Eastern Edge: Caufield, Petry, Montembeault, and New Habs Values Under Martin St. Louis

Brennan Des

2022-02-22

The Canadiens made a coaching change on February 9th, relieving Dominique Ducharme of his duties and appointing Martin St. Louis as the team's interim head coach. It was a necessary move as the team looked listless all season, winning eight of their 45 games under Ducharme while averaging a league-worst 3.98 goals against and 2.20 goals for (also league-worst) per game during that span. In all fairness to Ducharme, he was dealt a bad hand. The Canadiens lost several important players during the offseason and suffered through a myriad of injuries during the year. However, he clearly wasn't helping things. We heard reports that the strategies Ducharme tried to implement were too confusing, which falls in line with what we saw during games, where players looked lost on most nights. In late December, Jeff Petry commented on how there was no structure to the team's play, which essentially sums up the Canadiens under Ducharme.

The Habs have looked like a different team since St. Louis took over as head coach. Sure, it's only been six games, but they've already managed three wins, averaging 2.67 goals for per game and 3 against. More importantly, the team has gone from looking lost and confused to decisive and confident. Some of that can be explained by St. Louis' concepts being easier to digest than Ducharme's convoluted teachings. After St. Louis' first game behind the bench, Jeff Petry revealed that the Canadiens switched to man-on-man coverage in the defensive zone, which led to much more clarity among the players.

I emphasize the contrast between Ducharme and St. Louis because it's important to highlight that the team's improvement over this small sample is something that can be sustained long term. We often see a team's play improve immediately after a coaching change. Players put in extra effort to impress their new boss, leading to better results for the team as a whole. However, this 'new coach boost' doesn't always last and players eventually settle into their place within the team's hierarchy and the pressure to impress their new coach gradually fades. Sure, some of what we're seeing now may be a product of players working hard to impress St. Louis, but I think more of it is explained by the new coach's simplified concepts. Smart and skilled players who were forced to overthink under Ducharme's intricate systems, now have a bit more freedom in St. Louis' concepts, which leaves room for them to rely on their own talents and instinct.

I don't think these last six games will end up being a small blip in a disastrous season. Rather, I think this recent stretch represents a sign of what's to come for Montreal in the second half. The way I see it, the Canadiens won't be the pushover that they were in the first half. From a fantasy perspective, I'd be slightly more cautious about starting a goalie against the Habs. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't bench a good starting goalie against Montreal. However, picking up a back-up netminder from the waiver wire