A fix in Montreal starts at the top
How bad has it gotten for the Montreal Canadiens? Well, in Tuesday's must-have, bounce-back game -- after a dismal performance last Sunday in a 3-1 home loss to the New Jersey Devils -- the Habs came out flat, again on home ice.
In the first period, they generated one scoring chance and six shots on goal, while yielding the game's opening marker.
In the second period, they came up empty on four successive power play chances.
In the third period, they surrendered goals 37 seconds apart.
It all added up to a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Dallas Stars. And the Canadiens' fortunes sunk so low that Mike Ribeiro, traded over five years ago to the Stars but making his first on-ice appearance in his hometown since Habs' management sent him packing, scored the second goal of the game and got to "salute" the once proud organization after the fans voted him first star of the game.
It was a surreal moment, as Ribeiro's sarcasm-soaked on-ice gestures paled in comparison to the fans' sarcastic statement to Canadiens' management with their first star selection.
Am I reading too much into the postgame ritual of the three stars selection and Ribeiro's antics? Possibly. Make no mistake, though. This was far from a feel-good "welcome back Mike moment." Besides, Ribeiro's response proved to me that the Canadiens were correct in their assessment of his character and maturity level. That he still felt the need to clown on the Canadiens five-and-a-half years later says Ribeiro still has those flaws and explains the rumblings that the Stars' -- a team starving for centermen -- would happily part with him.
But, this isn't about Mike Ribeiro, even if he'd like to think it is. No, this is about a Canadiens' organization in complete disarray. There is a lame duck GM and a coaching staff -- reconstructed on the fly by said GM -- which any new GM will likely replace with a group of his choosing. It is about too many player-passengers on too many nights.
There are guys looking to the trade deadline as a way out -- failing to realize that by focusing on the wrong things, they are playing themselves out of the playoffs in the short-term. A few are playing themselves out of the league. Too dramatic? Have you seen Andrei Kostitsyn's effort lately? It has KHL written all over it.
Out of the chaos, however, a quick sense of order is possible if owner Geoff Molson brings in an astute GM who has a clear direction based on what this current team has. For all of the failings and shortcomings of this campaign, the Canadiens have a lot to build upon. There is no need for a tear down, start over mindset. Decisiveness with an end game vision, yes. Random, reactionary, "opposite is better" thinking, no. The new boss has to (Kaber)le to rest some bad contracts, letting them Go(mez) the way of the buyout.
The GM-to-be-named-later also needs to view any production projections for Andrei Markov and his surgically repaired knee as incremental versus booked. That applies to captain Brian Gionta as well: Hope for the best and plan around the rest of the roster, which is more substantial than this season indicates.
Carey Price in goal is the cornerstone. The blueline is young and mobile, led by precocious PK Subban and rock 'em sock 'em rookie Alexei Emelin. Josh Gorges is a quality, dependable veteran, of which the Habs need another after dealing Hal Gill to Nashville. The stock of young D prospects is plentiful: Yannick Weber and Rafael Diaz along with first-round draft picks Jarred Tinordi (2010) and Nathan Beaulieu (2011) and the University of Michigan tandem of Mac Bennett and Greg Pateryn.
Up front, Max Pacioretty is a budding star power forward who with pint-sized David Desharnais and veteran Erik Cole forms a consistently dependable trio. Tomas Plekanec is solid even with subpar offensive numbers this season. Lars Eller is a keeper, with room to grow as he gains experience and confidence. Rene Bourque and Ryan White provide NHL size and energy, while Louis Leblanc, Andreas Enqvist, Blake Geoffrion and Aaron Palushaj form the depth while pushing to be regulars. The organization is thinner up front than on the blueline and should think about dealing from that position of strength to bolster the center ice position in particular.
Whoever takes over has a tremendous opportunity to make great strides in a short period of time. With a plan in place to build to a model and stick with that philosophy, the Canadiens have enough quality pieces to move past the mess they've made of this season. No rebuild required, just some re-engineering of the top and at the top of the club's organizational structure.