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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Canadiens - Panthers: Habs Streak of Futility Extends to Six Games

Ho hum, another day, another sunrise and another Montreal Canadiens loss.

The Habs nightmare start to the 2011-2012 NHL season continued last night as they fell 2-1 to the Florida Panthers.

The loss is the Habs sixth in a row—with one shootout and one overtime loss—and gives them a 1-5-2 record, good enough for 15th overall in the East. With the lowly Blue Jackets the only team behind them in league standings, your Montreal Canadiens are officially second to last in the 30-team league.

Say it with me now, "We're No. 29, we're No. 29!"

How's that for a putrid start to the season?

But, with 17 scouts from 15 different teams in attendance at last night's Bell Centre game, the smell of trade winds is in the air. I'm just not sure that Pierre Gauthier—a man who's job is almost as certainly on the line as Jacques Martin's—is the man to be making moves right now.

The only thing worse than a lame duck GM is one who makes panic trades, shipping off prospects and picks in an attempt to save his job.

Final score: Panthers 2 - Canadiens 1

Game Notes

Uh-oh of the night Part I - Max Pacioretty fell awkwardly during the second frame and did not return for the rest of the game. It's no secret that he has been the Habs best and most consistent forward since the beginning of the season. As such, losing him for any extended period of time could be disastrous.

The word this morning is that he has some kind of wrist injury and possible tendon damage.

While nothing is yet confirmed, having Pacioretty out of the lineup for any extended period of time will only decrease the Habs chances of turning this season around.

Uh-oh of the night Part II

The Canadiens loss pushes their dismal record to 1-5-2. In addition, Montreal has now gone six games without registering a win. The noose is certainly tightening around Jacques Martin but GM Pierre Gauthier has to take a large part of the blame too.

After all it's him that brought in a lot of the players on the team.

In addition, he avoids filling seemingly glaring holes, like bringing in big, burly, tough players who can play the game—hello Zenon Konopka—because he does not believe the Canadiens need it.

That might end up being his, Coach Martin and the entire Habs management team's undoing.

Power play wake up - Prior to last night's game, the Habs were 2-for-29 (6.9%) on the power play. But with Jacques Martin's insistence of using players like Mathieu Darche—who has three career PP goals—on the PP, it was perhaps not surprising.

Last night during the Habs first man-advantage, Erik Cole found himself getting some rare PP time and the result was a goal.

With Max Pacioretty deflecting a Raphael Diaz shot from the point, Cole slipped in front of Jacob Markstorm for a last second screen. The result was the puck tipped off of Cole's skate and in, giving him his first in a Habs uniform.

Got the message, Jacques Martin?

Budaj's alright - OK, admit it, you were surprised with how well Budaj played last night.

Sure it was his first game of the season, and sure he is expected to ride the pine more often than not this year, but let's be honest here, the Slovak netminder didn't make a lot of fans during training camp.

That said, training camp is training camp and the season, which is quickly slipping away from the Habs, is what really counts.

The truth is that Budaj has always been a goalie on the cusp of being starter material. Not quite good enough to carry the load but eminently capable of backing up a starter like Carey Price.

Last night, with his teammates' shoulders slumped and the air of defeat permeating throughout the lineup, Budaj did his job stopping 29 of 31 shots for a .935 save percentage.

Special Teams Mashup - The Cats tied the game on a first period powerplay. With that goal, the Canadiens had allowed seven goals on just 17 shots against (shorthanded) at the Bell Centre.

Ouch.

I guess that kind of explains their horrid record so far this season.

The story of the first period, as has been the case most games this season, was special teams. Usually an area of strength for the Habs, they have been floundering in both the PP and PK department this season.

Like they have done far too often this season, Montreal's indiscipline did them in.

With a 1-0 lead, Josh Gorges was sent to the box for roughing. Not only did the Panthers tie the game on the PP, but it zapped the momentum away from the Habs.

As has been the case for years now, Montreal simply cannot score 5-on-5. As such, if their special teams are not clicking it is nearly impossible for them to win. Well, barring a shutout by their goaltender that is.

It's all wrong right now with this team, it's makeup and it management. Methinks that time is nigh approaching for a housecleaning.

Netcrashing - I don't know about you, but I'm loving the Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Erik Cole combination. Or at least I was until Pacioretty got injured.

The line worked because the smaller Desharnais had two big, scoring wingers who crash the net on a regular basis. As such, he had a ton of room to maneuver.

DD had the same kind of line makeup when Andrei Kostitsyn was on his wing, but last night, I had no problem with AK46 playing with Lars Eller on the third line.

Those two had great chemistry last season and will hopefully get it going again this year.

Back to the Desharnais line, Jacques Martin used them amply and they seemed to have a scoring chance every time they were on the ice. Moreover, Cole finally got some powerplay time with Patches and DD and the result was a goal.

What a surprise, Cole on the PP results in a goal. Who woulda thunk it?

Not enough size - If having Patches and Cole on the DD line was producing results, it is taking away from the Tomas Plekanec line.

With Plekanec (5'10) lined up next to Michael Cammalleri (5'9) and Brian Gionta (5'6), there is a marked lack of size on the Habs supposed first line. As such, they seemed to struggle to get much offense going.

Their line was so useless, last night, that I honestly can't remember the last time Plekanec looked so ineffective on the ice.

Is it such a stretch to put AK46, Pacioretty and Erik Cole on three different lines, thereby spreading out the size?

Why Jacques Martin, why?

The Death Knell - Has Jacques Martin coached his last game for the Montreal Canadiens? Not likely yet, but you've got to think that with a 1-5-2 record to start the season GM Pierre Gauthier's finger is perilously close to the panic button.

Moreover, if you watch Jacques Martin he is doing all the things that coaches tend to do before getting the boot.

Juggling line constantly? Check.

Doing irrational things like playing Mathieu Darche on the power play instead of Erik Cole? Check.

Getting angry or snippy with reporters? Check.

On the Darche front, Martin's love of Darche reminds me so much of Michel Therrien's love of Geno Odjick when the latter was coaching the Habs. At the time, Odjick was getting power play time and sometimes filling in on the top-six despite being a career fourth liner.

Sound familiar?

This was, of course, just before Therrien was fired and his insistence on sticking with his plan was part of his downfall.

There is no telling what will happen to Martin, but right now his prospect of surviving the week seems about 50/50.

Aside from Darche on the PP, we saw Michael Cammalleri on the PK again. Why?

Cammalleri is not a defensive specialist. He has never been. What he is, however, is a fully amped offensive weapon who is asked to focus on defense far too often.

Listening to Martin's post-game press conference, he continues to talk like it's preseason. Small steps. Slight improvements. At least the pp was a little better. Focus on the positives.

I think it's time for someone to tell him that the house is on fire.

Up Next - Things don't get any easier for Montreal as they face the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. After that, they have a home and away series against their arch rival Boston Bruins on Thursday (in Boston) and Saturday (in Montreal).

The Bruins aren't exactly off to a riveting start either but perhaps the Habs are the perfect tonic to what ails them.

Or maybe it will be the other way around and Montreal will use the game to build momentum.

Either way, owner Geoff Molson is likely already concocting a plan that could come into action as soon as this Sunday—depending on the results of the next three games.

So stay tuned, because this story is just starting to heat up!

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Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com and Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on TSN Radio 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 9 - 10 AM. Listen live at http://www.tsn.ca/montreal/

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(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

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