December 17, 2022
Four games were on tap for the Montreal Canadiens in the 10th week of the 2022-23 season. On Monday night they welcomed the Calgary Flames and the result was a 2-1 shootout win. The Habs made a quick trip to Ottawa on Wednesday night, and a lack of discipline led to a 3-2 loss. On Thursday they were back home to welcome the Anaheim Ducks, and a sluggish start against a lesser team ended in a 5-2 loss. The week wrapped up at home on Saturday, an ugly 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If shootout is the question, Nick Suzuki is the answer.
Four for four in the shootout so far this year. Three successful attempts on the Datsyuk, including the one Markstrom almost had an answer for on Monday. Every time the coach has called his name, Suzuki has answered the call. Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach have also been clutch. It wasn’t so long ago that any time the Habs went to overtime, the result was a loser point. This young crop knows how to deliver and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
Where Jonathan Drouin is concerned, I have more questions than answers.
Drouin returned to the line-up on Wednesday, a welcome addition to an injury-bugged team. He assumed the fourth line centreman role, and saw some time on the power play. For any other player returning from injury, it was a good day at the office. He had another solid game on Thursday, then again on Saturday on a new line with Dach and Slafkovsky. He’s played well five-on-five. Sadly, it was misplays at the blue line on the power play that are most memorable.
For some in the fan base, the entire Drouin saga can be condensed into Marc Bergevin having a lot to answer for having dealt a skilled defender to get him. I see a player who has encountered many personal obstacles, but just wants to do well. Will there be a taker for Drouin at the trade deadline? Will he find joy in the game in another city? Will he land another contract? There are no easy answers where Jo is concerned.
I do have some questions, however. Like this one. Why does the coaching staff continue, pre- and post-injury, to play Drouin in a spot where teams exploit him? It’s late in the game on Thursday against Anaheim. The habs get an offensive zone face off. Allen has been pulled. Marty has called his time out. Burrows is giving the team instructions on the play he has worked up and the camera zooms in on his clip board that shows Drouin positioned as the lone man playing the point. And my eyes roll. A few seconds later the puck is in the back of the Habs net.
We’ve all seen Drouin struggle in that role. The coaching staff watched it the night before, then they watched it again on Saturday. But they persist. It’s truly bizarre at this point, and a giant damper on what has been an otherwise decent performance from Drouin since returning from injury.
The Habs continue to look for answers to an abysmal power play.
They were officially at the bottom of the league in power play success (14%) after Wednesday’s game against the Sens. They’ve been bad on the man advantage since the departure of Andrei Markov.
Jeff Gorton has acknowledged the team needs a legitimate top-pair, puck-moving defenseman who can quarterback the power play. Those don’t grow on trees, but I do have faith this management group can figure out how to land one. In the interim, it’s hard to fathom why some of the kids are not getting a chance there. Guhle, Harris and Xhekaj are all worth a look. As I’ve said multiple times before, it’s not like they can break it.
At this point, it’s hard to see any evidence the coaching staff is even trying to find an answer.
The coach got some criticism for his answers to the media after back-to-back losses.
It takes a special kind of delicate to get genuinely upset about St. Louis’ commentary. This was hardly a Torts Tantrum. Marty was frustrated with the team’s lack of discipline and some iffy officiating. When asked about a change in momentum he asked if they had watched the same game. Ask a silly question and get a silly answer, I guess.
Then Marty was frustrated by the effort from his team. Too many passengers, he said. “You actually have the answer to that one, Marty!” I said. The guy in control of ice time can hardly complain about passengers unless he’s prepared to let his actions speak louder than words. On Saturday the coach answered his own challenge and Evgenii Dadanov was healthy scratched.
Message delivered. In words and in deed.
The issue, of course, is that you can’t expect a sheep to bark. The team can only perform consistent with who they are, and who they are right now is an incomplete team. The coach is in a shitty game of would you rather. – would you rather have a complete top line or a legitimate second line centre? The coach can’t have all the answers right now. The management team is still figuring out all the questions.
As Marty said, “We’re not there yet.”
With the Christmas trade freeze kicking in on Monday, Kent Hughes is ready to answer if his phone rings.
This week Darren Dreger reported on TSN690 that GMs are growing frustrated with the lack of movement. Some would like to be making deals, but the salary cap situation has things a little blocked. The Montreal Canadiens are one team that is able to answer the call on a pre-freeze trade.
Consider a guy like Brock Boeser. The Vancouver Canucks want to move him, and they want cap space beyond this season more than anything. The price is reportedly reasonable. The Habs are rich in futures and able to help. Imagine a deal that sees one of the pending unrestricted free agents – like Jonathan Drouin or Evgeni Dadanov – go to Vancouver in a futures-driven package for Boeser. Hughes loves to buy low and sell high.
Dreger specifically referenced Bill Guerin as a frustrated GM. What do the Habs have that the Minnesota Wild could use? Pierre LeBrun has confirmed Edmonton’s interest in Joel Edmundson. Are they motivated to move soon?
Regardless of what happens between now and the freeze, there is every reason to believe that the Habs will be very active before the trade deadline. The standings are starting to look a little more like we expected when the season began. We can look forward to a busy few weeks coming up.