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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Montreal-Tampa Bay - Habs Lay Another Egg in 3-0 Loss

Montreal Canadiens  (Canadiens de Montréal)Image via Wikipedia

The state of Florida was not kind to the Habs over the last two days. Despite the sunny weather there is a grey cloud that has formed over the Habs' heads and they are struggling to shake it. After a dismal performance against the Panthers on Tuesday, the Habs were in Tampa yesterday, to play the Lightning. They did so through whispers of locker room dissent and rumours of a Markov vs. Price yelling match last week.

Despite the distractions, you would figure that the Habs would come out like lions, ready to avenge their pathetic effort versus the Panthers only 24 hours earlier. But alas. While they were marginally better in the first period than the previous night, the Habs looked essentially just as flat and the result was the same: Another day, another weak effort and another loss by the Montreal Canadiens.

Despite outshooting the Lightning 12-8 in the first - and 33-30 overall - the Habs went into the first intermission down by a goal. The goal came on a nice play by Downie to get the puck cross crease to St. Louis who popped it in. Team Quebec South 1, Habs 0.

After St. Louis' goal, you could see the Habs were deflated and none more the Price. This malaise carried over into the second period that would see the Lightning score twice in the first six minutes of the period and the game was over.

Final result Team Quebec South 3, Habs 0 with Lecavalier picking up one goal and one assist, St. Louis getting one goal and Alex Tanguay also chipping in with one assist.

The Lightning were simply the better team last night from start to finish. They were quicker, won more battles, capitalized on more turnovers and won more faceoffs. The Habs had their chances, mind you, but were shutout on all three powerplays and were, generally speaking, limited to shots from the outside.

With Price in nets, you were kind of hoping that the Habs would put up a good effort, for a change, but their pattern of playing poorly in front of him continued and his fragile confidence took yet another hit. I am not sure how much more he can take before he is becomes a completely shattered man.

Game Notes:
1 - It's not Price's fault. While Price didn't look that great in the net, he certainly cannot be blamed for the loss. As has become customary, the team plays terrible hockey when Price is in the net. I imagine that it stems from a lack of confidence in the goalie or from wanting to help him out more defensively. Whatever the reason, it is a vicious cycle. Price, before a game, is surely aware that his teammates don't play well in front of him so he wants to make sure not to get scored on first. His teammates are also aware of his fragility and become more defensive on the ice as a result. As soon as the first goal goes in and the Habs are trailing, everyone’s psychology shifts to a "...here we go again" attitude.

Last night was no different as you could see the whole team deflate after the first Tampa goal. And while Price was pretty weak to start the game, he did settle down in the latter half of the second and played a solid third. The problem, as usual, is that he got no support from his teammates.

Bad turnovers, missed defensive assignments and a general lack of cohesion meant that Price was left to his own devices on too many occasions. I know that many people in the city of Montreal want to trade Price at this point. Ship him out of town and give the reigns over to Halak. That's one option. But what is it that is lacking in the Habs organization that prevents them from properly developing prospects? Why is it that every time a young, talented player starts going off the rails, the only solution is to get rid of him? Surely the Habs are not the only team that has to deal with young kids with huge paychecks and even bigger egos? Surely they are not the only ones who have to guide their prospects in the right direction? So why then, is the answer always to trade the player?

I feel that Price still can be the franchise goaltender that everyone hoped he would become. But we have to remember that he is only 22 years old, firstly. And secondly, Price needs a guide as he seems to be floating right now. I still firmly believe that Price needs a mentor, a veteran backup who has been there and who Price can look up to. Good, bad or ugly, Huet provided that influence to Price during his first year with the team. Since Huet was traded, however, Price has been adrift and I don't understand why the Canadiens, as an organization, do not see that and are not taking steps to correct the situation.

If your organization is not able to properly develop players, then it is lacking at some fundamental level. All signs, right now, point to the Gainey-run operation as having gaping holes in it. It remains to be seen if Gainey will retain his job after the season is over, but the more I see the more I become convinced that Gainey's philosophy on how to run a team is dated. That the game has changed and that managers must change with the times. Gainey is employing an antiquated management style and, as of yet, has not taken steps to correct it.

2 - This team is a patchwork. When Gainey blew up his team, this past summer, and quickly reconstructed another, you have to wonder what he was thinking. Looking at the team as it is, it doesn't look like he had a plan. By that I mean that there are simply too many players on the team playing out of their element.

MAB, a defenseman, is playing as a forward. Spacek, who has played for nine of his ten years as a left defenseman, is playing on the right side - and is clearly uncomfortable doing so. Lapierre, a center, has been shifted to the wing many times. Maxwell, a center, is recalled from Hamilton and plays on the wing in Montreal. All of these decisions mean that there are players on the team who are not entirely comfortable. While this is not the only thing that ails the Habs, it definitely does not help their cause.

I still don't understand the discrepancy between the players Gainey signed in the summer and the coach/system that is being employed. Gainey signed a bunch of offensive, attacking style players and hired a coach who employs a defensive style. Am I the only one who finds that a bit goofy?

3 - Is Jacques Martin delusional? During his post-game press conference, a relatively upbeat Jacques Martin said that he thought the Habs played a good game and that they were beaten by good goals. The goals part I'll agree with but a good game? Really? What game was he watching? I also can't help but notice that he is always talking about the team like the season has just started and there are a few things they have to work on.

Last night, in particular, Martin said that the team just has to work on going to the net more. Sorry, Jacques, but we are 55 games into the season. Shouldn't your team have learned your system and what they have to do by now? Shouldn't they already know to go to the net? If they don't, then that, to me, is evidence of a serious disconnect between the coach and his players.


Standings and Next Game:
The Habs did themselves no favours by losing these two games in Florida. With a golden opportunity to pull away from the pack, the Habs came up empty. As such, they are stalled at 55 points in 55 games and are on pace for an 82 point season. With Philly, Florida and the Rangers ahead and holding four, two and one game in hand, respectively the climb ahead could be treacherous.

However, with Boston, Atlanta, Tampa and the Isles all tied with 54 points and four, three, three and two games in hand, the Habs now have to look in their rear view mirror. With so many teams just ahead or behind the Habs in the standings, with so many games in hand, the Habs seem poised to take a tumble. They could, conceivably find themselves very quickly in 13th overall in the East and 26th overall in the league. Now that's parity!

The Habs now have two days off before taking on the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday. Despite their two-game losing streak I wouldn't write this team off just yet because they have shown that they can be very deceptive. Just when you think they are going to go on a roll, they lose a bunch of games. Just when you think they are going to lose a bunch of games they pull out an outstanding win.

All that is left is to see which team shows up on Saturday: Jekyll or Hyde.

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