Where do we go from here?
After witnessing yet another heartbreaking loss to one of the best teams in the league, I’m only left to shake my head in wonderment.
Twenty-four hours earlier, I was less heartbroken and more venomous. After all, the Canadiens began their West Coast road trip against a team that should have guaranteed a sure two points. The Anaheim Ducks were sitting miserably near the bottom of the league, and should have been a shoe-in for a win.
Anaheim handed Montreal every possible opportunity to walk out with a better record, and instead of accepting that offer, Les Boys not so subtly declined. The power-play was once again invisible, and the Canadiens failed time and again to generate any type of offense. It was painful to watch.
During tonight’s fiesta against a much stronger and better San Jose club, the performance of the team heralded this Tweet from one of my followers:
@LuisinMinnesota :’Habs play better against better teams, but terrible against terrible teams.. #thingsidontunderstand.’
On the money, and something that was trolling through my head for the first half of the third period.
When you looked at the play of Cammalleri, Cole, Desharnais, Eller, and LeBlanc – they looked hungry. There were some black holes in the line-up (Weber and Subban being the most recognizable), but for the most part the team showed cohesion and a desire to compete.
They skated to the puck with urgency, passed the rubber around the perimeter of the offensive zone with precision, and cycled the puck down low with determination. The only major failure seemed to be their lack to place bodies into the slot to pick up the numerous rebounds that were so graciously offered up.
So what causes this phenomenon that many a fan of le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge have been forced to witness over the recent past?
It’s a mental thing. I’m convinced.
When the roster walks into the building of a team that just doesn’t seem to contend against them, the lack of urgency drops, the skating slows, the puck movement gets sloppy, and the team falls into a waking coma.
Proof’s in the pudding looking back on losses to the Flames (October 13th), the Avalanche (October 15th), the Islanders (November 17th), and now recently – the Ducks (November 30th.).
When you look at the play of the team when they face strong contenders in the league, things change. More examples would be the defeats of the Flyers (October 26th), and the Bruins – back to back (October 28th and 29th). You may as well add in tonight’s match against the superior Sharks as well.
Looking back on all these contests, the Canadiens have shown hunger, desire, speed, play-making superiority, pass perfection, and goal scoring ability.
So I go back to the mental game. The Habs went into all the last mentioned games with a desperation. They knew they were the underdog, and the only chance they had at picking up points was to play like rabid dogs.
There were many a fan tonight calling for the head of coach Jacques Martin, but can you really place all the blame of a lethargic team on the coaching staff alone? Does Martin tell them in the dressing room, before playing an inferior team, that they only need to give half the effort?
As much as I don’t agree with the system that has this team protecting leads, without trying to increase them, it can hardly be considered the issue when you only held the lead once, as they did against the Ducks on Wednesday night..
Coaching can be held accountable for ridiculous errors such as sending Travis Moen and PK Subban out for the shootout; when players like Lars Eller, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Tomas Plekanec were available to seal the deal. Even the choice of Cole was questionable when he was visibly shaken in the last few minutes of the game with an earthquake of a hit just inside his blue line.
But at some point in time, the players need to take some accountability for the lack of performance. They need to realize – especially when they are playing sub-five hundred hockey – that there is no margin for slack play.
Saturday afternoon, the Canadiens will be facing another superior team in the Los Angeles Kings. If they can put up another showing as they did against the Sharks, they may be able to salvage something out of what has been a sub-par western road trip.
If it comes down to another shoot-out, and the wrong players are chosen again, I’ll be the first to hang it on the coach. But the players will have to show up to get themselves in that position – or better.
If they can manage to accomplish that, then we all know exactly where they need to head from here. Home. To play exactly the same way that they played against San Jose, and to secure two more wins and a positive start to the toughest month of the season thus far.