Sometimes, a cliché is the only way to sum up a situation – as in, the Montreal Canadiens are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Habs general manager Pierre Gauthier made a flurry of minor moves on Sunday in response to his team’s continued slide and the rising fury among Montreal’s cognoscenti, but none addressed his most pressing need – fixing a wobbly defence and a power play that lacks punch.
The iceberg remains straight ahead in the form of their schedule this week – the second of a three-game homestand Monday night against the Florida Panthers, the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday and then a road-and-home series against the Boston Bruins. Only the Panthers present a chance for a win.
A five-day break follows the last game against the Bruins but by then the Canadiens could be well and truly buried, since their 6-5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday left them winless at home and at the bottom of the NHL’s Eastern Conference with a 1-4-2 record. If so, head coach Jacques Martin moves to the head of the NHL’s endangered species list.
Hence the dreaded team meeting on Sunday, with the player moves following minutes later. Gauthier obtained centre Petteri Nokelainen and defenceman Garrett Stafford from the Phoenix Coyotes for forward Brock Trotter and a seventh-round 2012 draft pick. Stafford was sent to the Canadiens’ Hamilton Bulldogs farm team and forwards Andreas Engqvist and Aaron Palushai were demoted to Hamilton. Michael Blunden was called up from Hamilton.
Gauthier, who is known as The Ghost for his reluctance to talk to the media, declined to comment on his moves. Well, yeah, wouldn’t you do the same if you had to explain that trade?
Let’s see, since he was drafted 16th overall by the New York Islanders in 2004, Nokelainen, 25, has had major knee surgery, been traded four times and bought out once. In five games with Phoenix, he managed one assist in five games, bringing his career totals to 35 points in 194 games with five teams.
No, I don’t think Nokelainen will be the answer for the 2-for-29 power play, let alone centre Scott Gomez, who could be out for as long as a month with an undisclosed injury. Speaking of injuries, they are the Canadiens’ biggest problem as defencemen Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov, Chris Campoli and Ryan White are on the shelf with Gomez.
That leaves precious little experience on defence, with rookie Raphael Diaz and sophomores P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber forming half of the starting six. Subban is off to a slow start, which also hurts the power play.
If goaltender Carey Price had not played well in almost every game so far, the Canadiens would be a lot worse … well, come to think of it, they would have one less win.
The Canadiens’ best forwards are tiny and so are their statistics. The leading goal-scorer is the economy-sized Travis Moen with four. Gauthier’s biggest off-season attempt to inject some size among the forwards is playing awfully small. Winger Erik Cole has one assist in seven games.
With no help in sight, come Thursday the fans could arrive at the Bell Centre bearing torches and pitchforks for the Bruins game.
SID THE KID
Toronto Maple Leafs fans are hoping they will be the ones to see Sidney Crosby make his season debut when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Saturday. But it looks like Evgeni Malkin (sore knee) will be the only superstar back in the Penguins’ lineup by then. Crosby said his recovery from a concussion is going well but he has not had enough contact in practice to judge if he can play in a game. The goal is to get in some hitting when the Penguins have more contact in practice because of a break in the schedule. That will not be until Nov. 6, when the Pens have five days off until a home game against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 11.
CAPPING THE CAPS
I wouldn’t bet on the Washington Capitals losing their status as the NHL’s only undefeated team this week. All they have on the schedule is a two-game trip against the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and Saturday. Given that the Caps ripped the previously undefeated Detroit Red Wings 7-1 on Saturday, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun is as hot as the Caps’ scorers, neither the Oilers nor the Canucks pose much of a threat.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
This week will brings the 10-game mark for most teams, the time when those carrying junior-eligible rookies have to decide whether to send them down or start the clock ticking on their free agency. The Winnipeg Jets started the ball rolling when they sent centre Mark Scheifele back to junior on Sunday. Also likely to get sent back is defenceman Erik Gudbranson by the Florida Panthers. Among those likely to stick are defencemen Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils and forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Mika Zibanejad of the Ottawa Senators.
LOOK WHO’S HOT
When Daniel Alfredsson got old and Dany Heatley headed for the hills, Senators centre Jason Spezza started to decline. He dipped to 57 points in each of the past two seasons, which didn’t make the fans happy and probably not the Senators’ brass, considering the size of Spezza’s contract. But playing beside immortals Milan Michalek and Colin Greening, Spezza ran up 11 points in eight games. Some of Spezza’s previous coaches thought he was too one-dimensional but Paul MacLean told reporters Spezza is “really working hard at being a complete player, and I think it has shown in all the games.”
The five golf courses Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Cammalleri loves to play:
The National Golf Club of Canada, Woodbridge, Ont.
The Riviera Country Club, Los Angeles.
Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Summit Golf and Country Club, Richmond Hill, Ont.
Beacon Hall Golf Club, Aurora, Ont.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
Leafs at Flyers
The Leafs have to prove they can step up and beat the better teams in their conference. This will be hard to do with the shaky (so far) Jonas Gustavsson subbing in goal for the injured James Reimer. Monday, 7 p.m., Leafs TV.
Panthers at Canadiens
The Canadiens, on the other hand, have to prove they can beat anybody. Their best chance of that this week is against the Panthers, who dropped two of their past three. Monday, 7:30 p.m., RDS.
Rangers at Jets
If the Jets keep this up, they’re going to ruin their honeymoon with Winnipeg and the rest of the country by Christmas. Yet another Canadian team that needs to get going. Monday, 8:30 p.m. TSN-Jets
Jets at Flyers
Maybe the Jets will have a good old goalie controversy going by now. Ondrej Pavelec, the ostensible No. 1, has been awful while backup Chris Mason relieved him to get the win last Saturday. Thursday, 7 p.m., TSN-Jets
Capitals at Canucks
Should be a great end to the CBC doubleheader. Newcomer David Booth will have had two games to get reacquainted with linemate Ryan Kesler. Caps are favoured since the Canucks are slow out of the gate. Saturday, 10 p.m., CBC