No More Excuses: Time For the Habs to Make a Splash
The Montreal Canadiens have lost 6 of their last 7. We don't need to go through all the losses, you know what's happened. From the physical romping in Boston to the utter embarrassment last night at the Heritage Classic, it's been mostly downhill for the Habs this month, and it's been pretty evident that they've been unable to get a streak going, and unable to get motivated for big games.
It all came to a head yesterday in Calgary, where the Canadiens entered (or rather exited, since the game was outdoors) a unique event against the Flames looking to rebound from a bad loss in Edmonton a few nights before. The conditions were bad on the ice, with plenty of bad bounces, and it was cold as Hell but none of the players were complaining. Old-time hockey out on the pond, what's not to love and get excited about?
Fans from both cities were gearing up for a real good match, but instead, the only team that would leave satisfied would be the Calgary Flames, after a 4-0 ass-kicking of the Canadiens.
The Habs would start off extra cold, allowing 19 shots (to their 8 ) in the first period. Carey Price would keep them in it, letting in only a single goal. In the second, the Canadiens would throw an astonishing 21 shots on Miikka Kiprusoff, but it would be the Flames who would score twice on their 11 shots. They would add a fourth for good measure in the final frame, and that would be all she wrote for this one.
While I understand that this was sort of a special game where certain logics of regular season play may not apply, there were some mind-boggling decisions by coach Jacques Martin yesterday in Calgary.
For instance, Andrei Kostitsyn, who has no goals in 11 games, no points at all in 9 games, continues to get way too much ice time. He played 17 minutes yesterday, a decision that I can't begin to comprehend. In the span of 11 games since his last goal, Kostitysn is a ridiculous -8. He is completely lost out there. Even if he scores 5 goals in his next three games, it won't make a difference because he's just going to go on another cold streak again after he's done making up for his lack of play in previous games.
Scott Gomez played nearly 20 minutes. He's hasn't scored a goal in 7 games, and only 2 in his last TWENTY FIVE games. Sure, he's supposed to be more of a playmaker, but he only has 2 assists in the last 11 games, the same span since Kostitsyn hasn't scored a goal. He is -9 in that span.
Not even the workhorses on the top six, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta, can get motived, but the coaching staff is content with playing them all their regular minutes, while burying the youth of this team which actually seems eager to perform in what seems to be their absence.
It's time for a serious question: What the Hell is Jacques Martin doing?
There's no excuse for continuing to give these players top minutes. We get that guys like Plekanec and Gionta will likely bounce back, but how can he know that's not the case with Kostitsyn and Gomez? They have tools at their disposal to replace them. David Desharnais, Benoit Pouliot and even Lars Eller to a lesser extent are all offensive players who get benched after a bad shift, yet alone a bad game, a bad week or a bad month. But they still manage to produce despite a clear lack of confidence from the coach, and continue to chomp at the bits when it comes to earning their ice time. Instead, Jacques Martin is fine with playing two losers who are clearly content with cashing their paychecks and doing nothing to earn them.
As fas as I'm concerned, Andrei Kostitsyn may as well pack his bags. If I were the coach or GM of this team this guy wouldn't play a single other game in the Canadiens uniform. Instead, he gets the most ice time out of nearly everyone?
And I'll usually be the first guy to defend Scott Gomez. He's a character guy, a leader, and does more than just put up points. But enough is enough. $7.5 million for 29 points through 60 games and a team worst -18 rating? It's unacceptable. Teams like the Rangers and the Oilers would have nothing of this, they'd bury his piece of crap contract in the minors and find better uses for the money. It's not even a matter of showing respect or being a classy organization anymore, at some point you just have to cut your losses and do what you need to do to compete. They have centers in the organization who can take his spot, there are options via trade to bring in a better center. Instead, they're content with giving Gomez ice time and hoping for the best, while someone like Lars Eller ends up playing wing, a spot he's clearly not comfortable with, getting no chances to shine, and David Desharnais has to make the most of his limited ice time.
People will say that you don't fire your coach while sitting in a playoff spot, the season after making the conference finals. And I'd have to agree with them. But it's time for someone to step in and tell him that things aren't working. The Canadiens are VERY lucky to be in 6th place in the East right now, within reach of the Caps in 5th place and the Bruins in 3rd. They're VERY lucky that teams like the Sabres, Leafs and Devils had extremely poor starts that have put them way behind the Canadiens, despite their recent push to make the playoffs. And ya, in the end, the Canadiens will likely make the playoffs, and they have a shot of doing some damage with the proper match-up.
But management and even ownership needs to take a serious look at what's being done to run this team, because clearly, there are a lot of things that aren't working. Performances like the one we saw yesterday at McMahon Stadium are unacceptable. And you can blame the players all you want, but when you have a coach that's clearly incapable of motivating his team and is content with playing experience over, you know, actual ability, there needs to be a serious discussion about what this team does heading forward.
That being said, we're a week away from the trade deadline. No one's being fired this season, nor should they, really. The Bruins, the Bolts and the Flyers have improved on their already great teams. The Sens and the Leafs have set up their future and improved in different ways. The Caps and the Pens are still in play, and who knows what else can happen.
Whatever may have been said about the Canadiens above, and about where this team is going, there's no excuse that's great enough to justify giving up on the season and not making a major move. No one in the top six has been performing as of late, and Jacques Martin is too afraid to play anyone outside of the people he's used to going to. The defense is decimated and porous, and Carey Price needs all the help he can get.
What issues does Pierre Gauthier deal with first? What players does he go after and how much does he willingly give up to improve this team in the short run? All difficult questions to answer, but as we have seen last week with all the trades that went down, there are plenty of options. And reward never came without risk.
The Canadiens HAVE to make a big move. They owe it to themselves, to the fans that pay good money just to see lackluster performances from their team, and they owe it to the teams that have already improved their line-ups. "We're not that good enough anyway" or "we don't that many assets to spend" are asinine excuses. Gauthier said he wants the Canadiens to be top contenders every year. Last year, he got lucky. This year, it's his team, and his moves to make. And it's time he stepped up and lived up to his promises, instead of hiding in the shadows and trading irrelevant picks for depth players.
The time is now to respond, to make a trade. I don't care who they pick up or even who they trade other than a select few, but there are no more excuses, and not much time left. Get it done, Gauthier.