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Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens: From finalists to fragile

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Montreal Canadiens

It’s hard to know where to start with the Montreal Canadiens four games into their season.

A team that caught lightning in a bottle and made it to the Stanley Cup Final mere months ago are now in full-blown crisis mode. The post-game shows and talk radio are already lighting up with enraged fans out for blood.

Fire Marc Bergevin!

Fire Dominique Ducharme!

Just fire someone so I can sleep better at night knowing someone is accountable for this disaster! (even though both of those men just guided the Habs to their first Final appearance in almost 30 years)

Behind every call, tweet and general freak out by the Montreal Canadiens fan base right now, there is a common question.

Is this really the same team that made it to within three wins of the Stanley Cup?

Nope. Not even close. It just wasn’t supposed to be such a precipitous fall from grace.

The roster turnover

To be frank, the Montreal Canadiens were not a good hockey team during the regular season last year. After a strong start, the Habs limped their way into the playoffs with a worse record down the stretch than the rebuilding Ottawa Senators. Give credit where it’s due, they got hot at the right time and rode that crest of a wave through Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas. But the Montreal Canadiens were not world beaters six months ago and were suffering the same issues that are plaguing the team now.

Allowing goals at the beginning and end of periods. A power-play that can’t score and knows it won’t. Transitioning from offence to defence. Prolonged losing streaks.

This is not new if you’re a Montreal Canadiens fan.

Add in the loss of their captain Shea Weber and goaltender Carey Price. Whether you think both are overpaid and don’t live up to their salaries in the regular season is irrelevant to this discussion. Both men had presence. The ability to command instant respect from a 19-year old rookie or a 35-year old veteran. To inspire confidence in their teammates. Belief even. When either stood up and spoke, others listened. And both were able to elevate their games when they needed to.

To be fair, neither of those players necessarily brought their teammates into the fight. Enter Corey Perry. The affectionately nicknamed Worm was a one-man fight club in front of the opponent’s net, willing to maim himself and others to score a goal. The Habs through four games seem scared to get into the other team’s kitchen, lacking that Perry-esque desperation to get on the board no matter the cost. His bite has been a glaring miss early on.

Add in elevated responsibilities for Nick Suzuki and Jake Evans after the departures of Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and it’s clear. This is a hollow shell of the team that made it to the Final. With Joel Edmundson and Paul Byron out injured, six players who played in the penultimate 1-0 loss to the Lightning July 7th are not there.

The replacements

This is where, if you’re a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, you can take umbrage with general manager Marc Bergevin. The replacements for those players through four games have struggled mightily. Worse, they aren’t even in the same category of NHL player as the guy they were brought in to stand-in for. Cedric Paquette is not Eric Staal. Perry’s supposed placeholder, Mathieu Perreault, was a healthy scratch in last night’s 5-0 loss to the Sharks. David Savard has not settled well in Weber’s spot next to Ben Chiarot. Maybe the only acceptable replacement has been Christian Dvorak for Phillip Danault. The former Coyote has already found a home between Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson.

And yet, even after all these new faces, it shouldn’t look this bad. The Montreal Canadiens are averaging less than a goal per game. They’ve been blown out by expected bottom-feeders from Buffalo and San Jose. How has a team with two thirds of the same roster from last year looked this pitiful? This feeble? This fragile?

Of course, there are other factors. It’s not just that there is a third of the roster that has never worn bleu, blanc et rouge before. Stylistically, the team is trying to be more aggressive at the opponent’s blueline but still haven’t figured out how to do that without giving up odd-man rushes the other way. As former NHL defenceman Aaron Ward said on Montreal radio earlier this week, the Habs defencemen are statistically the worst in the league at breaking out of their zone. The penalty kill has been hemorrhaging goals. Add in some bad luck and an early season slump from expected offensive catalysts Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Tyler Toffoli (Drouin and Brett Kulak are tied for the team lead in points with two!!!) and there you have it. The Montreal Canadiens worst start to a season in just over a quarter century.

The team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final don’t play in Montreal anymore. After an 0-4 start, the 2021-22 version of the Habs will be lucky to sniff the playoffs.

 

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