Habs Stink Up Long Island; But What's The Bigger Picture?
The Montreal Canadiens are wearing me out this season. If any of the other authors on the site are reading this, they're probably going to kill me for speaking to you, the readers, in the first person while I write a game recap, but honestly, this is kind of a special case. This article, or rather blog (screw it, rant), is not meant as a straightforward game recap or analysis. There's a much bigger problem plaguing this team than what last night's horrid loss to the Isles may have even indicated, and it's about time that problem was addressed.
For 19 games now, we've been going through the motions, recapping and previewing games, talking about how the Habs are good one night, and stink up the joint the next. Not only here at TCL, but all over the web (and there certainly isn't a lack of Habs blogs out there). I've written 12 blogs since the start of October and the start of the season, ten of them about the Habs. Only two of these ten blogs were real "opinion" pieces, ones that try to put together some stats, arouse somewhat deep thoughts about this team and really attempt to put forth something original and exciting for our readers.
Needless to say, this isn't what you've come to expect from someone like George Prax when it comes to the Canadiens. I'm the writer who was at the forefront of the Max Pacioretty / Zdeno Chara incident last spring. I'm the writer who tries to analyze every skater in the off-season, and project their expectations. I'm the writer who tries to tie this team's management down to the hotseat and look for explanations as to why this team never reaches its full potential, even if I tend to occasionally push the envelope a little further than I should.
So, what's the problem? The Canadiens are, for the most part, playing like crap. They can't seem to put forth a consistent effort in a game or shake the injury bug, and the result has been plenty of losses -- something that should have someone like me writing his ass off with discontent.
Instead, I can barely be bothered to half-ass a game recap these days.
It's not so much the fact that, quite frankly, the Canadiens suck at the moment, but that there doesn't seem to be any light at the end of this bleak tunnel. We can't say that the team will iron itself out and start playing consistently, or that the defense will even finally buy into the coach's system or that even the coach will adjust to the team he's had for three years now. We can't even say that the injury situation is going to get better, because quite frankly, it probably won't, and worse, the team will barely even tell us what's going on with a lot of these injured players.
Hal Gill is apparently in the hospital, infected from a cut, and it seems to be an afterthought for a lot of people this week. Andrei Markov is skating with the team, but no one really knows what his status is or whether he'll even be, you know, good when he returns. Chris Campoli and Ryan White have fallen off the face of the planet since the start of the season, and I had almost forgotten that Andrei Kostitsyn and Jaro Spacek are on the shelf as well.
It may seem like I'm nitpicking about injury disclosure, but the way Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin handle injury reports and the media's and fans' access to them (or lack thereof) is painfully indicative of the way they do business. After more than two seasons with Jacques Martin, and nearly a decade of Pierre Gauthier in the organization, it's become rousingly clear that they could care less what anyone thinks about how they run this team. The closest thing to accountability this management group has had in the last year was the firing of an assistant coach, and, quite frankly, the winning streak that it created was more a matter of coincidence than circumstance.
Now, with Perry Pearn sitting at home growing a mustache, or whatever, the Canadiens are back to playing some of the most inconsistent hockey I've ever seen them play.
Two nights ago, the Habs routed a Carolina Hurricanes team that clearly didn't want to be in Montreal. A few weeks ago, it was the Bruins and Flyers that faced their wrath. But last night, and on many nights before that this season, all the Canadiens were able to do was stink up Long Island in a 4-3 loss to the Islanders (that may as well have been a 4-0 loss), and I'm at a loss of words to explain why or how it happened.
Blame the back-up goaltender for showing his true colors; colors that got him kicked out of Colorado last season when the team needed goaltending the most. Blame the defense for being inexperienced and just downright bad, or management for not ensuring that the Canadiens wouldn't have to have a defense corps full of rookies. Blame Scott Gomez for clearly not giving a shit anymore. Blame the coach for being Jacques Martin. I just don't know else to say anymore.
And what's worse, now that we've ranted about this, and once again complained about this team's glaring problems, they're probably going to come back with a trade or something that leads to an elongated win streak, that will once again quell everyone's worries about this team.
But since we're in rant mode, it's time to face facts. The Canadiens may seem back in the race, sitting in tied for 11th place with 19 points, and only 2 points away from Florida and Ottawa in 7th and 8th. They may seem like they've managed to play good hockey over their last 10 games, with a 6-3-1 record, or come back to a false illusion of a .500 record (8 wins, 8 losses, but also 3 overtime losses), and they may be currently sitting at an even record of 49 GF and 49 GA, but I'm not entirely sure this team is capable of being much better than just a team the sends the entire season hovering around or just under a .500 record.
They're certainly not as bad as their early season record might have indicated in October. The team itself may even be a lot better on paper, while healthy. But what we're seeing on the ice, what this team is actually capable of doing, under its current management and set of circumstances, is deflating at best.
Again, now that we've come out and said it, the Habs will likely find a way to finish 8th place again and maybe even win a playoff series or two. But to me, it's clear now more than ever, that the only thing the people running this team are concerned with is the status quo. And I'm more or less fed up with it.
If you want to know who scored the goals last night, then here you go. Max Pacioretty put up his 9th goal of the season. Erik Cole and Brian Gionta their fifth each. Tomas Plekanec added 2 helpers. But what does it matter? We know these players are capable of great things individually. Why can't it seem to come together for the group as a whole?
You don't have to go much further than my comments on various game stories by the great staff here on the site to see that I'm trying to find positives with this team. And there definitely are more than a few. But nearly every game, win or loss, seems to leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.
And as much as we can suggest and ask for, even demand change, I'm just not sure we're going to get it at this point.
Is this team capable of winning enough games to secure another playoff spot this year? In all honesty, probably. And once again, there will be people who'll praise the coach for leading the team through the murky, injury-riddled waters of the Bell Centre. We'll proclaim that they're better than what their record indicates, and accept the status quo for another season.
For the first time in my life, I'm not interested in this team. I love hockey, and I love watching games in general. Breaking my objectivity once more in this article, I'll say that I still love the Habs, both for what they represent, and even what they still are, in a lot of ways. But I can barely bring myself to turn on the TV every time a Habs game comes on. Because even if they exceed my expectations on one night, I can't be reassured that they'll do so the next night, or even the next period or shift, and that's the most frustrating thing I've ever had to suffer through as a hockey fan.
Quite frankly, even if their record may not be anything like, say, that of the Columbus Blue Jackets, for a team that should be used to winning and succeeded, this season is turning out to be a nightmare. One of inconsistency, injuries, and of knowing that as we go forward, we can't expect anymore more than the same.
All I can hope for at this point, is that someone wakes me up from this never-ending nightmare.