Sitting Snipers: What Has Caused the Lack of Montreal’s Offence?

Photo by Francois Lacasse (Getty Images)

Photo by Francois Lacasse (Getty Images)

It is as much a part of The Canadiens identity as the Stanley Cup, the French language and elite goaltending.  Many point getters from years past are still renowned to this very day for their offensive prowess, perhaps more so than even most Canadiens legends of other abilities or expectations.  The most feared weapons in this team’s arsenal throughout history have been at the very front of the attack: snipers.

 

Scoring goals has been a prominent upside of the Canadiens and is expected from all positions.  Legendary playmakers including –but not limited to– Guy Lafleur and Henri Richard possessed more goal scoring prowess than many –if not all– of their adversaries around the league.  This is not only because they are considered to be once in a lifetime talents, Lafleur the all-time points leader of the hall of fame member riddled Canadiens alumni and Richard having his name engraved on the Stanley Cup more times than anyone in NHL history, but because it was expected of them.  Even the most revered defencemen in Canadiens history, outside of perhaps the Bouchard family, have been notorious for fans seeing their names on the score sheet on a regular basis.

 

Expectations and culture of being a high flying, offensive team considered, what is the cause for the recent issue that has seldom been seen at any point in team history? With a lineup consisting of thirty goal scorer Max Pacioretty, third overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk, fifth round steal and Calder finalist Brendan Gallagher, playoff point per game player Daniel Briere, the resurgent Tomas Plekanec, the breakout star Lars Eller, blue line quarterback Andrei Markov and the league’s most dynamic defenceman P.K. Subban, the Canadiens would and should be expected to once again be dominating the scoreboard on any given night.

 

One immediate problem is that up and down the lineup, many of the best players are playmakers like Galchenyuk, Eller and Plekanec.  Even David Desharnais in his sixty point season is best classified as a playmaker.  The team’s top goal scorer is most notably a power forward and Brendan Gallagher is a two-way forward.  The rest of the depth chart up front follows up with grinders like Prust and Moen, guys with two-way presence like Ryan White and a face puncher in George Parros.  Perhaps due to it being the most difficult job in hockey, pure goal scorers are hard to come by and in spite of many of the team’s best days seeing the likes of Maurice Richard and Steve Shutt, there is not one player in the lineup that is dedicated solely to scoring goals.

 

That would be the answer.  Something else, however, seems to be missing…

 

The question that seems to be thrown at Montreal’s coaching staff almost as much as it has been thrown about the heads of the fans’ heads is: what is that something? What is it that has been keeping Les Glorieux out of the box score?

 

Halfway into the games slated for November, there have been three instances in which the team has only amounted to one goal for an entire game and even being shut out at home against the Rangers, winless in their eight previous trips to the Bell Centre.  In other words, even in the year that saw Les Canadiens in a tanking effort, the Rangers could not win against them then.

 

Why could they this time around?

 

Three games this month have seen a shootout come about to determine the game’s result in spite of expectations depicting otherwise going into them.  If any given game is this close, akin to the 4-3 regulation loss to the Minnesota Wild to start the month out, then what the Canadiens need is for their biggest guns and most clutch players to come out in that last ditch effort.  This, of course, brings about the controversial question of the underutilization of P.K. Subban as Michel Therrien often opts to use other options in these times.

 

Therrien’s decisions, however, have faced great scrutiny.  Coach Therrien seemed to have everything under control through roughly three quarters of last season and had seemingly the whole roster firing on all cylinders.

 

Was it traffic in front of the net?

 

Often the cause of any goaltender’s demise, only Brendan Gallagher has made a habit on any shift in the offensive zone of being his opponent’s favorite pest.  However, in the shutout loss to the New York Rangers, there were bodies everywhere in and around the Rangers crease but three shots from Montreal’s point did not make their targets.  These shots, though, were taken by Alexei Emelin and not P.K. Subban.

 

Has it been a change in formation?

 

There does seem to be a bit less pep in the step of the boys without the fiery Subban generating emotion both on the ice and in the crowd, be it for better at home or for worse on the road.  His time, while lacking in previous games, has gone up in recent games to around the twenty-nine minute mark.

 

Then it perhaps is a change in emotion and drive?

 

In the season’s early portions, Galchenyuk, Eller and Gallagher were combining for the vast majority of the team’s points; garnering every team point in some games even.  Once they seemed to be possibly figured out by the opposition after garnering so much attention, placing Michael Bournival on the wing of Plekanec and Gionta sparked what would become another offensive flurry for one team line.  The time eventually came, though, that Michel Therrien began to break up both lines upon returns from injury.

 

What has happened to Max Pacioretty?

 

Yes, his return was the once that took the young gun Bournival off of Plekanec and Gionta’s line.  This posed a unique situation in which the return of a thirty goal scorer seemingly hindered La Sainte Flanelle; a concept that seemed implausible to the imagination of anyone.  The top two lines considered, the questions of where Max Pacioretty would fit in once he was dressed again began to swirl and have been answered rather indecisively as he has been back and forth between the top two lines that were once working so well.

 

One could speculate that Mad Max may not be fully healed from his injury or that he has failed in living up to power forward expectations in his scarce presence from the front of the net.  Is he snake bitten from when he went down with his second injury before the month of October was even out? The want to have a healthy Max is ever present but his lack of production illustrates something greater: the need for a productive Max.

 

Lick your wounds and lick them fast, Wolveretty.  Your offensive output would be greatly appreciated by all.

 

What’s it going to take for Galchenyuk, Eller and Gallagher to get back to being as hot as they started?

 

Something that most young athletes don’t have but these men may prove to be exceptions to: patience and clarity in their persistence.  It is all too easy for an impatient young talent to become understandingly aggressive and pressing.  Any player that cools down, regardless of age, becomes prone to gripping their sticks tighter, shooting more wildly and only adding to their problems through immature decision making.  There is a collective prayer across Montreal that this does not happen to the entire team.

 

When Olli Jokinen was going through a slump, he took Wayne Gretzky’s advice: relax, eat a hamburger and just play with a tranquil and focused head.  Olli said that he went to McDonald’s and had a Big Mac meal so perhaps a team visit to the golden arches could be good for both relaxation and morale.  After all, the sight of Brendan Gallagher eating a Happy Meal, complete with the bib, might just be too good to pass up.

 

Should these options fail, the easy answer would be to change the pairings and/or personnel in the back end and to play P.K. at more opportune moments.

 

Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi have been waiting  in the wings for so long that it seems as though they have been forgotten by most.  Beaulieu, younger and more promising than Raphael Diaz and Tinordi, at least as physical as Murray and an all around more skilled player, could be a breath of fresh air.  Would they contribute much in terms of points? Tinordi, likely not; Beaulieu, quite possibly.  However, even if this is an offensively-oriented team, good offensive formations and opportunities start from a team’s own zone.

 

P.K. Subban is the kind of player that elevates the level of play of everyone around him, be it through his extraordinary athletic gifts or his internal inspiration.  If Therrien opts to misuse him, be it of his own agenda in opting for the criticized pairing of Gorges and Diaz or recently criticized individuals such as Douglas Murray, it sends the worst message of all.

 

What is that message?

 

“We would rather lose games than pay our best players.”

 

Whether or not it’s the intended message in what might be blind attempts to aimlessly and needlessly humble such a boisterous player as Montreal’s resident Norris Trophy winner Mr. Pernell Karl Subban, it sends a terrible message to the rest of the players.  What is a player like Lars Eller to think in the final year of his contract if management is seemingly unwilling to pay Subban after he held up his end of the bargain when actually given the opportunity to do so? The message illustrated above won’t just be sent to those supporting the team but to those playing for the team.

 

The worst part of this hypothetical message being sent?

 

IT IS NOT THE MESSAGE BEING SENT BY THE FANS.

 

The fans, while salary cap conscious, are willing to pay big bucks to their quality players as opposed to sprinkling it around in quantity to depths of average players.   Even if the Molson family were to hypothetically be so foolish as to prefer to harbor their money as opposed to paying their winning players, the fans would rather pay a lucrative sum to P.K. and Lars as opposed to paying a handful of run-of-the-mill talent.

 

The message of the fans to the players has never changed and all parties involved already know exactly what that is.  The message the fans are sending now is to team management and it sounds something like this…

 

“Pay our players because if they are not winning with us, they will be winning with someone else.”

 

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