What the Puck: The Canadiens didn t come to play this week

What the Puck: The Canadiens didn t come to play this week
That’s the bad news. The even worse news is that many of us think that what you’re seeing right now is, in fact, the real Habs. Or rather, what you’re seeing is the Canadiens in the second half of the National Hockey League season, when the good teams step it up and the middling teams have trouble keeping up.

Before you start, let me cut you off at the pass. I am well aware that this Canadiens team has performed way better than expected. Most of us thought they’d be basement dwellers, right in the thick of the lose-for-Hughes sweepstakes . Instead they’ve competed on most nights of the first half of the season.

Blues’ Sammy Blais beats Canadiens goaltender Carey Price on a breakaway during third period Thursday night in St. Louis. Billy Hurst / Associated Press

But this week confirms what I’ve thought since Game 1 — that when the going gets tough, this small not-so-talented Habs squad is going to find it tougher and tougher to compete and the result is they’re going to end up just short of making it into the playoffs. And that’s not a good scenario. That means no playoffs and nothing resembling a good draft pick.

Did you see that ? What an embarrassment on every level. The only Habs who shouldn’t be ashamed of themselves after that game are Kenny Agostino, Michael Chaput and Nicolas Deslauriers. In fact, Deslauriers had a monster game. But when your fourth line is your best line, you’re talking about a terrible game for the team.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (52) checks Montreal Canadiens left wing Jonathan Drouin (92) to the ice in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Detroit. Paul Sancya / AP

We’ve been talking all week about how Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin are skating in circles and once again the two guys who’re supposed to be leading the Habs charge had a horrific night. At least Domi is trying. Drouin reminds me of Alex Kovalev and I’m talking about Kovalev’s worst qualities. Drouin is a first-class floater and former Hab Georges Laraque was 110-per-cent right on 91.9 FM Friday morning — Drouin has no heart. Yes, he has enormous talent but hockey is a team sport and you don’t go anywhere with talent alone.

Drouin has heard the criticism and he doesn’t seem to care. He was busy making excuses this week rather than admitting that he has to be better. This is a guy who’s scored four goals since Dec. 1 and keep in mind that he adds nothing to the equation other than offence since it appears back-checking is beneath his dignity.

This nightmare of a week began Saturday night when the Habs players failed to show up for their bout versus the Nashville Predators . After being outclassed on every level by the Preds and losing 4-1, captain Shea Weber lamely said, “We weren’t ready.” What’s up with that? On Monday, Les Boys dropped another one, in one of the most boring games of the season. The Wild, by the way, were almost as bad as the Habs. This was supposed to be the game where the Canadiens were going to exact revenge for the 7-1 drubbing they endured at the hands of the Wild on Dec. 11. I guess the Habs forgot about that.

Canadiens left wing Paul Byron crashes face first in to the boards after attempting a big hit on Minnesota Wild defenceman Greg Pateryn during NHL action in Montreal on Monday January 7, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Then came their one win of the week , just managing to get by the lowly Detroit Red Wings 3-2, in an effort that was far from inspiring. Up next was Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

In the middle of all this, a smiling GM Marc Bergevin turned up for his mid-season meet-and-greet with the local hockey scribes and pretty well everyone bought into the GM’s spin that all is well in Habsland. Yes, it’s way better than last season but this week underlines that the Canadiens remain far from an elite outfit.

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin speaks to the media Monday. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Oh my, but how the bar has been lowered in Montreal hockey. Yes this year’s Habs are better than last year’s sad-sack edition, but there’s still a long hard road ahead to turn this group into a contender of a team. Yes, there are some good prospects in the pipeline, but keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that junior success automatically translates into NHL success. Also by the time those kids reach maturity in the big league, Carey Price and Shea Weber are going to be one step away from retirement. So there are no guarantees of anything.
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