Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Returning the fire to 'Les Habs'
Exactly two weeks after Glen Sather fired Tom Renney as head coach of the New York Rangers, Montreal GM Bob Gainey followed suit and relieved Guy Carbonneau of his coaching duties. The reasoning behind the latter dismissal is the same as it was for the former: Simply tumbling into the postseason isn't good enough. The ultimate team goal is to challenge, realistically, for the Stanley Cup. Just as Renney's influence wasn't getting the right results any longer in New York, neither was Carbonneau's in Montreal, especially considering the talent on the roster. It was time for drastic change, and with Gainey himself taking over head coaching duties, both Habs fans and fantasy players alike have reason to be excited.
From all accounts, the Canadiens were no longer playing hard for Carbonneau. According to sources cited by TSN analyst Darren Dreger, Carbonneau had been avoiding confrontation and acting distant with his players for quite some time. Gainey himself said, "There were certain games where our team would not seem to be emotionally engaged." That disconnect and lack of intensity comes down to coaching, pure and simple. If the connection is gone, there's not much else that can be done. The players just weren't buying what Carbonneau was selling the past two months. Some action had to be taken, and Gainey took it.
Bob Gainey will take a no-nonsense approach while coaching the team.
So what can we expect with the general manager taking over the coaching duties in Montreal? Right off the bat, we can expect more energy, more discipline and, likely, more offense. Scoring has been the biggest problem for the Canadiens, who are averaging only 2.89 goals per game this season, down from 3.13 last season. Their production with the man advantage ranked No. 1 in the league in 2007-08. Now? They sit 18th. Not acceptable. The lackadaisical play will no longer be tolerated with the new coach -- those who lollygag just won't play -- at least not for long. That should provide some incentive. And Gainey is bringing in some help to hammer the point home. Don Lever, the head coach of Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton, was added to the team's staff for the remainder of the season. According to the GM, Lever brings "strong button-pushing mechanisms to get certain players doing things that we'd like them to do." Like score goals. In other words, Mr. Lever has been brought in to kick some caboose into gear.
Furthermore, it's not like Gainey hasn't been in this position before. He replaced Claude Julien as head coach in January 2006 and had decent success (23-15-3). When it comes right down to it, every skater on this squad will have to raise his level of play, from Carey Price back in net to forwards Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Andrei Kostitsyn, Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec, or life won't be very pleasant. Kovalev should benefit most of all with the close attention, considering his tight relationship with Gainey. If you own any of the aforementioned skaters, rejoice! Just as John Tortorella has with the Rangers (before being shut out last night), Gainey will bring new scoring life to the Canadiens. And playing in four consecutive home games beginning Tuesday won't hurt, either.
The Panthers have some fairly serious injury issues. Nathan Horton will miss at least two weeks (but count on closer to four weeks) after having surgery on a finger, and Bryan McCabe won't play Tuesday or Thursday, against Pittsburgh and Buffalo respectively, after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. Cam Ward earned his fifth shutout of the season as Carolina blanked the Rangers 3-0 on Monday night. Activate your Hurricanes players freely; the team is hot right now. And if Tuomo Ruutu is still available in your league, consider picking him up. Brian Elliott stopped all but one of 26 shots he faced against the Maple Leafs, helping his Senators to a 2-1 victory. The 23-year-old has allowed only six goals in his past three starts (all wins) and boasts a pretty pleasant save percentage (.927) over that period. If you can stomach having a netminding member of the defensively deficient Senators on your roster, he's worth consideration. L.A.'s Teddy Purcell is having a glorious March. The big winger is getting a good chunk of time on the Kings' power play and has six points in five games, including three with the man advantage. Those in deeper leagues who are desperate for a right winger should give him a shot.