Week 14 in One Word: Closer

January 31, 2022

closer

/klōs·r/

very near to (being or doing something)

Similar: nearer, approaching, not far from, on the verge of

a person who is skilled at bringing a business transaction to a satisfactory conclusion

Week 14 had four games in store for the Montreal Canadiens. On Monday night they were absolutely pummeled in Minnesota in an 8-2 loss. On Thursday they welcomed the Anaheim Ducks to an empty Bell Centre, fell behind early and couldn’t recover in a 5-4 loss. The Saturday night game against Edmonton was a 7-2 beat down. They ended the week with a 6-3 loss to Columbus.

Here’s a little analysis of Week 14.

As the scores get farther apart, we’re getting closer to change in Montreal. 

Four games that were not even close, really. All of them over almost before they started. Even the ones that didn’t look as bad on the score sheet were over early enough that a goalie change was warranted. As has been the case for much of this season, the Montreal Canadiens are arriving at games but they’re certainly not showing up.

Here is the light at the end of that tunnel – and the light is getting closer – all the abysmal starts, all the blowouts, are happening in full view of the guys making an assessment for the future. The veterans who are mailing it in, the guys showing some leadership and work ethic, the kids who are dying for some structure and mentorship, it’s all in full view.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie reported on Sunday that the Canadiens annual pro scouts’ meetings were ending after several days of discussions in preparation for the trade deadline. That tells me we’re shifting out of the preparation period and it’s time to close some deals.

Ben Chiarot is a logical first move. Fans are desperate to hang on to Artturi Lehkonen, but are you sure he’s not playing like a house afire to earn a ticket out of town? Several unrestricted free agents can be had for reasonable value. A veteran or two with term on their contracts – Jeff Petry and maybe even Brendan Gallagher – are on the table. It feels like the first domino will fall imminently.

The other guy that’s been in full view is the coach. Is Dominique Ducharme’s time coming to a close in Montreal?

Are the late starts being noted? Is the endless line juggling as tedious for Gorton and Hughes as it is for us? Do they also puzzle at breaking up a line that works so that a rusty Paul Byron can take the slot? Do they bristle at the coach defending the team’s effort in a 7-2 loss based on one player being held off the score sheet? Are they wishing Ducharme would wear a mask more consistently, in order to cover up that lost look?

Change of some sort is coming, and it’s very close.

If the Habs want to keep games closer, they may consider getting closer to the opposition.

The sad thing about this picture is that you can switch up the jerseys of the opposition, and it could have been taken in any game. Why are the Habs so consistently out of position when defending in their own zone? How much tape do you need to watch of wide-open looks, with not one Habs jersey close, before someone makes the adjustment?

Fans are clamouring for Ducharme to be fired, and this is understandable. But many are asking for Luke Richardson to replace him, based solely on a couple of playoff games last season. Perhaps this is an option for the rest of the season – Randy Cunneyworth says hi – but does it occur to folks that he’s the guy running the defence we’re seeing in that picture?

With the situation in net, the Habs should consider carrying three goalies on the roster and employ a baseball model – a starter, reliever and closer. 

Every single game this week saw a goalie get pulled. That’s shocking. For the month of January, their combined save percentage was .870. The situation in net is not good. The two kids holding the fort have not been able to keep games close.

What a backdrop for Carey Price to break his silence!

The goalie that carried the team on his back for years – the one who was the ultimate closer – is now anxious about whether he can continue his career. For the foreseeable future, Carey wears the Canadiens jersey, and he’s eager to get it back on. But his body must submit to his will for that to happen.

In the meanwhile, the net situation in Montreal is atrocious. Jake Allen is out with an injury until somewhere around the trade deadline. If Price is untouchable, is Allen available when healthy? Primeau is not ready to be an NHLer, and a goalie’s trajectory is a mysterious thing. But determining where he should be today is no riddle – get the kid back to Laval. Give Michael McNiven the call. There is no wisdom in killing Primeau’s confidence.

An area that was once a strength is now a giant question mark, and one of the biggest challenges to be addressed in Montreal in the weeks and months ahead.

The All-Star break is a perfect time for HuGo to show off their closer skills. 

Before I write anything else, credit where credit is due. I’ve been looking for a way to reference the two-headed animal in charge in Montreal, Gorton and Hughes, so they don’t sound like a law firm. Matt Godbout from Twitter, @Habitforming1, proposed this option – HuGo. I like it. It sticks for me.

HuGo is a newly formed entity, and they’ve been in full-on assessment mode since they officially came together. But here we are after a hideous week of hockey and a seven-day break presents itself. Hughes has said he does not want to make a panic move, but some deals are obvious and very low risk. The timing is perfect for HuGo to make their first deal to turn a page on this version of the Montreal Canadiens.

The trade deadline is getting closer and it’s time for HuGo to close some deals.

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.

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