By J.D. Lagrange, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

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Song writers have events in their life which dictate, influence or inspires them to find a story line, lyrics for a song. A big part of what makes a song successful, in addition to the melody, is for those lyrics to touch as many people as possible, even if it doesn’t touch them the author had intended to be. What more fitting than this old song could very well describe the recent slump by our beloved Montreal Canadiens today.

PENTICTON, BC. – Since starting the season with nine consecutive wins, the Canadiens are playing below .500 hockey with a record of 11-11-3. During that time, they have lost the best player not only on his team, but in the entire National Hockey League in Carey Price, who has only played 12 games this season (10-2-0.) More recently, the club also lost Brendan Gallagher to injury who had 19 points in 22 games prior to breaking two fingers.

While nobody wants to use injuries as excuses to justify a losing streak, the reality of today’s NHL is that the parity has never been as noticeable, especially since the league Governors decided to award the “loser point.” Deep teams can miss a key player for the short term and keep on their winning ways, the way the Habs did the first time Price missed some playing time, but it is unrealistic to think that you can replace a Price or a Gallagher in the long run.

During the team’s recent slump, there is no denying that Michel Therrien’s hockey club had suffered a stretch of tough luck as they were still playing some very good hockey, being dominant but running into hot goaltending. Every team will run into such stretches during a long 82-game season.

What is more alarming however, is the game against Dallas when it seemed like there was only one team on the ice, the Canadiens being largely outplayed and eventually outscored 6-2. While some fans were showing their displeasure during the slump, all came out firing at the leadership in the dressing room and at head coach Michel Therrien. Yes, a lot of it is opportunistic timing to satisfy a need to complain and voice an opinion against a player or the coach but for many, it’s a way to relief some built up frustration over that stretch of bad luck.

And the players are no different. Max Pacioretty dropped the ‘F’-bomb during the post-game interview:

“Just look at my interviews from the last 10 games, it’s the same f-ing thing, it’s a joke! We started the year with nine wins in a row. I don’t know why we don’t have confidence, I don’t know why we forgot how to play the game but we need to find answers really quick. Before, we said we were playing well and we were just not being lucky, but I don’t think it’s the case anymore.”

HOW BAD IS IT?

So far in December, the Canadiens are 2-7-0, their two wins coming against Columbus (2-1) and Ottawa (3-1). The team has scored a total of 15 goals in those nine games for an average of 1.67 goals per game. On the other end, they have allowed 25 goals against, so 2.78 goals per game on average. When Pacioretty was saying that they were playing well but that they weren’t lucky, he was right. Including that terrible game against the Stars, the Habs have fired 294 shots towards the opponents’ net, averaging 33 shots per game, while allowing 24 on average (213 in total.) The scoring chances were also going the same way during that stretch.

“We put him in a difficult position. Mike Condon has played half a season in the AHL. He was never drafted. He’s progressed well and he was doing well alongside Carey Price. He was playing some great hockey for us when he would come in every 10 days. Now, he’s replacing Carey Price. It’s the same thing for Dustin Tokarski. We’re conscious of that. We have two goaltenders who barely have 50 games of NHL experience between them. We’re very aware of that and we know we have to work even harder.” — Michel Therrien

Perhaps the most telling stat is the following: goaltenders facing the Canadiens in December have a saves percentage of .949 while the tandem of Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski combined for a save percentage of .883. Now ask yourself: Would Carey Price have had a save percentage that poor over a stretch of nine games? Do you think for a minute that with the team in those games instead of allowing two consecutive goals, would have played more “inspired” hockey? I happen to think so.

Also, do you think that Brendan Gallagher would have helped put a few more pucks in the net, helping his team be more opportunistic? Do you think that he might have been in the opponents’ goaltenders head as only he can do? Again, I happen to believe so. Taking this into consideration, is it not fair to think that the Canadiens would have come up with a few more wins during this stretch?

Isn’t it funny when you break things down? True that Price can’t score goals but what Price does that cannot be measured by any fancy stats is the confidence that he brings to his team, the leadership, the stick handling abilities for breakouts, to help pass to the defensemen for getting out of their zone, avoiding the heavy pressure. What cannot be measured by statistics is the fact that when P.K. Subban gets caught up ice, the puck isn’t in his net and players can afford to take a few more chances, often resulting in goals for.

TEAM NEEDS

Many of us will tell you that the team still needs a top-6 forward in order to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and no one knows it more than General Manager Marc Bergevin. From what reputable insiders are saying, he is the most active GM in the NHL, keeping his hear to the ground for any potential player available to help his team take the next step. His hand is now forced because his two gambles have not panned out on right-wing, with Alexander Semin now in the KHL and Zack Kassian burning his bridge.

Many names are circulating and we know that both Edmonton and Chicago scouts have been at every Canadiens’ game for the past few weeks. We know that Bergevin and his team of professional scouts have been seen in arenas around the league, possibly on the prowl for a missing piece.

Ryan Johansen has always been high on Trevor Timmins’ radar as the Canadiens met with him in Penticton the year before he was draft eligible. Could something be worked out so that the Habs save yet another player from the whipping list of John Tortorella, as they did with Dale Weise?

Many insiders have come out to say that Montreal is an ideal location for pending UFA Steven Stamkos. While it is unlikely that Steve Yzerman would want to trade Stamkos within his division, it’s not unusual to see such trades as the Maple Leafs and Bruins have done, especially when the said player has a no-trade or no-movement clause, basically dictating where he would be going. Look no further than Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa, who both gave no choice to the Canucks when they had to ship them to Anaheim in two separate trades.

Other insiders have voiced their opinion to the effect that Eric Staal would be a perfect match for the Canadiens. He, too, is scheduled to become a UFA. While his play has slowed in recent years, he didn’t have much talent to play with either in Carolina and he has picked up his play off late, his team benefiting from it by putting together a good stretch of game lately.

While I have yet to hear any reputable insider talk about the possibility, I would keep a close eye on the situation in Pittsburgh as well. The team made a desperate move by firing their coach and they are 0-4-0 since the switch… next is a player personnel move. It remains to be seen how substantial it will be.

And with Bergevin, don’t ever count out the possibility of adding to an already respectable defense core, although he might just wait closer to the trade deadline on that front. Either way, things aren’t as bad as they seem as the two biggest trades the Canadiens have in their back pocket is the return of Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher in early January. The team simply needs to keep its spirits high and not succumb to the pressure put on them by fans and media alike.

Everybody hurts sometimes… so hold on!

Go Habs Go!

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J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.