On February 25th, 1978, the 1977-78 Canadiens team’s 28 game unbeaten streak came to an end. Today marks 44 years since that day. Having been an avid fan of the Les Canadiens de Montreal since the 80s, it is unfortunate not to have gotten a chance to watch the 77-78 team live. Nonetheless, the hallmarks of this team were not just the number of Hall of Famers they had, the Stanley Cup they won again that year, but also the 28-game unbeaten streak they held during that historic regular season. It is true that the team included many talented Hall of Fame players, such as Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Serge Savard, Guy Lafleur, and Jacques Lemaire, but also a major part of the winning equation involved the astute coaching of Scotty Bowman and intelligent leadership of GM Sam Pollock.
Hockey is a team sport and rarely if ever is one player the sole reason that a team wins a championship although it can play a major role in that outcome. Well-reasoned decisions by the General Manager and adaptable coaching have a significant influence on building a winning culture and a championship team. You can have all the skill in the world, but when a team full of various levels of talent is led by a great coach who can manage different personalities, adapt to unexpected situations, and shape the team’s work ethic to perform like a cohesive unit, then a long winning streak or a Stanley Cup championship are not out of the question.
From researching and learning more about the 1977-78 team, the attributes used to describe this team were “great chemistry”, “respect for opponents”, “accountability”, “poised”, and “fear of losing” (not a negative mindset, but in a constructive way). This was a direct result of the coaching and mentorship the team received from head coach, Scotty Bowman, if there was one word to describe his style of coaching apart from the technical aspect of it, it is adaptable. This storied franchise, is fortunate to have such historic successes to reflect upon because if there is one major thing history always seems to emphasize is that you can learn from your past mistakes to build a successful future, perhaps that can apply to our current Canadiens team too given their recent predicament.
A few quick thoughts on the Julien/Muller firing and more:
- Unfortunately, in the short-term, this change was needed for the team’s growth and maturation but long-term for there to be a bigger pool of bilingual coaches getting experience and the Habs to choose from (i.e., Alex Burrows, Dominique Ducharme, and Joel Bouchard).
- It is great that the salary cap room that was saved up in the past was finally spent on five talented players, but the Joel Edmundson acquisition seems like a lost opportunity cost of not acquiring a puck moving defenceman. Romanov is talented but needs to be afforded the time to mature and develop into a “Markov 2.0” if that happens.
- It seems like acquiring a big skilled center in Pierre-Luc Dubois would not have been such a bad idea, not comparing him to Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
- Putting Brady Tkachuk and Kotkaniemi’s growth into perspective, Brady has been able to handle the physical grind of the NHL much better and yet still assert himself offensively and defensively. Kotkaniemi’s not a bad player and may end up demonstrating more of his potential, but he has been sent to the AHL and did get more time to train in Finland.
- Team defence during this losing streak has been suspect (i.e., defencemen overplaying defensive coverages, delay of game penalties, and usage in certain situations like overtime/special teams). Certain ones can be better utilized so that they can remain effective and productive vs. being a liability because they were overused.