The Basement Bowl took place on Monday night in Arizona, pitting the Montreal Canadiens against the Arizona Coyotes for the pole position in the Shane Wright sweepstakes. It was a game that most expected to be terrible, but few believed would be in such a one-sided manner. It proved quite conclusively that the Habs are the worst of the two teams, and thus the presumptive frontrunners in the draft lottery.
It also proved that Dominique Ducharme is completely out of his depth.
Put aside the structural issues in Montreal’s game, which are numerous. Put aside the anemic power play — they were one-for-three on the night, but looked atrocious for most of their time on ice. Put aside their record, which may see them end the season as the worst team in franchise history. Many of these at least have the excuse, however ineffective, of all the injury and COVID-related absences they’ve had to deal with this year.
What cannot be excused is Ducharme benching Cayden Primeau before the third period of a 4-2 game.
Dominique Ducharme says he changed goalies after the second period to try and change the momentum of the game. Without really blaming Primeau, he noted the Coyotes capitalized on their chances. Then he got on a bus to fly to Dallas, where the Canadiens play tomorrow.— Arpon Basu (@ArponBasu) January 18, 2022
I doubt anyone would begrudge Ducharme a goaltender change if the four goals had all come in the first period. Doing it in the third as some desperate grasp at momentum is a completely different thing, and will be much more effective as a blow to Primeau’s confidence than what Ducharme intended.
Though he didn’t necessarily blame Primeau after the game for the score being what it was, the message it sends is that he felt 20 minutes of Samuel Montembeault somehow gave them a better chance to win. Given that at least two of the four goals were nowhere near Primeau’s fault, I don’t see how the decision was remotely fair to him, or how it would magically spark his offence that was being thoroughly out-chanced through the first 20 minutes.
Maybe Ducharme shouldn’t have broken up his best line from the team’s previous game. Maybe the fact that expected goals-for favoured the Coyotes in every period despite shots being roughly even should have told him to attack differently. And maybe, just maybe, he should have adjusted his defensive structure to avoid allowing high-danger chances like this:
Case in point: Why is there no switch here? Anderson is fast and all but Dvorak has a much better chance of making a play on the puck carrier.— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) January 17, 2022
Just letting them skate around untouched. https://t.co/46IRGX2Bzs pic.twitter.com/XdY1IoVEXu
We hear the same line constantly from the players and Ducharme himself, that they have a system and that they just need to be better. That system is what put them down 4-2, as they were simply giving up more quality chances than they created for themselves. That the coach chose a goalie change as his last ditch effort shows he has no idea how to fix what actually ails the Canadiens.
It has been downright hard to watch this happen against better teams, but to see this against the only team near the level of awful that Montreal has been this season is inexcusable. Losing games is fine at this stage, but you can do that without yanking a young goaltender as some Hail Mary attempt to win the basement bowl.
Anyways, click the play button below to listen to your Bottom Six Minutes, and stay tuned for the next episode after tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars.