Monday morning in the city of Montreal saw a fan base still reverberating from a lackluster performance by their hometown heroes, Saturday night at the Bell Centre. The Twitterverse and airwaves of the city were alight with discussions about how to fix the multiple problems that are ailing the Canadiens.
More specifically, the Habs have gone 3-for-47 on the power play so far this season, have a defensive core that, to a large degree, looks slow and aging, an offense that has only produced five goals over the last four games, a first and second line that are firing blanks, an inability to find a suitable top-six winger to play on the second line, and only one “W” in their last three outings.
To say that that they have some major issues to contend with, despite their 8-4-1 record, would be an understatement.
Taking the pulse of the fan base over the last few days and even asking them what they would do to spark Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, the most common complaints I heard have been aimed at head coach, Jacques Martin.
Martin, who is not known to be a panicky person by nature, has been shuffling his lines like a jittery drug addict trying to get the crack in his pipe.
While there is something to be said about switching things up when they are not working, trying a player for a shift or two and hoping it yields results seems more like folly than the methodical actions of a master tactician.
Right now, Martin looks like he is creating his lines combinations like dice in a game of Yatzee. Scooping up the players in seemingly random order, giving them a shake, and then tossing them onto to the ice, hands rubbing together in anticipation of what the result will be. But at least they’re all comfortable in their velvety-soft container.
On the back end, we have seen the usually solid defensive duo of Hal Gill and Josh Gorges struggle and the coach separated in consequence. While there is no question that these two haven’t played their best hockey so far—Gill is a minus-five and Gorges is a minus-two—there is something to be said about familiarity and letting two veterans work out their issues on the ice.
Gill was paired with P.K. Subban on Saturday and that duo didn’t fare much better. Andrei Markov looked good with Gorges, but who knows if Coach Martin is going to keep them together.
While there are problems on the back end, the forward ranks are completely in shambles.
Gionta has finally been moved off of Gomez’s wing onto the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri. That line looks like they will stay together, at least for tonight’s tilt against the Canucks, and given more than a few shifts together should be able to produce offense.
The second line, anchored by Gomez, will have Andrei Kostitsyn on one side and Maxim Lapierre on the other. Like Travis Moen and Tom Pyatt before him, Lapierre will be a stop-gap solution at best. Sure, his combination of grit, speed and skill should be a decent complement for Gomez, but let’s not forget that with one goal, one assist, and a minus-four rating, Lapierre hasn’t exactly been ripping it up.
Lars Eller will be back in the lineup as the third line center, tonight, one game after being a healthy scratch—and getting no explanation from the coaching staff as to why—and a day after the Canadiens waived Dustin Boyd.
Was the Boyd move intended to create cap space for a trade or a roster spot for a call up? My Hockeybuzz.com colleagues Eric Engels and Steven Hindle break this one down pretty well. In a few more hours we’ll find out if anyone claims Boyd or if he is eligible to go down to Hamilton.
In the net tonight, Carey Price will be getting his 14th start of the season tonight against Montreal-native Roberto Luongo for Vancouver.
The Canucks are a team on fire, having won six straight games and have 18 points in the standings—one more than Montreal.
The Habs had better stay out of the penalty box tonight because the Canucks have the number one ranked power play in the league, operating at a searing 29.4 percent efficiency rate. Let’s hope the Habs watched a lot of tape of Vancouver’s power play in action in order to a) learn how to stop it and b) learn how a useful power play is supposed to be executed.
The one caveat to a game that looks all but lost, on paper, is that the Canadiens made a habit of playing better against the elite teams in the league last season. Sure, they’d lose to the cellar dwellers, but they would rise to the occasion against the best in the league.
We’ll see if Martin’s lineup changes pay dividends tonight. Puck drops at 7:38 p.m.-ish.