Scoring Goals: It Didn't Hab-En Last Week
I usually have little to no problem writing a long and relatively epic rant after the Canadiens suffer an embarrassing loss. Frankly, it comes much more naturally to me than writing after they win. It's just easier to hate things than love them, I guess. Plus, it prohibits from people calling me bias when it comes to this team, so I guess there's that too.
It's easy to rag on the coach for not playing the system you want the team to play, or the general manager for not acquiring the players you wanted or developing those players properly. Even easier to rag on the players for simply not showing up. But last week's performances from the Montreal Canadiens were simply beyond words. Beyond epic rants like you're used to, beyond analysis and explanation.
There simply isn't a way to properly describe what I and many other Habs fans witnessed this team go through in the past eight days. From utter dominance on one side of the ice last Sunday against the Minnesota Wild, in a spectacular 8-1 victory, to three straights shutouts... against.
In a feat that remained unaccomplished for this team in over sixty years, the Canadiens went an entire week without scoring a goal. Forget the fact that they were embarrassed against the Bruins 7-0 on Thursday for reasons other than the fact that they didn't score a goal. Forget that they gave a 2-0 shutout and two very important points to a team that now sits two points behind the Habs, and with a game behind against the Sabres. And forget that they gave another two very important points to a team that they might face in the playoffs and will be looking for revenge, in the Washington Capitals. The simple fact that this team went an entire week without scoring a single goal is beyond words. It's beyond embarrassing and beyond explanation.
It's no longer about injuries, about overusing players or coaching that doesn't make any sense from the perspective of the other side of the rink. The Canadiens are supposed to have good players, even snipers, and players who should be able to score regardless of adversity. But none of them showed up in the last three games, and I simply can't explain it.
Yes, the Habs have had trouble with "showing up" this season. Most of the players mailed in it for the entire month of December, and it's a general occurrence pretty much ever game after a win. But at the same time, the Canadiens have also been good at bouncing back when the going gets tough.They seldom lose more than one or two games in a row, and while they have been involved in an inordinate amount of games won or lost by 3+ goals, they generally manage to stick in there thanks to a "safety first" system by Jacques Martin.
But on top of making Montreal Canadiens history this week with three straight shutouts against, the stats finally began to pile up against the Canadiens. Now updated after the loss to the Capitals, upcoming TCL contributor Joe Corson combined the following stats on his blog, and they're pretty much beyond belief:
- The Canadiens have been involved in 17 shutouts (8 for and 9 against), a franchise record since the early sixties. The nine shutouts against are now tied for a franchise record and are the 3rd most in the league.
- Sixteen times the Canadiens have lost by three or more goals, fifth most in the league and one of the only teams with so many bad losses to sit in the playoffs (for now). Add 12 games where they have won by 3 or more goals, a feat only surpassed by Minnesota and Edmonton this year.
- Twelve losses by only a single goal, a league low this season.
For a team that preaches such apparent defensive prowess, and that employs a coach that's supposed to be well-versed in such a system, the results and statistics don't seem to back this guy up. Say whatever you want about how far Jacques Martin has taken the Canadiens, with all the injuries and all the slumps, but when you're shut out for three straight games, after winning a very uncharacteristic 8-1 game only days prior to such embarrassments, it's pretty obvious that it goes beyond injuries, beyond simple slumps or deficiencies. These things don't happen, and shouldn't happen.
I'm trying my hardest not to blame the coach here, but as our good friend Kyle Roussel put it in the comments of that Joe Corson blog, "this week [is] a perfect microcosm of the team". Step away from the game plan, let the offensive players loose, and you get an 8-1 victory on the road. Come back to the system a few days later, likely after a tongue-lashing from the coach, and you get outscored 11-0 in three games. It just doesn't make any sense.
The coach cracked the whip at practice on Sunday, but he has to look at himself and what he's doing to this team before punishing his players for basically doing what he tells them. PK Subban had the most interesting comment following practice:
It isn't really fair to put this on them, and it seems as if that's the message being relayed to the players from the coach. Because other than the fact that they literally didn't score ANY goals, they really didn't play any differently than they had in most of the 70 games before last week's disaster. And they have had 70 games to figure these things out, to wake up and smell what they've been laying on the ice. This deep into the season, there shouldn't have to be hard practices and bag skates. The coach should be focusing on minor adjustments, finding permanent line combinations for the playoffs and preparing strategies for their possible competition. Instead he has to teach the players how to score goals? And it's supposed to be THEIR fault?
It especially isn't fair to Carey Price, who kept all three games from being even worse, so long as he was between the pipes, as he has for the entire season. Martin can thank his lucky stars that the Canadiens have Price to rely on. Imagine how bad things would be without him this year? And what's even more frustrating is that three straight shutouts, and likely another two or three weeks of struggles, as the Canadiens stumble into the last few games of the season and the playoffs, will likely mean that Price's stats will drop, and his bids for the Vezina and Hart trophy will probably be stopped short, thanks to a coach and his damned system. Price deserves better. This team deserves better. Instead, despite all this talk of change, despite success that came out of nowhere in last year's playoffs, they get to be embarrassed by three of the seven teams they're competing against in the East in the span of five days. And it's a real shame that in so many opportunities we could have had to discuss this amazing season by Price, the emergence of PK Subban as a budding superstar, the leadership by example of Brian Gionta or the great play of so many suppressed youngsters, we have to sit here and talk about the coach and his system yet again.
The Canadiens will get a chance to see if this "hard practice" did the job or not sooner rather than later, as they face a back-to-back situation over the next two days, welcoming the Atlanta Thrashers to the Bell Centre on Tuesday, and visiting the Carolina Hurricanes the next night. Three days later, they will face the New Jersey Devils on the road in the first of the final four games of the season. Needless to say, anything short of a three game win streak against three non-playoff teams will be totally unacceptable, as it will likely result in a very precarious playoff position for the Canadiens, with both the Rangers and Sabres nipping at their heels. After 75 games of holding on to a playoff spot fairly securely, the Canadiens are now in danger. And it's not the time to hold on to that damn system. It's time to let the Habs and their OFFENSIVE players do that they're supposed to do - score goals and win games.
Join us throughout the week as we cover the Canadiens in their bid to score a goal, and discuss your thoughts on their pitiful performance last week in the comments below.