5 Montreal Canadiens Who Must Improve in 2013-14
The Montreal Canadiens are coming off one of their best all-around games of 2013-14, one where they outplayed and defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Each and every Canadien played well, as it took a total team effort to beat Chicago. Now, if the Habs could play that way every night, they'd be serious Cup contenders.
But let's be serious, the Canadiens aren't quite at that level yet. If the following players could improve in the second half of the season, however, they would be a bit closer.
Here are five Montreal Canadiens who must improve in 2013-14.
As a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, it's really difficult to get through an entire game without being frustrated by the play of Rene Bourque.
On paper, the winger has all the tools needed to be a force in the NHL. He's got the size, measuring 6'2", 217 pounds. He's got the speed. He's got the shot. Yet he just can't seem to put it all together and live up to his potential.
Every game there is something with Bourque. Usually, it's being weak on the puck in the corner or hitting the goalie square in the chest from point-blank range. Other times, it's being too slow on the backcheck. And then there are other games where you don't even realize he is in the lineup until you check the box score the next morning.
Bourque just seems content to go through the motions on the ice. There's no fire to his game. Imagine if he had the work ethic of Brendan Gallagher? There's no doubt he could be a dominant, top-six power forward.
So far in 2013-14, his stats are laughable:
In 34 games, he has just six goals and one assist.
He has zero points in 16 road games.
He hasn't scored in more than a month (December 2, 2013).
His last assist was on October 5, 2013.
His goaltender has more assists than he does.
He averages 1.82 shots per game.
Yet somehow he still averages over 15 minutes of ice time per game. That's more than Alex Galchenyuk, Daniel Briere, Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, Michael Bournival and Ryan White among regular Montreal forwards.
Coach Michel Therrien has given Bourque plenty of opportunities to get his game on track in 2013-14. It's time he rewards his coach for his patience.
There's no sugarcoating it: Rene Bourque has been awful so far this season and needs to improve. He's a big body up front, and the Canadiens need more out of him. A lot more.
Alexei Emelin had a breakout year in 2013. In fact, he was so good that the Montreal Canadiens decided to sign him to a four-year, $16.4 million contract extension despite his reconstructive knee surgery.
Since his return to the lineup on November 16, however, Emelin hasn't quite looked the same.
He has struggled to a minus-nine rating while posting just five assists and 20 shots in 25 games. He also ranks near the bottom in both Corsi- and Fenwick-for percentages. He looks shaky with the puck and is often caught out of position in his own zone.
Emelin's struggles are, of course, understandable. It's not easy to return from major reconstructive surgery.
His most recent game against the Chicago Blackhawks was clearly his best of the season. He was strong on the puck, physical and solid in his own end. Perhaps it will help him turn his season around.
As of now, there is no reason to believe that Emelin can't return to the level of play he was at last season. He just needs time. The Canadiens are hoping that time is soon.
Daniel Briere signing with the Canadiens had feel-good story written all over it.
The veteran returns to his home province after being bought out by his previous team in hopes of rekindling a career that had taken a turn south over the past couple of years. Movies are made about these kinds of stories.
Unfortunately, the happy ending has yet to play out in this plot.
As we begin the second half of 2013-14, the 36-year-old has just 13 points (7 G, 6 A) in 33 games played. He has been hurt (as usual), he has been in the press box (three times) and he has been in the doghouse (on multiple occasions).
To his credit, Briere has been a little better over the past four games. He has skated hard and gone to the front of the net, the two factors that bring success to his game. Maybe these are steps in the right direction.
Briere has always been known as a clutch playoff performer, so maybe he'll shine in the spring. The Canadiens have to get their first, however, and a little more production from Briere would help.
Raphael Diaz is a player who the Canadiens were hoping could raise his game to another level in 2013-14, but it just hasn't happened yet.
Offensively is where Diaz has been the biggest disappointment. The 28-year-old had started to make a name for himself as a puck-moving, offensive defenseman over the past two years, but not much of that has been seen this season.
The 28-year-old is goalless with 11 assists in 44 games. He has just 40 shots on goal. And despite the fact that he is on the second power-play unit, he has yet to record a point with the man advantage.
P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov will continue to hog most of the power-play minutes, but there will be times when the Habs need a boost from their second unit. Diaz needs to prove that he can generate some additional offense from the back end.
Diaz looked to be blossoming into a top-four defender with offensive upside last season, but his progress seems to have stalled a bit. An improvement in the second half will certainly make the Canadiens a better team moving forward.
Michel Therrien is, of course, in his second stint as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. He's having more success this time around (55-29-10 compared to 78-77-22-14 from 2000-2003), yet he's far from perfect. There are ways in which he could do a better job behind the Habs bench.
One issue is with his ice-time allotment. Some of his decisions are just puzzling.
Rene Bourque cannot continue to receive more ice time than Alex Galchenyuk (when he's healthy), or Brandon Prust for that matter.
Raphael Diaz should not be the second-most used player while short-handed, nor should he come close to averaging two minutes more short-handed time than P.K. Subban per game.
Brian Gionta has no business being on the ice at even strength more than Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plakenec and Brendan Gallagher.
The list goes on and on. And ice time isn't the only issue.
The Canadiens are a frustratingly inconsistent team, and part of that blame has to fall on the coaching staff.
When they're at their best, the Habs can look like legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, like they did on January 11 when they beat the Chicago Blackhawks.
On other nights, such as January 8 against the Philadelphia Flyers, they look like they would have a hard time competing for the Calder Cup (the AHL championship trophy).
Some teams in the NHL are good enough to get by with a 90 percent effort on occasion. The Canadiens are not one of these teams. Therrien must ensure his club is ready and willing to compete each and every night.
And finally, we arrive at the P.K. Subban situation. Enough is enough, already. Let the man play.
Yes, he took a stupid penalty. But that's what you get with a player like Subban. That fire and intensity is part of what makes him special.
It's quite simple—Subban is the Canadiens' best player, and they aren't nearly as good of a team without him on the ice. They need him to win. Especially when they're down a goal or two, like they were in Philadelphia last week when Therrien decided a roughing penalty was worth an extra 10 minutes on the bench.
It's time Subban receives the star treatment he deserves. He will take a bad penalty now and then. But guess what? All star players do that from time to time.
Subban is beyond the stage in his career where he needs to be sent messages. Next time it happens, Therrien needs to tell him it was dumb, get him back on the ice and move on.
Because one thing is for sure—if Subban gets frustrated and quits on Therrien, his tenure as coach of the Montreal Canadiens will come to an abrupt ending.