Habs 9-2 Beating by Caps Highlights New Regime’s Struggles in Montreal HOCKEY CRUNCH by Jamie Gilcig

DECEMBER 31, 2022 – This is the last Hockey Crunch for the year. As some of our viewers know yours truly was the first NHL Analytics hire, all the way back in 1995 for the Habs.

While things have come a long way since I used an old Sony VHS deck with a shuttle (the vcr actually caught on fire at one point from the heavy workload) and a 486 computer, the game has not.

The styles have changed, but ultimately the game is the same. Score more goals than your opponent.

What has changed is a dilution of the league. Too many teams, not enough good players to fill them. Add in this speeded up pinball styles, (which has led to far too many injuries) and these horrible composite sticks (I counted 4 broken sticks for the Habs tonight) and well frankly, for this old man, it’s hard to watch some games.

Why was Jake Allen left out for all nine goals tonight? I like Jake. Not sure he deserved that.

So let’s break down the team from last year to this year. Let’s give out report cards, and we’ll start at the top.

Jeff Gorton & Kent Hughes. Well, it’s really hard to do worse than Marc Bergevin did so the boys get a free pass this year. However as experienced as Gorton is there have been some strange decisions.

None of the anchor contracts were traded away. And no, Weber wasn’t an anchor contract as he was going to be on LTIR and not count on the cap. Same for Price. The move for Monahan was a solid move, and should yield a nice return, but drafting Slavkovsky follows the Gorton pattern of failed 1st round picks. Lafreniere (who’s rumoured to be coming to Montreal) and Kaako have not delivered based on where they were drafted. That’s a talent evaluation concern, especially in the cap age. Slafkovsky just doesn’t skate strongly enough at this stage, and doesn’t have the experience or ability to make up for it. A year in the AHL was needed for this young man in this writer’s opinion.

While I totally agreed with not drafting that weirdo that Seattle ended up with, the team missed out on another anchor D man, and you can’t have enough, especially if you think Jordan Harris has a future as a top 4 D on a contending team. (he doesn’t)

The Dach trade? Well I understand the argument, but are Dach’s numbers really much better than Jo’s a few years ago? Does he play a physical game? Not really. If the Habs weren’t tanking this year Josh Anderson would look better with Caulfield and Suzuki. Will Dach ever figure out how to play Centre well? Not sure.

The NHL season usually starts soft and tightens up in thirds before cranking it up for the playoffs. Montreal got some breaks at the beginning of the season, especially while they were healthy.

My worst take was the resigning of Jake Allen instead of trading him at his peak value. Unless there was no action on him or they though the Habs were going to compete for a playoff spot, signing him for two years was weak cap management.

Grade for Gorton and Hughes. C

Coach Martin St. Louis. I like Marty. I kinda liked him as a player, but as a coach? Could you imagine the NY Yankees giving a player from another franchise their head coaching gig because he’s a nice guy and from NY? I’m sure he knows the game, but being a good player and good coach are two very very different things. Last season he had veteran and savvy coach Luke Richardson to support him. His cast this year…not so much.

Instead of bringing in an experienced coach to replace Luke, they brought in Stephane Robidas. Burrows and Letkowski have very little NHL or even AHL coaching experience.

And it shows in the teams play. The D is brutal. The passing, zone breakouts, and turnovers are putrid. The specialty teams are a hot mess. While the expectations were low this year, this writer expected lots of ice time for the young players and highlighting the tradeable veterans. Losing 4-3 is much different than 7-2 or 9-2.

What you don’t want if you’re playing young players is to teach them to lose. Les boys look devastated tonight during the 3rd period on the bench. I feel bad for most of them who are trying their best, but are in a hopeless position.

As for St. Louis. Hope he’s a quick learner as Hab fans will not put up with another sloppy season. His grace period ends before this season is over. He has to show growth as a coach.

Grade C-.

Top Six. Suzuki, Caulfield, Dach, Monahan, Anderson, and Hoffman. This isn’t the worst squad in the NHL. Until Monahan went down the team was motoring forward. After Monahan went down, and the impact of the injuries to Savard and Matheson on D, the team lost its air. Again, it’s more pressure on the forwards when the D struggles in their own end and in moving the puck forward.

Grade B

Bottom Six. Mostly a hot mess. Dadonov looks like he’s concussed most games. Stumpy Gallagher looks like the SPCA stepped in to prevent the putting out of a horse’s misery. Joel Armia doesn’t look like he wants to be in the ice. Evans and Pezzetta are doing their best, but they need help.

Grade C-

Top 4 D. Guhle, Edmonson, Matheson, and Savard. When 3 of your 4 top D are out it’s hard to blame their replacements. The good thing it it makes it easier to evaluate the younguns. I don’t get what management sees in Jordan Harris? I really don’t. He’s small. Wasn’t a point a guy D man ever. He’s not a PP QB. Didn’t Montreal learn from playing Victor Mete? The risk to benefit ratio simply isn’t there on this player. At least based on what he’s shown in his playing career.

Arber Xhekaj has had probably the best season for a young hab this season. He’s almost equalled his OHL stats from last year. For a young player to jump from Junior and do that in the NHL is a great sign. He also has the edge and physical game you need. To find a heavyweight who can actually play the game is a find. He might even warrant being a top 4 D. and not a bottom pairing enforcer.

Kaiden Guhle is eating up minutes and also doing really well. I have high hopes for this young man.

Grade INCOMPLETE simply because most of the top 4 have been hurt. Poor David Savard was doing really well and impressed me before his injury.

Goalies: Started out great. Probably why the team has so many wins. At this point it’s time to see what Montembeault can do. It’s sink or swim time. It’s not like he can hurt the team this season, but letting poor Jake Allen play a heavy load and take beatings like tonight simply isn’t right. Frankly considering the injuries to the D and all those minutes for Jordan Harris, both goalies have done pretty well.

Grade C

The future is a bit brighter for the Habs. The season is turning into a disappointment however because it doesn’t feel like there is much forward progress. Management, coaching, and the on ice product simply needs to be better.

Team Grade C-


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