For longtime Habs haters, to those who shout out typical Montreal when a penalty call doesnt go their way against the Montreal Canadiens, these should be good days.The Habs are mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They canned an assistant coach just hours before the start of a game in an ultimate panic move during the seasons first month. They fired a head coach that had taken them to the conference finals just two years ago. Theyve become a mere shell of their once-and-former greatness on the ice.Its only a matter of time before general manager Pierre Gautier is in the crosshairs himself after the horrendous contract given to the gimpy Andrei Markov and the onerous contract adopted when dealing for Tomas Kaberle. Sure, Kaberle has given them some short-term boost, but that deal with two more years at 4 million per season will end up handcuffing the Habs in the end.So its well-established what a catastrophe the Canadiens have become on ice this year.But whats really troubling about the proud franchise are the public stances that the influential Habs are not taking. There have been several instances where the Canadiens could have used their clout and influence to keep things under control in Montreal, and instead theyve simply let things spin away from them.The Canadiens could have stepped in and quieted the fervor that led to an overflow of 911 calls and a farcical public investigation into Zdeno Chara last year. But instead they let their hockey-as-religion fandom become a frenzied laughingstock. A few well-placed words would have calmed things down rather than incited them particularly when it was clear that Max Pacioretty was going to be perfectly okay.Once again it now appears the Habs are allowing and even condoning another public boondoggle with the biased sentiment against interim coach Randy Cunneyworth and English-speaking coaches everywhere.Lets forget about the fact Montreal has jettisoned French-speaking coaches like Claude Julien and Guy Carbonneau in the past, and has painted itself into the current 1-3-1 trap thats bogged them down. Perhaps this is all just a ruse to grease the skids for Patrick Roy to take over next season.But its all been done in such a clumsy and slipshod manner that it seems very unbecoming of a Canadiens franchise that does everything with class, style and panache. The Habs are allowing usage of the Bell Centre building for a language rally, and thats about as clear an endorsement as youll get for the frivolous language argument taking place in Montreal right now.Its also part of the reason Montreal is such a mess right now.Peripheral, non-sports issues like whether the coach is Anglo or Francophone are taking over the conversation rather than ways to fix a beleaguered, inexperienced defensemen crew.People care more about whether the coachs name is Guy or Pierre than they do about whatever is needed to get the mercurial P.K. Subban back on the right track.The first rule to turning a hockey team around is actually paying attention to details pertinent to the actual hockey team. Everybody knows that hockey is religion in Canada, and Montreal is fanatical breeding ground where Les Habitants seemingly permeate everything.Its almost like the Middle East of hockey in terms of wild-eyed followers, and the team could do plenty to influence those most ardent supporters of the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge. Instead the government, the police, and the rank and file citizens are in accordance with Habs ownership and management in a concert of crazy that keeps tarnishing the teams pristine image over and over again. Cooler heads at the top of these powerful organizations could take action to simmer down the rabid nature of it all, but instead they stoke the flames of controversy and dissent.Montreal is a beautiful city with great, passionate people, but its not all that surprising to know its also a city thats a playoff upset or two away from Habs fans and Montreal hooligans burning police cruisers in the streets. Thats exactly what they did four years ago after beating the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs when the Habs were the No. 1 seed. Thats right . . . the first round.Its time for somebody to grab the city by the scruff and let them know its just a hockey team at the end of the day, and not a political demagogue or religious symbol.Nobody is going to care what language the Habs coach is speaking if they dont start winning some games, and thats really what its all about at the end of the day.Isnt it?
FOXBORO - Dion Lewis was on the practice field for the first time on Thursday afternoon. The running back, who tore his ACL last season then sustained a patella stress fracture over the summer, will now have a maximum of three weeks to work out with the team before the Patriots decide whether to activate him or put him on injured reserve.
Predictably, Bill Belichick was not particularly revealing when asked about Lewis' re-entry.
"Well, he's been out there doing things with the training staff for a long time, so now it's on to the next step," Belichick explained, adding, "Dion works really hard. No one works harder than Dion."
It's a 53-man tie for the title of "Patriot Who Works Hardest" between Lewis and every other player on the roster who's been described as having nobody ahead of him in the "Works Harder" category.
Anyway, Lewis will not be listed on the injury report until he's activated and that would seem an extreme longshot for this week, though the team would have until Saturday to make that move.
So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?
The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.
Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.
In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.
In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.
Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years.
Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them.
That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.
But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.
So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.
A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.
So, what are the Bruins to do right now?
There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.
But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.
That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.
Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.