THE DEFENCE RESTS


First of all, I’m not  going to even try and suggest that Carey Price has looked anything like an all-star since returning to action following an ankle injury.

But there are a number of reasons why the Canadiens have given up an average of more than four goals a game over their last dozen performances.  They are the same reasons why this team has lost four in a row, with number four coming last night in Sunrise, Florida, where the Panthers embarrassed the Canadiens 5-1.

Suspect goaltending? Absolutely.  Defensive breakdowns?  Without a doubt.  A disappearing act on the part of the forwards? 

Yes, Yes and Yes,

Let me remind you that, even when the Canadiens were winning hockey games with Jarsoslav Halak in goal while Price was on the mend, they were winning with scores like 5-4. In fact, the last time the Canadiens won a hockey game, Sat. Jan. 17 against the Ottawa Senators, it came with Halak in goal, in a 5-4 victory.

If you want to hang Carey Price out to dry for last night’s result at the Bank Atlantic Center, go right ahead.  But make sure you hang his defence out to dry, as well.  Along with the forwards who have abandoned their defensive responsibilities.

For example.  And there are plenty of them.  Jay Bouwmeester is allowed to park his butt all alone in front of Price while the Panthers are on the p0wer play, to give Florida a 1-0 lead before this one is even four minutes old.

Then, with less than four minutes to play in the opening period, and with the Panthers again on the power play, Steven Weiss is allowed to weasel his way into the crease to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead.

After Robert Lang cut the lead in half with his 17 goal of the season, the Habs playing with the man advantage in the opening minute of the second period, our old friend Richard Zednick swoops around Josh Gorges and goes from backhand to forward en-route to the prettiest goal of the night.

The score: 3-1 Panthers.  Turn out the lights, the party’s over.

Oh yeah. Except they still had to play the third period.  Radek Dvorak makes it 4-1 on a penalty shot, and Michael Frolik makes it 5-1 when he beats Price while parked, all alone, in front of the Montreal netminder.

This one took me back to the early November losses to Toronto (6-3) and Boston (6-1).  Embarrassing, to say the least, en-route to a season-high fourth straight setback.

Defensively, Josh Gorges continues to struggle out there; another -2 performance on the night.  It was the same story for Francis Boullion.  Roman Hamrlik?  He’s showing his age.  Even Mike Komisarek’s game is suffering, as witnessed by a late-game giveaway that could have resulted in yet another Florida goal.

Carey Price?  If Carey Price doesn’t stand on his head in the third period, this one could have been a 10-1 final.

Offensively, the well has again gone dry.  Once again coach Guy Carbonneau  mixed up the lines.  The results speak for themselves.  Tomas Plekanec continues to ‘play like a little girl”, as he so aptly put it during the playoffs last season;  Sergei Kostitsyn looks like he could care less;  brother Andrei is again pulling a disappearing act…and on it goes.  How long can Robert Lang  carry the offensive load for this team?  Even Bob Gainey knows it’s unreasonable for the team to expect Lang to continue lead the way up front.

What’s even more frustrating with this recent four-game turn of events is the fact that it comes with the Canadiens rounding into healthy form.  Saku Koivu returned prior to the all-star break.  He’s since been joined by Chris Higgins.  Sure, it’s going to take a bit of time for those two guys to get their timing back after extended layoffs for both, but how was it the Canadiens were able to win with guys like Halak, Chipchura and Pacioretty in their lineup?   Yet now, at a time when key talent is returning,  they are mired in their worst slump of the season?

All I know is: Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey need to find out the answer to that, and other questions, fast, before this team begins a free-fall down the Eastern Conference standings.

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About ahefter

I have covered hockey extensively during my 30-year sports broadcasting career. From the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid to the Edmonton Oiler dynasty years, I've shared my views on hockey with listeners in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. You can "catch me in action" on Youtube at the following URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n5BdB9ngYw My radio stops include TSN 690 Montreal, CJAD Montreal, CKNW Vancouver, and CKEY Toronto. I also ran the Canadian Press sports desk (radio). My travels as a network reporter have taken me to four Olympics, most recently Vancouver 2010. I'm currently an Applied Assistant Professor within the School of Communication at the University of Hartford.
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