Habs In Trouble. Trying To Make Sense Of It All

I guess the slump is back. The winning streak was quite nice, that four-game stretch that now seems like an eternity ago. But I suppose with this year’s Montreal Canadiens, all good things must quickly come to an end. We’re back to reality now. A 5-1 embarrassment to Buffalo and a 2-0 stinker against the Atlanta Thrashers. I’m starting to think that maybe missing the playoffs is not a bad thing after all.

Carey Price was just fine in this 2-0 pathetic loss to Atlanta, and that’s nice to see. But most everyone else didn’t earn those horrendous amounts of dollar bills thrown at them on each and every game. The last time I saw a job with such easy money for doing nothing was when I worked graveyards at a factory in Orillia and spent the night trying to catch mice.

Mike said it best when he said the Canadiens should watch a tape of the Canadiens playing the Soviet Red Army on New Year’s Eve of 1975. And yes, it was a team of stars, that Montreal squad. It was Lafleur, Lemaire, Robinson, Dryden, Cournoyer, Savard, Lapointe, Shutt, and a gaggle of others. But a star-studded lineup isn’t the point, as Mike is alluding to. Those highly-paid superstars played with fire, with passion, and with pride. The exact opposite of what you saw Friday night, Wednesday night, and most nights of this season. For every lacklustre move you saw from Alex Kovalev, Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins and most of the team, on New Year’s Eve of 1975 you saw a burning will to win from proud individuals who knew what a big game meant to them, to their fans at the Forum, and to the fans of the Canadiens throughout the world. That team got it. This year’s team doesn’t.

What’s going on? If you read feedback from different forums, you see people unhappy with coach Guy Carbonneau. Most say he’s not suited to coach the Montreal Canadiens. His line-juggling is unsettling and wrong. His ideas of running the team differs with GM Bob Gainey, who was a teammate of Carbonneau’s so many years ago. But does it go deeper than that?

The day after being trounced by the Sabres, Carbonneau had the team out for no-nonsense, skate-till-you-drop practice for no other reason than the players deserved it. It’s like having to stay after school, or getting a weeks detention. It was the coach saying that his big-shot players need a strong message sent, again. But, for whatever reason, they came out flat again in Atlanta.

I don’t know if Guy Carbonneau is the problem. I’ve thought about this many times, and I can’t come up with a definitive answer. If you look at the team, you see a lazy Alex Kovalev, a good-but-not-great Saku Koivu, a pitiful defence except for probably Andrei Markov, a sometimes effective Tomas Plekanec, a mediocre Andrei Kostitsyn and Chris Higgins, and a bunch of fine grinders like Tom Kostopoulos and Maxim Lapierre. But as we all know, grinders aren’t enough to win anything.

I’d like you to read comments from Jim and Mike, two fine Habs fans with many years of watching and observing. 

First, Jim:

“We live by a different standard, a different set of rules,” says defenseman Mike Komisarek. “We represent ourselves, but we also represent more than a million people in Quebec and 100 years of history. This is not a place where they pick up the paper the next day to see if the team won or lost. We are role models. And we owe something to all those players, teams and Stanley Cups that came before us.”

(Okay, much more than a million people and not only in Quebec.)

Yeah, and it’s important that ALL members of the organization realize this. Unfortunately, the off-ice team failed to grasp this reality and delivered a body slam to the team that was a helluva a lot worse than flipping the bird or unwittingly having dinner with a thug: retiring Roy’s sweater. The only thing worse was trading him rather than firing Tremblay.

Point? Pulling something down is far far easier to do than building something up. The Habs’ `tradition’ being the case here. The self-contradiction inherent in violating hard-won standards (for whatever reasons) is both a measure of and cause of disarray; the hypocricy of doing so in order to create the `illusion’ that the `tradition’ is being honoured and not violated not only sets a precedent for future erosion but contributes significantly to the creeping demoralization that inheres in a deconstruction of this nature; the results are self-evident – loss of belief/faith > lack of commitment > loss of intensity > just another hockey team in the entertainment arena.

Yeah, things are connected. And yeah, we are ALL guilty of the on-going assault on our collective Habs identity. Now is the time to stop whining about what we have done and get down to the hard task of reconnecting with the traditions and standards that made US special, made US unique.

And now, Mike:

You nailed it Jim, this team needs to sit & watch the New Year’s game against the Red Army over & over & over & see what real commitment to team play is all about ! That was Canadiens tradition at it’s very best !!

Game Notes:

Montreal’s in Dallas on Sunday. Maybe Carbonneau will tell the players to go and get drunk and party all night. Maybe that’ll work.

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