Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
There is no team in the NHL with a greater history and heritage than the Montreal Canadiens. Founded in 1909 as a charter member of the National Hockey Association, le Club de hockey Canadien is the only existing NHL team to predate the founding of the league and has won more Stanley Cups (24) than any other franchise. Montreal won its first Cup in 1916, first NHL Cup in 1924 and its last in 1993. Yes, much to the chagrin of proud Montreal hockey fanatics, it has been almost 23 years since Lord Stanley's Cup has been paraded down Ste-Catherine West to the old Montreal Forum or down le Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal to the Centre Bell.
It has been a long, difficult season for General Manager Marc Bergevin, Assistant G.M. Scott Mellanby and Head Coach Michel Therrien. It started with a new player acquired in the off season, Zack Kassian, being involved in a traffic accident at 6 a.m. with two young women in his pickup truck. Kassian was ordered to Stage Two of the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program before ever playing a game for the Canadiens. Shortly after he got out of the program in December, Kassian was traded to Edmonton for goaltender Ben Scrivens.
Montreal got off to a franchise-record 9-0 start to the season, yet then suffered a brutal 3-11 slump in November when All-Star goaltender Carey Price suffered a mysterious lower-body injury, with the club absolutely determined to keep the exact nature of the injury a state secret. Price, like the Blues Jake Allen, is not expected back until after the All-Star break.
Soon after that, in early December, a rather risqué video of defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and forward Christian Thomas, partying at a club and at a woman's apartment, went viral on YouTube, further embarrassing the Canadiens. A week later, Thomas, the son of retired NHL star Steve Thomas, was banished, traded to the Arizona Coyotes.
And then following a 3-1 loss on home ice to Pittsburgh on January 9 in which he scored his first goal in 33 games, only his second of the season, defenseman P.K. Subban, who just signed a whopping nine year, $72 million contract, lost his cool and dropped several F-bombs on Montreal Gazette reporter Stu Cowen, emphatically stating, "I couldn't give a shit about my fucking first goal in however long. It doesn't fucking matter. I'm not a goal scorer. It's not my job to score goals." The frustrated All-Star played just over 30 minutes in that game, similar to the playing time Alex Pietrangelo has been putting in for the Blues, and has 27 assists (third most amongst NHL defensemen) in 43 games so far this season, along with a plus-11 rating.
Like the Blues (only 22 goals in regulation time in the 11 games since Christmas), the Canadiens' offense has somehow vanished as they have scored fewer than two goals per game since the beginning of December (35 goals in 19 games). Tomas Plekanec has one goal in his last 27 games, Lars Eller has one in his last 24 games, David Desharnais only has one in his last 21 games, and Tomas Fleischmann has been benched after after scoring one goal in 19 games. The power play has dropped to 19th in the league at 17.9%.
To make matters worse, young scoring star Alex Galchenyuk was involved just this week in a domestic dispute after his 27 year old girlfriend arrived at his apartment at 8 a.m. to find him and teammate Devante Smith-Pelly with other women, resulting in a bloodied nose for the 21 year old center and a domestic violence charge against the girlfriend. Both players met with Bergevin for a closed-door session while not being allowed to speak to the media. When Cowan asked Canadiens' captain Max Pacioretty if this season was like a soap opera, the Habs' leading scorer said, "I agree." So, if the Blues' season could be titled "General Hospital", then the Canadiens are suffering through "The Young and the Restless."
Montreal is currently in third place in the Atlantic Division with 49 points, five games over .500, yet only one point ahead of Tampa Bay, two points ahead of Boston and three in front of Ottawa. And the Habs are ranked sixth in the Eastern Conference, only two points ahead of New Jersey and Carolina and three in front of Pittsburgh (not including last night's games). The Canadiens have now lost 14 of their last 19 games, without even a point or two from overtime or shoot out losses. With a lack of offense and all the soap-opera distractions, it is a distinct possibility Montreal may not qualify for the playoffs this season.
After yet another lethargic, lackluster refund game against Carolina Thursday, the goal-less (or is that soul-less?) Blues may suffer the same playoff fate as the Habs. They not only shit the bed against the Hurricanes, they had runny diarrhea that dripped over onto the bedroom rug and left a trail all the way to the bathroom. What a mess! Coach Hitchcock's explanation that they are exhausted and "running on fumes" only speaks to a lack of professionalism and inability to step it up when the going gets tough, exactly what is needed for any kind of playoff success. Well, they can forget about even making the playoffs if this lack of toughness, inability to score goals and lack of drive, determination and passion continues.
Long-suffering Blues' fans deserve better than to keep watching "Search for Tomorrow."