SAINT-LAZARE, QC – So here we are. The All-Star festivities are upon us, and it’s time to give our Bleu-Blanc-Rouge their mid-season assessment. For those of you who think the Habs are in better shape than they were at this point last season, please allow me to burst your proverbial bubble. While points are important, nothing is more important than performance.
In the Offensive Zone
Earlier this season, I wrote a piece of Scott Gomez, and what was needed for him to succeed. Although he is getting some points here and there, his incomprehensible reluctance to shoot the puck is hurting his linemates. He has remained on the perimeter consistently, refusing to engage the mid-ice lane, and often renders himself irrelevant in the offensive zone.
All the while, Andrei Kostitsyn, who started the season on fire, has disappeared off the face of the earth. He arguably has the hardest shot of anyone on the Canadiens’ roster, and continues to find ways not to use it. When he’s on his game, he can be dominant. However, like many of his compatriots from the former Soviet Republics, more often than not he is invisible.
Michael Cammalleri has been a real trouble spot, as far as understanding his game this season. He has all the tools to score 35-40 goals per season, yet this year, his game just hasn’t been there. He hasn’t shot the puck quite like he did last season, where his one-timer from the top of the right circle was lethal. We’ve rarely seen that this year. Instead, he’s been shooting the puck high and wide more often than not. He’s also been prone to losing his mind on several occasions so far this season.
Callups Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais have been a pleasant surprise so far. While Max has shown his maturity with his play around the net, and improved physical strength along the boards, he’s has had trouble burying the puck in the net. While not a natural goal scorer, he definitely gets high marks for a consistent effort. However, in Desharnais’ case, while his initial contribution was a surprise to many, he has been progressing nicely. While he hasn’t lit the lamp quite like he was with the Bulldogs in the AHL, he is still getting used to the augmented speed and size in the NHL. Give him another month and he may be more effective, but all the tools are there.
In the Defensive Zone
Here is where the root of the problem for the Canadiens begins.
While the Habs are missing two keys components of their defense (namely Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov), some of the remaining players are uncharacteristically falling apart.
It was evident last season that Jaroslav Spacek’s game has taken a downward turn. While relegated to playing the right side with Roman Hamrlik, he has lost his way. When he was with the Buffalo Sabres, he was known for his cannon from the blue line, as well as his ability to move the puck up ice. He can no longer do that. Add to that his ineptitude on the physical side of being a defenseman, and I think it’s safe to say that at season’s end, Spacek will have played his last game in a Canadiens’ jersey.
The situation is a little different, but the same can also be said for Roman Hamrlik. He has, without a shadow of a doubt, been overused over the past two seasons, primarily because of injuries to the aforementioned Markov. He did yeoman’s work last year, working his tail off during the season, but had nothing left in the tank at season’s end. It seems he has never recovered from that. He continuously makes bad reads, and pinches up into the offensive zone at inopportune times. His brain cramps are often the reason opponents get multiple odd man rushes.
P.K. Subban. Here’s a kid who has all the talent in the world, he’s got rock star charisma, and can bring fans out of their seats with his end to end rushes. At the beginning of the season, after making a few bad judgments, he got himself into the coaching staff’s doghouse. Many of those decisions based on the misfortunes of his mate on defense earlier in the season, Alexander Picard. Some would say he’s still clawing out of there. All in all, he’s been exactly what we all thought he would be, a raw talent that needs to be tamed.
Speaking of Picard, man he reminds me of Patrick Traverse. Tall, lanky and useless! (And a favorite of Martin and general manager Pierre Gauthier.)
While the addition of James Wiznewski is a welcome one, he leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive side of the puck. There’s no denying his abilities on the power play, and his Howitzer from the blue line.
In the crease
I’m not even going there. All I will say is that, unlike the majority of people out there who thought Halak was the better choice as number one, I remembered previous seasons with Jose Theodore, Cristobal Huet and Jocelyn Thibault. Small, one hit wonders. I think we can add Halak to that list now.
Behind the bench
There’s a lot I can say about the coaching staff, starting with Perry Pearn. Since the beginning of the season, the Canadiens’ defense has had its share of ups and downs. Mostly downs. He hasn’t been able to get the power play up to speed, although the lack of someone in front of the net isn’t something he’s particularly fond of. Remember, this is the same guy who would stick Zdeno Chara in front of the net when he was an assistant in Ottawa.
There isn’t much you can say about Kirk Muller. He is the player’s liaison to the coaching staff, and does great work in relaying his experiences to the current roster. Reports have it he will leave the organization at the end of the season. He will be sorely missed.
Now, let’s get to the Canadiens’ head coach, Jacques Martin. Having recently read an article by our good friend Arpon Basu, I was amazed to see how positive he was towards Martin. This is the same drone-like figure, who is more like a Vulcan behind the bench, showing no emotion what so ever. He continuously scribbles stuff on his little game card inside his pocket, but never seems to make any good adjustments. And while it has been difficult for him to get his “system” to work, he hasn’t been able to correct the obvious inability his team has to make fluid LINE CHANGES!!!! Especially during the second period.
With all this being said, I have less faith in this year’s team than last season’s. The fact remains that some of the simplest things have become the most daunting tasks. While the coaches have to step it up, it remains that the players themselves have to start showing the heart, grit and determination they had last season, if they hope to make the playoffs.
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)