For the 734th time, last night the Boston Bruins faced off against the Montreal Canadiens in one of the biggest and longest rivalries in sport. This meeting, like many before it, including numerous of Stanley Cup finals, was seen by fans on both sides as crucial. Both teams have had less than stellar results for the past month, and going into it with 50 points for the Habs and 51 for the B’s, a win for either team would grant more than just the well-deserved bragging rights garnered from an important divisional game.
Especially for the Habs, a positive outcome, playing at home, would have taken tremendous pressure off of head coach Michel Therrien. On game day, some of his players were asked their opinion of their coach, with those clips broadcast repeatedly on both TV and radio. They answered – as you would expect in this politically correct world of corporate sports – upbeat and positively. PK Subban, for example, talked of how he loves the team, loves the coach.
Not Out on Any Limb
Few players dare to go out on a limb and tell it like they think it is. One instance I can think of is St. Louis Blues‘ forward, TJ Oshie, who last season complained publicly of head coach, Ken Hitchcock. Oshie said, and I’m paraphrasing, they’d been given so many instructions, they no longer knew what to do. Oshie went from being the Blues’ poster boy to being traded to Washington Capitals, where he’s playing very well as a Cap, under the very capable hands of head coach Barry Trotz. As for being a poster boy, the Caps can see his appeal too: just look on their website, and you’ll see him, touting their current promotion.
Trotz – who I’m a huge fan of because 1) he went to Notre Dame College and 2) has given Mike Richards a second chance – spent most of his coaching career to date with the Nashville Predators until joining the Caps two years ago. He’s built a strong arsenal of players who, with 73 points in the Eastern Division, could forfeit all their games for the next three weeks and still no one in their division would catch them. His three point leaders – Evgeny Kuznetsov (48 points), Nicklas Backstrom (44 points) and Alex Ovechkin (42 points) are at least dozen points or more ahead of Montreal’s top three – Max Pacioretty (36) Tomas Plekanec (34) and PK Subban (33). Just so you know, the League’s current point average is 12 which is miles behind the point leader, Chicago Blackhawk’s Patrick Kane. Kane is passing and shooting his way – way past the others – and currently with 71 points – a whopping 15 points ahead of Dallas Stars‘ Jamie Benn (and last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner for having the most points).
At the Bell Centre, with fans packed to the rafters (as Montreal usually does), the Canadians outshot the Bruins but couldn’t muster more than one goal past Bruins’ goalie, Tukka Rask. Rask’s record against the Habs had been shaky going into this game but his win now takes him to an improved to 5-15-3.
The crowd’s booing began in the 1st period when defenseman Andrei Markov made a weak pass in his own zone that ended up on the stick of Bruins’ Max Talbot; his shot bounced off goalie Mike Condon‘s pads, finding the goal. By the 3rd goal, the crowd was stunned. The Bruins’ 4th goal was an empty netter, but it was a painful nail-in-the-coffin anyways.
After the game, Therrien told the press he was sick of his players being criticized, and defended Markov against the nastiness of the crowd. He didn’t say, “Pick on me instead!” but, perhaps, he should have.
Is Therrien, the Habs’ coach for the past four years, skating on thin ice, pardon the pun? Since his #1 goalie, Carey Price, was injured at the end of October, the team started a downward spiral that’s been as shocking as their season-opening 9-game winning streak was exhilarating. At the beginning of the NESN television broadcast of the game last night, the Bruins’ commentator Jack Edwards said of the Canadiens’ flight path, “Who’s flying this plane??? Anyone???”
This morning, in the Montreal Gazette, Stu Cowan wrote:
…this scoring slump can’t go on forever without someone paying the price, and the coach is the easiest target.
And what about the rest of the organization? Shouldn’t they be pulling out all the stops to try to get their team to win? Where, for example, are their lucky charms, like anthem singer Ginette Reno?
The Canadiens play next on Saturday, against the League’s basement dwellers, the Toronto Maple Leafs. But just because Mike Babcock’s team is in last place doesn’t mean they’ll be easy prey. Last night, the Leafs shocked the Philadelphia Flyers with a last-minute goal to give them a 3-2 win. Perhaps the Leafs have, at long last, found their stride. That’s something the Habs once had, long, long ago, but are no longer able to find.