The Montreal Canadiens, from the head coach right on down, have their heads spinning right now trying to figure out what on earth has happened.
How did a team expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup become such a shell of its former self? One that has no confidence, cohesion, or co-anything right now, and is questioning every little thing they do on the ice?
It's not as if this has happened overnight, and if Saturday night's 2-1 loss to the Flyers had come after three wins in a row, it would have been easy to be pleased with the effort because aside from the second period, the Habs played pretty decent. Not great, but decent.
Except that second period was horrendous, and it's become a recurring theme this season that the Canadiens take at least one, if not two periods off per game. Earlier in the year they were able to get away with it, as they did in Philadelphia in the third game of the season.
But no longer.
"It’s been a problem from early in the season," said Habs captain Saku Koivu, one of the only players to give it everything on every shift in this game. "We won some games, but it was only a couple of times that we really played 60 minutes. I mean more the defensive effort and playing without big mistakes in our own zone. Our skills haven’t gone anywhere so we have to believe we can create some offence. But right now we really have to forget that part and concentrate on team defence and making sure the puck gets out of our zone."
It's a simple concept really, one that everyone in the Habs room knows because they've heard it repeated to death over this stretch of four losses in five games, and here it is: you can't score when the puck is in your end.
The Canadiens repeatedly get caught trying to make a pass that is too cute coming out of the zone. A few of those invariably become turnovers that, even if they don't wind up in your own net, force you to play without the puck for a while longer.
Here's how Josh Gorges sums it up:
"When you don’t get the puck out and you lose a battle, you spend an extra 30 seconds in your zone. By the time you get it out, you don’t even have enough energy to go in on the offence. You just dump it in and change and they get the puck back. So we’re killing ourselves and not using our assets by not winning the battles down low in our end."
Pretty basic stuff, no? But for some reason, these guys aren't getting it, and head coach Guy Carbonneau is starting to get worried. And more importantly, he's getting very annoyed.
"I think we’re relying too much on what we did last year, both as a team and as individual players," he said. "We did some nice things last year, but last year is last year. When you start a new season you don’t start with 20 goals or 13 assists or 40 assists, you start at zero. You have to work for those points, and right now we have guys who think they’re working, but they’re not working."
Just after saying that, though, Carbonneau referred to how his team had to find the "tempo from last year," and earlier he referre tohow his team has proven it can bounce back from tough stretches.
So maybe his players aren't the only ones guilty of using last season's tremendous record as a launching point.