This is a very unusual season, no doubt. Not only are the Habs dealing with a never seen before amount of serious long term injuries to key players, but then you add COVID into the mix, and games being re-scheduled. As we’ve learned too well last season, postponed games means a gruelling stretch of many games in few days, with little rest and practice time. We saw how that went, right?
In my five decades of hockey, I have never seen a team go through that much adversity in such a long period of time. More so, I have never seen a Habs’ coach handed such an unlucky hand from day one. Dominique Ducharme took over after the week off last season. He was dealt with a 27 games in 43 days schedule, little to no practice time, exhausted players, facing teams that were much more rested. When he finally got an evenly matched schedule and a healthy team, the Canadiens made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. That was the last time we’ve seen them relatively healthy.
This year, from day one, he’s had at least $30 million out of the line-up, and it only got worse from there. After 20 games, they had already lost 124 man-games. After losing Brendan Gallagher to a lower body injury in the second period of last night’s game against the Hurricanes, the Canadiens finished the game with two players making over $1 million: David Savard was the highest paid at $3.5 million, and Brett Kulak at $1.8 million. Again, I’ve never seen anything remotely close to this in my entire life!
Opportunities not taken
Whether it’s coaching or on the players, or a mix of both, there are some young guys not seizing the opportunity offered to them. Some may not be ready for bigger roles and that’s totally normal. However, Ducharme seems to be riding the same horses even with the team eliminated from playoffs’ contention. And that, in my humble opinion, is not right.
I’m sorry but playing Nick Suzuki 25 minutes a game is not only unsustainable, but it’s not maximizing his strengths. He’s the only offensive threat left in the line-up with a little bit of experience. Why do you make him waste two minutes a game killing penalties, under the circumstances? When doing so, he is sitting on the bench resting for a shift or two for defending, instead of being there at five on five generating offense. You can’t teach skills but you can teach defense and others on the team could kill penalties, even the kids.
Ryan Poehling is one that should be seeing more ice time than what he’s been getting. His situation is not without reminding me of Jesperi Kotkaniemi. When the kid is playing well, put him out there! When he’s playing well, give some of Suzuki’s minutes to him! Both will be more efficient. He can also kill penalties. I can see playing Poehling 13-15 minutes a game when Dvorak is healthy but without him there, he should be closer to 17-18 minutes.
Cole Caufield is struggling mightily this season, no doubt. He is showing flashes at times, but his confidence is shot. Ideally, I would love to send him to Laval to finish the season but with the situation with injuries and COVID, it’s not an option. The Laval roster is actually pretty much all in Montreal anyway. That said, if there’s one place where he should be a landmark right now, it’s on the power play, in the left circle for a one-timer. He is a weapon that has been grossly under-utilized by the coaching staff on the power play. With all of the injuries, it should be an automatic… but it’s not, for some reason.
The schedule is not going to get any easier. Yes, there will be fewer games in January, with all the home games postponed, but those games will have to be made up at some point, which will further condense an already tight schedule due to the Olympic break. Maybe some games can be re-scheduled during that break but this will depend on arenas availability.
All in all, it’s a season to scrap for the Canadiens. Even Jeff Gorton can’t evaluate his team under normal circumstances, making his job even harder. But he has absolutely no reasons not to focus on making it a priority to finding a new GM, as scouting his own team is not too time consuming right now. There should be some action soon… hopefully.