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What the heck is wrong with the Montreal Canadiens this season?

The Bruins’ storied rival has fallen on hard times. We talk to our friends at EOTP about what’s gone wrong.

Vancouver Canucks v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Things haven’t really gone well for Les Habitants this season.

Currently sitting sixth in the Atlantic Division and looking more lottery bound than playoff bound, the fans in La Belle Province aren’t happy.

Seeing as the Bruins haven’t played Montreal yet this season, it’s been easy for most Bruins fans to ignore the trials and tribulations to the north.

We talked to Scott Matla of our friends at Habs Eyes on the Prize about what’s been going on with Claude & Co. this season.

What has gone wrong in Montreal this season?

To start all things off, the team got off to a horrid start, between being unlucky and not being able to stop a beach ball to start the season. Couple that with Max Pacioretty suffering a major slump for the first time in his career and it’s been a recipe for disaster, especially for a team that shipped out two of it’s stars in the offseason.

Add in a penalty kill that even Carey Price couldn’t salvage and things just got worse and worse through the opening part of the season. Since the disaster of a start the team has played better as a whole, but still has many flaws that will likely keep them from being a true contender anytime soon.

Claude! How is Claude doing as coach? Do you think he’s going to last long-term, or is he on his way out?

Overall, I think Claude has done pretty well as Habs coach in most respects. Under Michel Therrien the Habs lived and died with Carey Price; under Julien they’ve played a heavier possession style, taking some of the pressure off of Price.

I don’t think Julien is going anywhere soon. The Habs would be foolish to fire the top coach that fits all their requirements, especially since his firing would come due to his GM’s inability to put together an NHL quality defense.

Claude had some knocks here, namely that he wasn’t fair with young players — do you still see this being an issue?

The one knock I have on Julien this year is his early treatment of Alex Galchenyuk, who still isn’t being played at center right now. Fortunately, he’s found a role alongside Jonathan Drouin and is playing quite well there, a far cry from playing with the fourth line dregs earlier in thee year.

As for other young players, Julien has been quite open to giving them big chances. Both Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon have become top-six darlings for Claude, with each player taking a starring role at even strength and the power play to varying levels of success.

What are this Montreal team’s biggest strengths? Biggest weaknesses?

The biggest strength is the same thing it’s been for the past five years: Carey Price is an all-world goalie, capable of winning games entirely on his own. With a team that has struggled to score for stretches having a goalie capable of that is a life saver. Beyond that, Montreal is actually able to roll four lines that can score if called upon, including a fourth line that has played well above their paygrade for a good chunk of this season.

As for the weaknesses, the defense is a mystery bag most nights. Jeff Petry is doing the best he can to drag the group to respectability with Shea Weber on the shelf. He’s done a decent job, but he needs some serious help (which is on the way with Victor Mete returning from World Juniors).

Karl Alzner has had a string of decent games lately, but for the money he’s being paid he’s been a near disaster for most of this year in his own end. This all translates to a penalty kill that is extremely sub-par, ranking 25th in the NHL, and that’s been costing them plenty of games all year.

If you could change one thing about this team, what would it be?

If I could change one thing, I’d have Andrei Markov back on the blue line right now. The Canadiens desperately need another puck-moving defender to drive some offense for them. If not that, then it’d be to send Joe Morrow to the AHL and play a combination of Jakub Jerabek/Victor Mete in his place. Morrow can shoot the puck well, but most of the time he’s on the ice I’m left scratching my head as he attempts to play defense in his own zone.

Marc Bergevin was once a hockey darling, and now seems like he’s not long for the job. What happened?

The answer is simple: Bergevin and his pride for the team and his loyalty to an old coach cost him one of the NHL’s brightest stars in P.K. Subban.

Bergevin gambled on Shea Weber, which so far hasn’t turned out great. Even if Weber has played well in a brutal deployment, Subban has thrived in Nashville as a potential generational defensive talent. Bergevin’s loyalty to Michel Therrien became a huge issue, and if not for Julien being fired last year, I’m not entirely sold that Therrien would have been let go.

Then he had a disastrous off-season this year, losing Markov and Radulov for nothing, while trading Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo for only a third round pick. While he did acquire Drouin, Sergachev has taken off like a rocket in Tampa Bay while Drouin has struggled to find his game on a slumping Montreal side. Couple all of this with the anchor of Karl Alzner’s contract, and the patchwork signings of Mark Streit and Joe Morrow, and it’s easy to see why fans are frustrated.

Do you see the Habs putting it together and making a run to the playoffs, or is this season a lost cause?

The Habs are capable of making the playoffs this year. There’s too much talent at forward, and Carey Price is their goalie, so anything is possible. This year however, with the depth in the NHL draft pool and the enticing prospect of having Rasmus Dahlin fall into their lap, it’s almost better if they try to tank out the rest of the year.

Knowing this team the way I do, however, it’s likely they’ll play well and end up drafting like 12th overall, just outside the range of the major high end picks in this years draft, further slowing a rebuild that needs to happen sooner rather than later.