Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, back, is starting to feel the pressure of losing in a city that doesn't easily tolerate hockey losers. "In all my time in hockey, I've never gone through a period like this." (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Viewpoint: Scott Morrison
Montreal's losses, Carbonneau's pain
Last Updated Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007
by Scott Morrison
Every head coach goes through losing streaks and endures turmoil at some point in his career. It is as inevitable as being fired.
Guy Carbonneau is merely the latest to take his turn.
Carbonneau, of course, raised a few eyebrows earlier in the week when, upset after being humiliated 8-2 by the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, then being shut out 2-0 by the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, the Montreal Canadiens coach had a couple of strong reactions and comments for his team.
The first was to issue a curfew. The second was to suggest that neither he nor assistant coach Kirk Muller were going to suit up to save the day, a comment that prompted some to wonder what exactly he was questioning about his team, beyond its work ethic.
Carbonneau went on to bench slumping forward Sergei Samsonov and veteran defenceman Craig Rivet, saying his game had disintegrated, and still suffered a 4-0 home loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
A week ago, it was the flu making the Canadiens sick. Now it is their game tapes.
"In all my time in hockey, I've never gone through a period like this," Carbonneau told reporters after the Vancouver loss.
Although Carbonneau noted he believed his team worked harder in the latest setback, it still wasn't good enough and now the Habs have a fragile confidence and a tempest is building in Montreal.
The Habs, of course, had been on a terrific roll until just before Christmas, playing hard through some emotional times after the tragic death of general manager Bob Gainey's daughter, Laura. But they lost on Dec. 23 and have lost eight more times since, including the past three games. Over that stretch, they have but four wins.
Now streaks, good and bad, have been very common this season in the NHL because of parity. But when nerves get frayed, when harsh words get spoken, when frustrations mount, and when it happens in Montreal, it is a serious challenge for any coach, but especially a rookie head coach. Calling out a team is often a necessary move, but sometimes it is also a dangerous one.
To date, this is the biggest challenge with which Guy Carbonneau has had to deal. He has gotten squarely in the face of his team, now to see how they react.
CHECK YOUR SEAT:
According to the summary, there was a full house in Detroit on Wednesday night for the Red Wings 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators. The summary from the Dallas Stars 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames reports the same. Sell out.
Except, in both arenas there was no shortage of empty seats from start to finish, especially in the high-rent district close to the ice and in full view of the television cameras. Last week, the numbers didn't lie, Nashville mustered just 12,000 fans for a first-place showdown with Anaheim. Heck, earlier this year when the Maple Leafs made a rare visit to Detroit on a Saturday night there were a lot of empty, but sold, seats.
Now, you won't find many better matchups than the four mentioned, so where have all the fannies gone?
If it was Toronto, we would suggest the bodies were in the building but merely underneath the seats, in the private suites, eating sushi and drinking wine. But we know that doesn't apply here.
This should be a concern to the NHL, which boasts about its overall attendance, but has struggling TV numbers, especially south of the border, and might have more sales than actually seat fillers.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock suggested to the Detroit media that there may be a complacency of sorts amongst fans, who know the team is good and don't feel the same urgency to attend until spring. Others have mentioned that some games don't register no matter what the standings say.
Perhaps this explains why the NHL continues to talk about scheduling, even though it remains doubtful there will be any changes for next season.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
If you feed them they will come. At least in St. Louis they will.
Last Saturday, the Blues offered free food - hot dogs, chicken fingers, peanuts, chips, popcorn - and soft drinks for their fans during the first two periods of their game against the Los Angeles Kings. The club insists it was a goodwill gesture to lure back a ton of fans who found other things to occupy their time, and to fill the tummies of those who have hung in and supported the team.
That it coincided with the Blues appearing on national (though a regional telecast) TV south of the border is, well, a coincidence apparently.
Anyway, the promotion worked, with 17,868 fans showing up. The only time they drew more fans was the night they honored Brett Hull, who readily admits he looks like he has attended a few free food fests. Otherwise, half of that crowd has been the norm this season.
Since the food fest, the Blues have been on the road and continue to play well under Andy Murray: in fact they have the fifth-best record in the league since he was hired. Now to see if they have inspired an appetite to watch without the freebies.
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- Scott Morrison, the recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fame's 2006 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, has been covering hockey for 25 years. The Toronto native began his career at the Toronto Sun in 1979. After spending more than 11 years as a hockey writer and columnist at the paper, Morrison became Sports Editor in 1991 and led the section to being named one of North America's top-ten sports sections in 1999 - the first sports section in Canada to receive the AP Sports Editors North American Award. Scott, a former two-term president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, joined Rogers Sportsnet in 2001 as Managing Editor, Hockey, and is currently both a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada and a columnist for CBC.ca.