Fifty games into the regular season, and it’s clear that Bob Gainey’s master plan isn’t working.
Not with any consistency, at least.
The interesting thing is, following an off-season of upheaval which featured a massive changing of the guard, many of the players that Gainey brought in are holding up their end of the bargain.
As a team, however, it’s a different story.
Last night in New York, the Canadiens faced a Rangers’ team that had scored five goals in five games. However, after mounting a 2-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes, one of their best 20-minute stretches of the season, the Canadiens simply stopped competing. With a beleaguered Jaroslav Halak left hung out to dry, the Habs gave up three in the second and three more in the third en-route to a 6-2 setback: blowing yet another chance to gain valuable points in what was a four-pointer against Eastern Conference competition.
The loss leaves the Canadiens tied for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East with the Islanders; with the Islanders having two games in hand. In the “good cop, bad cop” world of Jacques Martin, the Habs’ head coach, instead of putting his players through another bag skate today, has opted to give them a day off. The Habs will skate tomorrow in Brossard before they play host to the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night.
Two of the players who have held up their end of the bargain this season, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, scored for the Canadiens last night. Cammalleri, who isn’t looking as dangerous out there with linemate Andrei Kostitsyn out with a knee injury, scored his 22nd of the season. And Gionta, who has picked up where he left off after sitting out with a broken bone in his foot, scored his 13th of the season on the power play.
The other highly-touted off-season acquisition, Scott Gomez, didn’t figure on the scoresheet last night against his old Ranger teammates. However, Gomez has been much better over the last six weeks or so.
Is he worth $8 million a season? Let’s not go there.
Defensively, the off-season payoff hasn’t been nearly as impressive. Jaro Spacek has played reasonably steady hockey along the blueline, but hasn’t shown much of the offensive upside he was expected to provide this team. After being a bit of an adventure out there in the opening weeks of the season, Hal Gill’s game has settled down. However, nobody will ever mistake him for Zdeno Chara. And Paul Mara’s minus 14, the worst on the team, does not look good on his resume.
Above and beyond all that, however, is the fact that the Canadiens continue to be a one-line hockey team.
Earlier this season, that line featured Cammalleri, Gomez and Gionta. More recently, it featured Cammalleri, Plekanec and Kostitsyn, before Andrei went down with his knee injury New Year’s Eve. These days, the only guys getting it done, with any kind of consistency as a unit, are Gionta, Gomez and Benoit Pouliot, who has shown some real nice offensive touch out there since coming over from Minnesota in the trade that sent the now-rejuvenated Guillaume Latendresse to the Wild.
Jacques Martin has auditioned an assorted cast of characters to play the role of Andrei Kostitsyn on the Plek-Cammalleri line. Matt D’Agostini has been given ample opportunity, but he looks lost out there. Travis Moen and Max Lapierre have also been given a shot. But, as we all know, putting a player on the first line doesn’t make him a first-line player.
Last night in New York, Martin gave Glen Metropolit a look-see on a line with Plekanec and Cammalleri. Visually, it was an impressive display, with a forward line featuring numbers 13, 14 and 15. But the move produced zero dividends. In an effort to squeeze some production from this club, Martin briefly reunited the line of Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez in the third period, again, with zero results.
As a result, the Habs go into Wednesday night’s game at the Bell Centre against the Blues with a record of 2-5 in calendar 2010. Any of the goodwill that was built up during the club’s 6-1 Christmas-time road trip has all but disappeared. What’s left is a club that is struggling to find its footing in the standings, while a playoff spot is still within reach.