Coaching Decision Costs The Habs Against Pittsburgh

Sometimes, we as fans give too much credit to the coaches. Sometimes, it’s the opposite. As Barry Trotz is proving once again, coaching makes a world of difference, especially when players “buy into the system”. Some decisions work, others well… not so much. The best coaches however will adapt throughout a game. He will recognize what works and what doesn’t and will adjust on the fly. As Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Claude Julien is a good coach, let’s be totally clear about that. He’s a coach who can adapt and he’s proven that this season, when he totally changed the Canadiens’ style of play. They are now an exciting team to watch… most nights. Last night was the Canadiens’ single most important game of the season against a team that was fighting directly with them for the last playoffs’ spots. A team that can count on the best player in the world: Sidney Crosby.

Sidney Crosby had a heyday against Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn.

Prior to the game, Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan submits his starting line-up. He wants to make a statement, start the game on the right foot, so he puts Crosby’s line on the ice to start the game. Claude Julien is made aware of that and he decides to oppose… Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn against them. Results? Benn turns the puck over, Crosby takes full advantage and seconds into that crucial game, gives his team a 1-0 lead.

Petry and Benn was a combination that was tried at times this season (and last) and it never worked. They are not compatible and we, as fans, have noticed that. Reuniting them was mind boggling to start with. Putting them up against Crosby, when he has Shea Weber, arguably the best shutdown defenseman at his disposition, was insanity.

To make matters worse, Julien kept with this matchup all night. The results? A four points night for Crosby and a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of Pittsburgh in front of a dumbfounded crowd at the Bell Centre. And the Habs can’t use the excuse that they had played the night before as the Penguins also played on Friday night. No excuses… except a bad, bad game plan by the coach who was too stubborn to adjust and react seeing that it wasn’t working. This loss in the most important game of the season, it’s not on Benn, Petry, Domi, Price, Weber and company. This loss is solely on Claude Julien.

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Bergevin Has Let His Players Down

Sometimes, inaction is an action that speak louder than anything. It can be a good thing, or it can blow back in your face. Admittedly, some inactions are however better than bad actions. In some case though, inaction can be the equivalent of becoming stagnant, even taking a step back in a particular moment, especially when those around you have all moved forward. If you’re standing still and everyone else is moving forward, you still have lost ground.

All through summer, Marc Bergevin was on the hot seat. Not only had he failed to bring his team to the next level but according to some, the team had regressed. At the start of the season, even after the moves that he made in the summer, fans and media were sceptical about his acquisitions. After all, he had traded his top two goals’ scorers for guys whose production was nowhere close to them. He hadn’t improved his porous defense. The expectations? What expectations? The once glorious Montreal Canadiens were going to be a lottery team with good odds to get the 1st overall pick, everyone thought.

Well this group of players, led by captain Shea Weber, his assistants Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron, and room leader Carey Price, decided otherwise. They took matter into their own hands and they were going to prove everyone wrong and that, they certainly did. To the point where at the trade deadline, they found themselves in a playoffs’ position.

History repeats itself

Trade deadline comes and players are secretly hoping to get some help, a bit of a reward for their had work, for their dedication. Something to get them over the hump. What did they get this season? Fourth line help and a seventh or eighth defenseman. Yes, Christian Folin, Nate Thompson, Dale Weise and Jordan Weal were added to the roster by Bergevin. Players are looking at this knowing full well that their biggest needs were someone to help spark their anemic powerplay, and a left-handed defenseman to eat up big minutes on the top-4. The got nothing, nata.

Canadian country music star Terri Clark once said:

The best thing to do is stare it in the face and move on. We have to face our fears and plow through. I think taking chances takes a lot more courage than staying stagnant and doing what’s safe and comfortable.

And this is not the first time that Marc Bergevin is playing it safe at the trade deadline. There seems to be a pattern here and players aren’t stupid. They see it. At least those who were here when it happened before.

The 2014-2015 season was the last time Bergevin gave them some substantial help. With his team sitting second overall, he acquired Jeff Petry from the Edmonton Oilers, to play behind P.K. Subban. As is his trademark, he also fortified his fourth line by adding Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell. Results? They lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs but that wasn’t because Bergevin did nothing.

Carey Price and Shea Weber could have used some much needed help.

The following year, Carey Price injured his knee and only played 12 games to start the season. With Price in the line-up, the Canadiens were sitting seventh in the NHL’s overall standings. Bergevin waited to December 28th to get help and instead of getting a quality goaltender, he traded for… Ben Scriven. He never addressed the need, never adjusted all season long and that was a huge let down for the players. No one can replace Price, everyone knows that, but to expect Scriven to come anywhere close the the All-Star netminder’s level of play is mind boggling. The Habs finished 22nd overall that year, well out of a playoffs’ spot.

In 2016-2017, the Canadiens were sitting in eighth place overall by trade deadline day with 78 points in 64 games. At the deadline, here’s the help Bergevin gave his players: An aging Steve Ott, Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, Brandon Davidson and… Jordie Benn. With deficiencies covered by the play of Price (who had a strong finish to the season) the Habs managed to maintain their pace but were eliminated by the New York Rangers after Chris Kreider took Price out of the series.

Last season, the Canadiens suffered a huge loss when it was announced that Shea Weber had broken his foot in the very first game of the season and was shut down for the season after only 26 games into it. How did Bergevin react? He waited, picked up Mike Reilly by the deadline and… became a seller. Only the Buffalo Sabres, the Ottawa Senators and the Arizona Coyotes finished the season with a worse record than the Habs.

Jump to February 25th, 2019… The Canadiens are battling for a playoffs’ spot. Claude Julien‘s team has won only two of its last eight games, allowing on average almost four goals per game and their powerplay sits second last in the NHL with a 12.7% success rate. Their recent slump has allowed the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins to distance themselves, when the three teams were nose to nose just a few days back. What did Bergevin do? He went and changed his fourth line. The powerplay help didn’t come and the blatant hole on the left side of the defense is still has gaping as it has been all year.

In the meantime, the teams battling with the Canadiens bolstered their roster. The players see that…. and it could very well cost them to miss the playoffs when it’s all said and done.

Having said all of that, While it’s okay to be upset to see that the Habs didn’t add any major asset(s) at the deadline, we do need to remind ourselves that they also didn’t give away any major asset(s) either. Also, rest assured that Bergevin has planted important seeds in the last few days and sometimes, those come to tuition in the off season. Nothing lost, except a playoffs’ appearance in my opinion, and some valuable playoffs’ experience for the young players on the team. Let’s just hope that the players don’t give up on Bergevin the way he sort of did on them. Go Habs Go!