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Blues are clicking, Habs are missing -- a lot

by Jeremy Roenick /
NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick will be penning a weekly blog for this season.

Look for new entries from, "World According to JR," every Wednesday. Roenick will offer sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

On my mind this week is a Western Conference team on the rise and an Eastern Conference team that appears to be on the cliff, in danger of falling over. I'm talking about the Blues and the Canadiens. You should read on to find out why:

What's clicking?

Ken Hitchcock came into the perfect scenario in St. Louis, with his style matching the makeup of the Blues. This team doesn't have any superstars, so they all listen, are very attentive and are clearly responding very well to Hitchcock's hard style of coaching.

Alexander Steen
Left Wing - STL
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 24
SOG: 113 | +/-: 20
The Blues the last five years have been built on speed and defensive mentalities. They don't have any big goal scorers, but they have guys like Alexander Steen, David Backes and David Perron, among others -- and these are all good two-way players, which is perfect for Hitchcock. The trade they made last year in getting Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk really bolstered this team to have more of an all-round competitive aspect to it. That also has helped Hitchcock.

I think they're one of the hardest working teams in the League for the way they attack the puck and play the puck with so much aggression. Hitchcock's defensive mentality, in-your-face, hard-work mentality also works well with the makeup of the players who already were on the team when he got there in early November.

It was like a match made in heaven for Hitchcock and the St. Louis Blues, and that's why they've been so successful.

What also matters is that goalie Jaroslav Halak has been a whole lot better since Brian Elliott has been on this major tear. You love to see that goaltender competition, two guys fighting for the No. 1 job. That always brings out great numbers in goaltenders. The same thing happened in Minnesota, and now it's happening in St. Louis.So, I tip my hat to Hitchcock and the Blues for the massive turnaround they've made in the last month and a half. They've put themselves in the top four teams in the West and are looking to put themselves in the top two or three teams in the League.

What's missing?

With injuries and a shortage of talent, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier has to take a big part of the responsibility for the way the team is struggling. Defenseman Andrei Markov being injured for the last couple of seasons is one of the biggest blows that any team has had in terms of injuries in the last two or three years. He's such an important part of their team. But it's kind of crazy to watch this team struggle when they have a goalie as good as Carey Price. That tells me they have too many weak points.

The Canadiens don't have a playmaker every night that sets up their goal scorers, among them Michael Cammalleri. He's one of the best snipers in the National Hockey League, but Cammalleri needs to get fed the puck and use his quick release to his benefit. Tomas Plekanec, who might be their best playmaker, is two games on, one game off, two games off, one game on. And, unfortunately he doesn't appear to have the speed or strength to be that playmaker for Cammalleri every single night.

Erik Cole
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 25
SOG: 114 | +/-: 2
Erik Cole has had a decent season, but he doesn't have anybody to play with that can match his speed. He needs someone to keep up with him, but instead he's finding himself having to slow down a lot to be effective.  Max Pacioretty is having a very solid season, but he's more of a workhorse, a defensive-style forward that is being forced into scoring goals because the rest of his team doesn't do that very well.

The Canadiens also are a very small team that gets pushed around too much. Their lack of size and speed in the big and fast NHL forces them to work extra hard to win games. That's never a recipe for extended success. It becomes way too tiring emotionally and physically on a team.

When they have breakdowns defensively and the puck goes into the back of the net, they can't find the offense to counter that. So it's up to the GM to make a move very quickly to get somebody in there with size, somebody that can put the puck in the net and stand in front of the net to become that presence on power plays. The Canadiens are in a situation where if they continue to sputter the way they are, they're going to be out of the playoff race by the end of January. That is just unacceptable in Montreal.

It's nice seeing the blue, red and white playing in the playoffs and not battling these offensive demons they have right now. For crying out loud, Cammalleri and Cole need some help.
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