Can we safely declare that the Canadiens are in a slump? Dare we go further and say they have a series systemic problems that have made them for the last month a very ordinary hockey club in danger of going down to the final game of the season in order to make the playoffs for the second year in a row?
I’m stll of the belief that it’s only a team malaise.
We know that Jacques Martin’s “system” only works when the players implement it flawlessly. That system depends on hard work and support. If either, or both, of these things breaks down, the Canadiens invariably lose.
We know these things: the Canadiens are a terrific team when the score the first goal in a game. (17-3-2)They are awful when they fall behind (3-11-0). This holds for most teams in the league, but coming from behind even a one goal deficit only three times in fourteen games makes the Habs one of the worst teams in the league.
There’s the predictable talk-show handwringing in Montreal after last night’s loss to the Islanders for good reason. But all we saw last night was a continuation of a series of games dating back to the November 18th Bell Centre meeting with Nashville. Going into that game the Canadiens were fresh off their fourth win in a row, the 3-2 home ice victory over Philadelphia. They should have been feeling pretty good about themselves. Instead they came up with a stinker against the Predators. They were sloppy and appeared disinterested. At one point in the first period the Canadiens were outshot 12-3 and were down 2-0 and on this blog I wrote:
“The stat sheets show busy offensive nights from Gionta, Cammalleri, Kostitsyn, Lapierre and Subban. They may have been busy, but they accomplished little.”
Sound familiar? That game was the beginning of pattern of eight games in which the team followed each win with a loss. Then there was that three game winning streak against New Jersey, San Jose and Ottawa and things seemed to right with the world once again.
Well, as we’ve found out, it is possible to be find a new bottom to their game. Since the three game winning streak they’re 2-6.
We, in hindsight, probably should have seen the signs of impending problems. P.K. Subban after glittering first month of the season, started to have rookie problems with his game and his confidence started to slide. All of the problems that Scott Gomez was having seemed to start to impact the rest of the other top six forwards. When Max Pacioretty was promoted on December 13th, Gomez started to find his game at the same time that the Plekanec line, especially Andrei Kostitsyn, went into the dumpster. The usually reliable Josh Gorges seemed to have lost a step, leading to suspicions that there’s a hidden injury. The overall protection Carey Price received from his defense the first seventeen or eighteen games of the season broke down. Small and correctible things on their own, but add them up and, on a team that is not blessed with the offensive depth of, say, a Philadelphia or Boston, and you have the makings of a major slump.
Jacques Martin is left playing the cards he’s dealt. David Desharnais took over the American Hockey League scoring lead last night in the game against the Toronto Marlies, but there are some questions about his speed and the usual ones about his size. Outside of him and maybe Dustin Boyd who, playing on a line with Desharnais, has six goals in five games, the Hamilton well seems to be dry at this point.
They say two of the most difficult things to figure out in all sports is: 1. What causes a slump? 2. How to break out of a slump?
We do they’e a ‘team’ thing and it will take a team effort to break out it. Strangely enough, should the Canadiens beat Washington tomorrow night (any bets?) and then sweep the two Florida games, they would finish the month of December with a winning record. Wouldn’t that be something?