Is Jacques Martin Finally Getting the Message?
At the top of the weekend, I was preparing myself to write another article berating coach Jacques Martin for his decision making, and his acceptance of the status quo as a means of coaching the team.
But for once, it's kinda hard to blame him. Although the Canadiens haven't even played a dozen games, and the schedule so far has been less than completely threatening, the Canadiens sit tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning atop the Eastern conference, having accumulated 15 out of a possible 22 points. The impressive part? They've done it with the worst powerplay in the league, with their second line being nearly completely non-existent, and until this past Saturday night, without their top defenseman.
So what can be attributed to this unexpected success?
As mentioned above, a relatively easy schedule is definitely a contributing factor. The Canadiens' seven wins in October have come against a Pittsburgh team that struggled early, against a Sabres team's that's only mustered 3 wins in 12 games, two against a Sens team that isn't much better, one against a Phoenix team that seems to be a shell of the 100-point team from last year, and two against the Islanders.
Moreover, as it's been well-documented, Carey Price has pretty much been lights out for the Canadiens, and the defense in front of him, despite missing its biggest component and averaging a high age outside of PK Subban, has managed to control the number of shots getting to Price.
Finally, where the offense has failed in certain departments, others have picked up the slack to cover the deficiencies. While the Gomez line has been a failure, the Plekanec line has accounted for half the goals the Canadiens' have scored, and players on the bottom lines such as Lapierre, Halpern and Pouliot have picked up the rest of the slack. And where the powerplay has failed, the 6th ranked penalty kill has given the Canadiens a chance to win.
But even with a 7-3-1 record, enough points in the bank through October to give the Canadiens a comfortable advantage heading into the tougher portion of the schedule, and a lot of good going for them, every problem that this team has faced seems to be completely and utterly unnecessary and fairly easily fixable.
Spacek is under-performing on the blueline? Bench him and play Picard, who's a +7!
The Powerplay isn't scoring goals? Put on four forwards, give some offensive players a shot, instead of going with the boring old 3 forwards and 2 defensemen format that's done NOTHING for the Canadiens.
Gomez's line isn't going? Try someone with a bit of an attitude and an edge on the second line, like a Lapierre, or a Boyd or an Eller.
Instead, it seems as if on every turn, every decision, Jacques Martin is going with the easy way out. The solution that won't hurt his team, but is also unlikely to help it AT ALL. Like putting Tom Pyatt, a guy who scored a goal every 20 games, on a scoring line, or sticking with the same lines, the same defense tandems that we've been seeing since Martin started coaching the team.
Needless to say, I was preparing myself for somewhat of an epic rant if the Canadiens had dropped yet another game to a team they should easily beat, tomorrow night against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
But then, Jacques Martin goes ahead and uses four forwards on a five-on-three Saturday night, putting Cammalleri on the point along with Subban. I would have probably gone with Tomas Plekanec, who has a decent shot, can definitely dish out the passes, and is defensively responsible, but hey, it's a start, and better than going with what clearly hadn't worked in the ten previous games.
AND THEN comes word this morning that the Canadiens biggest liability on the blueline wasn't practicing on the top six, with Alex Picard, +7 with a goal so far this season, paired up with Andrei Markov and Subban taking Jaroslav Spacek's place with Roman Hamrlik. While anything can happen still, it looks as if Spacek will be taking a seat on Tuesday night and Picard will be drawing back into the line-up, also implying that Martin could indeed experimenting with four forwards on the powerplay.
It looks like Travis Moen will still be suiting up on the second line, but Dustin Boyd draws back into the line-up in Tom Pyatt's place, so Martin gets a 2 and 1/2 out of three, assuming he sticks with the line-up changes and he tries four forwards on the powerplay again tomorrow night. So it's not so bad.
Teams that want to contend for championships know that even first place teams need to make adjustments. If something's not working out, you fix it, because when the going gets tough your glass house isn't likely to hold up. Even with seven wins in October, the adjustments that need to be made are glaringly obvious. With a loss to the worst team in the league in the Florida Panthers this past Saturday, it seems as if Jacques Martin has finally woken up and realized this. Only time will tell if the apparent adjustments are for real, but at the very least, it gives us hope that we can finally stop questioning our coach... at least for a little bit.
That being said, what moves would you make to try and fix the powerplay, get Gomez and Gionta going, and ensure that the Canadiens don't slip in the month of November? Post it in the comments below!
BIG TCL ANNOUNCEMENT
I'm sure most of you read Iain Carnegie's post earlier today. Iain, who runs a great Habs blog at Bleed Bleu, Blanc, Rouge will be joining forces with TCL in order to broaden and solidify our coverage of the Montreal Canadiens over the course of the season.
Together, we will be bringing you our all new Habs Panel, where we will be we collaborating with two well-known Habs bloggers every edition on a series of pertinent Canadiens' questions. The piece will be supported with a pre-game live blog a few days later, depending on the schedule and our own Live Blogs, where the panelists will discuss their answers and take reader questions.
As Donald Trump would say, it's going to be huge!
So join us this Sunday, November 7th, when we present the first edition of our all new Habs panel!
I will be covering the anticipated Habs and Sabres game this Friday, and hope to see you all there, so save the date!
Until then, have a good week!