Since Dominique Ducharme replaced Claude Julien as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, the team still hasn’t improved. Some would say it actually got worse, and their inconsistency proves it. Only once has the team won more than two games in a row, and instead of pulling away from the teams behind them for the last playoff spot, they are barely staying afloat. Since Ducharme is coaching with the “interim” tag, coupled with the very inconsistent play of the team, it could take a deep playoff run for him to secure the head coaching job.
Out With the Old in With the New…or Not
When Ducharme replaced Julien, it changed the guard: an old-style coach was replaced with a new style coach. It was believed that Ducharme would change the team’s look and bring a new style of coaching that would create more offense for the team. When Julien was the head coach, he relied heavily on his veterans and often made rookies and young layers earn their ice time. With Ducharme, many hoped that he would change that style and balance the playing time between the veterans and young players.
Instead of getting any of that, the team got Ducharme’s actual coaching style – which seems to be basically the same as Julien’s. Ducharme still relies heavily on his veterans, especially on defense. It’s no secret that Shea Weber has slowed down, and the team needs to mix the puck-moving defencemen with the stay-at-home defencemen. Still, Ducharme stays the course like Julien and keeps Weber with Ben Chiarot instead of splitting them up to pair with puck movers like Alex Romanov or Brett Kulak. Although young guns Jeperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki have seen a significant increase in ice time, Ducharme still turns to his defensive veterans in key situations.
Changing Lines but Not Changing Results
Ducharme has been changing the lineups almost every game to create offense and win hockey games. Although he does tend to keep forward pairs together – usually the center and a winger – he does move the third member of a line around like a merry go round. It’s understandable what he’s trying to do, but it makes it hard for the players to develop chemistry when only two-thirds of the line is in sync. Without chemistry, it’s hard for the lines to create supportive offense, and that causes you to have issues scoring.
As mentioned before, the one thing that does remain consistent is the defensive pairings; the Weber/Chiarot pairing and the Jeff Petry/Joel Edmundson had stayed together the entire season – except when Chiarot was out with an injury. Even though Weber/Chiarot pairing has had its issues, Ducharme is still reluctant to split them up for some reason. The new style of offense in the NHL starts with the defense, and each pairing needs a player who can move the puck and transition through the neutral zone; keeping two stay-at-home defencemen together hinders that style of play.
Scheduling and Injuries Are Not Helping
With the Canadiens missing a week of hockey due to a Covid outbreak, their schedule was condensed even more than the regular 56 game schedule was. The Canadiens have eight games left of a stint where they would play 25 games in 44 days; since the return from Covid, the Canadiens have a record of 7-10 while playing four games a week. The team has not won two games in a row since the first two games back, and they have scored three goals or fewer in 13 of those 17 games.
Injuries have been piling up with Brendon Gallagher, Carey Price, Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron, and recently Jonathan Drouin all out with various injuries – Drouin and Gallagher were both placed on long-term injury reserve (LTIR). With the tight schedule and the injuries to some key players, the Canadiens and Ducharme have it tough. Ducharme has to really juggle his lines to create ones that will provide much-needed offense; the team is struggling in terms of goal support as it is, and with fatigue setting in, the Canadiens will be running on fumes to end the season. It will be up to the coach to bring them together and work hard for wins; however, as for now, they can’t seem to get a winning streak of more than one game in a row.
Deep Playoffs or Bust
Even with the Injuries and tough schedule, Ducharme hasn’t done enough as a head coach to instill consistency in the team. The team’s record is actually worse since he took over; under Julien, the Habs were 9-5-4, with Ducharme, they are 12-13-5. It can be argued that Ducharme didn’t get the time to properly run the team through his system due to the fact he doesn’t have more than a day of practice before a game. Given the tight schedule, Ducharme has been with the team long enough that they should know his system by now.
As it currently stands, Ducharme will have to make a deep playoff run to keep his job for next season, given his record and the fact the team is offensively worse than they were under a defensive-minded coach like Julien. The team was supposed to be a playoff team, and even though they are in a playoff spot, they are not playing like a playoff team. They are still in that spot only because the teams behind them are not winning either, allowing the Canadiens to pull away slowly. Ducharme will need to turn this all around in the playoffs – the team was built to play well in the playoffs, and that’s where it’s supposed to shine. If Ducharme has this team playing in the postseason as inconsistent as it is now, then his days are numbered if they can win a round or two, which might help get Ducharme another season behind the bench.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.