Well, so far the first half of Bob Gainey's experiment hasn't exactly panned out. Gainey sent shock waves through the Canadiens and the rest of the NHL the other day when he told slumping star Alexei Kovalev not to bother accompanying the team on a mini road trip that would see them visit Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins.
The move was ostensibly to light a fire under Kovalev and try to get him playing up to the level he is capable of. However, the message wasn't for Kovalev's benefit alone. Gainey wanted to jolt the rest of the team out of the complacency that has seen them steadily slip down the Eastern Conference standings to the point where they are now in jeopardy of losing a playoff position, a result that would be disastrous in this the club's 100th anniversary season.
So, was the message received by the club? Well, if you go purely by results the answer would have to be know. The Canadiens returned from the trip with only 1 out of a possible 4 points. They lost 4-3 in a shootout to Washington on Wednesday, and then 5-4 in regulation against Pittsburgh on Thursday. However, despite the losses the team did show some signs of life that have been missing in recent weeks. They displayed resiliency in erasing deficits to both clubs, and the passion and drive of the players were readily apparent on the ice.
However, the costly mistakes that have haunted the Canadiens during this recent slump continued to plague them on this road trip, and their goaltending continues to be a question mark. Carey Price played relatively well against Washington, but couldn't replicate the feat against the Pens, and he is really struggling to find the puck in traffic, a fact that was glaringly obvious on the winning goal by Gonchar is Thursday night's game.
So, now for the more important part of Gainey's experiment: How will Alexei Kovalev react when he gets back into the lineup? Hopefully for the Canadiens' sake, and for the sake of their fans who would be devastated in their beloved Habs were to miss the playoffs in their centennial season, the player they call Kovy will come back like a man possessed, determined to prove Gainey, Carbonneau and the rest of the hockey world wrong. If he can't do this then there is every possibility that when the curtain closes on the regular season at the beginning of April that the Canadiens will on the golf course rather than at the rink, and Kovalev will be looking for a new job.