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Five Questions with Habs Eyes on the Prize

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This was done last night prior to the Habs firing Claude Julien. The prospect of firing him was on the table at that point.

Montreal Canadiens v Ottawa Senators Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

1. I follow a lot of Habs fans on Twitter and have noticed they’ve gone from extreme highs to extreme lows. Are the Habs as poor as their recent play or is this just a PDO swing?

The recent play has certainly been poor. There are rarely even flashes of the prolific offensive team from the first 10 games of the season, when the club was averaging nearly five goals per contest. That number was always going to drop, but no one would have expected a team with four competent lines to suddenly stop generating scoring chances altogether. The talent is still there of course, but it hasn’t been featuring in this recent stretch of games.

2. It is obvious that Joel Bouchard is being groomed to be the next Habs coach. Would you bring him in for the rest of the season or tough it out and let Laval have him for the rest of the season?

Certainly when comparing the current play of Montreal to the Laval Rocket’s relentless pressure, you wonder how Bouchard would handle the current situation differently than Julien. Bouchard has had a knack for getting the most out of his players, whether that be an ECHL call-up, a career minor-leaguer, a 200-foot player like the recently graduated Jake Evans, or a more offensively inclined prospect like Jesse Ylönen, who looks like the next pro prospect who could make an impact in Montreal.

Marc Bergevin has been quite loyal — or maybe just stubborn — when it comes to head coaches in the organization (which Jets fans can surely relate to). Michel Therrien lasted well beyond his best-before date before Julien was brought in, and the two coaches have been the only ones behind the bench in Bergevin’s 10-year tenure. Even in the AHL he stuck with Sylvain Lefebvre who had neither a winning record nor any success in developing prospects. History suggests that the GM will be patient with his NHL coach, but after the off-season Bergevin had to bring in the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, and Jake Allen, the leash may be a little shorter with a realistic shot at the Stanley Cup.

3. The Habs special teams have been really bad this year and frankly for a few years. Is there any specific change they need to make to fix this or just blow it up?

Both special-teams units tend to be fairly static. Players post up in the middle of the ice on the penalty kill and around the perimeter on the power play. The plan is to close off passing lanes while short-handed and force pucks through them while up a man, but with no movement, neither one is particularly effective. Like the general play in this difficult stretch, the Habs need to be more assertive, more creative, and more determined to make things happen rather than just hoping they do.

4. Josh Anderson has been a revelation for the Habs. Was he worth the cost of Max Domi?

Anderson has emerged as a proper power forward, with the speed to make that vintage image of the net-charging big man work in the modern game. Even during the Canadiens’ 2-4-2 run in February, he’s often been the most noticeable forward with several chances per game.

Considering that the Canadiens had three centres outperform Domi in the playoffs, it wouldn’t have made sense to re-sign him to be the team’s number-four option down the middle. A top-six winger, which the team was missing to complement those centres, was well worth the price of Domi and the third-round pick the Canadiens paid.

5. The Habs made moves this year to promote rest. Would you say those moves have benefitted the team overall?

Well it’s not exactly leading to results as we head into the middle of the season.... But from a conditioning standpoint, being able to fairly evenly distribute the ice time among four lines and three defence pairings should be lessening the toll on the team’s best players. Fatigue hasn’t been the issue this month, and as this compressed schedule plays out those limited minutes across the board should be to their benefit.

Having said that, it’s possible that all the rotation of players in and out of the lineup to give everyone a shot is messing with the chemistry the team clearly had in January. Only one line from the start of the season remains intact, and there are definitely some players who aren’t on the same page. It’s the other side of the coin when you have more than 18 NHL-calibre skaters on the roster.

Bonus Question!

6. Finally, are you still laughing at the Vancouver Canucks for letting Tyler Toffoli walk so they could retain Jake Virtanen?

Just imagine how much better the Canucks would look with Toffoli’s 12 goals added to their season totals. It was a pretty surprising decision both from the Canucks to let him walk away, but also from Toffoli himself because free agents rarely choose to sign in Montreal. His addition makes the Habs complete from top to bottom, and he’s been a revelation so far.