by Gregorio Lentini, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
The NHL holiday break has come and gone, and for the Montreal Canadiens, the rest was much needed. The Canadiens are eight points out of a playoff spot with more than fifty percent of the season left to play. Getting into the playoffs will not be easy, but the Habs are still in it.
That being said, they are facing an uphill battle. The Canadiens rank 28th in league standings. They are also 29th in goals scored per game, 24th is goals allowed per game and 26th on the penalty-kill.
To me, these stats are surprising. Considering this team has star players like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk, I could not imagine that they would be struggling to this degree.
The 2017-18 season is far from over, and there are bound to be many surprises in the coming months. However, to put it lightly: this season has so far been a disappointment.
So, in the spirit of Seinfeld’s “Festivus,” I have decided to compile a list of the grievances I have about this edition of the Montreal Canadiens. Unless several of these issues are resolved, the Habs will most likely miss the playoffs and waste another one of Price’s, Weber’s and Pacioretty’s prime years.
This area is always unpredictable. Some teams get lucky and only suffer a few, minor injuries per year. Other teams, like the Canadiens, are hit hard and struggle because of it.
Many of the Canadiens’ top players have been injured at one point in the past three months. Price was out for more than three weeks because of his injury, an injury which no doubt affected his play before he was taken out of the lineup.
Weber has played injured since the start of the season after blocking a shot with his foot against Buffalo. Now, he’ll be out for an indefinite period of time, returning no sooner than after the All-Star break.
Drouin also missed a few games thanks to a hand injury.
The Canadiens’ best defenceman, most creative forward and the No. 1 goaltender in the NHL have all suffered injuries this season. Add to this list players like Artturi Lehkonen, Nikita Sherbak, David Schlemko and Al Montoya, and it’s easy to see that the first half of the season has not been kind to the Habs. If the Habs are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to need ‘lady luck’ on their side to ensure that this team stays healthy.
The Slow and Sloppy Defence
Weber’s injury is made worse by the fact that the rest of the defence is, frankly, bad. Aside from Jeff Petry, there does not appear to be another reliable defenceman on the team.
Schlemko has only played 13 of 40 games this season. Joe Morrow belongs in the AHL. Jordie Benn may be defensively sound, but he is starting to look slow. Karl Alzner has no chemistry with Petry and he has been very underwhelming both offensively and defensively. The only two bright spots of the defence are Victor Mete and Jakub Jerabek because of their speed and puck-handling skills, however, they still need more time to transition into the NHL.
Not only do the Habs lack skilled individuals on the defence, they also lack an overall defensive cohesion. There always appears to be preventable mistakes that lead to breakaways or goals. The defence either do not cover the right person, cannot make a proper first pass, do not know where their partner is or cannot skate fast enough to reach the opponent.
I’m not sure whether the problem is systematic or individualistic, but there are major issues. The worst part is that there is no apparent solution. The only way to turn the defence around is to have a healthy Weber and hope that Mete and Jerabek can progress fast enough to handle the defensive responsibilities. But even that might not be enough.
Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk
Each of the Canadiens’ five star players has underperformed up until this point, however, some have legitimate reasons. Price and Weber have actually played quite well considering their injuries.
Drouin has not come as advertised and his production has been disappointing. Add to this that he has been the Canadiens worst faceoff man and one of the worst forwards defensively and it is clear that being thrust into the No. 1 center position has been a failure.
Pacioretty is starting to look slow. He is not playing with the footspeed of a couple years ago and constantly seems a few steps behind the play. Though he still handles defensive responsibilities, his offense has dried up.
Pacioretty is on pace for less than twenty goals, which is insane. Pacioretty has been a consistent 30-goal scorer since 2011. All of a sudden, he cannot seem to score primarily because he had not had a reliable playmaker on his line all season. It is clear that the Habs are missing Alexander Radulov for a number of reasons.
Galchenyuk is also on pace for less than twenty goals. This, too, is scary. Galchenyuk is not known for his grit, and his defensive abilities are subpar. His role is supposed to be a top goal-scorer on this team. He may not be a center (even though some have not given up on him), but he has great puck-handling skills and a lethal shot. Through no fault of his own, Galchenyuk has been bounced around the lineup, been constantly criticized by management and been limited in power-play time.
The Lack of Hope
I started following the Habs in 2007. Ever since that season, except for two years, the Canadiens have made the playoffs. In those seasons, I’ve always had hope that the Habs could go far. Even in one of those two seasons (2015-16), I had hope that the Habs could make the playoffs. That was the year when Price was injured while the Habs were first in their conference. Even though he never returned, I knew that as soon as he stepped back in the lineup, the Habs would make the playoffs.
The most disappointing part of this season is the lack of hope. There really is no, single player or line combination within this organization that can turn the season around. It’s extremely frustrating to be a fan knowing the Habs aren’t good enough to push for the Stanley Cup, but not bad enough to have a strong chance at a top-5 draft pick. This lack of hope, both short-term and long-term, makes this year’s Habs so deflating.
I am not sure whether any of these issues will be resolved, but let’s hope that the New Year brings with it new opportunities. Until then, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays, everyone!