With a run of seven-straight without a win, the season is quickly slipping away from the Montreal Canadiens.
If they don’t turn it around soon, the run will be too big to recover from in the long run.
The Boston Bruins didn’t seem like a night where the skid had a chance to end at all, but the Canadiens put together a solid and intelligent effort at the TD Garden only to lose it 3-1.
- There is no way anyone had Joel Armia as the top goal scorer for the Canadiens approaching the 30-game mark in the season. Armia continues to be a force. He is tied for the team lead in goals with Brendan Gallagher with 10. Armia has played well all season, but he seems to be really enjoying himself on an all-Finland line right now. Artturi Lehkonen is also playing his best hockey of the season. You would not think that that line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a goal scorer on it, but with Armia hot, Lehkonen working hard and contributing, and Kotkaniemi seeming to be finding some of the form of his rookie season, the line has been strong. Kotkaniemi is looking more comfortable recently. He looks more focused to the task at hand. He’s making strong passes, and in this one, he was stronger defensively as he has been. It has not been a popular topic of conversation among the Habberazzi but Kotkaniemi has been weak in his own zone, and it’s been costly. That this line is strong at the moment, a third line, is a big bonus if it can continue. It’s exactly what the Habs need to come out of this malaise.
- Also strong was the line of Nick Suzuki, Max Domi, and Nick Cousins. Suzuki continues to be outstanding. His ability to lose his check is remarkable. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do, but Suzuki makes it look easy. With Cousins, the line is stronger defensively and that’s vital because Suzuki has struggled at times showing enough hustle back checking, and Domi is not the best of two-way centres in hockey providing more offensively. Again, this is a bonus for Claude Julien if this line can mesh and they can keep the players together to grow some chemistry.
- And a third line was also strong overall: Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar took care of their assignments much better than they have been recently. The usually strong Corsi-leaders were struggling mightily during this bad run, but this game was at least a temporary turnaround.
READ MORE: Montreal faces New Jersey on 5-game slide
- What a Herculean effort by Ben Chiarot in this contest. Victor Mete out of the line-up with a lower body injury, and Claude Julien didn’t have much confidence in the rookies, so Chiarot saw a massive amount of ice time trying to stay in it against the giants of the Atlantic Division. Chiarot played more than 20 of the first 40 minutes of the contest. He saved a certain goal with a blocked shot to bail out Carey Price. Chiarot started poorly for the Habs, but he has improved his game. He isn’t what the team needed in a puck mover, but he is doing what he does well enough with some bad games thrown in which you have to say for all of them the last two weeks. This does appear to be a free agent signing by Bergevin that will add more than it subtracts. Bergevin also continues to win the Weber versus PK battle as Subban is very much having difficulty while Weber is near the top of the Habs scoring lead while putting in a massive amount of ice time. Jeff Petry also played a massive amount of minutes proving that he is not injured, and that is poor play lately was a matter of focus and concentration, or perhaps trying to do too much.
- During this horrible run for the Habs, they went from 20th in team defence to 29th in team defence in the entire NHL. An already bad team at keeping the puck out of the net turned it into a nightmare for the last two weeks. The low point was the loss against New Jersey when the worst offensive team in the league lit up the Canadiens. Against the Devils, Montreal allowed 13 odd-man rushes. They are averaging eight odd-man rushes against per game this season. They must have looked at film because the club has tightened up significantly. Against the Flyers in the overtime loss, the Canadiens gave up only one odd-man rush. Against the Bruins, they did not allow an add man rush for the first two periods. You simply can not win in this league allowing breakaways and 2-on-1 opportunities. It’s so hard to score on the cycle, so you have to make sure that is all you give. The coaching staff wants the defenders to pinch in and help the attack in a league that is definitely trending in that direction. The day will come that the defenders are pinching in pretty close to all of the time if the opportunity presents, but this only works if a forward then takes the defensive responsibility up to negate a possible 2-on-1. This more cautious style of ‘two men back all the time’ has to be how the Habs play to get out of this malaise. They have to understand the more important lesson of defence, before they can fly on offence.
- Now to the dark side: The Habs don’t have enough quality defenders. It is just so obvious. They tried to lean on three men for most of the game, but you have to play the other three at some point, and the other three are just not there yet. You can’t use Petry, Chiarot and Weber for 60 minutes. There just is not enough talent on the ice with anyone else they try on defence. The Habs were ready to play a strong system game. They kept the odd-man rushes down to zero, but the Bruins found a way because they are strong on the cycle. The Bruins found a way because they had the talent to make the Habs lack of talent come to the fore by the end of the game. This losing streak will end soon. The Habs were organized and efficient most of the game, but the Bruins are the Bruins, and their talent prevailed. Against a lesser team, this Habs team will win its fair share. However, in the long run of a full season, they’re just not good enough on the back end. They can’t find their man. They can’t check their man. They can’t hold their man down. They can’t skate with their man. Their man finds a way against them. That’s eight straight losses. It’s beyond ugly, but a prediction for you: it ends soon. They played a better brand of hockey. No results for it, but the improvement from 13 odd man rushes against to zero is obvious. It’s still just not good enough.
- Evaluating Marc Bergevin is an extremely difficult task. Fairness is the ultimate goal, but his report card is such a series of polar opposites that it is a challenge. If one looks at his trading record, one sees a GM at the top of his game.The Phillip Danault trade is an example.The Max Pacioretty trade is an example.There are many examples where Bergevin gets at least a tie, but the truth is he wins almost all of his trades. Same positive view when looking at his UFA work. Sure Karl Alzner was a mistake, but you will be hard pressed to find a GM that does not have an albatross UFA signing or three. Fans would love if Bergevin were more active on the UFA market, but very few free agents will ever choose Montreal for a variety of reasons from language and an intense fish bowl, to weather and taxes. One can not fault Bergevin for something entirely out of his control. So a grade of eight or nine out of 10, right? Not even close, because the truth is that a number of positive specifics does not add up to anything positive in the general sense.The goal is the playoffs and if the Habs continue on the path that they are on now, it will be four seasons out of five that Bergevin’s Canadiens miss the playoffs. This is a horrendous record, and in a market like Montreal it usually leads to a firing. The issue with Bergevin is he knows how to win a lot of moments, but he has not built a winner. The perfect example is the trade of Jonathan Drouin. He acquired the talented forward who has been good, but he lost a talented defenceman in Mikael Sergachev.
The trade itself is a tough call who won at the moment, but Drouin was the leading scorer on the Canadiens when he injured his wrist and needed surgery. So Drouin is not the problem. The problem is that Bergevin traded a defenceman away when his team was poor on defence. He ended up weakening his team. There was no replacement for Sergachev, and his defence now is paper thin. Sergachev is also the style of defender that the Habs need providing some offence while moving the puck up the ice well. Bergevin is building a good trading resume, but he’s not building a winner. Every team has a big white board with the entire depth chart listed top to bottom.
It’s all there: Draft picks, AHL players, NHL players, players in Europe…. The entire depth chart of the organization is right there to look at, so when he traded Sergachev away, what did that depth chart say to him? How did he reconcile that he was going to be fine trading away the only puck mover of the future that he could rely on? Then again, how about that Pacioretty trade? Wow, what a huge win! You see… it’s not easy to figure this Bergevin guy out. Geoff Molson will decide Bergevin’s future ultimately. The owner recently gave the GM a glowing review. One surmises Molson must still be evaluating each specific moment, and ignoring the general disappointment.