It’s about time to release frustrations…
Not-So-Bold Prediction: The Montreal Canadiens will not be a playoff team in 2016. The Habs have underwhelmed since December, as they have proven that without the heart and soul of the team, Carey Price, they are nothing. Price’s nagging injury has kept him out throughout the entire Canadiens slide – which is no coincidence. Habs players and fans are fed up, since nobody seems to be able to find the solution to their atrocious performance over the last two months.
Before figuring out the solution, let’s identify the problems. Here’s everything that is wrong with the Montreal Canadiens.
Canadiens’ management hasn’t been under this much scrutiny in a long time. The team’s fanbase is calling for some kind of change – something that will shake up the roster that clearly needs help. Through this lengthy slide that has seen the Canadiens win only seven games since December 1st, team management has done nothing. Well, not exactly nothing; GM Marc Bergevin held a press conference where he once again stated that he had full confidence in head coach, Michel Therrien – and that the coach was safe from being fired for this season. Though many believe that firing the coach would help turn this season around, unfortunately, there are too many other issues with the team (for more on why firing Michel Therrien wouldn’t solve the problems, click here). One would think that with the struggles being so serious as of late, the management would take action. Unfortunately, one would be wrong, and this is only the beginning of the list of problems.
Max Pacioretty’s leadership abilities were put to the test this season, after he was named the 29th captain in Canadiens history. Let’s face it, it isn’t easy to wear the ‘C’ in Montreal – especially when the team is doing badly. Max Pacioretty had no critics at the beginning of the season – when the team was doing well. Now, however, people are being much more critical of the 27 year-old, who has a large supporting cast of leaders to help him both on and off the ice. Brendan Gallagher, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Plekanec are among the other Canadiens players who are in leadership roles. None of the above have been able to spark the team through their recent slump. Though Max Pacioretty doesn’t deserve to be taking all of the blame; it’d be nice to see the group of leaders come together and work to spark a team that has struggled mightily.
One of the aforementioned leaders, Tomas Plekanec, mentioned that the team wanted to prove that they could win without Carey Price. Plekanec was quoted in saying this at the beginning of the season, shortly after Price got injured. The team has since proven that they can’t be successful without their all-star goaltender. The reigning league MVP has proven that he deserved said title, since without him, the Canadiens are nowhere near the same team.
The jury is still out on whether Michel Therrien has lost the Canadiens dressing room, though one thing is certain: the players look completely uninspired. It isn’t easy to play with confidence when your team is losing all but two or three games a month. The team’s on-ice play has been very sub-par, and their players look fed up of losing. It’s hard to imagine that the players still have confidence in ‘the system’, since it hasn’t proven to work at all over the last two and a half months.
The On-Ice Play:
The main source of much of Canadiens’ fans frustration should be the offence. Continually watching your team break into the offensive zone by dumping and chasing gets hard to watch – especially since after the puck is dumped, the wingers rarely win the corner battles. The issue with dump and chase is simple – the Canadiens forwards have an average height of approximately 5’10, and an average weight of about 188 pounds. It’s hard to win corner battles when you have one of the smaller forward groups in the league. So why do the Habs continuously set themselves up to lose the puck in the corners? Well, I wish I knew.
If the dump and chase strategy isn’t used, the alternative is usually a shot from the wing off the rush with no net presence. It is very rare that a simple outside shot will beat one of today’s NHL goaltenders. Both strategies often lead to 3-on-2’s going back the other way. The Habs have recently been able to create a couple of good shifts per game, where they control the puck in the offensive zone for extended periods of time. The issue with that is, they often pass the puck around the perimeter, rather than bringing it to the net and forcing traffic in front of opposing goaltenders. The way to score in the NHL is to crash and bang around opposing team nets – and the Canadiens just aren’t doing that enough. Sometimes when a team is in a slump, it’s best to stick to basics.
Many Habs fans are blaming the lack of offence for the team’s recent struggles, and they’re not wrong. The Canadiens are having tremendous amounts of trouble scoring more than two goals per game. However, unfortunately, offence isn’t the only part of the Canadiens on-ice play that needs some fixing. Check out this video from Wednesday night’s game, when they lost to the Buffalo Sabres. Keep an eye on number 82, Marcus Foligno – who opened the scoring for the Sabres.
This is only a small representation of the way that the team has played defensively recently. For this, though, there is no explanation. Coach Therrien said after the game that the goals scored against his team were simply unacceptable. It doesn’t make sense that an NHL team completely blows their defensive coverage like the Canadiens did on multiple occasions against the Buffalo Sabres, and in general over the last couple months. Many believe that the Habs have been suffering defensively due to over compensation in the absence of Carey Price. The Canadiens have tried to protect their rookie goaltender, Mike Condon so much, that they have actually been counter-productive in the defensive zone protection.
It is legitimately hard to criticize Mike Condon based on what he has done over the course of this season. The rookie has been pushed into a very difficult position, and has been steady for the majority of his time as the starter. Condon hasn’t had any support from the team in front of him, yet he is giving them a chance to win in almost every game that he plays. Though Condon has been impressive, he is by no means Carey Price. Price is the backbone of this team, and very few NHL goalies could have stepped in and done what he had done for the Habs over the last few years.
Though both the offence and defence have been underperforming lately, the real hole in the roster is up front. The Canadiens have needed a forward to help make them a legitimate threat in the NHL for a long time. Now that everything has collapsed, this is more apparent than ever. The Habs can’t score enough goals to win games. Coach Therrien believes that three goals is enough to win hockey games, but the Canadiens seem to only be able to score two or less per game. Two goals per game isn’t enough. The roster could use some bolstering – particularly since there seems to be an abundance of bottom-six players, and not enough top-six threats.
If the Habs go down by 2, not sure anyone is confident they can score 3 to win.
— All About The Habs (@AATHabs) January 27, 2016
Who are the Canadiens’ top-six players? Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, and… well.. that’s it. The Habs need to add a top-six offensive threat if they are to be a serious contender at some point in the future. Before talking about being a contender, though, they should start with winning a few games. This roster simply isn’t good enough to win a cup, and that’ll have to change this summer. The Habs have too many bottom-six forwards. These forwards take up spots from younger players, who may be more deserving and more talented, but who simply don’t have as much experience.
The Solution for the Canadiens?
Some of the aforementioned issues must be solved if the Habs look to turn this season around, or even look to make the playoffs in future seasons. Change must come from the top of the organization – so for now, it’s up to the management to turn this team around. All of the problems with the team could potentially be solved with a few calculated moves by Canadiens management, and with the return of all-star goaltender, Carey Price. Though it doesn’t look like the Canadiens are a playoff team this year, a couple of adjustments could get them back on track. Look for the Habs to search for a new coach, a new top-six scorer, and a new on-ice ‘system’ before the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
The Habs are coming off a rare five goal performance against a tired Oilers team. We’ll see if they can build on their win and carry the momentum to future games.
I’m a Montreal Canadiens columnist and lifelong Habs fan. Follow me on Twitter (@gregkatz19) for all kinds of hockey talk, and to be up to date on my newest articles. I previously wrote for Too Many Men on the Site, a part of Fansided NHL.