man-games to injury, thirteen of them to Bournival.
THE HIGH COST OF INJURIES
Teams and players never like to mention injuries and the effect they have on seasons. “Part of the game” is the company line. But, when the hockey gods frown on a team in that department entire seasons go up in smoke.
Three seasons ago the Canadiens official injury count was 439 man-games lost through 39 different injury reports. As a result, the Canadiens finished at the bottom end of the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs. The only good thing to come out of that train wreck was the Alex Galchenyuk draft choice. This season the Columbus Blue Jackets, who many thought were a lock to finally make the playoffs, have lost 168 man games and as that figure continues to climb and while the Blue Jacketrs sink to league cellar they are closer to drafting Connor MacDavid than getting to the post season.
When the Canadiens played them on Monday the Colorado Avalanche had ten players out with various problems, seven of them on injury reserve. Like the Canadiens in 2011-2012, the Avalanche looked more like their AHL farm team than the team with which they were projected to start the season. If the problems continue much longer, memories of Patrick Roy’s first as Colorado head coch are going to be long forgotten.
Many ingredients go into a winning NHL season. Being relatively injury free is as important as anything. The Canadiens of three years ago and the Canadiens of this season are perfect examples.
When’s teams speak of the ‘hockey gods’ The Canadiens barely got by a team that had a large contingent of players from their Cleveland farm team, including goaltender Calvin Pickard.
SPEAKING OF INJURIES
A chill went through the Canadiens Player Development Department when they learned that their 2014 number one draft pick Nikita Scherbak had been carted off the ice on a stretcher during a junior game in Seattle twelve days ago. Turned out to be a deep thigh bruise which caused him to miss two games. It didn’t change Scherbak’s momentum a bit. Wednesday night in a 4-2 win at home in Everett against Spokane Scherbak was in on the first three goals, scoring twice. In the two games since coming back from the injury Scherbak has five points including 3 goals. In 21 games this season he has 14 goals and 33 points in 21 games. This was his eleventh multiple point game and the third time with three points.