Saturday, December 17, 2011

Canadiens - Devils: New Coach, Same Results as Habs Fall 5-3 to Devils

If you haven't heard, the Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Jacques Martin yesterday with assistant, Randy Cunneyworth, replacing him on an interim basis. And while you wouldn't expect a lot to change in his first game behind the bench, changes there were.

Well, except for the final result.

The loss aside, Cunneyworth shifted things around on the penalty kill, made better use of his young players and had his defenseman joining the rush more often.

Montreal got themselves into penalty trouble early but responded with vigour scoring three goals in 6:38 of play. The overall result was a fast-paced, highly entertaining game.

Yes, you read that right, a Habs/Devils game that was entertaining.

It must be a Festivus miracle!

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, while the Habs played a more entertaining brand of hockey they once again fell apart in the third. Up to that point, they had kept the pace high and the score close. But missed assignments and porous defense meant that Jersey was able to grab the lead and keep it.

Ultimately, Montreal played a slightly different style in Cunneyworth's first game as coach, but had the same result.

A point of interest: the players held a players only meeting after the loss, lasting about 15 minutes. Is this a good sign or a bad sign?

Cue the feats of strength.

Final Score: Devils 5 - Habs 3

Game Notes

Pace - Most matches between the Devils and Habs move at a glacial pace. But not last night. For some reason both teams had zip to their games, skating like the wind and making for a fast paced game in the process.

I'm not entirely sure what triggered the change—except that the Devils seem to be playing a more open style—but it was certainly a refreshing change from the sleepy Jersey/Canadiens games we're used to seeing.

Communication - Every time they showed a shot of the Canadiens bench you saw Randy Cunneyworth and Randy Ladouceur talking with players. That's a huge departure from the hands-in-his-pockets approach Jacques Martin used to take.

There's no question that Cunneyworth has a monumental task in front of him and I feel his chances of succeeding are low. Moreover, given his lack of French language skills, it would take a very deep playoff run to keep him for being moved aside at the end of the season.

That being said, for now at least, it's certainly a breath of fresh air to see open communication from the Habs coaching staff. It can only lead to good things.

No Cammalleri on the PK - For those of you who read my articles on a regular basis, you know I've never been a fan of Michael Cammalleri on the PK under Jacques Martin.

Cammalleri is neither known for his defensive abilities nor does he excel on the defensive side of the puck. As such, it has been frustrating to see one of the Canadiens laziest players (defensively), playing on the PK.

Against the Devils, however, Cunneyworth went with two penalty killing units comprised of Tomas Plekanec, Mathieu Darche, Lars Eller, Petteri Nokelainen. That's it.

Festivus miracle? Heh, OK, I'll stop using that now.

Give it some time - Fans that booed the Habs off the ice last night are understandably fed up of watching their team lose.

That being said, it was unreasonable to expect massive changes last night, especially when you consider the coach was fired yesterday morning.

Cunneyworth employs a style that's very similar to Martin's but he will surely do things a little differently. As when any new coach comes on board, he will need a few practices and a few weeks to put his stamp on the team.

And, while that's happening, there could be more of the same or worse as the team adjusts. Ultimately, Montreal is not out of the woods yet and this season is very much on the verge of going down the toilet.

So now what? - First Perry Pearn, then Tomas Kaberle comes to town and now Jacques Martin gets fired.

So where do the Habs go from here?

The perception around the league is that the Habs are an organization that is in panic mode. Moreover, all three moves are being perceived as panic decisions.

As such, it looks like Habs GM Pierre Gauthier has painted himself into a corner. With ownership breathing down his neck, his head is clearly next in line for the guillotine.

This means he must be active, not passive.

With that in mind I think Gauthier won't stop at the firing, proceeding to the next step of the save-my-ass plan: player movement.

I think there will be a shakeup in the personnel department over the next 60 days or so, keeping the momentum of change rolling. Ultimately, however, if things don't turn around in a hurry, Geoff Molson might not have the option of waiting till the end of the season before giving Gauthier the boot too.

And with the Canadiens leaving on a six-game road trip things could get a lot worse in a hurry. Or, they could get better. All that matters right now are wins and the Canadiens can either come back from this road trip as heros or zeros.

Their destiny is in their hands.

Stat of the night - 348. That is the number of goals Devils forward Patrick Elias has in his career, making him No. 1 on their all-time list.

Question of the night - The question of the moment is clearly, does the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens need to speak French? I ask this question truly wanting to know the answer from all of you reading out there, and not rhetorically.

There are many French speaking readers of my articles and I'd like to know what they (and the non-French speaking readers) think. Do fans actually want a French coach or is this an idea espoused only by the French media?

Up next - The Habs now embark on one heck of a tough road-trip (six games), playing their next home game on January 4th. And where does their road trip start?

Boston, on Monday.

That game will either push the Habs further into a tailspin or act as a spring board.

Tune in Monday for the next episode of As the Habs Turn.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)


I think the notion of "protecting" the French language and having a francophone coach extends past the media.

However, I feel that for both fans and media, if a high-end coach like Mike Babcock was brought in, this would perhaps not seem as pressing a subject.

Likewise, if a unilingual coach created a winning environment, the language fact would take a backseat.

As is usually the case in sports, winning tends to make other perceived inadequacies seem far less relevant.

At the end of the day, actions always speak louder than words, regardless the language in which the words are spoken.

Maybe a minor stat but I noticed that last night Eller and Leblanc both had a higher TOI then in most of their previous games. Hopefully this trend continues. Also would like to see a 4th line of Blunden, Moen and White(when he returns). I think this would give us a great energy line that would be good on the forcheck.

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