At the Quarter Pole

A quarter of the Habs' season has already passed us by. Optimism hardly abounds when we talk about the team and, with a mediocre 9-11 record, there is no reason it should. What conclusions can we draw now that we have hit the 20 game mark? Like any team hovering around .500, there are some positives.

However, for the moment, the negatives far outweigh the positives.

The team tends to start its games in a dreadful manner. The team is 22nd in goals scored in the first period with only 11 so far while, in contrast, they are fourth in goals allowed in the first with 19. The team has dug itself into a hole early far too many times this year and that, perhaps more than anything, has hampered them.
Save for the game against Nashville, which was an unqualified disaster, the team has had a propensity to battle harder in the latter periods. Sadly, the early deficits combined with anaemic scoring means it is nearly impossible for this squad to stage any sort of comeback.

And that, the lack of balanced scoring, is another prominent issue facing the new-look Canadiens. While the first line has been threatening in most games, they have yet to produce consistently and profusely. Scott Gomez, the team's highest paid player, has only 11 points thus far.

To put that in perspective, that is only one more than Glen Metropolit, who has been a very pleasant surprise this year. Of course, save for him and leading scorer Tomas Plekanec, there is a complete absence of secondary scoring on the team.

Young veterans such as Kostitsyn, Latendresse, D'Agostini and Pacioretty seem snake bitten and a tad confused on the ice. Jacques Martin's reputation of developing young players has yet to pan out in Montreal.

Finally, there is the obvious issue of injuries to Markov, O'Byrne and Gill. With all the added ice time, Hamrlik and Spacek have started to look tired. Leach, Bergeron and Carle aren't bad, but too much is being asked of them as well. And the forwards do not support their defensemen enough.

How many times have we seen the backline unable to make a good first pass because the forwards are so far away?
Eric Engels, a Habs writer whom I greatly respect, asks, "How many more embarrassments can they afford before drastic changes are made?"?

This statement reflects the general sentiment of Montreal fans who are clamouring for change in order to repair the team, which decidedly seems to be in a bit of disarray at the moment. I would answer that, on the contrary, after a summer chock-full of changes, stability is what is needed at the moment. Roll the same lines and pairings for more than two games in a row and let some chemistry develop. By always changing the line combinations it sends the message that, if your line is not producing, it is not your fault but your line mates.
While some will say I am wearing rose coloured glasses, if the team can build a consistent winning identity over the next 40 games, they may actually prove to be a dangerous opponent. Think back to 2000-01, when the team suddenly witnessed the returns of Souray and Koivu, the complexion of the team changed dramatically.

If this team starts playing to its potential, the return of Markov and the other injured players won't be viewed as salvation but rather as a bonus.