Claude Julien (Photo by TVA Sports)

by Blain Potvin, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Three games into the season and already there are calls for the general manager, Marc Bergevin, to be fired. These calls were heard all last season as well, despite the Canadiens holding onto first place in their division from start to finish.

Some have now gone as far as demanding a full rebuild. That said, is this simply the culture of overly dramatic responses, or a legitimate course of action in a city that demands championships but are presently experiencing a long drought?

During the preseason, the same voices were whipping themselves into a frenzy, calling every loss a travesty and demanding change. Yet, it was only the pre-season and the  moderate voices rightly claimed it was a time for experimentation. Some also called into question the reasons for playing eight games.

Pre-season games are a legitimate tool for a head coach to assess his team and any hopefuls. However, eight games in such a short time span forces management to hold onto more skaters than necessary, many of which failed to demonstrate an ability to compete for NHL jobs, even some players who never will. These players take away valuable time on ice from those who require it to prepare themselves properly for the NHL season. This places an unnecessary burden on players to perform with a smaller than expected adjustment period.

To further complicate Claude Julien’s job, he not only had to introduce a new system to the team. Learning a new system is difficult enough, let alone without adding in new teammates to become accustomed to, their tendencies, their methods. Chemistry takes time to build and it isn’t a set formula.

While it has been evident that several system-based errors have been made, and could be attributed to a learning curve, others issues have been simply a lack of awareness.

Players such as Jordie Benn and Jeff Petry, who are normally much more reliable, have made glaring errors that have led directly to goals. They are not alone, as many others have been guilty of making unforced errors.

Errors alone can’t cover the issues. Some players have been unable to raise their games to  levels required. Alex Galchenyuk’s talent is undeniable, yet his ability to impact a game hasn’t been displayed as of yet.

More concerning is the impact at five-on-five of Jonathan Drouin. He has looked impressive on the power-play, but the Canadiens are 0-for-9 with the man advantage. In addition, Drouin has not been able to generate offence regularly at even strength.

The team, as a group, haven’t been able to be an offensive threat thus far either. Having difficulties scoring places an inordinate amount of pressure on the defence and goaltending to be perfect. Having almost as many goals disallowed as have been scored thus far this season hasn’t helped their cause either. The two waived-off goals versus the N.Y. Rangers could have changed the look of the season thus far.

All that being said, the NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint. The goal of a marathon is not to be in the lead to start a race, but to finish it strong. With that in mind, It is best to break a season down into segments of ten games.

This first segment is the adjustment phase. Drouin has a high-end skill set with, with his sublime playmaking skills and excellent shot. While he has had some problems defensively, he has been better than I expected. Galchenyuk, despite his difficulties, is a highly talented individual who has had flashes of the needed effort. He also deserves more time to get his mind and body in sync with NHL play.

The much-maligned defence has had difficult times as well. Yet, it has shown some signs of life. While the defence allowed Carey Price to be bombarded in the first game, the team held Washington to 23 shots and New York to 25 shots on net.

The issues that remain are the glaring unforced errors and giving up far too many high danger scoring chances. Is this simply a case of gripping sticks too tight trying to be perfect, or a case of personnel not being a fit?  We’ll know more after the adjustment segment is up.

The most difficult stretch of this segment lies ahead with the western road trip which happens earlier this season. These western trips have always proven to be difficult in the past, and could be doubly so for a team still trying to find it’s identity under Julien.

Some may demand personnel changes, looking to add more puck-moving defencemen. Victor Mete has been able to fill in at that position admirably in a top-four role. Also, a team that averages 37 shots-for would seem to have enough puck movement to out-shoot. Just like last season, the real issue is scoring.

This edition of the Canadiens will find success much in the same way the Canadiens did under Pat Burns of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, relying on an All-Star goaltender, solid defence and scoring in transition play. They must find a way to get more of those 37 shots past goaltenders. While the combative nature of the team at times to get chances in close to the opposition goaltenders can be lauded, it’s the final results that matter most.

Like the end of the Burns era, the Canadiens received a new voice to lead them with a coaching change. So now, if there is a call for a change it should be to the forward corps as the most glaring need is still at centre.

The need for a solid offensively gifted two-way center remains. While Tomas Plekanec has found new life with his young linemates, he hasn’t found a way to turn that into points. Phillip Danault has a short-handed goal, but has been mostly invisible otherwise and is not a proven commodity in a top six forward group.

The calls for wholesale changes to personnel and management as well as a full rebuild after only three games played in an 82 game season is still premature. Perhaps after the first segment of 10 games is complete, a trade will occur. Given time, Julien can provide wins, but style points don’t exist in the standings and have therefore never been his priority.

Any calls to fire and replace management this season will no doubt fall on deaf ears. The axe will not fall on Bergevin this season, and likely not even next summer. Geoff Molson has been clear he wants stability in his front office. Rightly or wrongly, this management group will remain, and will continue the path they laid out. Barring a dramatic under performance, this time frame will not be measured in weeks, but multiple seasons.

While it may be too early to panic, it won’t stop those who have been for several seasons from hitting that panic button until there is finally another banner hung in the rafters.  As a wise man once said, “When you win, there is no pressure.”

“When you win, there is no pressure” — Guy Lafleur

  • Marilyn Rehaume Reid Latour

    I’m not going to speak to the plays, or lack thereof, however I will speak to all (so dang many) of the doom and gloomers. Shut the heck up! All this team, our Habs, have taken of the negativity cloud hanging over them makes the real fan wonder how they ever were able to hold last season together at all! None of you ever stop to think how unrevitalizing that is to the guys? Oh, you think they don’t hear about it? Think again!! Please, get the heck another team that you can actually stand behind and cheer for! You’ll be doing the Habs, and we real fans a huge favour as if you care! As for you, I just hope the team you choose wins EVERY single game because if they don’t, well I’ll know why! To all of us who are standing behind our Habs. Thanks for your positive constructive critisizm which is to be expected and many times useful! I’m sure the guys appreciate hearing about a good idea on a line or a play and may even try to implement it … THAT is a positive and made wthout the rude sometimes downright nasty comments made by the others. They might survive and shake those nasty speaking “fans” off, or at least think they have for awhile, but without a doubt it keeps them awake at night right along with their own doubts about themselves! So, our guys need us! They need to know that we’re cheering them on! And when we get upset and a little, or even a lot down in the mouth, at least they’ll know that we’re behind them all the way to the finish! They’ll get it together as they grow to have faith in themselves and in their fans! GO HABS!!