A lot of you may be upset with how poorly the Habs played in this loss, how they left their goalie Carey Price to his own devices (again), how they couldn't put together two passes for much of the night, how basic defensive assignments were blown and led to easy goals. That's your right, because as fans you should expect your team give a top effort every night both physically and mentally. That game was one long brain fart for the Habs.
But I'm looking at a bigger picture here, and 15 games into the season the Habs are 7-8-0, one game below .500. Why is that significant? Because it more or less represents the quarter-pole of Montreal's own little mini-season, the one the Canadiens are playing without Andrei Markov on board. Without their own best player, their own version of Ilya Kovalchuk.
With all the changes made to this team and with the very few minutes that team has actually had its best player this season, I think it's easy to forget just how important Markov is to Montreal's chances for success. We've seen it in the past, and we're seeing it now.
For the Canadiens to be sitting with seven wins after 15 games is nothing to be proud of, but it is easily explained, at least. Using injuries as an excuse is the lamest of the lame, but this is not just any injury. How far would the Capitals go without Alex Ovechkin for four months? You might laugh at the comparison, but it's not so laughable because it's clear Markov is the most irreplaceable part the Canadiens have.
So, while we wait for his return, we will have to tolerate horrendous efforts like the one Tuesday night. If it weren't for the Thrashers gift-wrapping two goals for the Canadiens it would have looked a lot worse than it did.
Jacques Martin and Perry Pearn were forced to overtax their defence due to the absence of Hal Gill, whose sudden leg injury that looks like it will cost him weeks may show the fans that have begun booing him at the Bell Centre what his value to the team actually is. Because like it or not, in Markov's absence, Gill is a top-four defenceman on this team, and the Habs could not afford to lose anyone else on the blueline right now.
Among the forwards, the usually effective Glen Metropolit line was pretty quiet against Atlanta, meaning the only unit that actually worked was once again the top line of Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, combining for three goals on 12 shots. The second unit centred by Tomas Plekanec had its moments, but I feel Maxim Lapierre is not nearly as effective as a winger as he was last year at centre. Guillaume Latendresse had a decent up front, generating a handful of chances, but he finished the game with one hit. One. That can't happen for him on any night, because even if the puck isn't going in, laying the body is something he can and should generate every single game.
I don't blame Martin for keeping the stacked top line together simply becayse it's the only thing working on a consistent basis, but if I might make a suggestion, I would split up Gomez from his wingers and give them to Plekanec. I feel the guy deserves it because he's been Montreal's best centre in terms of consistency and effort. How else do you explain him being tied for the team lead in scoring despite having a revolving door of ineffective wingers playing around him? Don't any of you wonder what he might do with Gionta and Cammalleri playing alongside him? I do. Then I would flank Gomez with Latendresse and Andrei Kostitsyn, who responded to the challenge thrown at him by Martin by showing more of the "intensity and determination" the coach is looking for from him, as evidenced by his four hits on the night. Keep the Metro line intact and throw Lapierre back at centre on the fourth line by moving Kyle Chipchura to the wing.
This is a combination that hasn't really gotten a shot all season and I still feel like the top two lines represent scoring threats under this scenario, assuming Kostitsyn and Latendresse bring it on a regular basis. I also feel Gomez would be a beneficial partner for the youngsters because of his playmaking abilities.
Just a suggestion. What do you think?
Plus, in case any of you don't know what I'm talking about with the headline, here's the reference: