MONTREAL, QC. — Five years ago, the Canadiens were in a tailspin with their former head coach and general manager taking the heat for the team’s lackluster season. The organization fired Jacques Martin and Pierre Gauthier, ringing in a new era for the Habs. The replacements were former Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin, who then subsequently gave head coach Michel Therrien a second chance in Montreal. Currently in their third season of working together, the pair faces a similar fate to that of their predecessors.
The Canadiens are mired in another season in which the team’s management and coaching staff are under the microscope. Having lost six of their past seven games, the Habs aren’t living up to playing as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and are far removed from being the top seed in the NHL. The Habs cannot afford to fall out of playoff contention, not after a season in which they reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The expectations are higher, and while sitting comfortably in third place in the Atlantic Divison, the rival Toronto Maple Leafs can easily dethrone the Habs by earning points with their three games in hand. While the Canadiens would still hold a wild card spot if that were the case, the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers would be nipping at their heels should the Habs continue to falter.
The reason for the Habs’ recent struggles can be attributed to their lack of scoring. The Habs currently have a goal differential of minus-2, meaning the team allows more goals than they can score. If not for the brilliance of star goaltender Carey Price, the stat could be much worse. The Canadiens are one of seven teams in the Eastern Conference sporting a negative goal differential, a list which includes Florida, Ottawa, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Columbus, Buffalo and Carolina. Of those teams, the Habs are the only ones currently occupying a playoff spot. The Habs have done well in the early goings of grabbing victories when they could, but as the NHL season progresses, the games become tougher and the two points matter more. As the wise Red Fisher says, the season isn’t a race, it’s a marathon.
The Habs were blown out 5-0 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 23rd then had a tough home and home series with the Buffalo Sabres followed by stops in Colorado, Minnesota, Chicago and finally Dallas. Beaten and bruised, the Canadiens return home in desperate need of snapping a three-game skid Tuesday night against the surging Vancouver Canucks.
In their past seven games, the Canadiens have scored thirteen goals for an average of 1.85 per game. The team cannot rely so heavily on Price’s saves, for which many of the Habs’ abysmal defensive zone plays have been forgotten thanks to some larceny in between the pipes. But Carey Price can’t score goals, he can only save them. The rest of the team needs to do their part. Especially considering the fact that a rookie called up a few hours before the game is able to score the only goal in a 4-1 loss to the talented yet struggling Dallas Stars. That man is Sven Andrighetto who played alongside Jiri Sekac and Tomas Plekanec and scored a goal by going to the net, something the Habs need to do more of.
Or does the bleu-blanc-et-rouge just simply need to catch a break? The Habs could be out of gas, having played seven of their past eight games on the road, all in the span of eighteen days. The passing of the legendary Jean Beliveau certainly didn’t help the team’s cause either and the franchise, with a heavy heart, is still in mourning.
So perhaps there’s a bit too much pressure on our beloved Habs at the moment, but then again perhaps the team is beginning to unravel under Therrien, who has never coached the Habs more than three years. Is the head coach to be blamed for the scoring prowess that has begun to dry up?
Bergevin has done his part of shipping out the dead weight in the Habs’ dressing room and ridding the team of salary cap issues. The Habs’ GM has also re-signed Brendan Gallagher to a six year extension and is likely working on a similar deal for Alex Galchenyuk. The general manager is setting his club up for long term success, but should he be worried about short term failures in his current head coach? Having made some bold off-season deals and completing a few trades already this season, Bergevin certainly doesn’t want to disrupt or overhaul the entire roster. Therefore, the only other place to look for change is in the coaching ranks.
GMs will often say that the reason they fire their head coaches is due to the fact that they lost the room. Players, after some time, tune out the coach’s preaching. Have the Canadiens done the same with Therrien?
For Therrien, he may defend his assistant coaches in J.J. Daigneault and Dan Lacroix, who came over from the New York Rangers to replace Gerrard Gallant, now the head coach of the Florida Panthers. Perhaps Therrien and his staff just need more time to adjust the players to a changing system. At times, the Canadiens appear to be a team wanting to posses the puck and dictate the play. Other times, they’re on their heels in their defensive zone, madly back checking and trying to collapse in front of their goal. After 29 matches, the Canadiens still haven’t found their game.
Therrien certainly must be feeling some heat and although he and Bergevin seem to be on the same page in terms of the team’s well-being, the GM and coach may disagree about this season’s performances.
While it’s still early in the 2014-2015 NHL season, the Canadiens can help alleviate some of the pressures on themselves and their coach by playing more consistently as a group, regaining their scoring touch and being smarter in their own zone. The fans hope the team can turn things around, if not for themselves but for the memories of “Le Gros Bill” who also had some hardships while wearing the Habs crest. Still, what made Mr. Beliveau so special as a hockey player was his perseverance and hard work, something that the current Habs roster, while captain-less at the moment, need to appreciate. Someone in the dressing room needs to step up and rally the troops.
Otherwise, we could be in for another long year of player changes and coaches being fired. There must be another way to re-ignite a team, and if there was ever a man who knows how, it’s Marc Bergevin. We will just have to wait patiently and hope the ship rights itself rather than see anyone else walk the plank.