Habs Need to Fight Immaturity, Not Authority

To blame Jacques Martin for the failure of the Montreal Canadiens so far this season is incredibly short-sighted and unnecessary. If a team is to succeed, they need to be prepared mentally. That starts not only with the coach but, more importantly, with the veterans. Yes, this season’s team is a small, young one with inexperienced players but it is also rich with talented, big, experienced players. Regardless of whether it’s against the best team in the league or the worst, the Canadiens have demonstrated that they have what it takes to stay in the game, which means they also have the ability to win. It is becoming more and more clear that the reasons for their losing are mental errors and poor preparation.

   In their last two losses, they failed to succeed in regulation, overtime and shootouts. Against the Columbus Blue Jackets they fell behind early and against the Vancouver Canucks they squandered a 3-0 early lead. While these situations differ, they both demonstrate the team’s inability to focus and maintain the consistency necessary for a win. It is the veterans of the team that need to gain control of the team and demonstrate the maturity and experience required to start winning games.

Against the New Jersey Devils on December 10th, the Canadiens were finally successful in maintaining a lead, even if it was a delicate one. It appears that this team is trying to lose in the last few minutes of every game. With a 2-0 lead, they let a goal in with 5 minutes left in the third period to bring the Devils back into the game, and then they took an unnecessary penalty by Raphael Diaz for slashing, followed by a penalty shot thanks to Josh Gorges. In this game Carey Price was able to bail the team out, but the last two games didn’t end so well.

Mike Cammalleri cut leg

Michael Cammalleri is still struggling (Icon SMI)

It’s time for the high paid veterans of the team to step up. Michael Cammalleri is still struggling. In his last game he ended -1 and didn’t have any goals or assists, just missed opportunities and poor decisions. He has scored only 1 goal in his last 8 game and only has 3 assists in his last 5 games. The December 1st game against the San Jose Sharks game marks only the second time this season that Cammalleri has scored more than one point (2 to be exact). The last time was on October 29th against the Boston Bruins where he earned 2 assists. Meanwhile, he’s been getting serious ice time, clocking in around 20 minutes each game and averaging 23.4 shifts per game. The team’s last game against the Devils became the 12th out of the 25 games that he’s played in so far this season where he has gone completely pointless.

Cammalleri appears to be incapable of scoring as of late. He’s found quality chances but he seems to have become good friends with the posts, hitting them twice against the Devils. This shows that while he’s there physically, mentally there’s something missing. Almost-there opportunities just don’t cut it for a player who has scored with such ease in the past, and for someone who is being paid to do just that, score.

The younger players are fighting for a spot. They are looking to show what they’re worth. Meanwhile, the veterans are not able to demonstrate the power, speed and intelligence that is supposed to come with experience. Don’t respect players because of who they are supposed to be. Their seniority, their name or their salary are never going to win championships, but talent and passion will. Give the opportunity to those who deserve it, not just because of their work ethic and their passion, but because of the results that they can and will demonstrate.

In the post-game against the Canucks, Martin responded to questions of why he chose the struggling Cammalleri over another potential shooter for the shootout: “”it’s a one-on-one competition, between a player and a goalie. You look for your top guys who have shown in the past they can do it.”

While this may very well have been true in the past, it was not likely to be true that evening, as the results demonstrated.  Cammalleri is an incredibly talented player, but when he has been injured twice this season and hasn’t performed since the beginning of the season, choose another player who has.  The same is true of Plekanec, Gionta, and Gorges. Stop playing the guys who are consistently failing because of their pasts, instead play those showing results right now. Focus on the present, not on the past. The Montreal Canadiens have the most successful record in NHL franchise history, but if the team were to focus on what had worked in the past, they’d still be stuck in the 1970s. And at the moment, the team’s power play looks like it might be.

If it is possible, the Canadiens’ power play is looking worse and worse every game. Although they are not yet topping the league in short-handed goals against, at 5 there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Not only is the team not able to capitalize on having a man advantage, but they are unable to defend with an extra player on the ice. Tomas Kaberle was able to put a dent into the problem with an assist on Max Pacioretty’s power play goal against the Devils, but the weight shouldn’t be placed completely on Kaberle to fix the problem. This is a team-wide issue and no matter how big the name or the contract, no one player will be able to keep coming up with miracles without the rest of the team falling in line.

  • Peter Stastny

    A well written thoughtful article. However it seems that in doing so you disprove your own premise. You argue that the featured players given the most opportunities are chosen by their past performance rather than their present contribution. If that does not fall on the coach, then whom? Also you point out that the players are not mentally prepared. Again job # 1 of a coach.

    The bottom line is that Jacques Martin coaches not to lose rather than pushing his team to win. The players reflect that approach. As you point out, they lose leads in the 3rd period because all they are told to to hang on and hope to not make mistakes. I doubt that players that have a true desire to win are inspired by Mr. Martin’s approach. You are right in saying that the veterans need to step up, but it is hard to lead when you don’t believe in where you are going.

    From afar the players look dispirited and listless. The greatest emotion seems to be relief when they don’t lose. Certainly not the Fondation for greatness.