One may have predicted that the Habs might get off to a slow start this season after their unprecedented six-game exhibition season losing streak and brutal schedule to start the season.
Yes – it was predictable. Nevertheless, life is never rosy in Habsland when the club is at the bottom of the standings and dead last in goal scoring. Fans and media alike are predicting doom and gloom and for Bergevin’s head to roll…everyone from the captain to the All-Star goalie are suggested in trade rumours, and to make matters worse….ex-Habs like Sergachev, Andrighetto, and, gulp, even wee Davey, are off to fast starts.
As with any disappointing start, the question one must first ask is why? Why is this club languishing at the bottom of the league in several categories?
First off…the NHL schedule makers didn’t make life kind for les Habitants. Three straight on the road for starters and six of the first eight away from the Bell Centre, including the club’s first trip out west, where it has not done well in what seems like decades now.
No other team had a tougher first eight games..and unless the Habs pull out a win in Anaheim tonight…they will have one of their worst starts in franchise history.
It’s too early to be writing the eulogy just yet.
The club has nine of its next 14 at home, and at that point we will have a pretty good idea of which direction this club is truly heading this season. If the Habs are still four games below .500 or worse, it is likely a deficit that will be difficult to overcome as in this day of parity and three-point games…you may be able to overtake four or five teams to secure a playoff spot, but when six are in front of you the task becomes daunting indeed.
Many predicted scoring woes for the Habs this season, and after netting just 11 goals in seven games…the ” told you so’s” are prevalent on social media.
The safe answer is that it can’t possibly continue, as for perhaps the first time in modern-day NHL history…after more than six games in a season an NHL club is leading the league in shots while also having the least amount of goals. Team shooting percentages under 4 percent simply don’t happen for an entire season or even 20 games….at some point the pucks will start to bounce the Habs’ way and a shot that earlier on went off the post will find the back of net, or a puck or two will deflect off an opponent or even a Habs’ players nose and bend the twine.
If the club continues to wallow well behind other teams in shooting percentage, however, a point will come when you start to question just how much finishing ability there is on this team, and whether the decision not to not properly replace a playmaking defenceman in Markov is a significant reason for the lack of scoring thus far.
Right now the main issue for the scoring woes remains up front. After Max Pacioretty…just how many legitimate goal scorers are there on the Habs?
Alex Galchenyuk looked like he was going to be a perennial 30-goal scorer a couple of years back and then they began jerking him from position to position because as is usually the case in Montreal defensive play takes precedence over putting the puck in the net. As I stated on Recrutes’ last podcast…if he could…Julien..and Therrien before him…would win games -1 to -2.
Galchenyuk’s confidence is at a low point right now..having scored three goals in his last 30 games….an eight-goal pace for the season.
Some want to lay the entire blame on the players, others on coaching and management. As is usually the case…I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
You can’t blame Julien for not wanting to play Galchenyuk 20 minutes a night on the top line when he’s not competing consistently or playing well at either end of the rink. Do players with three goals in 30 games normally get top-line minutes? It’s not an easy thing to do as teammates quickly begin to wonder why the underachiever is getting preferential treatment..it’s only human nature, and coaches want to win…not just try to get one player out of a slump.
On the other hand, Galchenyuk went from a top-line center who was among the league leaders in points at the start of last season to the injured list to a new coach who by the start of the 2017 playoffs had him playing the wing on the fourth line.
Galchenyuk during his goal slump has played all three positions and with at least 15 different linemates – from Martinsen to Drouin and all players in between. Hard to find consistency and a comfort zone when you are jerked around the lineup on almost a nightly basis.
Arturri Lehkonen was expected to build on the terrific ending to his rookie NHL season, and he may yet do that this season, but he’s a 22-year-old sophomore who isn’t sneaking up on anyone this season, and seeing him struggle to score at the start of the season shouldn’t shock anyone…just ask Mitch Marner if these things have been known to happen. Lehkonen is noted for starting seasons fairly slowly and finishing them with a flourish, so while this slow start shouldn’t be worrying anyone, it’s also possible that he doesn’t become a 25-goal scorer just yet on a team already struggling to score goals.
It was hoped that last year was an aberration for Brendan Gallagher given the mangled hand he played much of the season with, and expectations were that he could rediscover the scoring touch he displayed 2-3 seasons ago when he was seemingly well on his way to being a regular 30-goal scorer in the league. Today it doesn’t look like he will ever be a 15-goal scorer again, and thankfully the club didn’t remain stubborn in keeping him on the top line.
Hudon had a tremendous preseason and many were hoping that he may be able to produce at a steady clip this season given the opportunity, and while there have been no complaints with his work ethic and effort through seven games as he leads the team in both hits and shots, Hudon is not a natural goal scorer, having never scored more than 30 goals in the QMJHL. Hudon may be able to score 40-50 point at the NHL level some day and perhaps hit the 20-goal mark, but that will be his peak, and it certainly doesn’t look like its going to happen this season unless his luck changes significantly.
Jonathan Drouin is capable of scoring highlight reel goals as fans have already seen on a couple of occasions this season. His forte will always be his playmaking talents though as he’s got elite vision and usually think pass first, so the odds that he’s a 30-goal NHL scorer aren’t great…more likely to be a 25-goal man who can add 50 or 60 assists in a good season.
What he needs though are linemate who can snipe. That is/was supposed to be Pacioretty, and I suspect the experiment will continue even if it hasn’t really worked to date as their club right now simply has few other options. Patch has been known to be streaky; he’ll go five games without a sniff and then pop eight goals in his next five, so that is the one hope that is most likely to happen, that the captain will snap out of his slump sooner rather than later and help kickstart the offence…most likely on the upcoming homestand.
When the club gets home from this road trip, changes will be needed in the forward group. Ales Hemsky has had a long enough look…it is quite evident that he needs to be waived as he is not contributing in any capacity. He has as many lazy minor penalties as shots on goal, no point and no hits through six games. He has looked inept defensively on some shifts, running around chasing the puck and never getting it.
When Hudon and Byron are leading all forwards in hits by a significant margin, you know that there is something missing besides a lack of goals…there is heart and grit. No one over 5-10 is going to the net or throwing bodychecks. No wonder the club isn’t getting any garbage goals..you have to be willing to take out the trash in order to cash…in.
Either bring up a forward who will bring some grit, size and energy like Mike McCarron or Nicolas Deslauriers or call up the forward who has the most offensive upside in Nikita Scherbak and giving him a good look on a scoring line and the power play to see if he’s ready to help contribute on the offensive end – it’s not like the team couldn’t use it. Hemsky isn’t bringing anything at either end.
On defence there have of course been some struggles as well..but none of the three pairings that have been used so far this season have ever played together before…it will take time for familiarity and chemistry to build. Knowing your partner’s tendency on positioning, reads and passing, getting used to the system; all of these things take on greater importance on defence than any other position, and as soon as Price starts outplaying the goalie at the other end of the rink this defence group will likely seem to be just fine.
Oh yes..the $10 Million Dollar Man…we hadn’t really brought him up yet, but there is little doubt that his play to date has also been a factor in this slow start. A goalie with a .920 lifetime save percentage has started this campaign off saving less than 89 percent of the shots while his team is scoring on less than 4 percent of their shots? One might suggest the Habs are lucky to even have a win at this point.
So – bottom line is this. For starters, the Habs need a lengthy homestand and better goaltending from their Olympian Gold Medal netminder and more goals from their perennial 30-goal scorer. The first thing is happening for sure..and the other two are good bets as well..so it’s not quite time to cash in the chips and order Recrutes Draft Guide just yet…the next two weeks should give fans a much better idea than the last two weeks of where this team is in the NHL pecking order.