Guy Carbonneau says he never saw it coming.
Just about everyone else, however, did.
Carbonneau spoke to the media yesterday for the first time since being fired Mar. 9, in the hours after a Canadiens’ 3-1 over the Dallas Stars in Dallas. Despite Montreal’s struggles this season, Carbonneau told a packed house at the Bell Centre yesterday that he felt the Canadiens were headed in the right direction.
He may have been the only one.
How surprised was Carbonneau when he was given the pink slip by GM Bob Gainey in a curt, 10-minute conversation that took place upon the team’s arrival from Dallas that fateful day? On a scale of 1-10?
“A 12,” deadpanned the former coach.
Let me say right now that I like Guy Carbonneau as a person and I respect his abilities as a coach. He was a finalist for the Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year last season, for a reason. He was given a contract extension by Bob Gainey going into the 2008-2009 campaign, for a reason. Gainey called the hiring of Carbonneau the best move he’s made as Habs’ GM, for a reason.
But those reasons began to wear very thin as the team rolled through the all-star break. And for Carbonneau to suggest that this team was headed in the right direction at the time of his dismissal, just doesn’t ring true to me.
Yes, the timing of Carbonneau’s firing could be considered a bit odd, coming, as it did, following a victory. However, how can anyone truly believe that this team was “on it’s way”, after one crummy win over the Dallas Stars? You can’t blame Carbonneau for clutching at straws yesterday and insisting that he had the horses to turn this season around. Human nature, I suppose.
But it just doesn’t ring true.
All you need to do is look at this club’s record right around the time of the all-star break. Since Jan. 20, the Canadiens have suffered through a pair of four-game losing streaks. Yes, they did manage to win four straight during that post all-star stretch, at the end of February. But upon closer inspection, those four victories were made possible by the unbelievable play of goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Period. The performance of the players in front of Halak during that winning streak?
Mediocre, with gusts of brutal.
In short, there was absolutely nothing to suggest that the Canadiens were going in the right direction after they beat the Dallas Stars on the night of Mar. 8.
That’s why Bob Gainey fired Guy Carbonneau. In an effort to save the season.
And what will it take to save this season? Alek Kovalev figures he has a pretty good idea. In the minutes following Montreal’s 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers Tuesday night, Kovalev, who returned to action with a goal in regulation and another in the shootout after a couple of days with the flu, said the Canadiens would need to win eight or nine of their remaining 12 games to remain in the playoff hunt.
That would mean the Canadiens will need to play in the neighbourhood of .700 hockey between now and the end of the regular season. What are the odds of that happening, given the way this team is playing?
Let’s face it. Even though the Canadiens are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, barely, tied for seventh place in the East with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Habs have been nothing better than a .500 hockey team all year long. Yes, they have a record of 36-25-9 heading into tonight’s game in Ottawa against the Senators. But let’s just look at wins vs. losses. Thirty-six wins, vs. 34 losses. That’s barely better than .500 hockey.
And, as Bob Gainey said just the other day, .500 hockey isn’t going to cut it.
So what do the Canadiens do after picking up three of a possible six points in the first three games with Gainey back behind the bench? They leave a very important point on the table, and allow the Rangers to walk out of the Bell Centre with a very valuable two points, in a 4-3 shootout loss.
Make it four of a possible eight points with Gainey behind the bench.
More .500 hockey.
Which isn’t going to cut it, regardless of who is behind the bench.