Three straights losses, the latest being a lackluster effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Habs' fans are beginning to wonder if the wheels have already fallen off the bus for this season. There are certainly things that can be improved, but there are too many issues facing this team to expect a quick turnaround.
Starting with the face-off efficiency issue, the 45.6% percentage boasted by the Canadiens ranks them only ahead of Edmonton and Buffalo, 28th in the 30 team NHL. When evaluating a team's ability to win, puck possession always starts at the face-off dot. Vertically-challenged first line centre David Desharnais has a measly average of 43.9%, while his linemate Erik Cole has a secondary average of 22.2%.
Even the team's best centre, Tomas Plekanec, is just a couple of percentage points higher that Desharnais, at 46.6%.
One could argue that Cole is not, and never has been, a natural centre, but in order to implement the system Head Coach Michel Therrien is trying to use, gaining control of the face-off is paramount.
A major part of the problem is, as has been discussed ad-nausium, the below-average size of the centres on this team. Bigger centremen always have more leverage, thus winning the draws more consistently, and furthermore causing Habs' centres to cheat and getting thrown out of the face-off way too often.
While percentages are unavailable to substantiate my claim, simply watch a couple of games, and it is easy to see that our drawtakers get thrown out much more often than other NHL teams.
Whether it is their size, or perhaps a lack of technique, this is one problem Therrien must address immediately, if he has any desire to move this team forward.
The other major issue is accountability. From the beginning of the season, we've seen Michel Therrien lay the law down when it came to the undisciplined play of sophomores Ryan White and Lars Eller. While his reason's cannot be denied, why does Therrien not do the same with some of his veteran players.
If you look at the contributions made by Erik Cole so far this season, it's clear his heart is no longer into the game of hockey. Beginning with his claim that he contemplated retirement due to the differences he had in the CBA negocaitions and their subsequent resolution, Cole just hasn't been the same player thus far this season. And after Saturday's effort, it's clear than Cole's issues have little to do with his propensity to start the season slowly, and more to do with his advanced age, his battered physical state, and his lack of desire.
If there is truly a "No Excuses" policy in the locker room, then Cole is due to have his keister nailed to the bench, and if he continues to be a thorn in the side of the Canadiens from a media perspective, perhaps the Habs' brass should consider Cole on the list of possibilities for their second compliance buyout.
Sure, the idea is a bit extreme, as far as the buyout is concerned, but unless Cole shows a desire to tow the company line, then maybe keeping Tomas Kaberle is indeed to lesser of two evils.