After a promising 6-2 start, the Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of their first mini-crisis of this lockout shortened season. During their three consecutive losses, the Habs have been outscored 13-5, with four of their goals coming in one game to the Buffalo Sabres, where the team failed to display a killer instinct by blowing a 4-2 lead in the third period.
The disappointing 6-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre was probably the worst performance of the year thus far for a team which is in desperate need of building some confidence. This loss was particularly difficult for Montreal to stomach since they were humbled by their long time arch rivals for the second time this season in their own building. Frustrations ran high, as the third period play descended into unnecessary ugliness.
Although much has been made about the Canadiens not having a dominating physical presence on the ice, the Habs have been victimized by a lack of consistent scoring by the front line. Two of the top three point scorers for the Canadiens this season are defensemen Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz, whose offensive skill sets will never be mistaken for Bobby Orr or Ray Bourque.
Aside from top scorer Tomas Plekanec, the Habs have relied on scoring by committee to get by. Accentuating the lack of punch on the front line, rookie Brendan Gallagher is tied with Markov for second on the team in goals scored with four. Although it has been an encouraging start for the first year player, having only one player on the roster with more goals than Gallagher, speaks volumes about the team’s lack of offensive production and depth.
Three veteran players who are off to slow starts for the Habs are Erik Cole, Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty. The three frontliners have combined for only four goals. In all fairness to the scoreless Pacioretty, he did miss four games due to appendicitis and does not yet appear to be at full tilt.
Adding to Montreal’s dilemma is that both Cole and Gionta are 34 years of age and probably have their best seasons behind them. After this season, Cole has two seasons and Gionta one season remaining on their respective contracts. Replacing either one or both of them due to lack of production or age is a reality which must be addressed.
After this season, there may be an urgency for the Habs scour the trade block and free agent market to try and bring in at least one or two guys who can put the puck in the back of the net a little more often. Since the Canadiens do not have a plentiful supply of attractive trade bait, General Manager Marc Bergevin has limited options.
In addition, Bergevin is in no position to start mortgaging the farm by trading high draft picks for established talent. This is an organization which is still licking its wounds from the Scott Gomez fiasco. There is no quick magic fix here for the Habs; but one fix which should be instilled is the Canadiens getting a skilled scorer or two to help fill the net.
The Canadiens get to escape the old man winter for a few days as they head south to Florida for games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers on Tuesday and Thursday. The visitors are in need of a couple of solid performances in the Sunshine State to turn down the heat generated during their three game slide.