So let’s make sure we’ve got all this straight.
The top defenceman is still missing through long-term injury, the most gifted sniper recently returned from a freak injury only to see the second-line centre and the team’s best winger (and leading scorer) go down injured in subsequent games.
And still the pitchfork-and-torch brigade want the heads of the two guys who definitely cannot score a goal, kill a penalty or block a shot?
Such is life when you’re dealing with the object of frenzied affection called the Montreal Canadiens, who have simply been unable to cope with an avalanche of injuries, self-inflicted setbacks and rotten luck this month.
The Habs set a franchise record for a season-opening home losing streak on Monday, and with several media outlets reporting late Tuesday that stud winger Max Pacioretty (the aforementioned leading scorer) damaged wrist ligaments in a 2-1 loss to Florida, there is a very real sense the sky is falling in Montreal.
The 1-5-2 Habs have lost six in a row, and Wednesday marks the start of a tough sequence of three games in four nights against two of the East’s elite teams, Philadelphia and Boston.
Given the Canadiens have a five-day break between games next week, local media outlets are advancing the theory that coach Jacques Martin and general-manager Pierre Gauthier could be dumped as soon as Sunday.
The hysteria is reaching a crescendo, take the four-alarm headline of former NHL coach Michel Bergeron’s despairing online column this week: The House is Now On Fire.
If Martin is indeed due for the high jump, there were few indications of it Tuesday.
“Rumours? You’re telling me about them, I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV, I don’t read the newspapers,” said Martin, who was relaxed and smiling at his customary post-practice news conference.
“My job is to get the team ready for [Wednesday]night. After 26, 27 years at this level I’ve been through this before. To me it’s just every day, getting better,” he added.
Martin skeptics – and they are legion – tend to fret about why it is that the similarly injury-ravaged Pittsburgh Penguins (missing two of the top five centres in the NHL and deprived of one of their top defensive defenceman) have managed to keep afloat.
But hey, he finally gave Erik Cole some significant power-play time on Monday and was repaid with a goal. And young centres Lars Eller and David Desharnais are thriving under a heavier workload.
Anything is possible in Montreal, so perhaps team president and majority owner Geoff Molson will put Martin and Gauthier on the ejector seat if the losses continue to mount, but panic and snap decisions aren’t exactly an old-money hallmark.
An early season abdication in Pittsburgh aside, the Canadiens have been playing well enough to win for the better part of two weeks, but have found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Still, the fundamentals aren’t bad: they’re firing six more shots a game on average than they’re allowing, and the power play is showing signs of life.
The key numbers for the Habs to focus on are 43, the minimum number of wins required to make the playoffs last season, and 93, the minimum number of points.
The Canadiens will have to go something like 42-28-5 over their 74 remaining games to reach both marks. Not easy, but hardly impossible given their talent level.
And the last time they took four points from their first seven games, the Habs played in the conference final.
“We’re aiming for 96 points to make the playoffs, which is what we had last year, we have to make sure everyone sees what needs to be done. Of course we’re conscious of the task ahead,” Martin said.
The job is complicated by the absence of Pacioretty, who met with doctors late Tuesday. Martin said he is ruled out of the Philadelphia game, there were conflicting reports Tuesday night as to how long he might be out of action (Aaron Palushaj was recalled from the minors Tuesday afternoon to fill his former Michigan teammates’ spot).
Goaltender Carey Price said he feels for his young teammate, but players can’t dwell on negatives.
“We can’t just sit here and suck our thumbs, we have to man up here,” he said. “Our first job is to work our way back to .500 and then we’ll take it from there.”
Though he isn’t generally superstitious, Price is thinking of switching his pink-trimmed pads (worn to raise money for breast cancer research) for red ones.
“I’m one loss away from wearing a garter belt,” Price joked, “Bull Durham style.”