The Montreal Canadiens have struggled to find any semblance of consistency over the last month, an issue head coach Martin St-Louis discussed at length during his media availability on Thursday morning.
The good news is that his team is scheduled to play 10 games at the Bell Centre in January, a far cry from their travel-heavy schedule in December.
But sleeping in their own beds and spending time with their loved ones won’t automatically give Canadiens players a much-needed confidence boost.
That’s up to the players.
“Playing at home won’t necessarily bring confidence,” said St-Louis. “December was a difficult month. We need to rebuild our confidence. It’s not very high, but we’re responsible for our confidence. We have to fight to get it back.”
The Canadiens have stumbled out of the gate following the Christmas break, allowing 26 goals against in just four games.
There’s also been a distinct lack of run support for the team’s goaltenders, as the Canadiens have only managed to score eight goals in that period.
“Looking at the recent results, I don’t know why we were playing so well and yet ended up where we are.” said St-Louis.” It’s easy to watch video and find all the mistakes. But as a coach, you need to figure out the big picture.”
St-Louis then focused on the play of the youngest and eldest players in the lineup, starting with the many veterans that are struggling to prove their worth.
“Consistency, and being more engaged physically,” said St-Louis. “We need to be better in the defensive zone. We’re trailing early in games, and that leads to cheating from players, and that sinks us further.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that my team has really taken a nosedive, not necessarily in results, but in performance. And that’s where you try to find answers. But the answers aren’t always there. You need to dive in, and that’s what I spent the majority of yesterday doing. You can’t expect everything will improve simply by playing through it. We need to focus on details.
Are the players or coaches to blame? It’s probably both according to St-Louis, but he isn’t overly worried about the impact his team’s results will have on Juraj Slakovsky.
“Like all young players, he’s realizing how difficult the league is,” said St-Louis. “The more games you play, the more difficult it is because teams are more organized. The details become very important. We want to see improvements in the details, especially without the puck.”
Pressed for more answers, St-Louis pointed to the importance of focusing on the defensive side of the game, and the value of playing well away from the puck.
“Even if it’s been difficult,” said St-Louis. “You can’t buy the type of experience Slafkovsky has gained, even in the games in which his results were underwhelming. I don’t arrive at the rink thinking he needs a certain amount of ice time. His performance is a factor, and so is the team’s overall form.
“With Slafkovsky, I want to see quality rather than quantity. But I know quantity can help the quality, so there’s a balancing act.”
St-Louis quickly clarified the issue with the Canadiens is team-wide, rather than the result of poor results from individual players.
He also pointed to himself as a member of the team that has to improve, an important acknowledgement for any young coach.
“I wouldn’t say I am happy with any players right now,” said St-Louis. “I have to be better, everybody on this team has to be better. We have to own it, and be accountable a little bit.”