At the hockey party of the century,
And the Canadiens, fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff race but only two points out of ninth, are a mess.
Despite being just nine days removed from a stretch in which they defeated Vancouver, Philadelphia and San Jose -- all teams with Stanley Cup aspirations -- and coming off a road win in Dallas Sunday, the Canadiens remain remarkably fragile. They seem buffeted by the fates from game to game, giving up far too many scoring chances, uncertain of whom they really are, unlike the team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last season and flew around the ice at times like their Montreal progenitors of the 1970s. Those 2007-08 Canadiens could embarrass you with speed and then make you pay on the power play when you tried to slow them down. These Canadiens, despite an up tick in recent weeks with the man advantage, are neither especially intimidating off the rush nor are they punishing on defense. They are just hanging around, taking far too many lazy penalties, scuffling to score goals, allowing way too many shots and crossing their fingers in the hope that their goalies will stop the carnage. The 2-0 loss in Atlanta Friday was Carbonneau's death knell.
The penalty problems and the diffidence on defense were on Carbonneau -- discipline, in all its forms, always falls on the coach -- but Gainey must answer for some larger issues. The power play looked a whole lot snappier when defenseman
Nor have the players Gainey brought in last summer been particularly helpful, with the exception of center
But Laraque -- and even Tanguay or Lang, for that matter -- is not at the core of the problem. The fulcrum is
With his quiet ways, coaching experience (1991 Stanley Cup final with the Minnesota North Stars) and Easter Island visage, Gainey might be able to scare this team straight into the playoffs. He also will make some tactical changes to staunch the flow of odd-man rushes the Canadiens have had to defend, easing the burden on goaltender
"Why don't we just start with this year?" he replied brusquely when asked. Barring a
There is something else that you might have noticed: All are French-speakers. Like old-time political tickets in New York, Montreal expects balance in its beloved hockey team. There is an anglophone GM (albeit one who speaks a strong French) -- so it follows there better be a francophone coach. Assuming the enigmatic Gainey stays on as general manager and doesn't attempt the impossible GM/coach daily double next season, he will have to decide if the Canadiens are going to hire the best coach available or the best francophone coach available. This might be the same person, of course, which would make his job so much easier. (Think
Firing Carbonneau -- a man I always thought was too smart to be a coach and should have stayed on the GM track he started with the Stars -- might have been personally and professionally difficult. But given the linguistic swamp on Montreal, where many fans already think there are too few French-speaking players, in theory, it might be easier than Gainey's next decision.