Daily Hab-it: Will the real Canadiens please stand up?
Published Tuesday, November 2, 2010 11:29PM EDT
So, was it all a mirage?
Did the Canadiens simply have a wonderful training camp and begin the season better prepared than the opposition? Is the team we've seen the past two, and I would argue three, games the real Montreal Canadiens?
I don't think so, but I do think we are starting to see that this team is not quite as jolly good as the one that whipped off 15 out of 20 points to start the season, either.
And there's nothing wrong with that, because I think that deep down most of us knew the Canadiens were not that good.
But what I'm here to tell you is that even though it may feel that way, the Canadiens are not this bad.
First of all, the Canadiens were facing a team in the Columbus Blue Jackets that is off to the best start in franchise history, that has now won four of their last five and six of their last eight after taming the Habs 3-0 at home Tuesday night.
So to lose this game is not exactly an utter embarrassment. But the way they lost shows there's a bit of a pattern emerging with the Canadiens, and it looks as though Jacques Martin is on the verge of doing something to break that pattern.
Here's what I've noticed over the past three games:
There hasn't been a whole lot of it until it is absolutely needed.
In Long Island last Friday, the Canadiens were asleep in the second period and allowed the Islanders to get back in the game. Same thing in the game against Florida on Saturday night. And in this game against Columbus, Montreal didn't show up with any sustained effort at all until the third period.
I understand you can't treat games in early November like the ones played during the thaw of spring, but you should at least show a consistent effort over three periods.
These three games saw anything but that, and frankly, the Canadiens are lucky they got two points out of them.
Or, again, a lack thereof.
I would say the bottom six forwards have been far more cohesive as lines than the top six have. The only top-six player I would single out as being above reproach over the past three games, or ever, really, is Tomas Plekanec. He never steps on the ice without giving it everything, including practice.
But otherwise, the Canadiens best shifts have been coming from Jeff Halpern's line or Lars Eller's, with guys like Mathieu Darche generating more than his fair share of scoring chances. It's great to see these role players playing like this, but the Canadiens won't win too often if they're the most dangerous forwards on the team.
It was interesting to see Martin try some line juggling in the third period of Tuesday's game. I don't really like the idea of taking Andrei Kostitsyn away from the good influence of Plekanec to play his with what is frankly the bad vibe of Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta right now, but it was at least worth a shot. I didn't mind watching Eller play with Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri.
Let's see if those lines stick for Friday night's game in Buffalo.
Once more, there hasn't been much. And now I'm talking about the power play.
I think we've seen some degree of confirmation that this team – from the players to the coaching staff – expected the return of Andrei Markov to fix everything that was wrong with the power play. Hell, I did too. But it hasn't had that desired effect, and now it feels like panic might be setting in.
As well as the Canadiens have played 5-on-5 this season, and it is an extremely positive sign, this team does not have the firepower necessary to withstand an anemic power play that doesn't produce goals. Or at the very least momentum.
The power play right now is doing the opposite; it's giving life to the other team.
It creates more pressure to score on the Canadiens, and gives their opponents the sense they just dominated on the penalty kill, giving them energy to attack the other way.
The Canadiens generated four shots on goal on three power play chances Tuesday night. One of those shots came on their first power play chance of the game in the first period. Only 43 seconds after that power play expired, Rick Nash got the first Blue Jackets goal off a 2-on-1 break on a perfect wrist shot that Carey Price had no chance on. Then, 1:23 later, it was Derick Brassard scoring on a perfect setup from Jakub Voracek on another odd-man rush, and Columbus was off and running.
So, that's the bad news.
The good news is the Canadiens have a few days of practice ahead of them to try and figure a few things out and tinker with some lines and get back on the same page of working hard and working smart throughout the game.
Perhaps Martin will use those days of practice to send other messages to some players as he did with Jaroslav Spacek on Monday, making it seem as though he'd be scratched only to dress him in Columbus and play him 7:20 in the third period, 17:20 total in the game.
Will we see, say, Gomez "demoted" to another line just to get a rise out of him? Or Gionta, for that matter? Maybe Darche will get some power play time over the coming days of practice just to send a message.
But what I do know is that this current mini-slide was inevitable. The Canadiens as they are composed could not have possibly maintained that pace of the first 10 games of the season.
The question now is will the second 10 games be as bad as the first 10 were good?