Habs' last two Losses Before the All-star Break, Perhaps a Good Thing

Gary WhittakerCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2009

My prediction at the beginning of this week, which saw Montreal playing only two games before the All-Star break, was .500.

I had said that, theoretically, Montreal should win against the 29th place Atlanta Thrashers and would probably lose to the tenacious New Jersey Devils.

Well, at least one of us went for .500 this week. The key focus after these two consecutive losses, however, should not be seen as a doom and gloom situation.

Perhaps this is just what players, fans, coaches, and Bob Gainey needed to fully appreciate the Habs' current situation and accept that a change is imminent. 

Let's get one thing straight, The Montreal Canadiens should NOT have lost to the Atlanta Thrashers last Tuesday night. As is usually the case, they took a team below them in the standings much too lightly and found themselves in a three-goal hole after a little more than a period was played.

Sure, they made a game of it with goals by Pacioretty and Bégin, with Bégin's skate-deflected goal being of the fortunate nature, but in the third period, it was all Kari Lehtonen who faced and stopped 18 shots in the third alone.

This was a case of too little too late for the Habs, a phrase used to describe more than one of their losses this year.

Yes, Halak should have stopped two of those goals, but it's not as if he had a strong supporting cast either.

The problem, however, was that the very next night, one would think that the Canadiens, fresh off a loss that shouldn't have happened, would have been primed for a battle against a team that could very well meet them in the first round of the playoffs and who had already beat them twice this year.

This wasn't the case however.

In the old days, before I would have an outlet to comment on Habs games, I would have turned the game off, knowing that there was no way they would win considering the way they were playing.

Instead, I watched the painful event in its entirety and accepted the 5-2 loss for what it was. The Devils played with passion, the Habs did not. The Devils were aggressive, the Habs were not. The Devils scored five goals, and I'm not sure the Habs have been able to do that all season (too lazy to do the fact checking, but you get my point).

They didn't hit, they didn't fore-check, and they basically let the Devils, who now sit atop the Atlantic division, have their way with them.

Let's face it, last night's scorers for Montreal were Josh Gorges and Matt D'agostini.

Add to that Bégin and Pacioretty's goals the night before and one has to ask oneself, are these the players that we are counting on to win the Stanley Cup?

Don't get me wrong, secondary scoring is always important on a team if it is just that: secondary.

Take the 5-4 shootout win against Ottawa. Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn scored and got secondary scoring from Tom Kostopoulos and Matt D'agostini, but when your big guns don't show up and all that's left is your third and fourth lines, well, maybe it's time to tinker with the team a little.

Another example to prove my point: While I'm very happy for Maxime Lapierre and take absolutely nothing away from him and his effort in the month of December, can the Montreal fans really be ecstatic that their third/fourth liner won the Molson Cup for the month?

The reason why I say these losses are perhaps a good thing is because maybe, during this time of reflection going into the All-Star break, the players who need to step it up, will. They know who they are.

Maybe Saku Koivu's return and subsequent rest will have shaken the cobwebs out of his system.

Maybe Carbonneau will be speaking to Bob and saying, "Yeah, we'll make the playoffs with this team, but I can't promise you much more than that unless some changes are made."

Maybe Bob has already acknowledged this very obvious point and had already started speaking to other GM's regarding this. Maybe that's how the whole Vinny Lecavalier thing spiralled out of control. You know what they say, where there is smoke, there's fire.

Who knows, but one thing is certain, these last two losses should convince all those fans to cry bloody murder every time the Habs string together two consecutive wins, and scream that we absolutely can not make a trade under any circumstances because it would ruin team chemistry.

This is the lamest excuse for a non-trade that I have ever heard.

You know what builds chemistry?


If a Lecavalier-like trade is imminent, the Habs WILL lose at least two starters, if not three, a developed minor leaguer if not two, and perhaps a couple of draft choices.

In return, they get a bona fide game breaker who has won a Stanley Cup and knows about the pressure in Montreal.

Now, I'm not hopping on the "Lecavalier is coming to Montreal" bandwagon, but I'm just saying, there should absolutely not be any "Fire Bob Gainey" petitions if this actually does happen.

He has, and will always react in order to do what is best for the team, not certain individuals on the team. If it means the Habs lose three existing "contributors" to the team and me lose my chance of seeing PK Suban in a Habs Jersey, I might not initially like it.

Perhaps a run to the Stanley Cup Final would take away the sting, especially if the player we got back actually stays in Montreal for the next few years.

I said it before, and I'll say it again, The Montreal Canadiens are presently in fourth place in the Eastern Division—something the majority of fans would have sold their souls for in the late 90's—and are a top tier team. They will finish the year with a winning record and will make the playoffs.

They are also a tad better at this point of the year than they were last season at the same time. Last year, as you know, they finished first in the East.

The only problem I see is that barring a sudden surge in offence, a meaner and more robust defence, and a strong, steady netminder going forward, I can't see how the Canadiens will go much farther than the first round of the playoffs.

Something has to change.

Everyone involved has five days to think about it.

Enjoy the All-Star weekend.


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