Still some work to do

At the risk of sounding negative under the circumstances, I have to stay honest with myself and to write in a non-biased way about what I see, what I notice.

In spite of all its success so far this season, there are many worrisome points in the Canadiens’ game. Of course, missing a defenseman of Andrei Markov’s calibre is a major factor and his return to the line-up will have a direct effect on some of the points I’ll be mentioning here. But we must also admit that aside from Markov, the Canadiens have been healthy so far this season.

The powerplay

After last night’s game against the Islanders where the Canadiens went 0 for 3, the team sits dead last in the entire NHL with a 6.2% rating. In a league where special teams often make a huge difference, it will be crucial to make the necessary changes in order to improve that aspect of their game, which was a one of the Canadiens’ strengths in the last few years. Markov’s return to the line-up should bring a much needed shot in the arm to the powerplay, with his great vision and accurate passes, but is there anyone else on this team aside from Brian Gionta (at 5’6″) who can park himself in front of the goalie to block his view?

The system

I still think that Jacques Martin, in spite of his experience, isn’t getting the best out of his team and it’s to be attributed in most part to the system he’s implemented. The team’s main asset is its speed. Unfortunately, he preaches too often a passive forecheck and that, even against weaker defensive teams, making it way too easy on them. A two-men forecheck with a third man up high to jump on turnovers or to back-check would be a lot more efficient, in my humble opinion.

From watching the games for over a year now, it is clear that the defensive system consists of asking the forwards to come back deep in their zone, giving room to the other teams’ point men. As a result, we have a goalie that is always screened, shots are deflected more often than not in the crease and opposing defensemen having a blast firing quality shots on net. If we allowed our speedy wingers to put more pressure on the defensemen in our zone, we would see more turnovers at our blue line, creating odd-men rushes or breakaways, mostly due to our speed. At least, that’s my opinion.

Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek

Yes, it is time to start pointing fingers at those two veterans who, let’s admit, are likely playing the worst hockey since joining the team. If we add the fact that together, they account for about 19% of the team’s cap, we can and should be expecting more from them! Gomez must start to better distribute the puck but I’m not ready to give him the entire blame here: in most games so far, he only had offenfive winger on his line so we have to also look towards the head coach and/or the GM for not giving him another option. Gomez is and has always been a playmaker first and the other teams know that. The word around the league is to watch Gionta closely and they’ll be able to keep that line in check. We can’t say that they’re wrong!

As far as Spacek goes, he looks slow. I’d be curious to get my hands on the results of the physical tests from training camp as he looks out of shape. That’s compounded but the fact that his age is creeping up on him. When Markov comes back, I would give him some time to watch a game or two from the pressbox in an attempt that he learns a thing or two. Let’s face it, Picard has looked better than him so far!

Am I proud of my favourite team’s early success? Absolutely. Am I satisfied with the way they play in most games? Not totally. But where there is life, there is hope!

GO HABS GO!

In French at: Du pain sur la planche!

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