The Quick, Painful Death of Bergevin’s Canadiens
By Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page NHL Expert
Marc Bergevin promised a five-year plan when he came to power. Now in his sixth year, with his team off to its worst start since the 1941-42 season, his fate seems tenuous as Les Canadiens return home to Montreal after a brutal west coast road trip.
The Habs fell 5-2 at San Jose, then 5-1 in LA, before a delivering a dumpster fire performance in Anaheim with a 6-2 shellacking at the hands of a depleted Ducks roster.
After keeping it close in LA at 1-1, the Kings rattled off four unanswered goals at Staples Center Wednesday. Friday night, the Canadiens came into Honda Center to face a Ducks team that would lose its number one defenseman, Cam Fowler, in the first period. Already playing without Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Eaves, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and backup goalie Ryan Miller, the Ducks were ripe for the plucking.
Montreal found itself down 3-0 after one, then came alive for 20 minutes, shelling goalie John Gibson with 30 shots in the second period alone, a new Ducks record (Gibson’s 28 saves in one period is also a new record). At 3-2 entering the third period, the Habs failed to follow through and the Ducks tallied three times in a span of one minute, 37 seconds.
Bergevin watched a character guy and reliable scorer, Alex Radulov, walk to Dallas in free agency over the summer. The loss of the jam that the Russian brought is glaring. Montreal’s offense has little bite, its skills are present but invisible at this moment, the production is awful, with only 13 goals scored in eight games.
A variety of players are responsible.
First, coach Claude Julien’s experiment, that being the move of newly-acquired Jonathan Drouin to center from his usual left wing has failed to paper over the team’s deficiencies.
On June 15, Bergevin traded for Drouin in exchange for Tampa’s second- and sixth-round 2018 picks plus 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who Bergevin drafted 9th overall in 2016. Thursday night, Sergachev supplied both Tampa goals in a 2-0 win at Columbus. That’s got to sting. Meanwhile, Drouin (8GP: 2-3-5) looks lost trying to be a number one center.
The middle is as important a position as ever, considering the speed and youth dominating the NHL these days. The Canadiens are woefully deficient at in the middle, and second line pivot Thomas Plekanac, who has scored 20+ goals seven times, has but one, with (count ‘em!) no assists.
Other than captain Max Pacioretty (8GP: 1-0-1), no player has felt the heat more than Alex Galchenyuk, the third overall selection in the 2012 draft. He scored 30 and 20 goals in 2015-16 and 2014-15, respectively, but has only one thus far. Coach Claude Julien has tried waking him up, then propping him up, assigning the 23-year-old to spots up and down the lineup, praying for results.
Right wing Andrew Shaw has proven to be good for nothing other than losing his head, which carries a particular sting in the absence of a Radulov, a similarly physical forward. Shaw has been so poor in Montreal that one must wonder whether he was simply in the right place at the right time with the Blackhawks.
Shaw was acquired from Chicago in exchange for two second round draft picks and went on to score an underwhelming twelve goals last season. He’s outdone himself thus far, with one assist in eight games. Friday night, he did little other than take runs at the opposition, including inexplicably tackling Nick Ritchie in the goal crease, drawing a double minor. Later, after running around not unlike a chicken with his head cut off for the next 40 minutes or so, he took three punches to the face from Kevin Bieksa, then responded by going ape and ended his night by earning a ten-minute misconduct penalty.
All this for a $3.9M cap hit.
Thursday, Pacioretty put himself atop the blame list.
“How am I going to tell my teammates that we’ve got to be better when I’m the worst one on the ice?” Pacioretty wondered aloud a day after a 5-1 loss at LA. “That’s what keeps (me) up at night.”
His performance has been poor, with only one goal thus far. But he does have heart.
“No one’s going to get me or the team out of this other than our ourselves,” Pacioretty said as he threw himself on his sword while offering a wake up call to his teammates.
THIS FALL, THE FALL WILL BE THE GM’S
A defense that has been stout through Bergevin’s reign looks poor now.
Shea Weber the only bright spot on a defense that bid farewell to Andrei Markov (now in the KHL), and now sees rookie Victor Mete trying to form a pair with Weber. It’s not working.
Markov, at 38, joined the KHL but one has to wonder whether Bergevin cut bait a little too soon. Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner have seen better days, and Friday in Anaheim they were beaten regularly by depth guys such as Derek Grant, Dennis Rasmussen and Chris Wagner. In the case of Grant, his first two NHL goals (after 93 games) came with Alzner on the ice, one with both he and Petry on the ice. Aside from the goals, Petry and Alzner lost battle after battle to Anaheim’s depth players trying desperately (and successfully) to paper over the loss of an array of injured Ducks.
It’s not good anywhere you look in Montreal, and making matters worse, the highest-paid goaltender in NHL history has gotten only spotty support from his defense. What’s more, Carey Price himself is being beaten on shots he would normally stop, being faked by passes he would usually track. His well-deserved numbers are atrocious (3.95GAA; .881SV%), and his lousy performance has sunk his club as the Habs are ranked 30th in the league (only Arizona is worse).
Pacioretty does the right thing by taking the fall. But the real fall may be Bergevin’s.
With Matt Duchene waiting for a trade out of Colorado and any number of Habs failing to produce, it stands to reason that with three days off before three games at Bell Centre, Bergevin had better make a decision or two before he no longer has the power to decide.