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The early-season mess of the Montreal Canadiens

There's a newly created Facebook page titled "FIRE Jacques Martin." It features the Canadiens coach dressed as a McDonald's employee, above the declaration "time for a new coach of the Montreal Canadiens!!!!!" (The five exclamation points means they really mean it.)

There was a time when Martin was being chatted up as an underrated coaching genius, and that time was two seasons ago when his systematic defense married Jaroslav Halak's(notes) clutch netminding and produced a nice little postseason run.

After last night's loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Canadiens are now 1-4-1, tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. In fact, were it not for the Winnipeg Jets, the Habs might still be looking for their first win of the season. It's been that bad; and there have been diminishing returns, as Martin told The Gazette after the Penguins game:

"We seemed to have trouble handling the puck tonight," said Martin. "If you look at the goals they got we had a lot of turnovers and they capitalized. Our lack of execution hurt. Our last two games, we created a lot of scoring chances but tonight it wasn't there."

So what's gone wrong? Is it really time to send Jacques Martin to the fry station?

Offensively, they're 22nd in the NHL with a 2.14 team goals-for average. Defensively, they're also 22nd in the NHL with a 2.96 team goals-against average.

But it's the Canadiens' special teams, their bread-and-butter under Martin in previous seasons, that's taken a tumble: 2-for-25 on the power play in six games, and 21-for-25 on the penalty kill — not a bad mark, but the penalty kill is supposed to be ahead of opponents' power plays in October; witness the six teams killing better than 90-percent right now.

Injuries are playing a role in this, as Michael Cammalleri(notes) missed three games with a skate cut, Jaroslav Spacek(notes) has missed four games, Scott Gomez(notes) left the Pittsburgh game with an upper body injury.

But the biggest difference is behind the bench, according to The Upper Canadien:

What are the reasons for the badness? Well, the power play is a big one, but I've beaten that like a lumpy pillow. Another big one, which I suspect will become more talked about should Montreal lose Saturday to Toronto, is that coach Jacques Martin lost his deputy, Kirk Muller, and Muller was clearly the players guy. He helped run special teams. He communicated between the coaching staff and the team. He was a key cog in the wheel, and they're missing him right now. Is Martin on the verge of being fired? Not at 1-4-1. But if they go 1-8-1, this is a subject we'll revisit.

Muller is now the head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL. Rick Stephens of All Habs also points to a communication breakdown for Montreal:

Much has been made about the Canadiens' lack of identity. Perhaps it's simpler than that — players, even beyond Cole, seem to be unaware of their role on the team. Line combinations are sometimes changed after every shift — centers play wing, defenseman play forward.

It's not a chess match. In the mind of the coach, he is playing checkers with equal, interchangeable pieces. And it's clear he is no master.

There has been no opportunity for chemistry to develop and seemingly precious little communication about expectations. The result is confusion and chaos. The best example of this was the Canadiens home opener where the bench gate was a turnstile, and the Habs struggled to complete a pass.

Inevitably, Andrei Markov's(notes) injury will be used as an excuse, but Cowhide and Rubber isn't buying it. The players that are on that bench has succeeded without Markov before, and simply aren't getting it done now.

PK Subban's(notes) been a dud so far, skating to a minus-6. Gomez, always maligned, is aces at home (57-percent faceoff percentage) and invisible on the road (48.6 percent, zero points.) Erik Cole(notes) apparently signed a contract last summer that doesn't require him to show up for work every night (great gig if you can get it).

There have been bright spots. Carey Price(notes) hasn't been the problem. Lions In Winter rightfully praised Max Pacioretty(notes), David Desharnais(notes) and Andrei Kostitsyn(notes) recently as the No. 1 line for the Habs.

But the good news is limited.

The Canadiens face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. The Boston Bruins, as stumbling and underwhelming as the Habs have been, got back on track by beating up the Leafs last night. Maybe Montreal does the same.

Or maybe it's panic time, as Brendan Kelly wonders. Cowhide and Rubber also wonders when to push the eject button:

At the least, we should certainly have our fingers primed for some serious button mashing within the next 2 weeks if the team doesn't turn it around in a big way, for even at the 102-point pace that Lemaire had the Devils playing at, it wasn't nearly enough to get the Devils in to the post season.

What this all means is that the Canadiens margin for error is nearly completely gone — and that's just to squeeze in to 8th place. We all know that 8th place teams rarely, if ever realize any true success. But perhaps simply making the playoffs is all this team is capable of. The thought of that, on October 21st, is truly depressing.

The big question we should be talking about today, is what head coach Jacques Martin can do to get this team back on a consistent winning beat. Constant line juggling isn't working. Passive, defense-first hockey with inexperienced young defensemen isn't working.

Trouble is, that's what Jacques Martin's Canadiens are.

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