To call it a funk is an insult to funks everywhere.
The Montreal Canadiens have collapsed in the month of December. Long gone are the glorious days of two months ago, when the vaunted Habs were considered Stanley Cup contenders, a piece removed from pure domination. If only Alexander Semin could get going, we said. We were children then!
While the team isn't as bad as it's played lately, it also wasn't as good as it was to start the season. So what gives? What's holding back the Habs?
Let's look at a few of the culprits:
Goaltending: Going after the goalies is one of the easiest things you can do when your team is slumping, and the Habs' goaltending tandem of Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarksi haven't been dropping jaws with their performances lately. Combined, the duo hasn't been able to keep up with the league average in save percentage - in fact, they boast a combined .885 through December, a mark that has them sidled in between Curtis McElhinney and Jonathan Bernier, just inside the top 70 in the league.
So, yes, the goaltending could be better, and it would be if Carey Price wasn't hurt. It's not fair to expect two virtually untested backups with a combined sixty games' experience to come in and replace the greatest goaltender in the world, but it is reasonable to expect an average performance, and that's not what we're seeing here.
Scoring: You know what's great for winning hockey games? Scoring a lot of goals. Ask the Dallas Stars, who are pummelling their opponents night after night and leaving goaltenders shellshocked.
Montreal had that ability early in the season too, but like the goaltending, the goal scoring petered out in the December to Forget. Who stopped scoring?
The Canadiens have managed a meager seventeen goals in the month of December, a span of eleven games that has seen the team fumble to give their goaltenders the support they need. The trio of Paul Byron, Daniel Carr and Brian Flynn account for roughly half of the Canadiens' goal total in the month. Think about that. There's a clear lack of creativity from an offensive standpoint.
Pacioretty and Andrighetto have two goals. Eller, Galchenyuk, Weise and Fleischmann have one each. Defenceman Jeff Petry has one; he's the only defender to score since Nathan Beaulieu on November 20th. Nobody else has a goal in the month of December. Merry Christmas. Shitter's full.
Deployment: Alex Galchenyuk is Montreal's leading scorer through this brutal stretch. He has five points in the month, and his average ice time is 15:06 per game, good for fourteenth on the team. If something seems amiss to you about that, congratulations; you are eminently reasonable.
It's perplexing that Therrien is so reluctant to play his young centre, and even moreso when looking at who is getting ice time ahead of the skilled forward. Dale Weise is only marginally ahead of Galchenyuk at 15:43 per game, but David Desharnais is enjoying a full two minutes more per game at 17:09. Combined, Weise and Desharnais have as many points as Galchenyuk in December.
So you're not far off if you're thinking the coaching has something to do with the difficulties here. Therrien likes to juggle his lines when the going gets tough, and I think that's fine, because the team is still producing chances regularly. The team isn't playing poorly, it's simply not being rewarded. But limiting the ice time of your most productive players in favour of glorified role players like Weise isn't likely to result in a return to steady production.
Forward depth mismanagement
The Canadiens have P-A. Parenteau on the books, Alex Semin on a contract termination, Zack Kassian in limbo, and a gigantic hole on the right wing.
It's impossible to predict how a season will go, but as it stands Marc Bergevin's team has a glaring issue that needs to be fixed. Even with Gallagher back in action, the Canadiens will need reinforcements on the wing.
Bad luck: That streak to start the season surprised a lot of people. While many assumed Montreal had the tools to become a force in the east, nobody was prepared for the team to utterly dominate the opposition in the win column. What we're seeing here is a reversal; a settling of the score, so to speak.
Nobody can buy a goal. Injuries abound. The goalies aren't making the big saves. No line combination has chemistry. The powerplay has been silent. Montreal is consistently outplaying the opposition, but always seems to find a way to lose - a hot goaltender, a disheartening goal or a bad penalty turns the game for the worse.
But you know what? Sometimes, that's the way hockey goes. The question is, how long does this last?
Because if it's going to be another month, it might as well be the whole season.