When your team starts 13-2-1, it might be a bit crazy to criticize the head coach, but here we are. It’s not that there is really anything bad to say about the style of play that the Canadiens are playing, but it has just come to my attention that there seems to be a certain trend in Montreal over the past 3 seasons.
The Canadiens were an awful possession team last season with a high PDO, but with a few changes this year, the Canadiens have found themselves near the top of the league in regards to possession. Through 16 games, the Habs have posted a 53% score adjusted corsi, putting them tied for 4th overall in the league in that category. Possession is starting to become more and more important in the NHL, and you’re beginning to see it all over your tv’s on the national broadcasts and referenced in writers work. It’s simple really, if you have possession, you’re not chasing the puck and you’re able to generate offense. I know that these are professional athletes, but you’d be surprised at how difficult the game of hockey is when you don’t have the puck. What is the real problem behind what head coach Michel Therrien is doing though?
When everything is going right for a hockey club, it’s difficult to point fingers at the set up of the team, but this certainly needs to be addressed before the Canadiens eventually fall into a slide and face some adversity. Adversity has already hit this club early as they have shown that they are much more than just a team led by the best goalie in the world in Carey Price. Mike Condon has filled in perfectly fine for the club, and for once, the Canadiens aren’t entirely concerned about how long the Hart trophy winner will be sidelined for.
The real issue at hand here is why does Therrien have a problem with letting skill players play to their strengths and do what they do best? Let’s look at the different examples that we have endured over the past three seasons.
The winger was signed in 2013 and dealt in the 2013 off-season after a rather unproductive season. Although Briere was unproductive, was he ever really put in a chance to succeed? There were times when he was played with Gionta and Plekanec, but this was more of a shutdown unit and Briere was often taken off this line late in games because Therrien didn’t trust him to defend leads. Briere found himself on a 4th line checking unit or even sitting in the press box, which is no way to use a veteran forward whose skill-set could help your club. Briere was dealt in the off season to Colorado and is now retired.
On July 1st, 2014, General Manager Marc Bergevin made an interesting signing when he took to signing free agent Czech forward Jiri Sekac. At first glance, this seemed like a depth signing, but Sekac was able to make the team out of camp and was misused from the start. Sekac is a skill player and to use him in a bottom six role was irresponsible by the coaching staff. If you want someones game to grow, let it grow in the minors by getting top six ice time and powerplay time. Sekac was dealt before the midway point of the season to Anaheim in exchange for Devante Smith-Pelly.
Semin signed a 1 year deal this off-season with the Canadiens in hopes of proving that he still has the ability to score goals in the National Hockey League. Semin had a slow start to the season with some atrocious puck luck, and ended up with 3 points in 9 games before being scratched for the past 7. Semin made the Galchenyuk-Eller combination exponentially greater, whereas now the combination has hit a dry spell where Byron, Smith-Pelly and Flynn were given looks with the two.
You’ll notice that in the Canadiens loss to the Canucks to break their winning streak, that Semin was seen actively back-checking late in the game when the score was already lopsided. Not many players have that commitment, but Semin did, and got punished for it. I’m all for giving players opportunities, but instead of benching Semin and inserting a bottom six forward, call up Charles Hudon and give him a look with the Galchenyuk line if you’re going to scratch Semin. As Briere and Sekac found out the hard way by being dealt, it seems like Semin will be on his way out of Montreal soon as well.
Now that we have discussed the three odd situations that were created up front for the Canadiens, we have to discuss why these scenarios are constantly occurring. The Canadiens have been looking for goals for sometime now, and Marc Bergevin has done his best to give his coach the resources he needs to get those goals, but every time he does this, these players end up in the dog house. It’s hard to find a direct answer for why Therrien does this, but it has become a popular trend with the media to suggest that Therrien isn’t a big fan of creativity or taking risks.
For now, Semin sits in the coach’s dog house, but will he eventually be released when the Canadiens find themselves looking for more goals?
Zack joined The Hockey Writers in 2015 and has been writing about hockey for over 4 seasons. He currently covers the Montreal Canadiens and Peterborough Petes for The Hockey Writers.