The Montreal Canadiens stink.
Whether it’s just a brief aberration or it’s something Habs fans can expect for the rest of the season, what happened on Wednesday night in Chicago and Thursday night in Winnipeg proved pretty clearly that the Canadiens are a bad team with a bad coach and a bad GM and whether we’re speaking in French or English, it’s still smelly.
Wednesday night, the Habs were blasted 5-1 by the Blachawks at United Centre. Thursday, the Winnipeg Jets whipped them 4-0 at MTS Centre. Both nights the Habs were out of it early and the second period was simply a way to help their opponents pad their stats while the third period was used primarily to fill the time required for an entire TV hockey broadcast.
At 13-16-7, Montreal now has only 33 points, are last in the Northeast Division and 12th in the East. For a team that made the playoffs last year, the Canadiens have become sad joke.
Thursday night in Winnipeg the Habs lost their fifth straight game and it’s not like it came as a surprise. Coach Cunneyworth, who has been hounded by the French press this week because of his inability to speak French, decided to sit his best player, P.K. Subban, in the press box. He probably should have sat No. 1 goalie Carey Price, as well. Winnipeg scored twice in the first period and outshot the Habs 13-6. At that point, the rout was on.
It got so ugly for Montreal that with four minutes remaining in the third period, Jets fans started singing, "Olay, olay, olay, olay!" That’s better than "Na, na, hey, hey good-bye."
Montreal was never in this game. Blake Wheeler scored at 3:18 of the first, Tanner Glass scored at 13:13 of the first, Wheeler scored again at 0:39 of the second and Tim Stapleton scored at 17:36 of the third. The Jets are now 16-13-5 and are now tied with New Jersey for 8th place — both teams have 37 points — but the Jets have fewer wins and are officially ninth.
The Jets are now 7-1-1 at home in the Month of December (7-2-1 overall) and have grabbed 15 of a possible 18 points at home this month. Thursday night, Wheeler had two goals and an assist while Ondrej Pavelec improved to 12-11-5 and picked up his third shutout of the season.
"The penalty kill and Pavs (Ondrej Pavelec) were our first stars tonight," said Wheeler after the game. "But we have Pittsburgh tomorrow night so we have to go home, get some sleep and recharge and play just as well tomorrow. It would be a shame to play as well as we did tonight and then lose tomorrow. We have to come out and do the same thing agaisnt Pittsburgh tomorrow."
But the story was the Canadiens. The Jets are playing well and their top players are playing like top players. The Canadiens, on the other hand, have a bench full of passengers.
The trouble for Montreal now is that they don’t play again at home until Jan. 4. They play in Ottawa on Tuesday, in Tampa on Thursday and in Florida on Saturday. Eight straight losses is not out of the question.
And if it gets to eight, somebody will be out of work. Whether that’s Cunneyworth or GM Pierre Gauthier, the Habs will have to do something. This simply isn’t working.
The Habs can’t score. The team’s leading scorer, Tomas Plekanec, has seven goals and 20 assists and is a minus-eight. That’s 42nd in scoring in the NHL. Meanwhile, their goaltender, Carey Price is 27th in the league with a 2.40 goals against average and 34th with a .914 save percentage. As a team, they score 2.49 goals a game (24th) and give up 2.63 goals per game (12th). That’s not good. That’s probably why they’re a minus-13 hockey team.
When Jacques Martin was fired last Saturday, the Habs were 13-12-7. They have now lost four straight under Cunneyworth and there is no reason to believe they’re about to get any better.
To make matters worse, Cunneyworth is already being pilloried by the French media for his inability to speak Quebec’s national language. Of course, had he won four straight games that bit of nastiness would probably have been forgotten. Now it’s just going to be used as weapon until Cunneyworth performs a miracle. And heaven knows, he’ll have to be a miracle worker to get these Canadiens winning again.
Perhaps if he had more French-Canadian players he’d be better off.
OK. I’m being facetious, but even that might help alleviate the mess he’s in. One gets the sense the French media might have gone easier on Cunneyworth if they’d believed that French was the language of the locker room. Trouble is when your team is made up of eight players from English Canada, five Americans, 10 Europeans (none from France) and just three Quebeckers, there was never any need to speak French in the locker room. The Canadiens didn’t NEED a French-speaking coach.
And that might have Gauthier on the hot-seat.
Right now, his problem isn’t the nationality or heritage or even birthplace of his players. The problem is they don’t play hockey very well. Thursday night, they couldn’t give or take a pass, they checked weakly and often with only one hand on the stick, they didn’t like hitting much and weren’t strong on the puck. The fact they had stone hands and didn’t skate very hard was a mystery. When you consider Montreal whipped Winnipeg 5-1 in the season opener on Oct. 9, it’s hard to believe how bad the Canadiens have become.
This is a franchise that has won the Stanley Cup 24 times, but not once since 1993. It’s a franchise that has a wonderful history and is a remarkable ambassador for the city of Montreal, the province of Quebec and the French-speaking population of the province.
But right now, it’s an embarrassment. A series of questionable first-round draft picks – Eric Chouinard in 1998, Alexander Buturlin in 1999, Kyle Chipchura in 2004, David Fischer in 2006 – and some good picks that were eventually traded away (Guillaume Latendresse in 2005, Mark Streit in 2004, Maxin Lapierre in 2003, Chris Higgins in 2002, Mike Komisarek in 2001, Ron Hainsey in 2000 and Mike Ribeiro in 1998), have left the Canadiens with a roster that should be in the bottom third of the league.
In the meantime, Cunneyworth, who says he hasn’t read any of the criticism that has been leveled against him (and his inability to speak French), believes his team will get better.
“Hey, it’s a tough league," he told reporters on Thursday morning. "There are a lot of good teams in this league and we’re one of them. Right now we’re not playing our best, so if we start playing our best we’ll be right there.”
His inability to speak French obviously isn’t his biggest problem. After that statement, his biggest problem is that he’s delusional.