We kind of hoped that Thursday's narrow, fortune-aided victory against the Lightning might be the slide arrestor for Nos Glorieux, a win which would help our boys regroup and get back pointed in the right direction. That's all shot to hell now. We're not dealing with a blip, or a welcome stretch of adversity that helps a team find its centre and harden its character, as Michel Therrien tried to couch it in his postgame comments of two nights ago. What we've got here is an uncontrolled implosion, a Brian Burke-certified "18-wheeler going off a cliff".
Since the Canadiens gutted out a 2-1 victory over the Bruins, they've had one easy win over a dispirited Sabres team, the aforementioned nailbiter against the theoretical pushovers from Tampa Bay, and five losses, four of which have been of the kick in the guts/lower abdomen variety. At first we pointed to the loss of Alexei Emelin's punishing defensive play as the reason, since opponents now had no fear in the Canadiens' zone, but that is getting to be relatively thin as an excuse. How could the loss of a second-pairing defenceman cause all this, when the Senators lost Erik Karlsson and kept on keeping on?
There are a few reasons being tried on for size, as we try to understand what is going on. Various rumoured injuries are conjured up sotto voce. Carey Price has a groin strain. Brandon Prust is obviously not 100%. Josh Gorges must be playing with a Bo Jackson hip, how else can his play have fallen off this much? Andrei Markov surely is suffering from a generalized lassitude.
Guy Carbonneau is adamant that other teams have figured out the Canadiens' system and have adjusted, and that it's now time for the Canadiens' coaching staff to make their own adjustments, but admits that without any practice time due to the compressed schedule, it's difficult to enact those. Michel Therrien has tried shuffling his lines, and with the availability of Raphaël Diaz now has three lefty-righty defence pairings, but it seems the rabbit cage in his magic hat is now empty.
The clearest, gravest problem is in goal. We wouldn't be having this talk if Carey Price was just playing average hockey, but he has chosen now to undergo a crisis of confidence. Not good. At his wage rate, he's not allowed those. He's getting paid top dollar, he's expected to be routinely excellent, Martin Brodeur-style. He's supposed to be 'set it and forget it' good, pencil him in the lineup and don't give it a second thought, worry instead about the line combinations or healthy scratches. He's stopping 8 shots out of 10, when it should be 19 out of twenty. He's simply not doing the job. Again, the limited practice time is not helping in this area. And again, there is no option here, we have to keep starting him until he plays his way out of it.
René Bourque is having a tough return to the ice, we see the puck bouncing off his stick in every direction, but never behind the goalie. Concussions are tough, he's game, trying hard, and there shouldn't be any second-guessing of his performance. He's rusty, but the puck will eventually roll for him.
So we have three games before the playoffs start. With the Bruins stuck in neutral but having games in hand, and the Sens and Leafs in striking distance, our #2 seeding is in jeopardy. And this makes it harder than last year, when about halfway through the season I realized we wouldn't make the playoffs, and just sat back and enjoyed the ride to a high draft pick. I no longer had any illusions, I knew it would end soon, so the final thirty games or so I could be dispassionate, as if I was witnessing the dissection of the fetal pig in biology class. Now, knowing we have playoffs coming, and divisional opponents as our potential first-round dance partners, I feel like I'm watching Leatherface going at my German Shepherd.