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Running With Scissors

Regular season game #17

As the proud father of a boisterous two-year old who just got her first pair of safety scissors, I now understand what other parents feel when they see their children darting around with sharp metal objects. For the most part, it turns out ok, but it only takes one slip to cause real damage. Sound familiar?

The Habs had the Islanders on the ropes early, building a 2-0 first period lead and outshooting them eleventy billion to two. Slowly but surely, the oldĀ undisciplinedĀ Habs returned and the Isles made them pay. As the third period began with the Habs clinging to a precarious 3-2 lead, there was the distinct feeling that Carey Price was going to have to perform miracles if the Habs were going to walk away with two points. Unfortunately the one piece of Price’s game that is still missing is the nerve to refuse any more goals despite how porous the defense may be in front of him. It’s the one thing that prevents him from being truly great, though there’s not a lot he could have done about the overtime winner.

Therrien’s challenge tonight was in recognizing the struggles of his top defensive duo of Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin, who have been showing signs of slowing down for a few games now. Where containment was once Markov’s strength, he has lost the mobility that allowed him to keep elusive forwards under wraps. Emelin may bring the boom, but his effectiveness hinges on Markov managing the puck in all three zones well. When that doesn’t happen, Emelin is average. The time for Subban to take the reigns as the team’s time on ice leader is right around the corner as Markov is suffering badly at even strength.

This game was the closest we’ve seen to last year’s abominable bunch. A quick lead followed by a series of lame icings in an attempt to kill the clock…a strategy that failed last year on numerous occasions, and failed again tonight. Far be it for us to complain about a team that has earned 11 of a possible 12 points in the last four games, but the Habs have no excuse for not extending their win streak to 6 games. Once the game became tied, many Habs swallowed hard, with a sense of foreboding after having witnessed this many times. And then when Max Pacioretty blew his chance at a hat trick by firing the puck in to a prone Nabokov with an open net, you had to know that would come back to bite the Habs in the rear end, and it did.

With the tables about to turn on the Habs in terms of proportion to home and road games, this was a point that may be sorely missed. Seven of the Habs next 10 games are on the road, and while their 4-1-1 record says that this isn’t necessarily a death sentence, their last two games leave much to be desired.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

 

 

Time for a Long Nap

It’s nearly time to separate the wheat from the chaff. The NHL playoffs are around the corner and in what is normally a hopeful time for Habs fans, this season, there’s nothing. Nada. Zippo. Nothing to do but root against the Bruins, laugh at the Leafs as they cruise past 3000 days since their last playoff game, and take a long summertime nap. But around here, hockey never sleeps and we’re already asking if it’s October yet; the assumption being that there is confidence in this team’s ability to regroup, reload and reorient itself in hopes of a playoff appearance…or better next year.

Is it foolish to think that this team can rebound so quickly? The Flyers did it a couple years ago, and the Senators did it this year, after being terrible last season. The pieces are already in place for the Canadiens to be a competitive team on the ice, so why can’t the bleu-blanc-rouge rebound next year? Well, look up….look waaaaay up! It’s behind the bench and in the front office where the deep, dark questions lie. What becomes of Randy Cunneyworth? How long will it take for Geoff Molson to punt Pierre Gauthier to the curb once game 82 ends? In my view, before any changes on the roster take place, the coaching and management group needs to be rectified, and they need to be rectified without the restraints of politics and sociology attached to them. If the focus is on anything other than hiring the best people for the job, then the Canadiens are in for more mediocrity. And fans, who have become adept at telling themselves whatever they have to in order to maintain sanity (to no avail!) will be left hoping for things that never come true.

It will be up to Geoff Molson, his next General Manager, and his next coach to ensure that this team breaks free from the shackles of mediocrity that have rendered the Canadiens an afterthought in the NHL. The Habs used to be a model franchise, and used to have clout among the ranks of players and league executives. Those days are long gone, and if they are to be restored, it has to come from years of excellence on the ice, not from winning the “league’s most profitable team” award (though the Habs aren’t tops in this regard, either).

If you’re like me, you’re hoping that Geoff Molson has already begun targeting potential candidates for the soon-to-be vacant General Manager position. You’re also hoping that names like Patrick Roy and Bob Hartley are kept far away from the team. While many would be doing cartwheels to have an ex-legend behind the bench, we should be cautious. Certainly a boost of emotion after the sleep-inducing ways of Jacques Martin would be welcome behind the bench, and Patrick Roy could deliver that. But his greatest asset is also his weakest link. His volatile nature would consume the team and he would be the leading story every day. That’s not what “team” is about. In a city like Montreal, it’s a match set to a pool of kerosene.

Before we cast our collective gaze to the prospect pool, and to the list of free agents, we need to acknowledge that it is all for naught if the right suit-wearing men are not in place to steer the ship. Period.

The Habs will finally (hopefully?) be selecting in the top 3 at the amateur draft in June, so fans can hope that Trevor Timmins will wave his magic wand and pick the large, skilled centerman that the team has so desperately needed for so many years. Many have already zeroed in on Quebec Remparts standout Mikhail Grigorenko as the best bet, but even a teen fresh out of junior should not be parachuted in to the Canadiens’ franchise-saviour role so quickly. That’s a recipe for failure and the Canadiens cannot afford to see this draft pick go to waste.

We can hope that Markov remains healthy throughout the summer, and that he returns to form next fall. Together with P.K. Subban, the Canadiens will have 2 healthy, legitimate top-flight defensemen capable of playing 22 or more minutes per night. Buffered with the likes of future captain Josh Gorges, Alexei Yemelin, and hopefully a free agent addition such as Brad Stuart, the back end should be solid, if not spectacular.

It will be interesting to see what any given sportsbook review will think of the cellar-dwelling Canadiens when the preseason bets start rolling in. Will they give the Canadiens’ talented roster a pass for this abysmal season, or will they come down hard on them for this disaster and cast them as long underdogs yet again? It shouldn’t matter, as in past years the Canadiens have thrived as underdogs while choking like dogs when expected to succeed. That’s a cultural thing that must change, and usually takes time to accomplish. But with the right “win at all costs” attitude, at least you’ve given yourself a shot.

New Sunday Shinny on The Franchise

Gotta keep the seat warm while the next set of blog posts germinate.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to once again join the guys at The Franchise for their Sunday Shinny. We hit on all kinds of topics; Alexei Yemelin, the NHL playoffs, including our predictions for each series and Conn Smythe, teams in small markets, Gary Carter, and all kinds of other fun stuff.

You can hear the 46 minute show here.


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