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The Montreal Canadiens had a mediocre November batting .500 for the month and they couldn’t wait to start fresh with December rolling in. Along with the new month came the Nashville Predators; a welcomed breath of fresh air for the Canadiens as Nashville has never won in Montreal, and the Habs needed to turn over a new leaf.

That was then, this is now. The Canadiens built up a 3 – 0 and 4 – 1 lead with 8:40 left in the third period only to watch the Predators rally, and erase the deficit, then win in the shootout. Nashville has now won in Montreal, and management and players alike are left holding the bag wondering where it went wrong.

Well, several things went wrong last night, but let’s have a recap just for fun.

Head coach Guy Carbonneau tried to help Captain Koivu out of his scoring slump by moving him to the super offensive third line. Oh wait… they don’t score on the third line. So the only thing offensive about this move is for Koivu.
Saku has been captain of the team and on the first line for 12 years. He knows what needs to be done and you let him play it out. Saku is not a rookie or second year player that can only be taught by this method. At worst case you sit down and talk to him, but even then it isn’t necessary to tell him what he already knows.

Bryan Smolinski…. wow. He has played terrible for at least the last 5 games and last night was no exception. Let’s forget the fact he was paired up with Koivu on the third line (or was he promoted to the first?) for a minute and look at his most recent gaff that cost the team. Late in the third period (18:10 to be exact) with the Habs clinging to a one goal lead and with Nashville scrambling in their own zone to get possession of the puck in hopes to pull the goalie, he takes a hooking penalty 200 feet from his own net. An offensive zone penalty is bad; with a one goal lead is worse; late in the game is even worse; and giving the opposition a two man advantage from it (by pulling the goalie) causing the game tying goal is just about as beer league as you can get. Good call on the NTC huh?

Cristobal Huet played a great game as the Habs continued the recent trend of allowing 40+ shots. On second thought calling it a “great game” might have been a bit gracious. Huet was not without fault in this one either. Huet might be even more to blame than any other player, but for the voice of reason, we’ll just say he was equal to the other mistakes made. At the 8:40 mark with the Canadiens on the power play and looking to add to a 3 – 0 lead Huet decided to come out of his net and stop a dump in from the Predators. Luck and physics decided to take a short vacation and the puck took a funny bounce of the boards and trickled right out front of the open net to Jed Ortmeyer giving the Preds a short handed goal and a breath of life. Hindsight is always perfect, but it was an unnecessary gamble in a game that was well at hand, and with the man power advantage.

Latendresse scored his second goal of the game two minutes later, giving the Habs a 3 goal lead again. All this lead did was provide Huet with another goal to let in while dumping another late lead as has been the recent trend.
The 3 goals scored by Nashville to tie the game weren’t “bad” goals per se, but the short handed goal really took him off his game and allowed the panic to set in.

Do you get the sinking feeling in the back of your mind that all this sounds familiar?
It should, the last three seasons this type of collapse has happened, except this is a month earlier.

What can/should be done to curb this from happening again? It has already started.

Bob Gainey was in Hamilton for their last contest (an unfortunate 6 – 0 loss on Nov 30th) checking up on how the young guys are doing. However, I believe he was looking at replacements for current Canadiens or possibly a prospect or two to add to a trade. Quick speculation leads to Lapierre and O’Byrne as the key guys he wanted to see in action, but it might go even deeper.

Looking at the rotating roster of the Canadiens, Bouillion, Begin, Grabovski, Kostopoulos, Gorges, and Brisebois to a lesser degree have all been in and out of the line up often enough to assume that no one can step up and take the spot for themselves. After 25 games of inadequacy the same opportunity should be given to O’Byrne and Lapierre. Granted they won’t get the same number of games to prove that they should have a place on the NHL roster, but both of them stand a better chance then the current formula. Since the Habs players listed have very little trade value right now, the safe bet would be on an infusion of two certain Bulldogs to help right the ship.

Lapierre is versatile in a checking role but he can also add some offense as long as he keeps his work ethic high enough to stay in the good books of coach Carbonneau.

O’Byrne is a big body that dishes out the physical game almost as well as anybody on the Canadiens roster. As long as he doesn’t try to do too much he would be a huge physical addition to the blue line that Bouillion, Brisebois, and Streit can’t match.

All the focus here has been on last nights Nashville game, but it has been true of other games recently and that is why the intense scrutiny has been so severe. If there is a silver lining to this situation maybe it’s the possibility of getting the annual December slump out of the way now, when there is still a chance to make a trade before the Christmas roster freeze. Maybe the silver lining is that the Division and Conference leading Ottawa Senators have the same issues right now and have tanked the last six games and have not pulled away from the Canadiens reach like the Sabres did last season. It might also be possible that the real silver lining happens to be that this breakdown has happened again this season without injuries, flu bugs or other acts of God, proving to management that certain changes need to be made to get the desired consistency.

Patience is preached and expected when Gainey is at the helm, but I think its safe to think that even his patience is being tested now.