MONTREAL, QC — Milli Vanilli wanted us to “Blame it on the Rain“, while Howard Jones told us that “No One is to Blame“.
Here in the heart of Montreal, and everywhere else in the world where Habs fans congregate, it’s a completely different story all together. Some relentlessly blame the head coach, some stoke the fire of injury, and as of late – many blame officiating.
Looking back on the past two games against the New York Rangers and the Edmonton Oilers, some of those complaints can be understood. I might even agree on the officiating argument when it came to the game against the Rangers. After all, the men in zebra stripes handed out nine penalties against the Habs plus a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Some were questionable calls (actually, probably six of the nine), especially the unsportsmanlike penalty leveled on P.K. Subban for “snowing” the goaltender. I’m not sure when stopping in front of an upright goaltender was considered unsportsmanlike, especially considering the number of times that Carey Price has been run at this season – without call.
But at the end of the day, the difference maker for Les Boys this season, has been putting pucks in the net, especially with the man advantage. Granted, they have struggled at full strength as well. Seven posts in the past two games doesn’t help the cause. Especially when they have out-shot their opponents 57-43 in those games. But the special teams play must improve.
Perry Pearn became a sacrificial lamb in the not so distant past, and the fact that he was in charge of special teams play did not bode well for him. Clearly though, the problem on the power-play runs far deeper than a lack of coaching ability from Mr. Pearn.
Head coach Jacques Martin consistently plays Mathieu Darche with the man advantage and to no avail. I’m not sure if he’s too stubborn to admit he’s wrong – especially after his chastisement in a post game interview where he wrongly praised Darche’s stats over what Erik Cole has done in the past – or if he’s just not that bright.
Cole has definitely been a brighter light on the power play, but there needs to be another solution to the feeble attempts that have Canadiens fans everywhere, groaning when they receive the man advantage.
Lars Eller has been a wonderful player to watch this season, and his growth has been exponential. He is honing his hockey skills beautifully within the realm of the National Hockey League, and his hands are like silk in puck movement. He is able to thread the needle through some tight passing lanes and is almost always cognisant of where his line-mates are.
So why has he been rewarded with virtually no power-play time?
In their last game against the Oilers, Darche was given 5:14 time on ice with the man advantage, while Eller was only granted nineteen seconds! Something’s gotta give. What’s the old saying? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.
Without doubt, there is a lack of leadership on the special teams play. Plekanec is looking more and more tired trying to quarterback the power-play from the blue line, and it showed last night in his atrocious give-away resulting in a league leading third short handed goal for the season. Not a stat you like to be leading in.
The need for the return of Markov is getting to a desperate level, but he can’t be Montreal’s only saviour when they outnumber their opponents due to penalties. Part of the solution lies in the Canadiens being more disciplined, and taking less penalties themselves, but the rest relies on this team scoring when they out-man their opposition.
Cole needs to continue receiving strong power-play time, and it’s time to add Eller into the mix. Take Darche out of the equation and have him do what he does best, going to the dirty places on the ice during five-on-five hockey.
If Martin finds the need to shuffle his regular strength lines so consistently, perhaps taking the chance on Eller wouldn’t be such a bad idea as well.