CANADIENS AT THE CROSSROADS


This entry comes to you on a Sunday morning from the Bell Sports Complex in suburban Brossard, just south of Montreal.

Why?

Because this is the practice facility of the Montreal Canadiens.  And this morning, the Canadiens are practicing before they fly out to Calgary later today for the start of a six-game road trip.

Why are the Canadiens practicing on a Sunday morning?

Because they need all the practice they can get.

The Centennial edition of the Montreal Canadiens is at a crossroads right now, following this team’s 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night at the Bell Centre.  As has been the case far too often when the Habs have lost this season, it’s HOW they lost that continues to be of concern.

Without effort.  Without passion.  Without purpose.

Hard to believe that a hockey club with a record of 29-18-6, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference of the N.H.L., is staring into an abyss with 29 games left in the regular season.  But that’s where the 2008-2009 Canadiens find  themselves, following last night’s setback to the bottom-feeding Maple Leafs.

First things first.  No one feels worse than goaltender Carey Price for the current slide that has seen the Canadiens drop seven of their last nine games. Price has been in goal for the last eight, since coming back from an ankle injury. 

And he has been brutal.  He will tell you that.  In fact, he DID tell you that as he choked back the tears in the dressing room following the loss to the Leafs.

Maybe Carey Price wasn’t the best goaltender in the land when the fans voted him to start in the all-star game.  But he wasn’t the worst, either.  On most nights, he was very good. In fact, on most  night, Carey Price has been very good ever since the Canadiens peddled Cristobal Huet, leaving Price as the heir apparent.

However, Carey Price hasn’t been very good lately.  He knows that.

It’s ironic that Price was supposed to watch last night’s game from the bench as a healthy scratch, in favour of Jaroslav Halak, who was destined to make his first start since Jan. 20, when he was pulled midway through a loss to Atlanta. But, just minutes before game time, the decision was made to give Halak the night off, what with the Habs’ number 2 netminder feeling ill the last several days, giving Price the chance to rebound from a sketchy performance against the Sabres just 24 hours earlier.

He didn’t rebound.  Instead, he fell deeper into the abyss.

He is not alone.

Steve Begin said it best when this one was over.  This is a fragile hockey team. This is also a hockey team that was being outshot 15-2 through the opening ten minutes of last night’s contest before Luke Shenn opened the scoring with a shot from the faceoff cirlce that eluded Price.

A shot from the faceoff circle that eluded Price. 

Repeat five times, and you pretty well have the game story from last night’s contest, which came to an end, mercifully, ended after Jeff Finger beat Price glove side, from the faceoff circle, with 64 seconds remaining.  The goal by Finger came after Jason Blake scored a pair in the period from, that’s right, the faceoff circle.

Matt D’Agostini and Tom Kostopoulos scored for the Canadiens. The goal by D’Agostini came on a 5-on-3 power play; on a night when the Habs squandered seven 5-on-4 opportunities.  The goal by Kostopoulos came on a typical Kostopoulos play, while lunging for the puck on his way to kissing the ice surface.

Waddaya know.  A little effort.  More from this team would be nice.

Don’t even get me started when it comes to Alex Kovalev.  Or his sometimes-linemates, Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec.  And how about a big Bronx cheer for Big Georges Laraque, who, after mixing it up with Brad May in the early minutes of this hockey game, decided to deck that notorious thug, Mikhail Grabovski (?) resulting in a roughing penalty with five minutes to play in a game that, believe or not, the Canadiens were still in.

If you’re looking to point fingers, pick a number. 

So, with 24 days until the N.H.L. trade deadline, the Montreal Canadiens find  themselves at a crossroads.  Carey Price finds himself at a crossroads.  All of which leaves General Manager Bob Gainey, I’m sure, searching for the answer to the question Habs fans everywhere are asking themselves. Again.

Now what?

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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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