SAINT-LAZARE, QC — I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to this road trip by the Canadiens. It always seems that they have trouble with the heat down south, dropping a number of duds along the way. The Atlanta Thrashers are one of those teams you just can’t read. They can come at you with youthful exuberance and beat you in ever facet of the game, or, like tonight, they can seem like an AHL team.
Needless to say that these two points for the Habs were huge, considering the Boston Bruins won against the Ottawa Senators, but there are some troublesome issues that continue to irk this coach.
For starters, the lack of transition offense is starting to drive me to the liquor cabinet. The defensive system employed by Canadiens’ Coach Jacques Martin is causing our forwards fits, because of their inability to stretch to opposing defense and generate quality scoring chances. I understand fully that the Habs’ defensive core has been decimated by injuries, the latest of those to defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, but come on. You can’t win hockey games simply by expecting your opposition to make more mistakes than you do and capitalizing on them.
The Canadiens were outshot tonight by the Thrashers 41-23, but the majority of the shots made by the Habs were from the outside and easily stopped by Atlanta goaltender Chris Mason. Other than the goal scored on the power play by defenseman James Wisniewski, everything was from long range. What ever happened to the idea of generating chances from down low, off the cycle? While the Canadiens don’t boast the largest forwards in the league, they still have the speed and talent to do just that. However, it’s an almost impossible task when your forwards are always trying to catch up to the rush.
Now, the Canadiens take another step south, riding into the Florida Sunbelt to face the Florida Panthers on Thursday and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Our heroes have always had issues playing against these two teams, regardless of how their respective rosters look.
That being said, the game versus the Panthers should be quite interesting. The Rat Pack from Florida dumped some major salary this week when they dealt Captain Brian McCabe, defensemen Bryan Allan and Dennis Wideman, along with forward Chris Higgins, among others. When a team makes wholesale changes like these, their identity is temporary off-balance, giving the Canadiens a prime opportunity to get two valuable points at their expense.
Then there are the Tampa Bay Lightning, coached by former Habs golden boy, Guy Boucher. Their firepower, with Martin St-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos is without question. While they don’t boast the best defense in the NHL, we can expect a solid effort from 40-something goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who has always caused the Canadiens fits regardless of who he has played for. I fear, as most do, that Coach Martin’s “system” will be no match for the free-wheeling Bolts.
All this to say that these two points against the Thrashers were a must. And given our past failures in Florida, if we leave the dreaded Sunbelt with anything less the a single point, the Canadiens will most certainly be in dire straits. With the playoff push off and running for all teams on the cusp in the Eastern Conference, the Habs need to tighten their belts and get their hardhats ready. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty)