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Pat Curran, the Gazette’s ace reporter, vividly reported the Canadiens’ 1968 rollercoaster: a climb from last place to hoisting the Cup. Thus, the impatient boos raining down on the Habs post-loss to Oakland didn’t startle him. Nor did Sam Pollock’s, the unflappable Habs GM, calm demeanor amid the storm.

By late January 1969, the Canadiens had dropped five of their last seven home games. As they prepared for a Saturday showdown with the Flyers, whispers of the team’s fragility grew louder. Blues coach Scotty Bowman, poised for three consecutive Stanley Cup final appearances, praised his expansion team’s grit, a quality seemingly lacking in Pollock’s lineup. Pollock’s retort to Curran was sharp: “That’s hockey, not their game. Our guys lose the puck and shy away. We need to bear down.”

He lamented, “For some reason, we’re not hitting enough.”

As the 70s dawned, Pollock was acutely aware that team toughness and hard work were non-negotiable. He openly criticized key players like Jacques Lemaire and the Tremblays. The Canadiens, at a crossroads, weighed options between farm team reinforcements and trades. An exasperated Pollock even considered demoting underperforming stars.

Jean Beliveau was on that team, my friends!

Fast-forward to 2023. The Canadiens, long removed from the era of brute-force championships, find themselves in a similar bind. Coach Martin St. Louis echoes Pollock’s sentiments, facing a team unable to meet the physicality so far of 2023 hockey. Yet, unlike Pollock, St. Louis hasn’t witnessed decades of Canadiens’ struggles against more aggressive opponents. His reassurances to fans, therefore, might feel hollow.

With key physical players like Arber Xhekaj injured, the Canadiens’ intimidating presence dwindles. As injuries mount, it might be time for St. Louis to actually hit the panic button. The team is increasingly vulnerable to aggressive opponents. Josh Anderson’s potential physical contribution is starting to feel like a pipe dream, but it’s up to St. Louis to rally his team to deliver the required toughness.

Don’t get me wrong, being a motivational speaker is great but the Habs might need some coaching at this point.

Otherwise, they risk repeating history. Pollock, on that pivotal night of January 25th, 1969, starkly warned underperformers: “Maybe it’s time to get rid of them.”

In a remarkable response, the 1969 Canadiens, on that Saturday night trounced the Flyers 6-3, with the previously criticized players leading the charge. Today’s Habs face a similar test: to find physical resilience within or be easy prey, that’s probably a label they don’t want to revisit.