Which Montreal Canadiens team is the real Montreal Canadiens?
Is it the team that pulled off dominant 4-1 and 2-0 wins over the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins? Or is it the flat-footed no-show that laid goose eggs in shutout losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers?
The Habs are currently standing at the top of the NHL in first place, so it's hard to be disappointed with the 16-6-1 record they've amassed thus far.
However, in their six regulation losses this season, your Montreal Canadiens have been out-scored 30-3 and shutout in four of those games.
Let that sink in.
When the Habs lose, they really lose. It's concerning. Who's to blame? Coaching? Leadership? Goaltending? Is it a matter of poor preparation, fatigue, or underestimating their opponents? I sure don't have the answer, but someone in the organization is going to have to figure it out before the league's best ship starts to sink.
The New York Rangers dominated the Habs in every aspect of the game tonight. The only positive for Montreal was a mere entertainment factor as Brandon Prust spilled King Henrik with a nudge in open ice. Lundqvist was well out of his net and you could argue that he sold the hit.
Defenseman Kevin Klein came to Henrik Lundqvist's defense and we got to enjoy watching Prust's fists pound Klein's helmet before the refs stepped in to end the sideshow.
The game was tilted in New York's favor most of the night with the Canadiens failing to sustain any pressure in the offensive zone. Even the Habs lone powerplay opportunity was littered with odd-man rushes by the Rangers.
P.K. Subban and Alex Galchenyuk were quiet. These are the kids you expect to shine even in lopsided losses. Max Pacioretty was invisible but at least his linemate David Desharnais made some noise with a few shifty plays. But there's only so much the Canadiens' tiny pivot can do without the help of big Max.
It's time to stop icing seven defensemen. The strategy worked for a while when Nathan Beaulieu was involved because his skating and passing skills are optimal in the (not so) new NHL. Bryan Allen's contributions may have been serviceable pre-lockout, but they're not going to take the Canadiens to the next level today.
New York peppered Dustin Tokarski with 34 shots while Lundqvist turned aside 21 easy pucks for his fourth shutout of the season. You can't blame Tokarski on this one. The team didn't show up in front of him and they owe him an apology. With back-to-back games against Buffalo on Friday and Saturday next week, they'll likely get a chance to make it up to him.
Speaking of Buffalo, Montreal has four nights without a game until tunneling their way through the snow in upstate New York to visit the Sabres. They have plenty to ponder until then:
How do they fix a powerplay that has been pitiful on the road and against teams that are not the Bruins? Can they score first more consistently? Can they put together a competitive fourth line without Michael Bournival at their disposal? Can they settle on their top six defensemen, even if it means hurting a veteran or two's feelings? Is it time to call up a body from Hamilton to fill out the bottom six?
Drayson Bowman clearly isn't Michel Therrien's choice. So why not Charles Hudon? The Alma, Quebec native is tied for first among AHL rookies with 18 points on the season. His six goals and 12 assists also leads all Hamilton Bulldogs in points, and ranks fifth in the entire American Hockey League.
The kid deserves a shot. At least until Bournival is ready to go.
It's not the end of the world. The Canadiens will wake up still in first place tomorrow morning. But maybe, just maybe, it's time to stop putting these losses behind them. Forgetting about the losses only increases the risk of repeating the errors that led up to them. The team needs to take a deep look at the one-sided losses and determine how to remain competitive.
We're not asking for an 82-and-0 season. Just accountability.