As the Canadiens fall further out of playoff contention, it is natural to assess the state of the team. All organizations have bad stretches or even down seasons due to injuries, slumps, or a combination of circumstances. However, while there has been disappointing underperformance throughout the lineup, any reasonable assessment would confirm that this is a poorly designed team.
Management’s errors were laid bare when Carey Price’s poor start failed to provide cover for personnel that simply does not complement one another. The team’s long-standing weakness down the middle has been well-documented for more than a generation. However, the Canadiens’ speed and depth on the wings is an asset that can and in past seasons has been used to counter-attack and play an effective transition game. The transition game is predicated on breakout passes from the back end and this organization’s best puck mover is currently playing with the Canadian World Junior team, Victor Mete. Montreal has a number one defenceman, the estimable Shea Weber, but his physical play, sound defensive game and cannon of a shot do not fit well with the forwards’ primary strengths. With the departure of Andrei Markov, there is now no one to fill the role of an elite puck-moving defenceman.
It is difficult to overstate how badly the Canadiens defence corps has declined in the past year. No, Marc Bergevin, the defence is not better than last year’s edition. Not only is there a lack of puck movers, the defensive breakdowns in the Canadiens’ own end are atrocious. Price is regularly hung out to dry on a regular, consistent basis, every game. While the NHL keeps statistics on quality scoring chances, it would be interesting to know how many utterly unstoppable chances are surrendered by Montreal’s defenders. For certain, defence is a team responsibility but their turnovers, failed coverages, and utter inability to convert opportunities to clear or headman the puck are relegating the Canadiens to the bottom of the league.
Like many poor teams, capable players on this team are being asked to fill roles that do not fit with their skill sets. Jonathan Drouin is an excellent example. Drouin is diligently attempting to become the number one centreman the Canadiens have lacked for more than 25 years. But he’s a winger. Max Pacioretty is a fine winger but does not have the fire and leadership qualities to be the captain in a hockey-mad city like Montreal. Jeff Petry filled in admirably for a short period of time while Weber was out earlier in the season but he is not a number one defenceman and is probably not even a number two defender on a good team. Even some of the left wingers have had to move to the right side due to a logjam of wingers on the left side.
The bottom line is that many Canadiens players are playing out of position or taking on roles that they simply cannot fill. While individual players on the team have talent, there seems to have been little deliberation on how the pieces fit together. When teams underachieve, the fan base normally looks to the coach. Any fair-minded analysis of this team should squarely focus on the team’s architect.