TORONTO, ON — The Montreal Canadiens got off to their best start in franchise history at 9-0-0 before falling to the Vancouver Canucks at the end of October by a 5-1 score. Everything was going well until the Canadiens came out prior to their game against the Edmonton Oilers. Carey Price apparently stepped on a puck in warmup however he played the game, losing 4-3 on a rapid collapse as his team in front of him hung him out to dry.
Price was out with a lower body injury, having posted a record of 7-2 with a 2.01 goals against average (GAA) and .936 save percentage (Sv%) in nine games. Price returned for only three games before exiting mid-game against the Rangers on November 25th. At the time, it was announced that he would be sidelined for six weeks. That’s just over a week away when the Canadiens have the Chicago Blackhawks on the schedule. However, Price is yet to even resume skating.
Brendan Gallagher underwent surgery for two fractured fingers injured just days before Price’s injury against the Islanders. Gallagher returned just slightly ahead of schedule for the Winter Classic game on January 1st.
The Canadiens finished November winning four of five games until the game on December 1st, against Columbus. The game was tied 1-1. The Canadiens had been scoring just fine with Pacioretty and Plekanec putting up nearly a point per game together. That ended when, for absolutely no rational reason, Michel Therrien decided to split the successful duo in favor of putting the mightily struggling duo of David Desharnais and Dale Weise with Pacioretty to get them going. In that game Pacioretty scored the game-winning goal with under five minutes to go in the third period.
Following that game the Canadiens lost four games in a row before beating the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre by a 3-1 score. Then it was another losing streak as the Habs managed to lose six straight games. Dropping 10 of 11 games sent the former top team in the league rapidly tumbling down the standings. Before the calendar end ended, Montreal beat the Lightning and fell to the Panthers in their visit to Florida.
The Canadiens powerplay had gone cold. The Canadiens scored a total of 22 goals in 14 games, with the Alex Galchenyuk line carrying the load. With Therrien dismantling previously effective lines, the entire team experienced a scoring drought. All of this played out before the ‘Road to the Winter Classic’ cameras. The upheaval seemed like a poor attempt at getting some favorite players going. It was a disaster.
Throughout the losing streak the Canadiens had often looked good but just snake-bitten, going into the Winter Classic, dropping seven of eight. A game against their bitter rivals provided the Canadiens a great opportunity to begin the new year off right and leave their past behind. It is exactly what they did, for one game at least.
The Habs embarrassed the Bruins in every aspect of the game. Gallagher was back, Desharnais produced, Pacioretty looked great and Mike Condon was solid. The Canadiens left Foxboro with their heads held high after a 5-1 victory over their eternal foes and no more camera distractions.
The Canadiens then played their second game of 2016 on the road in Philadelphia. To put it simply, they just did not show up. Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher and Daniel Carr scored for the visiting Canadiens. Ben Scrivens kept them in the game but they were dominated by the Flyers enroute to the loss. It was a feeling that was all too familiar for the Canadiens.
As Canadiens fans usually do, there was a sense of panic after the game on social media, calling for things like a Therrien firing and a massive trade. The Canadiens are struggling to maintain a playoff spot and it could be costly if they don’t consistently pickup some much needed points soon. However there were some positive signs following a 2-1 victory over the Devils on home ice.
So where should Marc Bergevin go from here. Let’s review a few options that the general manager may consider at this point in the season.
Head Coach Change
One thing that Canadiens fans have done over the last month is call for head coach Michel Therrien to be fired. Now firing the coach is the “easy” thing to do, but is it the right thing at this point? Personally, I think it would be the right time to move on to a different coach but have the Canadiens been that bad this season?
One of the knocks is that the Canadiens have seemed to veer away from their coach’s system since Price went down with injury. The stars all went cold at the exact same time. Therrien may have even ruffled some feathers of the players when he resorted to destroying the lines for no apparent reason.
Therrien seemed to turn a corner at the beginning of the season: the powerplay was producing, the team was firing on all cylinders, goalies were very strong, the team was playing fantastic on the ice and even in the advanced stats department (that of which hasn’t been kind to Therrien coached teams in the past).
But sometimes old habits die hard and in this case, Therrien directed his team to revert to a style used in years past. Team offense wasn’t producing, the powerplay went dead cold, goalies weren’t providing the “needed” save. The Canadiens seemed exposed without Price in goal to save them.
Take a look at a team like the Mike Babcock coached Toronto Maple Leafs, who aren’t as talented as the Canadiens. Watching the two styles the teams play, one would assume that the Leafs are the better team. For a few years now, the Canadiens have had “no risk” pee-wee style breakouts and comical zone entries. Said simply, they lack structure for an elite team. This is unquestionably the responsibility of the coaching staff.
If the Canadiens are looking at a replacement for Michel Therrien (I know Bergevin just gave the coaching staff a vote of confidence recently), a more strategic coach would be needed, someone who is better with the ‘x’s’ and ‘o’s’ of hockey. They require a better tactician and someone who is a decent motivator. In my opinion, Guy Boucher would be a better fit as he also has a winning past with some of the current Canadiens.
If they are not looking for a replacement for Michel Therrien then bringing in someone like Boucher (who was rumoured to become the Leafs head coach, if Babcock rejected their offer) as an assistant coach would do wonders as the Canadiens have not hired the best possible assistant coaches with which to surround Therrien.
Making a Big Trade
Time and time again, Marc Bergevin has said that it is really hard to acquire a star player via trade. Now this may be true, but it is not impossible. There is evidence all around us of major trades in the league. Bergevin has always preached building through the draft and making a move when the time is right. This past off-season, he missed four big opportunities to bolster the team by bringing in Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie, Patrick Sharp or Justin Williams. Missing guys like this has brought a lot of criticism towards the general manager.
During the long month of December, as the team kept on losing games, fans everywhere of the Canadiens were clamoring for a big trade. Bergevin didn’t pull the trigger on any sort of panic trade which was a smart thing to do. Deals made in panic usually blow up in your face. Now the trade winds are picking up especially with the Ryan Johansen – Seth Jones trade.
The Jonathan Drouin trade request out of Tampa is an interesting situation to keep an eye on. It’s also known that Patrick Marleau and Kerby Rychel requested trades away from the Sharks and Jackets respectively.
Someone who has put together another solid season and is familiar with some of the current Canadiens, Mike Cammalleri from the New Jersey Devils is an option for Marc Bergevin to explore if the Devils fall out of the playoff race. Also on my list of players to be targeted would be Radim Vrbata, Jiri Hudler, Kyle Okposo and Mikkel Boedker.
Perhaps the most interesting option that may be on the market is Steven Stamkos. Stamkos is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the year. He’ll certainly command a hefty price but he is someone that makes a lot of sense for the Canadiens if he is moved. Many contend that Steve Yzerman will not trade him to a divisional rival however if Stamkos tells Yzerman that he is not returning, then Yzerman will look for the best possible deal. Who can afford Stamkos, are looking for a big number one centre and are contending? Well, in my mind, the Canadiens would be at the top of that list. I’m sure Bergevin will explore that option even if the Lightning don’t end up moving him.
Staying the Course / Playing Callups
The Canadiens have been playing some callups from the AHL this year after Gallagher’s injury as well as the failed Zack Kassian and Alex Semin experiments. Daniel Carr, Sven Andrighetto and Charles Hudon all showed well in their time with the Canadiens (Andrighetto and Carr still in Montreal.) Carr seemed to replace some of what Brendan Gallagher brought, Sven Andrighetto is a budding scorer with great vision and they have been carrying the offensive load along with Alex Galchenyuk over the last 20-25 games. The kids have shown they can help produce and it is quite refreshing to see while the vets struggled to put the puck in the net. The Canadiens can stay the course until Price comes back and the offense goes back to about three goals for a game, but that is a dangerous reality as they are barely clinging to a playoff spot without their star goaltender.
In my opinion something that should have been done a long time ago is the dismissal of assistant coach Dan Lacroux. He ran the powerplay which was putrid for two years. It would send a message to the coaching staff. Craig Ramsay would assume his position and help the Canadiens out further in a primary role. I believe Marc Bergevin will make a significant trade before he even considers firing Michel Therrien. I believe the Canadiens will be fine and make the playoffs but the month of December should not be ignored as it proved to be a reality of the Canadiens scoring and systematic issues without Carey Price to mask them.
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