Most fans will recall all too well the comment Marc Bergevin made back when Michel Therrien was coaching the Habs. Therrien was the man Bergevin wanted to be with in a foxhole; his metaphor for the struggles of those Montreal Canadiens. One can hope that he learned something about staying in such places for too long.
After a second straight loss to the last-place Senators, the Habs are in somewhat of a foxhole yet again, but it is Claude Julien — Therrien’s successor — with whom Bergevin finds himself this time around.
Julien was coaching one of the more exciting teams Montreal has seen in a long while. They were scoring at will, dominating their opponents at five-on-five, and seemed virtually unstoppable. That has completely evaporated, and the team looks like a shell of the group that didn’t lose in regulation until its eighth game.
They seem to have completely changed the way they’re approaching the game, starting with how they generate offence.
At the offensive end, the entire game plan has been inexplicably focused on getting the puck back to the point for long shots. As of late these have been easily predictable, brutally ineffective, and end more often with the thud of the puck against the boards than a shot on goal, let alone a legitimate scoring chance.
In their own zone, defencemen aren’t trying to skate with the puck, and they are often trying long stretch passes or flips into the neutral zone to create breakouts. Players are fleeing the zone ahead of time, taking away outlet passes and often causing the team to get hemmed in their own zone. It’s a far cry from what they were doing at the start of the year.
They haven’t lost any players to injury or COVID, so why they’ve reverted to these tactics seems linked to the mindset that Julien himself said the team needs to do away with: “playing not to lose.” Point shots and dump-out zone exits are examples of playing not to lose, and if anyone is to take responsibility for these passive measures, it has to be the coach.
Then you have some baffling personnel decisions. Tomas Tatar absolutely did not deserve to be benched in the team’s last win over the Leafs before the bye week. By almost all accounts, Phillip Danault’s performance had been the issue on that line, but he scratched Tatar then demotes him to the third line on a seemingly permanent basis.
Joel Edmundson has turned in numerous performances that could warrant a night off, yet Julien only rotates Alexander Romanov, Brett Kulak, and Victor Mete in and out of the lineup. It seems that he has his preferred players, and isn’t willing or able to get creative since the team has entered this slump.
Add all this up and it has led to an extremely disappointing streak, culminating in a paltry two points in two games against the Ottawa Senators, the worst team in the division. If this doesn’t warrant a serious evaluation of the head coach’s job security, I’m not sure what will.
They have replacement options. Dominique Ducharme and Kirk Muller are right there, and many fans have been impressed with what Joël Bouchard has been doing down in Laval. If Julien was going to turn things around, a two-game set against Ottawa should have been the perfect setting, so it’s time to decide if someone else gets their shot.
This is a short season, and there will be no play-in reprieve this time around if the Canadiens finish out of the playoff picture for a fourth year in a row. To be blunt, Marc Bergevin should abandon this new foxhole soon, because the shells are coming much faster than they used to.