The Upper Canadien
Listening to the radio in Montreal today, I could have sworn the Canadiens were riding high in the standings, there was no coaching controversy, and the playoffs were around the corner.
As we all know, that’s not the case.
However, the Canadiens did win a game, for the first time in weeks, and Canadiens fans can take some solace in the fact that the team hasn’t quit.
In fact, quite the contrary.
Ok, that may be overstating it, but it’s 3-0 after two. PK Subban is a healthy scratch. Mike Cammalleri is taking shifts with the fourth line. Randy Cunneyworth looks lost, coaching a team that has given up 16 goals over 11 periods.
Magic solution Tomas Kaberle is, er, not a magic solution.
When was the last time the Canadiens were in this much of a state of flux? How did things turn so quickly? At least Michael Blunden and Carey Price look like they care. They’re effort is obvious. The rest - not so much.
Somewhere, Jacques Martin must be chuckling.
So when push came to shove, Jacques Martin lasted a shorter time than Guy Carbonneau. Now, as Randy Cunneyworth tries to get his first win as an NHL top dog, we have fans flooding radio shows with comments that make Martin sound like the second coming of Scott Bowman (“why was he fired?? We made a huge mistake!! He was a great coach!” said one caller today, which contradicted calls last week calling for Martin’s head). Yes, Jacques Martin has gone from garbage to hero in a week, and all because he got fired - and spoke French.
Now, a controversy. And it’s getting bigger. Government is weighing in. French papers are putting headlines in English to mock Cunneyworth. Polls say 80% of Quebeckers don’t care about whether the coach wins, but care more about whether or not he speaks French.
And tomorrow, the Canadiens take on the Blackhawks.
Well, the predictable backlash has begun. After 30-odd years of the unwritten rule being only a Francophone could coach the Habs, the Canadiens yesterday changed the rules - for Randy Cunneyworth of all people.
All is not well in La Belle Province, and this TSN article sums it up well. Editorials are slagging management, the calls are pouring in to radio stations, and separatists are calling for a boycott of Molson beer. And, funnily enough, none of this has to do with the performance of the team. How dare he speak only English.
Only in Quebec. But that’s part of what makes following this team so great.
That’s the story. Dysfunction. Why do I say that? Well, let’s analyze the firing of Jacques Martin closely:
The Canadiens experienced early success with Martin, making the Eastern Conference Finals. They came one goal from beating the eventual Stanley Cup Champions last year. Through all of that, Kirk Muller was Martin’s lieutenant, and the heir apparent for the job.
In the midst of those two semi-successful seasons, the Canadiens, admirably, allowed Guy Boucher to leave and become head coach in Tampa Bay. He has since flourished in that role.
Muller, anxious for his own chance to head a team after years as an assistant, left in the off-season to coach Milwaukee, Nashville’s farm team, in the AHL. While gone, he was still a candidate if Nashville would let him go.
Two weeks ago, that call came.
The Montreal Canadiens have fired head coach Jacques Martin. He has been replaced by former Assistant Coach Randy Cunneyworth. More to follow.
A PK Subban mistake late in the game, a disallowed goal - regardless, the Canadiens are back in the loss column this morning. Montreal lost 4-3 to a Flyers team that should have been reeling, after the losses of Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux to injury, but instead are firing on all cylinders, with 7 wins in a row.
David Desharnais played what may have been his best game as a Canadien, scoring a beautiful goal, while Carey Price looked fairly regular. For no apparent reason, Mathieu Darche played close to a full period of hockey. Almost time for Jacques Martin to go?
Louis Leblanc scored his first goal as a Hab - and was promptly benched the rest of the game (except for about 40 seconds. Seriously. This happened. It makes absolutely no sense, but it happened). Time for Jacques Martin to go?
On the whole, this team, with its losses late and frustrating lack of consistency, reminds me of another team - the Montreal Canadiens circa 2009-2010.
The Canadiens won their second in a row, blowing a 3-1 lead but eventually beating the Islanders 5-3. Isles’ goaltender Al Montoya wasn’t particularly sharp on this night, and the difference for the Canadiens was largely the fourth line, but a wins a win and Montreal will take it.
Quick highlights: Tomas Kaberle notched an assist, he now has three in two games as a Hab, and he is certainly making an impact on the powerplay. It’s very easy to see how Kaberle slows the play down and makes a first pass as the pp sets up. Something the Canadiens have been missing all year.
Doug GIlmour, Yanic Perreault,
. What do they have in common? They were all Leafs. Then, they were Habs. 2 of the 3 made big contributions in Montreal.
Welcome, Tomas Kaberle. Adieu, M. Spacek.
There’s a lot of angst amongst Habs fans. Kaberle is old. Overpaid. Overweight. But many are forgetting one thing: he has run very successful power plays in years past, and he has averaged approximately 20 powerplay assists a year through most of his career.
It’s getting cold in Montreal, but winter will be much, much worse. Les Canadiens are flatlining. And it’s December.
A terrible performance last night against Columbus in front of their home crowd, who have seen just four wins thus far, sealed it for me. This team just doesn’t have it - and it goes a lot farther than Scott Gomez. Sure, injuries are a large part of it, and there are bright lights, such as Louis Leblanc, Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, and Alex “Drago” Emelin, but something isn’t right.
Are changes coming? I’d have to think so, if things continue on this path. However, the Habs never seem to do much of, well, anything (I guess no one does, that’s the CBA for you), so I’m anxious to see if owner Geoff Molson steps in and demands some changes.
Until then, a great article on the state of the Canadiens by SI’s Michael Farber, one of my favourite sports pundits and a level-headed voice on everything hockey-related. Enjoy:
About The Upper Canadien
The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.
I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.
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