Are you back on the bandwagon yet?
That’s the question du jour after the Montreal Canadiens taught the Pittsburgh Penguins a lesson Tuesday night, crushing the Stanley Cup champions 4-zip. With that Bell Centre opening-night triumph, the Habs have now grabbed five out of possible six points in their first three games.
Ça sent la coupe. Or so they tell me on social media. The subtext is that us grumbling fans were wrong. That all is right in the Habs Nation and that all those whining this summer about losing their idol P.K. Subban just need to grow up and admit that the Man Mountain is, well, the Man Mountain.
At 3-0 Tuesday, my teenage son came running into the living room to shout — ‘Look. All the guys you hate are scoring! Desharnais, Pacioretty, Radulov. Bergevin’s a genius.’
Now clearly he’s just working through some Oedipal issues here, but he’s not the only one to express the same sentiment. When I got to the office Wednesday, Gaz photographer Dave Sidaway said more or less the same thing to me.
And you just know variations on the same conversation are happening across the city. Loads and loads of fans were dismayed with gusts up to disgusted by the team’s performance last year and were mighty jaded about a lot of players and managers by year end, notably general manager Marc Bergevin, coach Michel Therrien and prominent whipping boys like captain Max and his old pal Desharnais. When Bergevin then went and traded fan favourite Subban for Shea Weber, the grumbling went positively nuclear.
I know many of you think I make this stuff up, but the reality is that there still are thousands and thousands of disgruntled Habs fans out there. Just look at the reaction to the introduction of Therrien Tuesday night — the cheers were lukewarm at best and there were no shortage of boos. And keep in mind that the folks who’ve paid top dollar to go to the Bell Centre are the people least likely to jeer the coach or any of the players. In other words, go to any bar and you’ll find Montrealers only too pleased to vent their bad thoughts about Mike T.
So are all these malcontents back on the Habs bus after the heroics of Tuesday night and a pretty decent first week of the season? I don’t really think so. I think they’re going to wait and see. First off, there’s the hardcore Subban camp. They’re boycotting the games, watching the Predators and hoping the Canadiens crash and burn. Again, I’m not writing fiction here. I know people who feel that way and I think they have every right to hold that rather radical position.
Then there are those whose real issue is with Therrien, and this is a pretty significant group. Many of them were hoping the team would stumble out of the gates and that by, say, mid-November a desperate Bergevin would have to fire his foxhole buddy in order to save his own job. But it doesn’t look likely that Montreal will self-destruct so easily.
Let’s be honest here, though. Therrien’s job is still very much in danger. The TSN season-preview panel were discussing how long they thought the Habs coach would last and Le Journal de Montréal rabble-rouser Réjean Tremblay was saying Wednesday that Therrien’s career is on the line right now. The naysayers who wanted the Habs to fail early and ditch the coach were hoping that Bergevin would then promote Kirk Muller to head coach, and those critics must’ve been mighty pleased to hear the thunderous applause for Kirk-Is-Work Tuesday night at the rink.
The Achilles heel of their argument is that Muller is not bilingual, which appears to still be a requirement for a job that is as much about hosting a post-game press conference as it is managing a bench of over-paid hockey players.
In any case, the biggest group of grumblers, in my view, are the fans who don’t think Bergevin and Therrien are the best guys for those two jobs and who remain bitterly disappointed that Subban is going to work his magic with some other team. But we remain Habs fans and if the team is still winning in a couple of months, we’ll be cheering, just maybe not as enthusiastically as everyone else.
So we’re happy to see the Canadiens trounce the Pens, but we’re going to take some time before we bring our Habs flags out of mothballs. It is October after all, and if I was feeling cynical — qui, moi? — I might make a joke about Les boys d’octobre. They did after all go 9-and-0 last October before descending into a psychotic tailspin.
But I’m not cynical. I love what I’ve seen of Alexander Radulov. He’s a beast. Me and my friends are calling him the Wolfman — check out a pic of him sans his front teeth! — and I’ve been saying for a while the season depends on him. If he scores 30 goals, that could be a season-changer. The play that sold me on him wasn’t the amazing goal but rather the sequence when he held off a Penguins player along the boards with one hand and still managed to control the puck with his other hand. This is not something Alexander Semin does.
And for the record, I don’t hate Patches and Desharnais. I think DD is perfectly fine as long as he’s nowhere near the first line, and after whiffing on the puck in the shootout Saturday, he redeemed himself for the moment with two nice goals Tuesday. Patches looked disinterested for large chunks of last season, the World Cup and the first two games, but he was positively on fire at his first game this season at the Bell Centre. He actually got caught up in the physical game on a couple of occasions!
But the fact is we wouldn’t even be talking about grumblers jumping back on bandwagons today if it wasn’t for Al Montoya, the team’s new and improved back-up netminder. He has let in just four goals on 105 shots in his first three games and has been spectacular when he needed to be.
So I’ll make one thing official right here and now. I’m on the Monty bandwagon.