HABS STILL SEARCHING FOR ELUSIVE “W”


Five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens, and no end to the misery in sight.

Last night at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens came out as flat as a pancake en-route to a 5-2 loss to a team that isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs:  the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Is it just me, or does it seem like every time the Habs face the Leafs, they lose 5-2?  Or 6-3?

Whatever.

The Canadiens have now lost five straight and are officially a .500 hockey team in terms of wins and losses.  However, they still find themselves clinging to the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference of the NHL, thanks to the fact that, likes the Habs, the Florida Panthers are experiencing their own meltdown of late.

Jaroslav Halak? He got the call last night vs. Toronto and wasn’t very good. Then again, as I’ve pointed out time and time again this season, he wasn’t alone.  But the goal he gave up to Mikhail Grabovski (!?!?) in the second period, which put Toronto ahead 2-0 in the first period, was a back breaker; a harmless looking shot from an impossible angle which skootched past Halak.

And the Leafs were off and running en-route to a 4-0 lead by the time this one was half over.  Only Maxime Lapierre gave the Canadiens some respectability on the scoreboard, with a pair of goals: the only guy to show up last night. Again.  How many games have the Canadiens won because of the effort of players like Maxime Lapierre and Tom Kostopoulos?  It’s mind-boggling.

But then Jason Blake sealed the deal with Toronto’s fifth goal of the night early in the third period; a shot which beat Halak glove side;  a shot that Halak should have handled.

Game, set and match.

In the locker room when this one was over, members of the Canadiens were keeping a stiff upper lip;  vowing to fight the good fight that would take this team into the playoffs, with 10 games left in this wretched regular season.  It was the same story today in the locker room at suburban Brossard, after the Canadiens reported for rare Sunday duty.  No ice time today;  just a brief meeting with the coaches and a stint in the gym, ahead of Tuesday’s game against the surging Atlanta Thrashers at the Bell Centre.  Georges Laraque, for one, telling everyone within earshot that this team WILL make the playoffs. Admitting, at the same time, that he has never quite experienced a season like this one in his 13 years as a pro.

To go from being the toast of the East, to THIS.  Well, he already has enough memories of this season to fill a scrap book.

Through it all, the Canadiens continue to search for that elusive “W”.  That elusive victory that will somehow turn this ship around.  That one victory that will give this team a chance to “catch its breath”, as Bob Gainey put it, and forge ahead.

Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that this victory comes Tuesday against
Atlanta. Then what?  Have you seen anything in this Habs’ team that would suggest to you that one victory will cure what has been ailing this club for more than two months?  What about the final nine games of the regular season that will come after the encounter against the Thrashers?  One win will will not put this team into the playoffs.  Yes, it’ll stop the bleeding.

But then what?

And if the Canadiens DON’T beat the Thrashers? The Canadiens, as you would expect, will continue to talk the talk as they struggle to walk the walk. You wouldn’t expect anything less from this club, regardless of their current status as underachievers.  But, so far, it’s been nothing more than lip service.

In the meantime, the Canadiens continue to  hang on for their playoff lives.  And when they take to the ice against the Thrashers, they’ll do so with Sergei Kostitsyn back with the big team.  After putting together a nine-game, point-scoring streak, broken last night,  Kostitsyn has been recalled by the Canadiens from Hamilton.

The move can’t hurt.  The Canadiens are no doubt hoping that Sergei can continue with his hot scoring hand with the big team while, at the same time, light a fire under brother Andrei’s butt.  He’s done it before.  He needs to do it again.

Is he the answer?

Hardly.  But I think it’s the right move. The rest is up to Sergie, and the 23 men in this Canadiens locker room who have managed to, so far, get a coach fired, and leave his replacement desperately searching for answers.

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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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