Friday, March 25, 2011
This team is broken. They battled through injuries, questions about their size, "The System", the beat down in Boston, lack of respect from the pundits and league. They battled despite minimal contributions from high-priced Cammy and Gomez, the fits and starts of guys like Pouliot and Kostitsyn, the rookie mistakes and struggles of PK and DDD and the crippling of an entire defence corps. But the cloud that is the Pacioretty incident has shaken this team to pieces. They are broken. The record since Pacioretty's injury? Lacklustre effort the next game in St. Louis. Shut out Pittsburgh. Lacklustre effort versus Washington. Barely escape in the shootout versus Tampa. Pounded by the Rangers. A freakshow against a horrible Wild team, and consecutive embarrassments against Buffalo and Boston. 3 wins, 5 losses. Looking worse with each loss.
There is only so much crap a team can take before breaking. Three weeks ago, were any of us disappointed in how this team full of Bulldogs had fought? Why, we were even praising the coaches for the way the myriad of call-ups performed. The development of Lars Eller. The resurrection of Andrei Kostitsyn as a useful player (not the scorer we all hoped, but certainly a viable option as a Canadien moving forward). But the Pacioretty hit seems to have cast a pall over everything this team does. Talking about it, and reading about it, and hearing the debate on all sides 24-7 was crazy enough as a fan - I can't imagine what it would be like inside the fishbowl of the Canadien's dressing room. Every time someone else threw an elbow TSN showed Chara smashing Pacioretty into the stanchion. Every week there was more anticipation for last night's game (will the Habs go after Chara? will there be a gang war at centre ice?). Then Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi opened the barely healing wounds again with their idiotic comments. Getting this game in the rear view mirror couldn't come fast enough.
But is it enough? There were moments in last night's game that it looked like there were thirty Bruins on the ice. Take nothing away from Boston; they looked like a terrific combo of speed and size and skill at times. But the Habs looked beaten before the puck even dropped and save for some spurts, never once did I think they were coming back to make a game of it. Not once. The fact that the game only ended 7-0 is a testament to Carey Price, who must have felt like shit for all of his 45 minutes of action. The Bruins broke the Canadiens spirit early and often last night. All the fight this team normally displays disappeared.
The pollyannas aren't going to want to hear it, but here it comes: This is not a very good hockey team as it is presently constituted. They take a ridiculous amount of penalties. Do you know how bad you have to be to be 30th in the league in penalties? They are too small. They have very little offensive push. The talent that should be leading that charge is disinterested, injured, or just not good enough to do it on a consistent basis. They are unable to, or unwilling to adapt to change their game when things aren't working. Shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic won't fix the massive hole in the hull any more than flipping Halpern and Darche around on the wings will stop the Bruins train from smashing you to pieces. This team misses Max Pacioretty's combo of size, speed and skill far more than I ever thought they would, but it's true. In hindsight, he might be the second most important forward on this roster, because everything has fallen apart since he went down and it can't all be attributed to the mental aspect of his injury.
There is something very wrong with Michael Cammalleri. I don't know if he's hurt, or too wrapped up in "being Michael Cammalleri" or what, but he looks terrible. The defence without Markov, Gorges and Spacek is too slow and offers very little offensive support. The fact that the Habs can't even find two pairs of defencemen to man a powerplay speaks volumes. Too many players are wildly inconsistent, from Pouliot and PK to Cammy and the captain. I love much of what Brian Gionta brings to this team, but he is paid to lead and score goals. I don't need him to be a shutdown defender or penalty killer. I don't need him to fight, or lay big hits, or even be good in the community. I need him to score when we need a goal.
Scott Gomez needs to go. This is not news. But the reality is very different this morning than it has been in the past. I've been on Gomez for years because I thought he was better. That he was lazy, or didn't compete, or didn't care enough, and that infuriated me. Last night was different. For all his faults last night, Scott Gomez was working his ass off. If he didn't care, he would have packed it in after getting his nose broken. He didn't. He got pissed off and went back out there. Admirable. But here's the rub: Scott Gomez appeared to be busting his ass last night and he still was an ineffective albatross. And it hit me: Scott Gomez has regressed so far as a hockey player that it doesn't matter if he tries or not. He's just not good enough to do what he's supposed to. There is no cure for this. Gomez is finished as a viable first or second line centre unless, at age 31, he can totally reinvent himself. I don't believe he can.
This team has done a fantastic job of keeping its head above water with all its injuries. The emergence of Lars Eller is a great thing to watch. Ryan White is rapidly becoming one of my favourite players - there was a moment late in last night's game before a face-off where the camera focused on White, who had the look of a man who wanted to murder anyone in black and gold. He, among precious few others last night, did not quit. David Desharnais continues to defy the odds. Carey Price might be the best goaltender in hockey already and has probably kept this team alive for far longer than it deserved. Tomas Plekanec is worth every penny when healthy. When healthy and clicking, this team can give anyone in the league a run for their money, and I would feel confident taking them versus the Bruins in the first round if that were the case. There is a faint glimmer of hope that people will get healthy for the playoffs and things will improve, and that's what I'm hoping for. But will it be enough to push away the cloud this team is under? Unless they have reserves they can call on, this is not the year. Not without Markov, Gorges, Pacioretty, Spacek, the Cammy they thought they were paying for, and Price standing on his head. That is fact. This is not their year. They are broken.