Week 1 in One Word: Tardy

October 17, 2021

tar·dy

/ˈtärdē/

delaying or delayed beyond the right or expected time; late.

Similar: late, unpunctual, behind time, behind schedule, delayed, slow

slow in action or response; sluggish.

The Montreal Canadiens have entered Week 1 of the 2021-22 season into the history books. The week featured two road games – in Toronto on Wednesday and Buffalo on Thursday – and a Saturday night home opener at the Bell Centre. Here’s what I saw shake down.

Game 1 was a disorganized affair with a couple of bright spots.

The Habs got off to a strong start. It was the Drouin-Dvorak-Anderson line that came out looking particularly dangerous, and it was that line that opened the scoring when Anderson fed Drouin on a sweet 2-on-1. That would be the only time Montreal would light the lamp. The Leafs tied the game on a first period power play goal and William Nylander fired a beauty in the third for the winner. The Habs lost 2-1.

Jake Allen was brilliant in net for the Habs. The netminder, in addition to the Dvorak line, were the only bright spots. They looked like what they are – a team with a ton of off-season changes and players lost to injury that didn’t maximize the benefits of camp. Chemistry was lacking, particularly amongst the D group, most of which were playing together for the first time in the last pre-season game.

Power play woes continued from last season (and the one before that and the one before that and…) as the Habs were unable to capitalize on a 5-3. Well, forget capitalizing. They were hardly able to get out of their own end on the power play.

Disorganization dissolved into lethargy for Game 2.   

It’s not odd for a team to show some lethargy in the second game of a back-to-back, but a family of sloths could be regarded as manic in comparison to the Habs on Thursday night. I saw a little urgency rearing its head about halfway through the third period, but it was too little too late.

The Buffalo Sabres dominated, a sentiment I expect to be rare this season. Three of their five goals were scored on the power play. Conversely, the Habs ineffectiveness with the man advantage continued and another 5-on-3 was squandered. Back-up goalie Samuel Montembeault was checking the rule books to see if he could put himself back on waivers on Friday.

The third game – the home opener – was marginally better, but nowhere near good enough.

I thought the Canadiens played with a little more urgency on Saturday than we had seen since the opening 10 minutes of Game 1. But it was still so much less energy than one would expect in the home opener following an emotional opening ceremony.

Jake Allen was fantastic in net. It was midway through the second before the Rags opened the scoring. Midway through the third, Drouin scored on a beautiful passing play with Dvorak to tie the game. But 26 second later, the visiting local kid reclaimed the lead for New York. An empty netter finished it. The Habs lost 3-1.

It’s odd to say mid-October, but Montreal needed this one. Earlier in the day pundits were reporting stats that indicated that teams who lose three games to start the season have not been very successful at making the playoffs.

So why are the Habs looking so bad?

Special teams are special for all the wrong reasons.

First of all, don’t let anyone tell you the Habs are missing Shea Weber on the power play and that’s why they look so bad. That power play has been putrid for years and hasn’t had a legit quarterback since Andrei Markov was allowed to walk. Zone entries look like a three-legged race on skates. They’ve got no one that can cruise the blue line looking for feeds. Passes are slow and telegraphed. Players are either immobile or being deployed in positions that don’t suit their strengths.

But here is the kicker. Absolutely every detail of that description was true with Weber in the line-up. It’s an ancient issue.

It’s been years of Bergevin’s failure to secure a puck-moving defenceman who could play the point on the power play, and years of coaching staffs who were unable to implement a system to make up for it. We’re used to the power play being this bad.

A weak penalty kill is a little less common in Habsland. Yes, there have been bumps along the road, but complete futility hasn’t been the case for the PK. In fact, the PK was excellent in last year’s playoffs. Here is where the Habs are missing Weber… and Phil Danault and Joel Edmundson and Paul Byron.

They’re slow to apply pressure on the zone entry. They’re slow to block passing and shooting lanes. They’re slow to adjust to fakes from the opposition. They’re slow to clear rebounds.

You might say they are tardy.

The off-season brought dramatic changes for the Habs down the middle.

Nick Suzuki took over the 1C job in last season’s playoffs, but he had a ton of support from Danault, who is now a Los Angeles King. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, though inconsistent, was developing into a solid 3C who would move up the line-up. He’s now a Carolina boy. Jake Evans needed help to find his way at 4C last year, and he has suddenly inherited the 3C role with expectations to take over Danault’s defensive duties.

Suzuki and Evans are the two returning pivots. Christian Dvorak’s addition is a very good one, and he has been solid through three games. Cedric Paquette is a nice piece to have in the line-up, but I’m not sure he’s an everyday NHLer.

New centres means new forward lines, and only Dvorak’s line has looked good consistently. Otherwise, the players look out of sync. Passing to open spaces where no one is waiting because they’ve not yet learned each other’s habits. Offsides. Missed plays. It’s all to be expected with the amount of turnover they experienced, but the delay in finding that chemistry is hurting.

You might say they are tardy.

It’s also worth looking at the face-off situation.

As you can see from this chart, only one of the centremen is a reliable face-off man. He’s taking the lion’s share of draws. That impacts every element of the game. Power plays, penalty kills, five-on-five, late-game situations. The Habs can’t be dependent on one guy to get it done.

The defence group is both poorly constructed and poorly deployed, and it’s killing the Habs.

Fans are clamouring for line changes today. Ducharme can juggle until every circus on the planet is calling his name and it won’t fix what’s wrong. The offence will always be marred by the lack of balance on the back end.

Losing Shea Weber was big. Losing Edmundson, I would argue, was just as painful for this season’s Habs. Hopefully #44 is back soon and can bring some stability as a legitimate top-4 defenceman. But the issue, really and truly, is balance. The Habs have one valid puck-moving defenceman.

Brett Kulak is one, but the coaching staff doesn’t really trust him. Alexander Romanov may grow into one. Chris Wideman shows enough to make us long for one. Then you have the flock of stay at home guys – Bergevin adds one to the fold every summer. Edmundson, Chiarot and Savard. Three guys who are secure in the top six, no matter how many icings, or how many discipline penalties, or how slow.

That might be manageable if the other three guys were solid puck movers, and if each pair had one. But neither is the case.

Ducharme is bound and determined to play Chiarot and Savard. Fans make jokes about it. Pundits do radio hits about how they’re worried about this specific pair. But Ducharme will be the absolute last guy to ever acknowledge it’s not working.

You might say he’s tardy.

The Habs are busy working out kinks that should have been worked out in training camp.

Remember when we used to marvel at what Ducharme had accomplished in the face of adversity? And how we’d wonder at what he might be capable of with a full training camp? Good times, them.

In all three games, the Habs looked like what they are – a team holding training camp. They had enormous turnover in the off-season and came to camp with injuries. They needed this camp badly – not the random players who may never play in the NHL – the million-dollar men needed this camp.

All teams hold camp and invite their prospects and lower level players. All teams rotate in the veterans and let them ease in slowly. All teams mail it in a bit in those preseason games. But not every team had as much turnover as the Habs had in their off-seasons, and not all of them had a camp invitee list that looked like a Black Friday sale that wouldn’t end.

I talked about the problems on special teams. The season had begun, and it was not at all obvious who the power play units would be, or how they would set up. It’s still not. Each game is a surprise package. The power play is an embarrassment and has been for years. It needed to be a major focus of training camp. From day 1, it needed an urgency applied that we’re not seeing even three games in.

I mentioned the line chemistry because of the new centremen. Only the Dvorak line was consistent throughout camp, and shockingly, it’s the best line by far to start the season. Most lines carried an AHLer throughout.

The Habs D group was always going to struggle. They’re out of balance. Bergevin went yet another off-season without landing a legitimate puck-mover, which was their biggest need. Their success depended on Savard fitting in quickly and Romanov taking a big step forward from the guy Ducharme benched for most of the playoffs. Instead, the preseason saw veterans paired with young players who should not have even been in consideration to make the team. How many preseason games did each guy who made the team get with their actual partner? The answer is a very small number indeed.

So here we are, with three games done and three losses on the books and the Habs are busy doing all of the things that should have been the focus of training camp. Hopefully they can make up the ground quickly, but they’ve dug themselves a hole and other teams are already looking at them in the rearview mirror.

You might say they are tardy.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

11 thoughts on “Week 1 in One Word: Tardy

  1. Nice read Lori. I wonder if Mete would help this D. Savard is brutal out there. Bergevin may have to trade for a PMD soon. Not sure who’s out there.

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  2. Fully agree with you Lori. when I look at the D I go back to last year when PETRY was rushing the puck up the ice and on the powerplay as well. Look at PETRY through the last half of the season, the playoff and now. How often do you see him carry the puck. It’s like someone pre-programmed him. Same with Romanov. In his first 10 games he was handling the puck, skating up the ice with it. Then boom. The clamps have been put on him & he is not the valuable asset we thought he was. This has been the problem with the coaching staff since MB has taken over. They don’t use any of their players to their strengths. Even on the PP. Why is Caulfield not on his off wing and being fed the puck. We keep sending it back to a stationary D man for the 60 ft slapper, that never gets through or when it does, there isn’t a Hab within 15 ft of the net to screen the goalie. Use the players to their strengths & they will succeed. I also agree that DUCHARME botched his whole training camp & I believe MB is done in Montreal. He has had enough of the pressure. He doesn’t want the job. His whole offseason has been a disaster. He never should have given Savard that contract.4Yrs for a guy who is less mobile than Weber and has no PP value. He was -27 last year in 54 regular season games. -8 with Tampa in 14 of the 54 games. His contract will be another Alzner like fiasco. Speaking of which Alzner is still on the books for v a 1.9M cap hit for this year and approximately $800K+ For 2022/23 72023/2024.. These are the signings of a GM who in my opinion has lost interest. Signing Wideman for a PP that for some reason continues to revolve around point shots was another poor move. Why was he in the KHL? Because he wasn’t good enough to make 32 other NHL rosters. He won’t impact this PP one iota. He was cut 3 times in 2018/19. It’s not the contract itself, it’s just MB throwing a former NHL player into a lineup to say, see, I’m trying!!! I believe the Habs won’t make the playoffs and I am going out on a limb here but believe they may finish dead last in their division. Here is my reasons why. I do not believe Price will be back before January. The team has no chemistry currently & I not sure Hoffman is a good fit. Why is a consistent 25-30 goal scorer been moved 3 times in the last 4 yrs? Defence will be an issue.DD’s insistence on Chiarot & Savard as a pair will sink this team with or without Joel Edmundson. Lastly, the PP still doesn’t have a system that suits the skill set of the players. Plus like we have seen for the past decade—the team can’t score.

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    1. That’s a lot of concerns Scott. You may get your wish… this may be the GM’s last season with the Habs. Like you, I’d be just fine with that.

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  3. I think you can add in Poeling as someone who was expected to compete more successfully for a spot but has been tardy in doing so.

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    1. 100%. And got exactly zero preseason games playing between two NHLers. How was he supposed to audition for an NHL role with an AHLer on one wing?

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  4. Lori- respectfully, this group of D we have right now is transitional. They’ll be recycled soon enough. The real fun begins when Struble Harris Norlinder Guhle Mailloux Fairbrother and a few more start to challenge to make the team. It’s a few yrs yet. Patience is the key right now. We need to draft HIGH the next 2 drafts so it doesn’t matter if we stink for another year or 2. It’s in fact what we want.

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    1. I agree with you to some extent. The D group stands to improve the most through player development. Two flies in that ointment. They are heavy on the left side. RHD is still a weakness in the prospect pool. And secondly, player development has been a giant weakness for the Habs. They favour vets and punish growing D.

      And don’t worry about your last name. I have to approve it for it to be public, so I just trashed the first post.

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