Coaching Decisions Costing the Habs

The General Manager gathers the players. The players play and the coaches make the coaching decisions. In order for a team to win games, the GM must get the right players who in turn, must provide their best effort. But if the coach makes the wrong decisions behind the bench, all of this is moot. Often times, coaches get too much credit but sometimes, they don’t get enough blame.

The Canadiens were up to a good start on the road as we’ve touched on recently. But that’s until team head coach Claude Julien made a couple of decisions which might just have cost his team a few points.

The first decision was, in my opinion, to save the best goalie in the world for the home opener when the team faced a more ferocious opponent the night before on the road. It’s no secret that Julien will use both his goaltenders when his team is playing back to back nights. But the choice of playing backup Keith Kinkaid in Buffalo against stronger Sabres just to keep Carey Price for the home opener is a decision that I personally don’t support.

A home opener is only special because there’s a players’ introduction prior to game time. It’s a marketing tool. The game itself is just like any other game. It’s worth two points and those two points are just as important as two points late in the season. It can be the difference between extending the season in April or grabbing the golf clubs… again.

Claude Julien

You have the best goalie in the world. You have got to play him against the tougher opponents and that, regardless of a home opener or not. The goal of any NHL team is to win games and there’s no denying that Price gives the Habs the best chance at winning games. So you play him against the tougher opponents. Period. Is Kinkaid an improvement over Antti Niemi? AndrĂ© “Red Light” Racicot would be an improvement over Niemi the way he played last year. But he’s no Carey Price… far, far from there.

You see, on the second night of a back to back, the team is tired. Your best chance of winning is in the first game. So you go with your best goalie, particularly against a stronger team. On the second night, you hope for the best. People were saying that “they would be mad if they had tickets for the home opener and Price wasn’t in net”. To that I reply: does that mean that Price must be playing every single home game? After all, people buy their tickets for those games too, no? That was a marketing decision going against a hockey decision. They picked the marketing which could have very well cost the team in terms of hockey.

Second mistake

Julien’s second mind boggling decision was not so much to scratch the defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury in Buffalo and replace them with Mike Reilly and Christian Folin, but to stick with them in Montreal the next day. Three reasons to go back to the Kulak-Fleury pairing:

  • For one, Kulak is the best defenseman today of those four.
  • Two, Julien has the last change in Montreal so he can better control the match-ups for young Fleury.
  • Last but not least, they are fresh, not having played the night before. You have spares Claude, use them!

I know that some folks will think that this is blaming Kinkaid and/or the Reilly-Folin pairing. It’s not the case. Price and fresh players give you a better chance to win. That’s all. The end result of those two questionable decisions is that the Canadiens came out with a single point off a possibility of four, against division rivals, teams who they will be battling with to make the playoffs. That’s not on the GM, nor is it on the players. Those results are solely on the coach. Here’s hoping that Julien minimizes those mistakes so it doesn’t cost his team a playoffs’ berth. Go Habs Go!

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Habs Entering a Slippery Slope

For a while this season, the Montreal Canadiens looked like they wouldn’t lose two games in a row. Such a record allowed them to stay amongst the top teams in the Atlantic Division, keeping up with the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. While it would have been foolish to think that the inevitable wouldn’t happen, such performances brought some hope into a fan base in dire need of it. But alas, it seems like the pendulum is starting to swing the other way on the Habs.

Last night’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was their second loss in a row and the team has a 3-4-3 record in their last 10 games. We can look at this the positive way, saying that during that stretch, they’re only a game below .500 but where it gets serious is when looking at how the teams ahead of them are doing.

Have you had a look at who’s leading the Eastern Conference this morning? The Buffalo Sabres, who have won their last 10 games, are tops in the East! Yes, that’s 10 consecutive wins for a team which, not so long ago, was well behind the Canadiens. They are followed closely by the Lightning (6-4-0) and the Maple Leafs (7-3), holding the top-3 spots in the Atlantic.

The Boston Bruins (5-3-2) have been without three of their top-6 defensemen and without Patrice Bergeron for a while and they have the first wildcard spot in the East. The Hurricanes, who edged the Canadiens 2-1 last night thanks to a stellar performance by their goaltender Curtis McElhinney who stopped 48 of the 49 shots in his direction, have now leapfrogged the Habs for the last wildcard spot.

Help coming

Shea Weber had a successful return.

Last night was Shea Weber‘s first game in almost a year and the veteran All-Star defenseman didn’t disappoint. Weber logged the most ice time both teams included with 25:13 minutes. So much for easing him in! He finished the night with one assist, a plus -1 rating, three shots on goal, one hit, two blocked shots and one takeaway. Not too shabby ‘Dad’!

Coincidently (or not), with Jeff Petry slotted back behind Weber, the Habs allowed only 22 shots on goal against the Hurricanes last night, a much better prestation from a team which had been allowing goals and scoring chances like Santa distributing gifts at Christmas. The turning point of that game, in my opinion, was in the second period when Hurricanes’ defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk stole a goal from Jonathan Drouin with an active stick. Had that gone in, it could have been a totally different game.

Reports around Montreal say that Paul Byron is edging closer to a return, he who hasn’t played a game in the month of November. Joel Armia is still several weeks away but both those guys are huge parts of the Canadiens’ all-around game as both are quality penalty-killers and key contributors on the forecheck and defensive coverage.

Defense shuffle

The defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry was good. While he was clearly out of game shape, Weber was better than expected. But his defensive pairing partner, David Schlemko, was not. And young Victor Mete had a rough night, finishing at minus -2. Here’s what I personally would like to see happening:

Reilly – Weber

Kulak – Petry

Schlemko/Mete – Benn/Ouellet

The Canadiens don’t play until Saturday when they will be hosting the New York Rangers, who are in third place in the Metropolitan division. The next day, the San Jose Sharks, fighting for top spot in the Pacific division, come to the Bell Centre for their only time this season. The Canadiens will complete the week with a home and home with the Ottawa Senators. Go Habs Go!