It’s only been three games. Habs’ fans want everyone traded or fired. Granted, starting the season with three losses in regulation is not what the doctor ordered to appease the mass. But it’s only three games. That said, three games turn into four, then five, then six… Canadiens fans have too fresh in their memories the two eight-game winless streaks under Claude Julien to be expected not to relate. Who can blame them?
But here’s what’s a bit alarming in those three games. Dominique Ducharme’s men only managed three goals. Further, they’ve gone long periods of time in those games without even managing a shot on goal, let alone generating scoring chances. In fact, the Canadiens are, at the moment, a one-line team. Yes, only the line of Jonathan Drouin, Christian Dvorak and Josh Anderson are consistent enough to be counted on. The rest? It’s spotty, sometimes non-existent.
The biggest mistake people make is to blame the offense, ridiculing or downplaying the fact that everyone thought that they had balanced scoring. They still do, as a matter of fact. But as we’ve explained recently, you need to get the puck from the defense in order to generate offense…
It’s been three games with the same players, with the same results. Some injured Habs are getting ready to return and it’s time to start inserting them into the line-up. I mean really, can they do worse than losing a game… or three?
People (and players I’m sure) are looking forward to having Mike Hoffman into the line-up. A goals’ scorer on a team that’s not scoring goals. That’s what they need, right? Yes, yes, if the defense can get the puck out of their own zone that is. But at the very least, inserting Hoffman should give a shot in the arm to an anemic power play that has gone 0-11 on the season so far. Only the Rangers, the Penguins and the Canucks have had more power play opportunities than Montreal so far this season.
Cedric Paquette (bless his heart for his hard work), is not a center. At least, not a quality one. Can we please try Adam Brooks? Ideally for the Habs, Brooks plays well, generates offense and takes over for Jake Evans as the third line center. Jake is doing okay, but the Canadiens need more offense from a center playing with Brendan Gallagher and now Tyler Toffoli. In fact, I would start Brooks in the middle of them the next game.
But also, for a defense struggling to get the puck out of their own zone with tape-to-tape passes, inserting Sami Niku might not be a bad idea. Of course, he’ll make mistakes and turn the puck over from time to time. As long as he gets the puck out more often than he turns it over, it should work. Further, he would add an option on the power play as well.
How long before the coaching staff realizes that the pairing of Ben Chiarot and David Savard should never be together at even strength? It is painfully obvious that Chiarot misses Shea Weber as his partner. Savard can’t do the job with him.
So with all of that, here’s what the line-up should look like, in my humble opinion, if the players mentioned above are ready to play:
Drouin – Dvorak – Anderson
Hoffman – Suzuki – Caufield
Toffoli – Brooks – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Evans – Armia
Chiarot – Petry
Romanov – Savard
Niku – Wideman/Kulak
If Brooks doesn’t work out with Toffoli and Gallagher, switch to Evans as a in-game adjustment. That fourth line could be a third line elsewhere in the NHL. And with those defense pairings, you have a skater and/or puck mover on every pair. And as we saw in the game against the Rangers, Romanov is not ready to face the top opposition on a regular basis. Playing the next three games at home, they will be able to have the last change.
But please folks, it’s not time to panic… yet. Would it be better having a 3-0 start? Absolutely. But a Championship has never been won in October. They just need to start showing signs of improvement and start getting points sooner rather than later… and fix that awful penalty kill.