NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Montreal Canadiens

Habs Q&A With Andrew Berkshire And Laura The Active Stick

Andrew Berkshire is on Twitter @AndrewBerkshire. Laura is @TheActiveStick.

So the Habs, at the time of writing, have won 5 of 20. People are panicking. Has fans think the team is falling apart. We can’t help but see the best goalie in the world hurt, a terrible shooting percentage and other bad luck. Which is true or is it a blending of the two?

Berkshire: What’s going on right now with the Habs is very weird. Montreal has been one of the best possession teams in the NHL this year, the whole season. The shooting percentage is obviously not reflective of their play, and eventually they will bust out of this slump, but the longer it goes the harder it is to believe it’s just luck.

There are little things about the Canadiens’ system that you can identify fairly easily as problem areas that hurt them. Their breakout is terrible, the worst in the league in terms of keeping possession while exiting their own zone. Their tendency to dump the puck off the wall to clear the zone leads to a ton of turnovers and scoring chances against. Combine that with very little east-west movement in the offensive zone and you have a team that plays well in terms of shots for and against, but give up more goals and score less than league average.

Laura: From my perspective, it’s a blending of the two. Initially, the team was playing well and was getting burned by the goaltending. The Habs didn’t abandon the process at that point, but were hit by some really bad luck, so it turned into what I call “not winning” as opposed to losing (sometimes badly). Then they started playing badly. In the last two games (vs Chicago and St.Louis) they seem to have been playing well and running into bad luck again, but the coach is unfortunately showing signs of his patented inexplicable line-blending. We shall see.

Explain what Alex Galchenyuk is, what the Habs think he is, and why they think that.

Alex Galchenyuk is a #1 center in this league. He’s not a great #1 center yet, his defensive play against top end players needs to improve, but that can only get better with experience. Right now he has become the most dynamic offensive player on the team, which is saying a lot on a team with P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty on it. What do the Habs think he is? I think that depends on who you ask in the Habs’ org. Those who think he should be on the wing should be fired out of a cannon.

Alex Galchenyuk is a phenomenally skilled forward on the cusp of his prime. I think the Canadiens were hoping he would become this team’s superstar first line center. However, in his season ending press conference last summer, Michel Bergevin said something along the lines of whether Galchenyuk was going to be given his shot at center was up to Alex Galchenyuk, which was news to us, and of course fans and media dissected it for weeks afterward. Michel Therrien has a habit of playing his best players with linemates or D partners who drag them down instead of maximize their strengths. How was it up to Galchenyuk when he isn’t the one who picks his assignments? It was fun times in Montreal, let me tell you. I think there is a collective feeling here that he was held back by Michel Therrien’s decisions. The coach seems more open (this year) to putting him in situations he can thrive in, but as we’ve noted, the old Therrien keeps coming back every now and again.

Michel Therrien seemed to have change his ways this season, in that the Habs went from a bad possession team last year to a good one this year, whatever the results are. But he also can’t seem to stop doing things we don’t understand, like on Thursday blowing up his lines in the 3rd period after dominating the 2nd. What do Canadiens fans think of him?

What people think of Therrien is very much divided along language lines, although this run of 4-14 their last 18 games has seen a lot of folks turn on him. Oddly enough, the season Therrien is facing the most criticism is likely the season he deserves it the least.

“Fire Therrien” is trending in Montreal, according to Trendsmap. When things go bad in Montreal, the entire city loses its cool. Honestly I think he’s done a decent job this year in that he is trying to change his ways, but as you said, the inner, true, Michel Therrien is creeping out once in a while. People forget that if you fire the coach you have to replace him, and not only that, you have to replace him with someone who speaks French. Slim pickings out there, other than Guy Boucher, who in my mind is still a question mark. I don’t necessarily think Therrien’s the best possible coach for this team, but I’m also worried about how many years of the cup window the Habs can afford to waste with a revolving door of bad coaches who speak French.

What do the Habs need to add for sure via trade before the deadline?

Their biggest need is a right winger who can score 40 points and fit with Alex Galchenyuk, just someone who can stay there consistently.

Some luck. Possibly some new special teams coaching.

What is up with his Victo Bartley/John Scott trade for Jared Tinordi?

The Scott/Bartley trade is pretty insane. Apparently there are people in the Habs’ org that really like Bartley. Jarred Tinordi wasn’t worth much, because the Habs destroyed his value, but that was just a terrible trade.

Seeing as it doesn’t really help either team all that much, and given TSN’s Bob McKenzie and ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun (two of the most credible names in hockey reporting) have noted that the NHL tried to get John Scott to bow out of the All-Star Game or at least not play in the game itself, the conspiracy theorists are out in full force. If what they are implying is true, the NHL is guilty of tampering with rosters, all because of an All-Star Game. I joked on Twitter that “the Habs better get some damn power plays out of this” and if last night’s game against St. Louis is any indication… errr… maybe I was on to something. In any case, the fine print on that is that the Habs see Bartley as a Francis Boullion type player, which is not good news, because Michel Therrien liked to give Boullion, a declining 7th D, second pair minutes. All I’m hoping is that he isn’t actually turning back into last year’s Therrien.

Is there any reason to think that when Price eventually does return, the Canadiens won’t look like the team they did in October and November and that they could scrap to just get in the playoffs instead of compete for the division?

I think right now their confidence is so low that if they don’t get lucky bounces in a few game straight, they might not pull out of this funk. Both the coach and GM seem to be close to full on panic, which is a scary thing. They just need something to bounce their way, then maybe they can build off that.

I don’t know if it will be too late to compete for the division. I think losing so many games in December will burn them quite a bit, but there is no reason to think the Habs won’t actually make the playoffs. Then, when they do, it’ll be a whole other story. Have you seen them Capitals?

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