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Slow start leads to forgettable season for Habs

Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 10:47 AM / Season in Review

By Arpon Basu - Managing Editor

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Slow start leads to forgettable season for Habs
Slow start leads to forgettable season for the Canadiens in 2011-12.
What happened?


LW Max Pacioretty
GOALS: 33 | ASST: 32 | PTS: 65
SOG: 286 | +/-: 2
G Carey Price
RECORD: 26-28-11
GAA: 2.43 | SVP: 0.916
D Alexei Emelin
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7
SOG: 62 | +/-: -18
Carey Price
The Canadiens had the third-most power plays against (301) yet finished second in penalty killing (88.4 percent).

What didn't? The Canadiens began the season expecting top defenseman Andrei Markov to come back from knee surgery sometime in October. Then it was November. And then December. By the time he finally returned in Vancouver, it was March 10 and Montreal was out of playoff contention. In the meantime, the Canadiens got off to their worst start to a season in 70 years, first costing assistant coach Perry Pearn his job, and ultimately that of head coach Jacques Martin as well, with both of them fired on a game day. Finally, GM Pierre Gauthier was shown the door just before the end of the season. The power play, a traditional strength of the Canadiens, became their biggest weakness and was a major factor in why Montreal's winning percentage in one-goal games was just .306, lowest in the League. The Canadiens also developed an extremely bad habit of blowing leads, winning just 71 percent of the games they led after two periods, the third-lowest percentage in the NHL. Markov was not the only injury, either, as the Habs led the League in man games lost. Captain Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche, Ryan White, Mike Blunden, Petteri Nokelainen, Raphael Diaz and Chris Campoli all missed significant time with injuries. The Canadiens simply don't have the depth to withstand so many casualties.

How to fix it?

In spite of their lowest point total since the 70-point campaign of 2000-01, the Canadiens are not as far away from being competitive as their 28th-place finish might suggest. Most of Montreal's top players are not yet 30 years old, while P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty and Carey Price – the team's top defenseman, top forward and top goalie – have not even celebrated their 25th birthday. The Canadiens top four on defense for next season looks to be solid with Subban, Markov, Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin, and Montreal has some promising prospects on the blue line on their way in Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu. The goaltending shouldn't be a concern, though Price needs a new contract, while the Canadiens may want to seek some secondary scoring up front in free agency. The most intriguing part of the offseason will obviously surround owner Geoff Molson's search for a new general manager, a topic that is already filling tons of air time on sports call-in shows in Montreal. Ultimately, the job of fixing this will fall on the chosen candidate's shoulders, but at least he'll have some interesting pieces to work with.

Three reasons for hope:

1. The continued development of players like Subban (23 years old), Pacioretty (23), Price (24), Emelin (25), Diaz (26), Louis Leblanc (21), Lars Eller (22) and David Desharnais (25) should make the Canadiens a better team even if no new additions are made. You could even add the name of the rejuvenated Erik Cole to the list after setting a new career high in goals with a team-high 35 in his first season in Montreal at age 33.

2. The Habs have not picked any higher than fifth overall since 1980, when they passed over Denis Savard to select Doug Wickenheiser with the top pick in the draft. The Canadiens are assured of picking no worse than fourth this year and they have the third-best shot at the top pick overall, giving them the opportunity to land a potential franchise player like consensus No. 1 Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting or the big center the team has lacked for years, Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts.

3. Aside from Beaulieu, Tinordi and a handful of intriguing forwards, the Canadiens' cupboard of prospects is rather bare after years of trading away draft picks at the deadline to improve the club for the playoffs. Montreal has not made a selection in both the first and second rounds of the draft since 2007, and in each of the past two years the Canadiens did not make their second pick in the draft until Round 4. The opposite trade deadline scenario happened this year, and as a result Montreal has two second round picks in the 2012 Entry Draft and three second rounders in 2013, which gives amateur scouting director Trevor Timmins a full deck to play with to add some much-needed depth to the Habs' farm system. On the other hand, all those extra picks could also be used as trade bait by the new general manager if he wants to make a big splash early in his tenure.

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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