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After a holiday hiatus, Around the Boards returns with much to discuss. Pierre Gauthier, mirroring many Habs fans, decided to dabble in some Boxing Week shopping, acquiring James Wisniewski from the Islanders and shipping Maxim Lapierre to the Ducks. Interestingly, our forum members were largely pleased with both transactions and rather spent significant time contemplating the Canadiens’ recent rough patch. And, with a team at 3-6-1 in its previous ten games, many were looking to figure out what interrupted such a promising start to the year.

Several members, such as Wamsley01, have pointed to Price’s average play and minimal offense as reasons for the recent letdown:“Price’s game has slipped. Anybody who says otherwise is kidding themselves. He is not to blame for their slump, but if he was playing at the level he was in the first 30 games the Habs wouldn’t have registered a major slump […] Add in a lack of scoring, a tough schedule and you get poor results”

Lack of scoring is the key here. The top forwards have simply not been delivering offense with consistency. While Scott Gomez’s play has improved, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn have certainly been underwhelming of late. However, as easy as it is to ladle a fair portion of blame on the aforementioned wingers, the team’s support players have not been contributing with regularity. Benoit Pouliot, Travis Moen, Tom Pyatt, Lars Eller, Mathieu Darche and Jeff Halpern are all owners of nasty cold streaks and, in general, have been rather pedestrian over the past 6 weeks. In fact, both Halpern and Eller have gone pointless in their past 11 contests. It is true that Price has seen his play dip, but it is difficult to point fingers at the netminder when the 12 players tasked with scoring are not getting the job done.

For others, a weakened and battered blueline seems to be the simplest explanation of the team’s woes. As The Chicoutimi Cucumber puts it, “Markov hurt + Subban loses his mojo + assorted minor injuries (Gorges) = major crisis on the blueline, followed by a major slump. This seems to me to be the simplest, most obvious explanation – albeit one that seems to be glaringly underplayed in commentaries”

The point is a valid one and, as mentioned above, one that has not been given much attention. After all, even heading into the season, we all expressed concern about Gill, Hamrlik and Spacek’s age, were worried about Markov’s questionable health and questioned how P.K Subban, who is a rookie after all, would react over an 82 game schedule. Perhaps now we are simply witnessing the consequences of those facts and fears materialize on the ice.

Finally, others hypothesise that the team’s chemistry may have taken a nosedive or worry that Martin’s message is being tuned out, especially with younger players. In reality though, from outside the dressing room, it is incredibly hard to gauge the feelings of the players and the general atmosphere. Evidently, during a more difficult stretch players are a bit edgier and are clearly not following the coach’s game plan to the letter. After all, if they were, one would assume they would be producing better results. Only time will tell if those fears are justified or if the recent stretch is only a normal dip in a long season. As for me, I hope the Habs’ problem is the same as mine this holiday season: too much turkey.

That’s all for this week’s instalment of ATB. Until next time, see you on the boards.

Louis Moustakas can be reached for comments, questions, cross-checks and, of course, fan-mail at [email protected]

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