A quarter of the Habs’ season has already passed us by. Optimism hardly abounds
when we talk about the team and, with a mediocre 9-11 record, there is no reason
it should. What conclusions can we draw now that we have hit the 20 game mark?
Like any team hovering around .500, there are some positives. However, for the
moment, the negatives far outweigh the positives.
The team tends to start its games in a dreadful
manner. The team is 22nd in goals scored in the first period with
only 11 so far while, in contrast, they are 4th in goals allowed in
the first with 19. The team has dug itself into a hole early far too many times
this year and that, perhaps more than anything, has hampered them. Save for the
game against Nashville, which was an unqualified disaster, the team has had a
propensity to battle harder in the latter periods. Sadly, the early deficits
combined with anemic scoring means it is nearly impossible for this squad to
stage any sort of comeback.
And that, the lack of balanced scoring, is
another prominent issue facing the new look Canadiens. While the first line has
been threatening in most games, they have yet to produce consistently and
profusely. Scott Gomez, the team’s highest paid player, has only 11 points thus
far. To put that in perspective, that is only one more than Glen Metropolit, who
has been a very pleasant surprise this year. Of course save for him and leading
scorer Tomas Plekanec, there is a complete absence of secondary scoring on the
team. Young veterans such as Kostitsyn, Latendresse, D’Agostini and Pacioretty
seem snake bitten and a tad confused on the ice. Jacques Martin’s reputation of
developing young players has yet to pan out in Montreal.
Finally, there is the obvious issue of injuries
to Markov, O’Byrne and Gill. With all the added ice time, Hamrlik and Spacek
have started to look tired. Leach, Bergeron and Carle aren’t bad, but too much
is being asked of them as well. And the forwards do not support their defensemen
enough. How many times have we seen the backline unable to make a good first
pass because the forwards are so far away?
Eric Engels, a Habs writer whom I greatly
respect, asks, “how many more embarrassments can they afford before drastic
changes are made?” This statement reflects the general sentiment of Montreal
fans who are clamouring for change in order to repair the team, which decidedly
seems to be in a bit of disarray at the moment. I would answer that, on the
contrary, after a summer chock-full of changes, stability is what is needed at
the moment. Roll the same lines and pairings for more than two games in a row
and let some chemistry develop. By always changing the line combinations it
sends the message that, if your line is not producing, it is not your fault but
While some will say I am wearing rose coloured
glasses, if the team can build a consistent winning identity over the next 40
games, they may actually prove to be a dangerous opponent. Think back to
2000-01, when the team suddenly witnessed the returns of Souray and Koivu, the
complexion of the team changed dramatically. If this team starts playing to it
potential, the return of Markov and the other injured players won’t be viewed as
salvation but rather a bonus.