No, I'm not talking about Scott Gomez, who looked like he approached Thursday's crucial 5-2 loss to Carolina like it was a big game of shinny. I'm actually not talking about any of the players. I'm talking about the coach, the guy who took a big money contract to be pried out of the general manager's office in sunny Florida and come to Montreal, back to his "first love" of coaching.
Well now, Jacques Martin, you have some coaching to do.
I'm not going to go into the depths of what was wrong with the Canadiens in Raleigh tonight. You're not stupid people, and you know that the team was outworked, outexecuted, outsmarted, outpassed, outchecked, and, worst of all, outcoached.
There's little time to dwell on that, because the task at hand is a great one. To have a team look so completely devoid of any purpose two games in a row against lesser competition with a playoff spot within its grasp means there is a message that is simply not getting through. Either that, or the players are being told to simply take it easy because a spot in the playoffs is just going to be handed to them.
After looking so impressive in handling the Sabres at home Saturday night, that team has disappeared completely. Where did it go? That is an impossible question to answer for any of you or I, because we are not in that room. We don't know these players intimately, even though we like to think we do. No, the man whose job it is to find that answer is Martin, and he better do it in a hurry.
Not because the Canadiens playoff lives will necessarily come down to Saturday night's game against Toronto at the Bell Centre. It still might, it might not, but that's not the point. The point is that the last two games should have been approached by everyone on that team, from the coaches down to the stick boy, like playoff games. Like Game 7's. You win this, you move on, so give it everything.
Some might say that at this time of year, the players shouldn't need the leadership of a strong coach to get up for these types of games. You would be right. I've defended Gomez all season long, insisting that this is the player he is, and if you disregard his salary he's not a bad guy to have on your team. Also, he has a strong recent history of raising his game in the playoffs, with 45 points in his last 42 post-season contests. But Gomez tonight was the epitome of cool, in that aloof, annoying way. Loose on the puck, careless turnovers, unimaginative play, he was just horrid when the Canadiens needed him most. That could be said of a lot of guys tonight, in fact most of the team except the goalie and a couple of defencemen.
So when that's the case, don't you need your high-profile coach to rattle the cage a little? To step in and do some coaching? I'm not saying Martin should have done more than he did in tonight's game, because he did shake up the lines and shorten the bench in an effort to get at least to overtime. But sometime between now and Saturday night, Martin has to find a way to take this suddenly reeling team and turn it around 180 degrees.
Let's just look at the first periods of the last two games as an example of the deep malaise that is now engulfing this team. On Tuesday night, the Canadiens were outshot 15-5 in the first and down 1-0 after 20 minutes. If the league kept track of how often teams touched the puck, it would be documented proof of how embarrassingly bad the Canadiens really were. Tonight, same thing. The disparity in shots was not nearly as flagrant, with the Canes up 10-7, but were it not for Jaroslav Halak bailing out his sleepwalking teammates, that game would have been a rout far earlier. The first period has been an issue all year, the Canadiens have the fifth-worst goal differential over the first 20 minutes in the league at minus-15. But you would have thought that in these two instances, the first period would be a case of a pack of lions being released from their cage. Instead, what we got were little kittens, content to play with a ball of yarn.
Martin has less than 48 hours to figure something out. Anything to get his talented players up to their potential. Because even if the Canadiens qualify for the playoffs Friday with a Rangers loss, there's very little point going into the playoffs like this. The team I saw Saturday night was the one I though could pull off a first-round upset, and then who knows how far momentum and goaltending takes you.
The team I've seen ever since is ripe for a four-game sweep.