What’s Happened To The Habs?

My lifestyle’s changed dramatically. I remember with fondness the days when I’d wake up, make coffee, and greet the day. Now, I wake up, make coffee, and check and see if Guy Carbonneau’s been fired, or if Bob Gainey sent Alex Kovalev and about five others to Tampa for Vincent Lecavalier, or to Anaheim for Chris Pronger. And then when I see that everything’s status quo, that the team sits pat and prepares for the next loss, then I wonder why couldn’t it be Boston, or Vancouver once again, who’ve tanked and made me all giddy.

Will the Canadiens ever win a few in a row again this year? This is a team so far off their game right now, so fragile as Steve Begin pointed out, and so nervous and out of sync that it’s turned this one hundred year deal into a stinker, a nightmare for players and fans, and now no job is safe, and worse, this a team that could be sitting at home counting their American dollars when the playoffs begin.

Montreal sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 64 points, just two ahead of Buffalo, and four in front of Florida. Only five points away are two teams ready to make a final push, Carolina and Pittsburgh. Thankfully Toronto only has 50 points or we’d be worried about them to.

Last year, Alex Kovalev became my favourite player. The way he handled the puck, the way he racked up the points, the things he did on his DVD. He was great, and in many ways, the reason the team became a powerhouse. This year, Kovalev has not only been a shell of last year’s player, but in my mind, the true reason why the Canadiens have slumped like they have going down the stretch. He’s not my favourite anymore. He’s a selfish player, lazy, stops skating at the worst times, tries to be fancy and loses the puck almost every single time, and recently has resorted to taking stupid penalties at crucial times.

Has Carey Price been broken mentally, and possibly ruined? Making him the goaltending saviour at 20 years old may have been Bob Gainey’s biggest mistake as general manager. When a player is on the verge of tears in interviews, you know something bigger than normal is going on. His confidence has been squashed like a bug and he’s playing no better than a mediocre minor leaguer now.

When the season opened, I brashly said the Kostitsyn brothers were all-stars. They’d had serious moments of fire-wagon brilliance last year, and one would conclude that this would continue. Andrei has been a fair player this season but nothing like he was before. Sergei’s play, on the other hand, has mostly been just plain stupid. It’s been immature penalty-taking, losing the puck at the wrong time, long moments of brain-dead play, all of which has led to stints in the press box. The Kostitsyn’s have been a failure.

Mike Komisarek was chosen for the all-star team this year, and not by a country mile has he played like an all-star. Komisarek has not become the defenceman everyone thought he would be. He’s a big hitter, which he’s suppose to be, and that’s fine, and he’s a natural for interviews. But he’s also a poor decision-maker who gives the puck away, often by throwing it up the middle which is something players are taught not to do in peewee. Komisarek should forget about being a media darling and get smarter, if that’s possible.

Of course, I could go on and bring up other underachievers like, well, most of the team. But it would be just a re-hashing of what fans, reporters, taxi drivers, and pretty well most of the hockey world has already discussed. I don’t want Guy Carbonneau fired. I like him. But maybe he’s lost his players, and if so, he needs to be replaced. And how do you fix Carey Price? If he goes in goal tomorrow or the next day and lets in another five or six or seven goals, then what? Will he need professional help in the off-season?

I’m not writing the Habs off just yet. But this free-fall has to stop and for now, there’s no answers. How do you get Alex Kovalev to skate harder, to try harder, to be more of a team player? How do you perform brain implants on Sergei Kostitsyn and others? And even when they were winning earlier in the season, in my mind they still weren’t playing well. They were simply getting it done with smoke and mirrors.

Maybe it’ll be a lucky bounce to win a game. Maybe a surprisingly outstanding performance from Price very soon. Maybe a shake up. Maybe putting the big CH’s back at centre ice at the Bell Centre, where they should’ve been all along, 100 years or no 100 years. You just don’t screw around with tradition like that.

Bowling doesn’t work. Sitting some in the press box doesn’t work. Criticizing and complaining and offering suggestions doesn’t work. This team has to do it for themselves, and they’d better start doing it soon. Especially starting with Alex Kovalev. 

How can a team go in the toilet like this? What happened?

6 thoughts on “What’s Happened To The Habs?”

  1. I hate to disagree with you. After all, I’ve not seen a single Habs game all season and worse, I owe my first allegiance to Vancouver. (Sorry. I really am.)

    But perhaps it’s a little early to starting calling players like Komisarek a failure? After all, the season is far from over and the Habs remain contenders for the playoffs. Granted, they need to pick things up, re-focus and re-group, and prepare for the playoffs. Stranger things have happened, though. Last time Vancouver went to the finals, for example, they did so with a team that wasn’t particularly impressive in the regular season.

    I am not trying to gloat. Far from it! My Canucks are in as much peril as your Canadiens. Just don’t give up hope yet. The season isn’t over till it’s over.

  2. Hey Dennis…. love the blog.

    I’m really not sure what Carbo can try…. and in my eyes.. I’m not sure where exactly the problem lies.

    I’m thinking there are definate problems in the dressing room.

    I’m with you in not writing off the habs just yet…. back in ’93 they (habs) lost 11 of 18 at the end of the year…. not as bad as this stretch… but the point is that those times were quite testy also. Lot’s of panic.

    We’ve still got some games left….

    I think we’ll see some kind of a move. A trade could even make a big difference in how the team plays afterwards…..

    Heck…. even Plekanec’s suspension (2 games for the Grebeshkov thing/hit) might somehow change what’s going on….

    The media in Montreal is really going nuts about this…. and I can only imagine how that makes the players feel if they hear any of it.

    I’m not one to panic…. but this is gonna be really ugly…. not that it isn’t already…. if things don’t somehow change.

    Norman Flynn from RDS made some interesting points… on teams that have had long term success… like NJ and Detroit… how they bring the young guys along really developping them well and are eased into becoming the leaders gradually taking pressure away from some vets.

    Flynn mentioned some of the guys who’ve been groomed… Higgins, Plekanec… and how Koivu, Kovalev… who are now 34-35…. are still looked upon to carry the team.

    Flynn had some great ideas on team structure and grooming young talents.

    Anyways….

    Go Habs!

  3. January 28th, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Richard sounds like a pre-Roy Habber. I don’t believe that he has completely given up on the Canuckleheads, he is simply in the process of maturing as a hockey fan – a canucklehead, he is no longer. Now, if only the rest of the `tribe’ would take his words to heart, it wouldn’t be 90 yrs until their next Cup. Of course, my less than secret dread is that we have been slowly spiraling down to the same level of expectations that defines the Canuckleheads. Yeah, a lot of complacent Hab fans would be well advised to heed his words as well.

    Yeah, well, I guess I just wanna be `right’ all the time, eh? Okay, how’s about this: when things go so badly awry – in anything at all – pointing fingers, attributing blame, finding fault only exacerbates the problem. No, now is the time to step up and show unwavering support for the team. This IS a very good team with the potential to excel. They will bounce back and they will be the better for this adversity. Clearly, their collective focus is askew hence the apparent lack of intensity as everybody strives to `make the big play’. This will pass. Curiously, this streak coincides with all the numb-brained chatter re Lecavalier. To what extent has this had a negative impact on team morale? The rather crude implication that the players aren’t good enough? The creeping insecurity that accompanies such a crass manifestation of lack of confidence?

    As for Kovalev, enough of the unrealistic expectations that he be other/more that what he is, a superbly talented very good player who is NOT a Richard/Beliveau/Lafleur/Gainey/Robinson – as the team goes, so goes Kovalev, not vice versa.

    As for Price, that he was so visibly distraught over his performance is, to my mind, a positive thing. It assures me that he will work even harder to put his game back together again – Humpty Dumpty, he is not. Nor is the team.

  4. I think the thing with Komisarek and his passes is that Montreal players don’t dump the puck out. They pass it or carry it. Many times they’ve been hemmed in their own zone because of it.

    I think if Komisarek and the whole team went back to the basics, there wouldn’t be as many turnovers.

  5. Dennis, I’m disappointed.

    I didn’t have you down for a bandwagon man. The fact that you a) made Kovalev your favourite last year and b) now imply he has been terrible all season. I’m sure it’s mostly a temporary air of frustration coming over you…

    If you didn’t like his gliding, puck-hogging and propensity to shoot when he’s in a jam then you shouldn’t have been so quick to make him your “favourite” last year. His play in itself has changed a bit, but not all that much. The results are what is disgusting most of those who turn on him – just as they did the season before last.

    Kovalev’s not my favourite player, but I constantly find myself sticking up for him because his play had been (at least up to the all-star game) quite good. He killed penalties and played lots of different roles over that time. he contributed in a large way to that 11-2 stinti.

    I agree with JIm in that he never was and never will be a player to carry a team all season. He’s got a few gamebreaking days worth of play in him but nothing more.

    As for the Kostitsyns, it is, and always has been a mistake to mention the two of tem in one breath. Andrei was groomed properly and has had the talent all along. He is a streaky scorer, but show me one that isn’t. He is not an all-star yet, but has an all-star calibre shot and may yet do it in the years ahead.

    Sergei on the other hand was not groomed properly, was always small and has never really looked like a threat to be an NHL regular. We all fondly remmeber his 4 months form last season, but for a forward he didn’t actually contribute too much. This year he has been struggling to get around any defender and relies on passing (his only pro-level skill) to stay on the team. Will he ever be an NHLer? Maybe, but only the very best come in and thrive at 19/20 – he is not one of those. How making his burden even heavier by saddling him with PP point duty early on, is a serious question to ask the coaching staff about player nurturing.

    The team will win again, and it will be this month. But the troubling thing for me is not the losing streak but the revelation that 5 years has come to a head and we’re turning to dump and chase again to solve all problems. That’s not a Cup winning formula…

  6. Dennis,

    Im glad you have finally seen Kovalev for what he is. I believe we have had this conversation before but i firmly believe this guy is a team cancer.

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