Habs Slide Moves From Comic to Tragic

You’ve just made one of the best starts in franchise history, top of the NHL, flying high. One injury – even if it is to your best player – can’t derail you that much, can it?

Well, yes, apparently it can.

Since Carey Price went down, Montreal have fallen from 1st overall to 23rd overall – a shoo-in for the playoffs to six points adrift.

Worse still for Habs fans, it often feels like there is no end in sight for this ‘death spiral’.

Embed from Getty Images

In the 23 games up until November 26th, Montreal scored a league leading 83 goals. In the 29 games since then, just 57.

Why is November 26th significant? It’s the first full day Montreal would be without Carey Price indefinitely. The 28-year old left the previous nights game against the New York Rangers after 40 minutes, and is yet to return. He’s barely even on the ice, and even when they teams training team do try and put him through his paces he is doing so without equipment.

To cut a long story short, the British Columbia native is still some way away from returning.

As a result, Mike Condon, along with former goaltender Dustin Tokarski and trade acquisition Ben Scrivens, have absorbed their share of the blame for the slump – which is justifiable to a degree. And I stress, to a degree.

During the same 29 game span since November 26th, Montreal has surrendered 91 goals for a combined -34 goals difference, despite still being at least average in terms of creating chances.

Montreal still rank third in Corsi For in all situations (53.7%, behind only LA and Carolina) and sit 13th in Scoring Chances For per 60 with 26.8 – though it’s important to note both of these numbers are for the whole season, not just for the period Price has been absent, that’s still a pretty respectable effort. The Canadiens just can’t find a way to put the puck in the net.

This is where piling on Condon and co. becomes that bit harder. If a teams offence is only producing on average two goals per game, it’s an awful lot to put on any goaltender not named Price, Lundqvist or Schneider (plus maybe one or two select others).

Condon has undoubtedly had some bad nights, I think it is fair to say that is to be expected over the course of a season – even the best have bad nights – but in the 29 games since Price went down, Montreal has only scored three or more goals and still lost on two occasions, so it’s not as if Montreal are scoring four but then conceding six.

It doesn’t help the case that ‘it’s Condon’s fault’ when things like this happen either:

That’s, err, that’s not ideal…

The club’s powerplay has also been in decline, and while you can accept the argument that Price’s ability to help set up plays and aid the break out will naturally make life easier for the Habs blueliners when he is back there, the way in which things have fallen apart, again, cannot solely be traced back to one mans absence – no matter his quality.

Perhaps this sums it up best:

As much as Condon has suffered the ire of fans, Michel Therrien’s continued presence behind the bench has left many shaking their head.

There is some justification for giving a Coach additional rope when his number one netminder is out long term, but Therrien’s second tenure as Habs coach seems to be becoming increasingly untenable as the club slides down the standings while their special teams stutter and line up decisions pair Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens’ Captain and most talented goal scorer, with David Desharnais and Dale Weise whilst Alex Galchenyuk remains, controversially, on the wing.

General Manager Marc Bergevin has said Therrien will remain in charge until the end of the season – whether he can truly stick to that promise when Guy Boucher is sat at home remains to be seen. The pressure is clearly mounting, to the point where some are starting to crack and talk of treating the season as a write off has begun.

The argument that 29 games isn’t really a long time only really holds up in math or statistical terms, on the ice that’s a lifetime and the difference between home ice advantage and missing the post season altogether.

So frenzied have some become at the Canadiens’ collapse, talk of trading PK Subban has even begun – albeit that was largely derided across the hockey spectrum (though friend of the blog Paul Wheeler does deserve a stick tape for a great piece of trolling right here) it’s still something of a measure of how unbelievable things have become in la belle province.

The greatest tragedy may be that even tanking might not work at this point – so good was the Habs’ start that their chances of landing a top pick are slight.

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There are those whose frustrations run deeper, who might have predicted this eventuality – a Price-less Habs hitting the skids. They weren’t always a fearsome offensive force last year, but Price was stellar for almost the entire campaign, papering over cracks which remain un-repaired and are now exposed because of the Olympic gold medallists absence.

One man does not make a team. But he can break them in his absence it seems. Questions now begin over the Canadiens’ composition – which many felt was at least competitive, with or without Price, before the season began – and its deployment.

The holy trinity of the failing team is normally thus:

1. Make a roster change/trade

2. Fire the coach.

3. Fire the GM.

Was Scrivens that trade? (If so, *gulp*) Or does Bergevin have something else up his sleeve with the trade deadline approaching?

One suspects he will need to show some kind of leadership over the coming weeks if he is to keep his own job, let alone worrying about what to do with Therrien. ‘Owning’ the decline in the press is one thing, acting on it is quite another.

Where, earlier in the season, Bergevin might have envisaged himself gearing up for a playoff run at this point, he may now be trying to save his job.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on February 5, 2016, in Hockey, Montreal Canadiens, NHL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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