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Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Musings: Are We Winning Despite #TherrienLogic?

Greetings Habs Addicts!

After the previous weekend saw Montreal come back from a 4-1 deficit with under five minutes remaining in the game to beat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 and saw Dustin Tokarski receive a surprise start in Buffalo only to shut-out the Sabres 2-0, you just knew the Habs had some momentum starting after a dreadful losing streak. They needed it as the week started off with Patrick Roy making his grand return to Montreal behind the bench of the Colorado Avalanche. It was very fitting that St. Patrick's return occurred the day after St. Patrick's Day.

Last time Roy was in Montreal he was still coaching the Quebec Remparts and the Canadiens were sending his #33 jersey to the rafters of the Bell Centre. This time around, he's an NHL head coach. And quite an NHL head coach, as his young team in Colorado has been flying high all season long and Roy is certainly in the running for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year. The sold-out crowd gave Roy a rousing ovation during the national anthems; however, Thomas Vanek decided to steal the spotlight from him in grand fashion. Not only did Vanek score his first goal as a member of the Habs, he added two more to complete the hat-trick in a 6-3 Canadiens win. Rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon put on a show in the first period, scoring a beautiful goal to open the scoring but it wasn't enough. Montreal's fourth-line combo of Travis Moen, Brandon Prust and Dale Weise played a very strong offensive game to match their physical game. All three scored goals but Prust left he game briefly with an upper-body injury before returning. It has since been announced that his injury is regular season ending.

Photo Credit: Boston.com
As the season goes, we knew Montreal was due for a let down after this winning run. It occurred this past Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets came into the game playing solid hockey, having a 6-3-1 record over their previous ten games. The Habs played a very undisciplined game, taking eight minor penalties and Michel Therrien abandoned the puck-possession game that led to the comeback against Ottawa and dominated the games against Buffalo and Colorado. Instead he returned to his dump-and-chase mantra that has failed to yield results this season. The game plan failed as the bigger Columbus team dominated in the hit department 36-17 and in the shot department 40-27. Columbus routinely won the corner battles but because of some big saves by Carey Price the Habs remained in the game until a horrible late turnover by Jarred Tinordi led to a Ryan Johansen goal with three minutes remaining. The Habs couldn't score the equalizer and the Blue Jackets stole a critical two-points with a 3-2 victory over Montreal. Tinordi's gaffe cost them the game, but to the youngster's credit he faced the media after the game to address his mistake.

The week came to a close with a trip up Highway 401 to face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior to the game, it was announced that Rene Bourque would return to the lineup in place of Ryan White and Jarred Tinordi would be spending the game in the press-box, being replaced by Douglas Murray. Michel Therrien had an opportunity to show Tinordi some faith after last games mistake, but instead chose to let him think about it in the press box. The Maple Leafs came into the game having lost their previous four games and were on the verge of a collapse, but the first period saw both teams come out flying. Montreal got early goals from Max Pacioretty - ending a seven game goal-less drought - and a rejuvenated Rene Bourque along with a late goal by Brian Gionta. Toronto countered with goals by Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak. Both teams took a nap in the second period with nary a goal nor penalty to be found. In the third period, a hooking penalty to Tomas Plekanec led a Nazem Kadri power-play goal but Plekanec made good late in the game, scoring as a penalty to James Van Riemsdyk expired. This stood up as the game-winning goal in a 4-3 Canadiens win.

My musings center around only one thing this week: The coaching job of Michel Therrien.

Therrien had an opportunity keep the momentum going against Columbus but opted to try and play a dump-and-chase game against a bigger, more physical Blue Jackets team. With a team built around speed and skill, Montreal should be employing a puck-possession game. Especially after acquiring a skilled sniper in Vanek. Needless to say, it did not work out again. Carey Price kept it close until Tinordi's giveaway late cost them. Therrien had an opportunity to show faith in Tinordi by keeping him in the lineup against Toronto. Tinordi had played extremely well in the Blue Jackets game prior to his gaffe. Instead, he found himself on the outside looking in as veteran sieve Douglas Murray returned to the lineup. Great confidence booster, Michel. Therrien has also paired up veteran Francis Bouillon with P.K. Subban. The strategy work as Bouillon scored the overtime winner against Ottawa. After being a healthy-scratch for much of the season, Bouillon played the second-most minutes against Toronto, ahead of Andrei Markov. Bouillon has had multiple turnovers in each of the last three games.

For a coach who was supposedly brought in to aid the development of the young players on a developing team, there has been little development being seen. Lars Eller is -17 on the season, Alex Galchenyuk is -12. Both of these players find themselves jumping around with different linemates on a routine basis and have not produced any consistent offense. P.K. Subban has seen himself benched after costly turnovers in a couple of games and Jarred Tinordi has found himself in the press box after one such mistake. Bouillon and Murray have been awful for much of the season yet Therrien seems to look the other way whenever they make similar defensive mistakes. Habs fans cringe whenever Murray has the puck. Nothing positive ever comes out of this situation as Murray has simply 2 assists in 48 games played. To his credit, Murray has been solid at killing penalties, but should not see the ice at even-strength. Instead, Therrien has given him upwards of 17-20 minutes of ice time per game.

The Habs are a smaller, skilled squad. Last season when the team started off strong, Therrien employed a puck-possession game. The skilled players carried the puck into the offensive zone and cycled it around, using their speed to create scoring chances. At some point last year - around the time of the late-season collapse - Therrien changed his strategy to that of a grinding dump-and-chase team. The smallest team in terms of size and weight in the NHL is now expected to dump the puck into the corners and win battles against larger defensemen? How in the world do you consider this to be a smart strategy? The results were evident in the playoff-loss to the Senators and early this season. Whenever Montreal matches up against bigger, stronger teams such as the beasts of the Western Conference (Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim) his game-plan is often exposed as it was on this recent road trip. The smallish Habs can play a skill game as well as anyone, but Therrien often tries to fight fire with fire with bruising teams. With all due respect to David Desharnais, he will never win corner battles against Ryan Getzlaf or Joe Thornton or Dustin Brown. Not for lack of effort, he's simply just not physically built for it.

The Canadiens overall record of 39-26-7 has more to do with the elite goaltending the club has received from Carey Price. Without a doubt he has been the team's most-valuable player. When Price went down with an injury after the Sochi Olympics, Therrien saw his line-up and game plans exposed when they received average-at-best goaltending from Peter Budaj. In game line-matching has been poor and the team always fails to make adjustments between periods. Montreal is often outplayed and over-matched in the second period of games, a consistent trend dating back to last season. It almost seems like this team is coming back to win games despite their head coach and not because of their head coach. A quick peek on Twitter under the #TherrienLogic will serve to illustrate many of the observations made here as well as countless others made past games. Marc Bergevin traded for Thomas Vanek because he believes the team has the ability to go somewhere in the playoffs. Therrien should find himself on the hot-seat if they fail to get past the first-round of the playoffs again. Deservedly so.

The Canadiens finish the month of March with a marquee match-up tonight against the Boston Bruins in Boston. The Bruins come into the game having won 12-straight games. Needless to say, a win here would be huge. Montreal follows that up with a home game Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres before heading to Detroit to face-off against the Red Wings on Thursday. The weekend sees Montreal landing in sunny Florida to face the Panthers on Saturday. Needless to say, three of these games are very win-able. Detroit is rostering most of their AHL lineup due to injuries and both Buffalo and Florida are among the bottom feeders of the NHL. Going 3-1 this coming week should be the worst-case scenario, but knowing our Habs this year, 1-3 is a distinct possibility.

Guess who is in net for the Habs tonight? Peter Budaj...

Three Questions From My Musings

A) Should Michel Therrien be on the hot-seat for his coaching job this season?

B) Has Therrien done anything to aid the development of our younger players?

C) Will the Habs end the Bruins' current winning streak?

 ---
Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.


Past Monday Musings 

1 comments:

Agree wholeheartedly. Fire Therrien, he's an idiot.

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