Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Game #50

Montreal Still On Vacation, Insist Urgency Is Not Yet Required

Details



Date: 31/01/2012
Opponent: Sabres
Location: Montreal

Loss: 1-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Miller (W)

Habs goalscorers: Pacioretty
Opposition goalscorers: Leino, Gaustad, Kaleta



Play of the game


Emelin made an incredible save in the second period just moments after delivering the hit of the game on Pominville. The Sabres looked certain to take the lead as Price was caught at the other side of the net and there was a shot coming. Emelin, however, did what he had to and slid right in front of the shot making a spectacular leg save.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais
Luckily for us David was competing tonight. Of the other centres, Eller wasn't bad, but where did that 26 minutes of Plekanec/Engqvist go?. Desharnais was ready to play tonight as was his whole line. Whatever he did during the break didn't hinder his performance tonight; can many other Habs say that?

Erik Cole - Game Puck
I was shocked that Cole didn't score tonight and I think that Miller and Cole himself were too. He does not have to change a single thing from here on in, he just has to keep playing the same. If his teammates follow we win games 7-2, if they don't he stands out like a sore thumb.

Max Pacioretty
One of the best parts about Cole, I believe, has been the influence that he has had on Pacioretty. At one time (even at times this year) a solid performance wasn't a given for Max, these days, however, it seems that it is. He was just like his fellow winger tonight and should feel free to hold his head high in the dressing room.

Defencemen

Alexei Emelin
Is it poor planning, bad luck or poor play by teammates that has made it essential that this rookie from Russia be a top-3 (at times top-2) for us? He is doing a great job and I am very happy with his play, but I can't say the same for those around him who should be able to play a lot better than they are. We are lucky to have Alex, but slightly unlucky that others, notably Gill, are far below what we need.

Josh Gorges
He had 6 of our 21 blocked shots (Emelin had 4) and is another player who I feel is giving us more than we necessarily deserve. Subban wasn't hot tonight which meant Josh had to be sharp, and he was. Josh, however, like the rest of us, needs Markov back, fast.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey had some help from his posts, but, at times, not from his teammates. It was a good game, though and 2 goals on 39 shots is what it felt like it should be. So, why so many shots? Why so few goals? He isn't going to win many games like that (no one would), so he is another one who should have a few questions for certain teammates.


Comments


We have 3 strategies when we have an extra-man for gaining the zone. The first is the dump and chase which, as we proved with repetition tonight only works when you do both of those things. We not only had trouble dumping it in at times, but when we did there was no recovery by the forwards. The end result was an easy clearance. The next is the Gomez carry with speed and dump into the corner once he crosses the blue-line. This one is even worse as the opposition has better positioning than they do on the dump and chase. This rarely works as we are relying a lot on Gomez, himself, to reclaim the puck which just doesn't happen with any regularity. The third choice is the Subban carry and circle. Occasionally this will result in a shot, but more often a pass. This isn't a bad play, but it does seem that the players aren't always ready for it.

All of this tells me a few things. It tells me, primarily, that we don't work enough on the PP or empty-net situations. Each of these three approaches, in theory, could work, but it is painfully obvious that we aren't well-practiced enough at any of them to be comfortable with them. The other thing it shows is that we aren't smart. We gain the zone with regularity at even-strength by carrying it in with speed up the wings. We, somehow, are able to do this despite the presence of an extra defender. My guess is that we practice this and are comfortable doing it. Wouldn't a smart coach forget what Power-Plays 101 say you should do and just do what works for his players? Our PP's biggest problem is this as we spend a good 50% of every man-advantage just trying to establish the zone.

Other that Diaz and Price the Habs had the week off, right? I understand that this is a good time to travel and see the family, but I don't see that as a right. At this rate there will be 5 months of holiday, so I would have liked to see us practicing over that week, each day. Why not? Why do we have to do what the other teams do? Why can't we see how desperate our situation is and take the time (which is a gift at this stage of the season) and use it to our advantage? Think of how much work we could get done on the PP if we practiced for just 3 hours for each of the last 5 days. It is commonly accepted that there will be rust after an All-Star (or Olympic) break, but as far as I know there is no NHL rule that makes this mandatory. The Habs players and coaches has a chance to get a leg up on other teams. Instead, as we saw tonight, they regressed again and are now in an even bigger hole.

I honestly don't feel like the players and coaches are serious about the goal of winning this year and, so, I can't see how we can ever really be that threatening team that we all want us to be.

Markov Back On Skates

According to CJAD, Markov took to Brossard ice on skates earlier today. This isn't some unfounded rumour, but straight from the horse's (well in this case Cunneyworth's) mouth.

Well, I guess he won't be playing tonight then. But when if at all will he play this season? Here's a little timeline from the last attempted return:

Day 0: Markov returns to skate on his own

Day 7: Markov returns to practice with the team

Day 14: Markov cleared for contact

Day 21: Markov travels with team to Anaheim

Day 22: Markov opts out of Anaheim game

Day 23: Markov heads to LA for further tests on his knee

Day 25: Markov undergoes further knee surgery (with 4-6 week prognosis for recovery.


6 weeks on from Dec 3rd was some time in mid-January. Sitting here on the last day of January, we can surmise that either Markov's knee needed more recovery because it wasn't healing well. Or, much more likely, that he and the team took a more conservative schedule for return this time around.

Last time from first hint of skating to game readiness was about three weeks. 22 days from today would slate Markov for a return against the Stars at home on February 21st with a potential 21 games left in the season.

But let's not ignore the evidence. if the approach is more conservative, I think the timings for each landmark in recovery will be more sparsely spaced this time. Keep an eye on when milestones come up, but let's set early March as the time in our minds. That's my feeling on this.


Should he return at all?

For me this question is a non-starter.

If he is healed properly and as he's followed all precautions this time, his chance of injury this season should be sufficiently low. Certainly, if he is cleared by his own specialist doctors, I would feel comfortable that any increased chance of injury in a game this year is barely detectable versus any future year.

From a team standpoint, the possibility is that by March there will be little to play for but losses. And the thinking goes that keeping Markov out would put him in full fitness for a return to a fully fit and (no doubt we'll build to this summer crescendo again) contending team next fall. But let's not kid ourselves. Injuries can happen any time (remember Markov in August?) and saving something for the future like this is seldom more than blind optimism. Markov would benefit from playing within this 18 month period of his lay off, even if it only reminds him of his passion for the game. That alone will be of enough value to the Canadiens to justify a return to a non-playoff team.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Game #49

Habs Kill Off Wings As If They Were A Hooking Penalty

Details



Date: 25/01/2012
Opponent: Red Wings
Location: Montreal

Win: 7-2

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Howard (L)

Habs goalscorers: Bourque, Emelin, Desharnais (2), Plekanec, Pacioretty, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Hudler (2)



Play of the game


It's rare I'll ever say this, but this game was full of plays worthy of this spot. The Habs completely and utterly dominated when the game was on the line and then forced home the issue after that. The play I ended up selecting was the one I was sure would be the play to describe right from when it happened. The first goal came early and set the tone for what was to come. Gomez got the puck from his all-star teammate (Diaz) and proceeded to take it from goal line to goal line. He was flying by his own blueline and found his way easily around two defenders. Thanks to the wonder of replay, we also got to see what Rene Bourque was doing as this was happening. pacing Gomez to the blueline, he had to put on an amazing burst to make the distance by the time any pass came. He did and ended up scoring a scruffy, but important goal. Why the play of the game? Because the play demonstrates the depth that is there, and how matching players properly makes that depth a factor.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole
What can we say that hasn't already been said. He put in a signature effort and game and came out with three points. The all-star of the half season is getting a well-deserved rest instead of making his way to Ottawa. We'll miss his power moves if we watch the game.

David Desharnais - Game Puck
After he dominated the ECHL playoffs to pop up on our radar, I doubt we'd ever consider that the words "commanded the game" would fit his effort against the Red Wings. By his effort, by his vision and by his quick execution he confused the Red Wings leaderless defenders and did indeed command the offensive zone whenever he was in it. I thought the Habs were only continuing the press in the third to get him his goal. That says a lot about how his teammates feel about David.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Speaking of command, was there an ES shift that Eller and Kostitsyn did not hem in their opponents? The pair were outstanding at keeping the momentum going, and of course chipping in on the Emelin goal. I give the edge in the end to Kostitsyn who didn't take the penalty and continues to show determination and discipline this past little while.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Like Cole, he doesn't need much introduction. he put in a good Gorges-like effort and quited player like Zetterberg and Datsyuk all night. The forwards ran the show tonight, but they could do so because their defending colleagues showed the way early. Gorges as their leader did very well again.

Alexei Emelin
The guy was on for 7 goals! OK, 2 were against, but let's not dwell on that. Things happen when Alexei is on the ice because he tends to instigate. Tonight was the first career goal and probably the first game where his shots were more memorable than his hits (and more numerous). I think he showed Montreal management a few things. Heck, I think the whole NHL (on break and perhaps watching) saw a lot on display from number 74.

Goaltender

Carey Price
You could tell he wanted to join in the fun up front. At the very least, he wanted to grab some spotlight for himself, perhaps with a shutout. It didn't happen, but he played well. His steadiness early on and on the PK were a big help to setting the stage for an offensive explosion. He made sure we didn't have to watch a very different team -- the Red Wings with a lead.


Comments

I thought the Habs were the most efficient as team killers as I've seen in recent memory. The tone set in the first was that of a diligent penalty kill all over the ice. For once the Canadiens exercised the determination on display in shorthanded situations to control the puck, not just shepherd it. It paid too, because before a period was killed off, so was the game.

Perhaps even more encouraging was that each subsequent goal came as the result of continued pressure as opposed to satisfied puck concession.

Is this Cunneyworth hockey? Maybe. Perhaps the system that is so drastically different from that of Martin's permanent passive box just took a while to be taken up by players, and then executed with any demonstrable success.

One thing we know is that discipline will be important, and priority of team over self. We know this because Cunneyworth and Ladouceur benched PK Subban throughout a period after his errant elbow followed a $2500 fine. This my friends is a simple but effective coaching method. Ice time as reward. Ice time on merit. The opportunity was there in the circumstance. Will the method remain when PK's skills are required more urgently? We'll have to see. I think I like their approach, however, as Subban seems to get these messages. Rather than sulk, he looked more eager than anyone to hit the ice after 40 minutes and played with a renewed commitment to team cause.

So. 5 points in 3 games and here we are at the All-Star break? Not ideal to be carrying less in the Pts column than in the GP at this point. But in a very strange year (teams close at 8th and no one counted out) who knows what may happen. The Habs aren't in the position they imagined they would be in, yet it's not as dire as it could be. The schedule from next week tightens and important games come thick and fast. It should be a very interesting month going into decision points and trade deadlines.

Until then relish a couple of big wins. Enjoy some All-Star fluff. Speak soon.

Go Habs Go.

The Problem With Us

Now that Cammalleri is gone without filling Habs fans appetite for complaining, we have turned our attentions elsewhere.

The unfortunate recipient of the majority of our attentions of late has been PK Subban.

I actually wrote what I thought was a nice piece on why Subban should be suspended but not traded yesterday. Alas, it was lost when I idiotically pressed backspace to set my browser back a page. For some reason it wasn't autosaved at all. Anyway, the gist was he made a dirty hit (at least one) near the boards that was penalized but not harshly enough for my liking. But that this by no means affects his standing as a core member of the team going forward in my eyes. I think I actually noted he was THE core member.

So I wrote it, but you've read the same elsewhere. Let's move on.

Once again my fascination with the team and its players is matched by my fascination with those of us who follow. Incidentally, it was PK who brought this to the fore, this time with a quote:
“I have a great relationship with Randy and I’d hate for you guys to ruin that,” Subban said “I’m a young guy and I need to be coached and that’s what he’s doing. Coaches and players are never going to agree on all things but at the end of the day, I’m 22 years old and so it doesn’t matter what I think. He’s the coach.

“You can’t be messing up drills,” Subban said of the incident Tuesday. “One of the drills I screwed up and he let me know about it. That’s a part of the game. I don’t think that’s a big deal.

“He’s going to tear a strip off me again this year, maybe a couple of times, but if we’re going to make a deal out of it every time, that’s not beneficial to our team,” added Subban. ‘I’m not the only young guy here. He does it for the other young guys. And he doesn’t for the veterans too.”

Fascinating quote really. It cuts as sharply to the bone as one of his sharp defensive end turns (which incidentally I can't perform myself, as Tobalev will attest).

Subban is right you know. Coaches do yell at players all the time. My coaches often yelled at me, shunned me, scowled. Of course they also praised, explained and coached. But this isn't a treatise on coaching methods. It's about observers of that.

What about a coach yelling at a player is newsworthy?

In Subban's mind, the answer is nothing at all. But that's not how the Montreal media work. Subban is part of a running story line right now and this fits into that very nicely. The story goes that the coaches are unhappy with Subban and that his place on a pedestal (again assumed) is no longer available to him. Indeed, from that we must extrapolate that his place on the team is no longer safe. For some more sensational yarnspinners, he's being offered actively around the league.

Subban of course is right. To the coach, this is not news. To the player this is not news. It could only constitute news to those unfamiliar with the workings of a hockey team. Or perhaps those that need pieces to fit a budding narrative.

I liked how he handled the microphones here. Even if he was misquoted by typo "And he doesn’t for the veterans too".


Us vs. them

The other fascinating things about Subban's quote is the way it opens: "I have a great relationship with Randy and I’d hate for you guys to ruin that..."

What did the receivers of this quote think Subban meant by ruining it? Perhaps they might have thought he meant publishing stories about being yelled at in practice? That seems to be in keeping with the rest of his thought.

So precisely what he hoped might not happen is what indeed did happen. This story is on every outlet. Including (and this is important) this one.

Important. I have been reading it. You have been reading it. I just wrote about it and you are reading about it again now. When Subban said "you guys" we shouldn't feel exempt from the statement the way Pat Hickey obviously feels himself exempt from being tarred with the media brush.

We, bloggers, readers, media, fans. We are all part of this ridiculous machine that takes power from its own momentum. It is fascinating and fun to watch and comment on. But you know what? It's nowhere near as fun as a playoff win, or a graduation from from a playoff round.

I think it's high time we take a serious look in the mirror here. While it's fun for armchair GMs to contemplate their power over a team, we must admit that on all evidence the power we wield is mostly disruptive. A positve report on a player or a surprise inclusion in a dome is not news, but a player missing a practice, a bit of hard coaching is.

In reality, the Canadiens and PK wouldn't seek a separation unless there was a real problem lurking under the surface. But real problems might have been patched before, whereas as now under the constant watch of twitter, there's little room to breathe let alone let off the necessary amounts of steam.

If we are putting the team in a position of weakness, we only hurt our own hopes. If we are brining scorn on the city by lapping up this common, yet widely unreported, BS, then we deserve the reputation we are breeding.

Good on PK for putting it so eloquently. He may yet coach us to the slick hockey savvy population we hold as image for ourselves.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Game #48

Hurting Toronto's Chances? The Next Best Thing

Details



Date: 21/01/2012
Opponent: Maple Leafs
Location: Toronto

Win: 3-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Gustavsson (L)

Habs goalscorers: Bourque, Diaz, Eller
Opposition goalscorers: Lombardi



Play of the game


In a weird way the play of the game tonight was Kaberle's penalty. With two minutes to go I trust our PK more than I trust us at even-strength. So, once we went man-down I was much more confident that we would hold on. In the end we held on and Toronto couldn't even get one of the two goals they needed. We needed a win and we needed a clean last two minutes - a penalty (who would have thought?) was just what the doctor ordered.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Rene Bourque
We were told that he would score goals by being on the doorstep and, after 4 games, that is what he finally did. The goal was his highlight, but it wasn't a bad game otherwise. We'll need more goals from him if we are to keep winning, if that is what we want to do of course.

Erik Cole
Erik was the best forward again, surprise, surprise. At times he was too much size and too much speed for the slow Toronto D. His play on the first goal was a big reason for the confusion and for the goal. He ended up at +2, the night's best.

Lars Eller
Eller was fast tonight and he was rewarded with a goal that sealed the game. In all that is ten goals now - could he hit 20? Kostitsyn and Moen were on tonight too, so once again there were two or three lines that TO had to worry about. When that happens we often do well.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
The true warrior in this one. When Komisarek looks across the ice he sees the player he could have been. Now, however, he fits the Toronto mould better than most and it is hard to believe that we once thought he was captain material. Josh for his part is and showed that again with his leadership tonight. After Toronto's goal I liked how he discussed what went wrong with PK. No matter who's fault it is Gorges seems interested in making this team better.

Raphael Diaz
He scored the game-winner and showed why he should not be in the press-box, but should be playing. The same can't be said for Campoli who really offers little to this team. Diaz didn't just score tonight, but also chipped in with 4 hits. When he plays like he did tonight he is easily in our top-4.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
I was worried after the Leafs scored their goal as Price looked weak. Before and after that, however, he was stellar as he turned away 32 shots. He was our best player tonight, but I did like how the team really limited Tornto's chances throughout. When Price plays like this and the D is strong in front of him it hurts to know just how bad this season has gone.


Comments


Every time we win I regain hope, but logic and reason then kick in (and a quick look at the standings). I still enjoy a win as it is more fun to watch. Of course, a top-5 pick could mean a huge change to the future of this team, but it is hard not to cheer for the win each and every night. So, I have decided to just let be whatever will be.

Tonight the Habs played a decent game, the type of game that suits them. They scored even-strength goals, were good on the PK and played strong as a group. In the end, however, the best part was that we handed the Leafs the loss, in regulation. I would be almost as happy with the Leafs missing the playoffs as the Habs making it in most seasons. So, tonight was a great feeling. Saturday, in Toronto, what could be better than reminding a fellow bad team that they are indeed not that great. It just goes to show that a hot start means little when you face the hard, cold fact that the season is 82 games long.

It would be nice if the Habs kept this up and if they can have a strong couple of weeks we'll see where we are and see what we are hoping for. Until then, enjoy having some days off from the Habs (only one game in the next 10 nights) and enjoy the most boring hockey game on the earth next weekend in Ottawa.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Game #47

Habs Blow In, Then Get Blown Out Of Pittsburgh

Details



Date: 20/01/2012
Opponent: Penguina
Location: Pittsburgh

Loss: 4-5 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Budaj (L)
Opposition Goalie: Fleury (W)

Habs goalscorers: Eller, Cole, Kostitsyn, Pacioretty
Opposition goalscorers: Letang, Jeffrey (2), Malkin (1, SO)



Play of the game


It wasn't a game devoid of highlight moments (nor lowlight). The high for the Canadiens was the goal that got us the point. Budaj on save bumped the puck out to Cole. With his one track mind, he naturally blew down the left wing. Pacioretty smartly went with and made himself and his stick available for a pass right until it came through the defender's legs. His shot took advantage of a moving Fleury, but made sure by hitting the top netting in style.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole - Game Puck
Despite his two late penalties, Cole still stood out as a positive force for the Canadiens. he is making things happen for himself all the time and when his linemates keep up, for the teammates too. Two points with a goal is a good night against the Pens.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Less money to stay in Montreal? We'll believe it when we see it Andrei... But he continues to make a case that a GM who believes he needs a big guy who can impose himself and score has an option with him. He continues to lose the puck on attempted moves, but importantly those moves buy him the hesitation of defenders (which he exploited twice on the night).

Max Pacioretty
At times, I rant at this guy. Sometimes he just makes these lazy plays that verge on the robotic. But the guy is also robotic in his scoring at the moment (evident with his goal). He should have been a shootout shooter, of that there is no doubt.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Josh had to play the hottest player in the NHL. We're not talking about a streak from Nick Foligno here, this is hulking, streaking Evgeni Malkin. With James Neal in tow, the Pens came into the game with one of the best scoring duos and certainly one that peppers the goal most. Gorges played them to a standstill at points. He eventually had to watch a Malkin goal, but were it not the Russian at his hottest, the shot from the boards wouldn't have been counted a scoring chance.

Tomas Kaberle
This selection is good news for the Habs. While many don't like the Kaberle acquisition, he's here and will be for a while. Better he succeeds. Tonight he played more and showed off his better qualities. He made the PP goal with a slick pass and did the better part of the good work for the Habs on that file.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Budaj had his moments and has a big hand in the point, but he really missed his chance to get the dome when he let in goal four and his chance to get it back went missing with Malkin's shot in yet another pathetic shootout. Carey couldn't have done worse.


Comments


It's a strange place for a Habs fan at the moment. Coming into the game, I wasn't exactly sure what or who to cheer for. Knowing that a win likely only draws out the playoffless season and diminishes the odds at getting one of the few players that the Habs would truly benefit from choosing.

When the game started with a goal, and a cheer was the instinctual reaction, I knew I couldn't cheer for losing, even if intellectually I can accept the concept of living to fight another day. In reality, it seems like I am really still quite invested in many of the players doing well, and as a result am urging them on.

The result tonight then was a disappointment. At least for the emotional side of me. Disappointing that the team allowed so many chances for the opposition to climb back, disappointing that the goalie would let in such an obvious tying goal and disappointing that the team remains so utterly abysmal in the shootout. Rationally, though, this was a very lukewarm team facing the hottest player in the league with a strategy of falling back to protect a lead. What else to expect? It very nearly ended well, which is to the credit of those who built a strong lead in the first place.

On another note, have I have ever such praise for a goalie who was on for so many goals against? Rarely. Eller's goal was presented as a mystery by the crew I was tuned into. I think most jus saw a badly tended rebound coming to the predictable predatory forward. These RDS guys do make me laugh sometimes. I suppose it's good a Habs fan gets a few laughs in at this point, so perhaps thanks are in order for their commitment to fulfilling their own prophecies with their description.

Tomorrow the Leafs. At this point, getting in that team's way of the playoffs at this point and in future match-ups may be the only tangible thing left this season. Wow it would feel good to watch Burke blame everyone else without an ounce of self-awareness again. Let's hope we can watch a preview soon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Game #46

Habs Horrible On PP: Considering Taking Coincidentals With Each Future Call

Details



Date: 18/01/2012
Opponent: Capitals
Location: Montreal

Loss: 0-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Neuvirth (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Perreault, Johansson, Ovechkin



Play of the game


Bourque showing some great speed in the second and hitting the cross-bar. Wow folks, it has come to this, that, in all honesty, was the best we offered tonight.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Scott Gomez
I'm not even sure if Scott is playing any better than he has over the past 18 months. In the end it was another pointless game to go with a -2 and 22% on face-offs. What was clear, however, was that he was one of our better forwards. He showed good speed and had some good chances.

Erik Cole - Game Puck
He is probably the only player that hasn't bought into the losing/sulking/we can't win attitude. Cammalleri was right, but was wrong about Erik. He played well again tonight, but must be heading home quite disappointed with where his new team is on January 18th.

David Desharnais
Plekanec should be raking in the domes this season. There is really no excuse given his pedigree, but it is not the case. Once again David out-played Pleks and has us all wondering why #14 sees those PP minutes and not Desh's line exclusively.

Defencemen

PK Subban
PK played quite a decent game actually and was heavily involved in the neutral and offensive zones. I particularly liked his speed and puck-carrying. Is he a part of the future or is he someone that could fetch an awful lot in the next few weeks via a trade.

Yannick Weber
Weber did a good job again and is, at the very least, increasing his chances of being in this league come October. For some reason it isn't working for him on the PP despite (as it seems to me) doing a lot right.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj
We need to win games and so I think we need our All-Star, our undisputed best player to be not only the best on this team, but above average, quite a bit above average for the rest of the year. That was not the case tonight. Our team didn't score, so it may be moot, but letting in 2 of 5 in the first and 3 of 16 overall just doesn't sit well with me.


Comments


If only our PP could score. Can you imagine where we would be if we even had 10 more PP goals this year? How about 20? We have proven over the past few years that an average team with a good PP can be a force. This year we are proving that an average team with a horrible PP is nothing for the opposition to worry about. So, what is it? I don't know, probably these and some: can't gain the zone; rush too many passes; always looking for the perfect shot; can't keep the puck in; shoot into traffic; have no real QB; have no confidence...the list could go on, but I am getting tired.

The season has probably been over for a month, but, for some reason, tonight it really feels like the end. It isn't impossible, but when you have watched this team as much as we all have you can't help but wonder how on earth it would be possible. We can't score enough, we can't let in few enough, we can't play from behind and we can't hold a lead. I have always felt that we have over-achieved since the lock-out, since Koivu's return from cancer really. We have been an average team all of those years, but we have rarely missed the playoffs and we often win series. So, I actually think this is the balance, the luck running out. It is nothing to get too upset about really, but it could be a long 9 months till October. My suggestion is to find what positives we can and hope that the team sees those and builds on them.

The Brain Drain

For Christmas I was given a copy of Jean Beliveau's memoirs. I have been reading the book and am only pages from finished now.

What strikes the reader of this book, other than the fact that Beliveau just seems like a genuinely down-to-earth, nice guy, is how the Habs have changed since he came and left the team. Beliveau speaks about it a bit, but is too generous to indict anyone too much.

The Canadiens, as we know from their record, dominated the NHL from the mid-50s to the 1980s. Their success is gauged by Stanley Cups and other trophies, but it was built with amazing strategy and foresight. While the slow down in Cups is an obvious red flag for this organization, it is perhaps the dissociation with the latter that is more significant.

The Canadiens of the 1930s by all accounts were a good team, but by the late part of the decade, it was clear they weren't the pace setters in the league. That honour, on examination, must by rights go to the Toronto Maple Leafs who had the championships and the strategic minds to go with. Someone at this critical juncture recognized enough was enough and plucked a towering hockey mind (Tommy Gorman) to steer the club. He in turn found his man in Dick Irvin and did what it took to secure his service. Then, when Gorman left and somewhere along the way, and I won't get into the intrigue, Conn Smythe and Frank Selke split company and Selke arrived in Montreal. Beliveau doesn't go into all that much about Selke himself, but there are a few interesting snippets that point to the kind of manager he was.

First and foremost, it seems that Selke was an excellent (if not infallible) evaluator of talent. But being sensible, he also knew not to rely completely on his eye, and he probably realized that his rivals were pretty good too. He knew quantity of talent would likely yield better quality and so he set out creating teams and leagues to feed the Canadiens. The 1950s Habs were a big product of the seeds he had sown in his earlier tenure with the Habs and by the time the Canadiens were ready to start winning Cups they had too much talent to be stopped.

We predictably focus on the on-ice talent, but I think Selke knew the importance of off-ice talent as well. The advisors he kept around him and the apprentices he developed were just as important as those players. When Dick Irvin left as coach, Selke (according to Beliveau) wanted to replace his friend with an old acquaintance from Toronto. But it's a testament to the man that he was obviously open to collaboration as Ken Reardon was able to convince him of the case for Toe Blake. Greatness was retained in the organization in that instance, because greatness was recognized.

While players would change and Cups would come and go, the commitment to quality people in the front office was clearly there long after Selke. On his retirement, his replacement was a well-groomed candidate from within the organization, Sam Pollock. Pollock was to take the team into a much less stable era (with expansion, a draft and a rival league) and duplicate, if even exceed what Selke had done.


Their legacy
The legacy of Irvin and Selke was passed to Blake and Pollock and Bowman. From there it was absorbed no doubt by some in the organization, both on (Lemaire, Robinson, Gainey, Dryden, Savard) and off the ice (Cliff Fletcher, Caron, etc.)

Following Pollock's decision to retire, he apparently struggled with the naming of a replacement. Though he clearly recognized in Scotty Bowman a unique talent, he also recognized a fiery temper that might befit a GM of a team with other egos.

Some point to the selection of Irving Grundman as the beginning of the end for the Canadiens dominance, and perhaps it was. But at this stage, the Habs still had a bevy of learned people in their employ who knew the ways of Selke and Pollock.

Perhaps it's not important where the chain was broken, only that we know it was. Somehow the team that provided the model for both management and coaching for many decades ended up with Rejean Houle guiding Mario Tremblay. Somewhere along the line the braintrust filtered down the drain.

How it happened is not something that can be treated in one blog post, but there's little question that it did. With the braintrust gone, so was the culture of patientce and the feeling that the management held the upper hand over the always braying Montreal media.

That was ages ago now.

The attempt to restore the line was made in 2003 when Bob Gainey was headhunted for a return. Gainey, a 1970s Canadien himself must have learned a thing or two from Pollock and from Selke.


Restoring the tradition

What is missed by people that believed Gainey was just another in the line of graduates from the Montreal school is critical review of what he actually did. A review suggests there was some conviction, but perhaps not enough patience, and certainly not enough examination of what can be done under the current regulations to push an advantage over opponents to the extremes that Selke and Pollock once did.

I write this piece in the shadow of the Mike Cammalleri trade, and so it may seem like a criticism. Perhaps it should be. But I could have written it without that particular trade.

Gauthier himself is clearly an intelligent man and a thinker who puts care into his work. Yet he's no Selke. This would perhaps not be so important were there no mirrors of the great GM ion the modern game, but that doesn't appear to be so. With the Red Wings topping the West for yet another season, their management team shines above all. But there are examples of much more clever manoeuvring than that accomplished by Gauthier (and indeed Gainey) in San Jose, Philadelphia, Boston and other places.

As a Habs fan, I have to ask why.

Why should an organization that learned time and time again the importance of quality running through every vein (on or off ice) be so content to fill its ranks so? Why should all the organizational currency in managers and coaches be allowed to filter out only to come back and haunt the team?

In its longest ever Cup drought, the Canadiens need a Tommy Gorman moment. An admission that better people exist somewhere and that finding them should become a priority. Because Gorman doesn't become Irvin to Selke to Blake to Pollock to Bowman without that moment of truth.

I wish this team of owners would stop hoping they'll luck into something and put some of the Markov profits into some serious recruiting efforts. And for me this doesn't mean Gauthier needs to go, just that he has to be surrounded and fed by the best budgets will allow. And that in moments of pause, assistant coaches, 16 months into their time with the organization won't have to be the lone available option.

M. Jean Beliveau is far too much of a gentleman to ever say it, but every line between the lines in his memoir spoke of quality. I can't see how he wouldn't be with us on this.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Game #45

Habs Dominate Conference Leaders

Details


Date: 15/01/2012
Opponent: Rangers
Location: Montreal

Win: 4-1

Habs Goalie: Budaj (W)
Opposition Goalie: Lundqvist (L)

Habs goalscorers: Pacioretty (2), Blunden, Desharnais
Opposition goalscorers: Mitchell



Play of the game

A speedy Erik Cole takes a smart exit pass and starts our most dangerous line on a rush. As the Rangers' defender cuts him off, he dumps it a little forward for Pacioretty to pick up along the boards. While Cole takes most of the attention charging towards the near post, Pacioretty spins and throws the puck right on the tape of Desharnais, who is in full-stride on the other side of the net. Desharnais tucks it easily behind Lundqvist and seals the deal with the prettiest goal of the evening.




Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
A goal in each of the first two periods led the contributions of our top line for this outing. Our leading scorer earlier in the season, Max had a rough December but has hopefully broken his drought and regained some confidence for the months to come. We wanted big things from Pacioretty, and 15 goals in 42 games qualifies. He opened the scoring to put some wind in our sails early, and deflected an Erik Cole point shot for the eventual game-winner in the second. Big goals tonight.

Erik Cole
One thing we talked about early this season was the hope that we might finally have 3 lines that have the potential to score. I'd like to think some of that depth was echoed in a bench interview with Tortorella while we were up 3-1, where he said one of the problems was that "Their fourth line has scored twice." I don't know that this is our fourth line (especially considering we only dressed 11 forwards), but whatever line they are, they put 3 pucks in the net and Cole played a central role in all of these.

David Desharnais
Rounded out an extremely dangerous-looking line and used his speed and hockey sense to create problems for the Rangers all night long. Desharnais has amassed over 30 points in 45 games now, and is making a strong argument that he can take top-line offensive duties.


Defencemen

PK Subban
I've had the impression that Subban is being allowed to play a little more offensively the last couple games. He seemed more selective with his shots tonight, and had a lot more go on-target as a result. He showed good vision on his pass to Gomez to set up the Blunden goal. Didn't take part in total meltdown that allowed the first goal.

Josh Gorges
Not an easy night to round out the defenders, especially for defensive play. We weren't challenged too hard in our own end but Gorges was there to take care of it when we were. His physical play in the second and third periods helped to tie up a Rangers squad that knows how to move the puck and put it in the net.


Goaltender

Peter Budaj
Impressive showing, particularly for a guy who's been on the bench all season. Seriously, this is only Budaj's 6th outing, and only his second in the last 6 weeks or so. Budaj made some good stops early, including a very assertive play well-out of his net early in the second. His kick-save on a shot during the Rangers' power play was one of the prettiest of the game and came at an important moment.

Comments


An encouraging game to watch, for sure. Though the line of Cole/Desharnais/Pacioretty stole the show tonight, much of our forward line stood out tonight. Gomez had a really impressive game, and played the neutral ice and transition game as well as I've seen him do this season or last. He won some battles down low and created some great scoring chances, one of which Blunden put home. Blunden was involved in more real chances than I've ever seen before, and I have to wonder if that wasn't because Gomez was keeping him well-fed. Then I saw Gomez "on the back-check" with about 45 seconds left to go in the third: a bad change, and #11 skating out from the offensive zone at walking pace with his hands on his knees as the Rangers put together one of their better chances of the period.

Bourque was also noticeable in his debut beside Plekanec and actually reminds me of Cole if anyone: he has good speed and size, he likes to hit, and he seems to have good offensive senses. People say that maybe this is a new generation of Canadiens that won't be as skilled or as fast as the last couple of seasons, but I defy them to explain to me how the addition of Cole has slowed down our rush or harmed our offense. I think Bourque is of a similar vein, and could have similar success in a power forward role beside Plekanec and Gionta while bringing some size to the trio. Too bad Gionta's out for the rest of the season.

We started strong in the first and scored a beautiful goal only a couple minutes into it. Maybe 6 or 7 minutes later, we started to run into problems winning battles in our end, getting on loose pucks, and clearing it once we did get a stick on it. The Rangers were able to play a possession game in our end of the rink for a fair stretch of the first period, and that's never good. However, we came out strong after the first intermission and never looked back. We seemed to find some real confidence in the dressing room that translated into 3 goals and some pretty serious domination over the Eastern Conference leaders. We won more battles and did the little things right, and they weren't able to contain our rushes or outplay us in the neutral zone. When that happens, we're a tough team to beat and a lot of fun to watch.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Game #44

Habs L(SO) Rans Again

Details



Date: 14/01/2012
Opponent: Senators
Location: Montreal

Loss: 2-3 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Anderson (W)

Habs goalscorers: Plekanec, Pacioretty
Opposition goalscorers: Turris, Spezza (Alfredsson, SO)



Play of the game


Tying goals so close to time are always exciting. This one happened to be full of nice play as well. All forwards were implicated. From deep play with Pacioretty and Cole to pass out to Subban, simple toss to Campoli, clean shot, Desharnais' goalmaking determination and Pacioretty's johnny-on-the-spot routine. Fans were crying out for this goal and this show of passion. Nice to see.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais - Game Puck
From start to finish I had my pencil mark made. He played the susceptible Ottawa defence hard and made several chances for himself. Of course, he played the pivotal role in the memorable final scene, but he could have been the hero but for Anderson on many other occasions. What I liked from Desharnais was his commitment to winning in this one. And if Cammalleri was complaing about players, it can't have been this guy.

Erik Cole
Once again Cole is the player who stands out many times in these games with little scoring. He stands out for trying different things and for taking matters into his own hands (in a sensible way without risking goals against). As the captain sits, Cole should start wearing an "A" at the very least, as he is the leader we would want for this squad.

Tomas Plekanec
His goal to start the game in motion was not a thing of beauty, but he must get lots of credit for being on what must have been his third breakaway already. Yes, we'd like better shooting, but baby steps. Pleks also did something I've rarely seen from him - stick-faked to move inside. This is exciting for me as it indicates to me he must have been told, and therefore is being coached out of perimeter only play. Good to see he has the tools to do that too.


Defencemen

Josh Gorges
There were moments where I caught him displaying the greatest of ease in stripping pucks from inexperienced Ottawa forwards. This is where his confidence has risen to. If you are not a top liner, please just give me the puck now. The effort from the defenders in this one was actually quite superb for the most part. Shots against were low despite powerplays, chances were very few, and the goals were a bounce, a PP marker and a shootout finisher. Gorges kept a hot Spezza quiet and off target all game except for that one PP. Good to see.

PK Subban
He should get credit for a very good defensive effort too. It's not his fault he's listening to his coaches, but it'd be nice to see the old Subban again soon. It's frustrating knowing he's in there somewhere as the Habs struggle to score, especially as Ottawa's Erik Karlsson roams the ice freely en route to another win and care-free lead in defenceman scoring.


Goaltender

Carey Price
He did better than at times in the shootout, but will be disappointed with himself, I'm sure. Throughtout the contest he was true to form and held the Habs in. A couple of the saves he made were as pivotal as either goal.


Comments


A team has to look at the positives. A point in a game that was come from behind with a minute to go is a great thing.

But I tell you what. Teams that take too much comfort in that end up with records that look like the Habs current one. The team is now 7-8-7 at home. The positive spin is that they have taken points in 14 of 22 games. The reality is that this is not above average for an NHL team.

Tonight's loss was their 6th in 7 shootouts. 5 of the shootouts have been at home and each has ended in a loss. This is a complex of English football proportions. The team can't score when facing down a goalie (3 goals in 20 tries) and the goalie isn't good enough to wait until they hit the 15% marker. Something might be done, but I fear too many points have been left on the table already for it to be worthwhile. Bourque is said to be good. But would it matter if Kaberle takes the shots anyway.

A pseudo-positive, pseudo-negative result is a good way to start this next section of the season (the Bourque era). The Habs either have 8 points to make up or 5 points to shed depending on how you look at it. And one way or another shootout and OTLs will hurt them in either pursuit. So the team must commit as the management must to the direction from here. If it's winning, then winning has to come from pressing chances on breakaways and not letting every former Florida back-up goalie look the star of the universe when one plays him. If it's losing, last minute comebacks really just won't do.

A week ahead that includes the teams we thought would be the strength of the East and then Toronto is a good week to decide. Wins here will be against those teams on which ground needs to be made (so worthwhile) and losses will help in the opposite way. I can't tell you where they'll go, because though I thought they'd be bad, I also thought they were out after a Spezza goal, so what do I know...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Game #43

Habs Lose Game, Top Playoff Performer

Details



Date: 12/01/2012
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Loss: 1-2

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: Weber
Opposition goalscorers: Caron, Lucic



Play of the game


It has to be our goal, the one by the player that has said he is better than other defencemen on this team. The goal was a screen shot on a PP, not much to it, but a goal against Thomas is always welcomed. He is right, though, he is better than a few of our D. What Yannick fails to mention, however, is that he isn't that great himself. We would hope that goals like this would come more often - will they?



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
I think Tom cares and I think that he likes the Habs. Didn't see too much of that tonight, but didn't see anything much better from the rest. He won 1/3 of the games face-offs, 76% of his. Can a change of linemates get him going? Something has to.

Erik Cole
Our best player, even not at his best, is still our best player. He tried hard to score at times and wants to win, you can see that much on his face. With Pacioretty firing blanks and a new player coming (and the fact that we lose most of the time) one may look elsewhere for linemates for the big winger - could he and Gomez work?

Mike Blunden

Nothing against Blunden as I like him, but isn't a bit sad that he is in here? Against the league's best you would hope that someone other than your worst player could crack the dome. He was in it tonight, though and for that I am giving him credit. His five hits stood out the most for me.

Defencemen

Hal Gill
This wasn't a great game for Emelin, Gorges nor Subban, so, the door is opened. Gill got more minutes tonight and took a step back in the right direction with his defensive play, particularly the play on the PK. I am not sure if he has a place on this team anymore, but, to tell you the truth, I am having a hard time figuring out who really does these days anyway.

Yannick Weber
It says something when your 8th defenceman can step in and make the dome and score the team's only goal. It tells us that what Cammalleri and Weber himself were saying is pretty bang on. I think that Weber has a long way to go to earn a regular spot, but with Campoli, Gill and Kaberle ahead of him let's just say that the door is open and that the chance is his to take.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
Price didn't look too sharp tonight, but was still far and away our best player. I question whether he had to wander on the first goal. I have never been huge on playing the puck at every opportunity, but if I was to be my most hesitant it would be when the game was tight and we were on the road in an arena with unfamiliar bounces. The second goal was a bad play from Plekanec and Gorges. Thomas would have been lucky and made the save, Price got unlucky and it went in.


Comments


There were two parts to this game, the game itself and the trade. As for the game we went down, on the road, to a very good team. It was unlucky, yes, but we didn't do much throughout to change that luck. The most upsetting thing, however, is that Boston didn't play that well. Beyond that bad bounce we tied them and that is despite very, very pathetic refereeing (making up for the Marchand suspension?)

The second part of the game started when it was noticed, early in the third, that Camms wasn't on the ice nor the bench. Unless you are Gionta or Gomez this generally means that you aren't hurt again, but that you have been traded. In the end we picked up a worse version of what Cammalleri was and should be. Bourque, however, can't be too much worse than Mike had been this year. We also got an upgrade in the prospect department and the draft pick department. All this and salary was shed. But, will Bourque become a problem and will that salary tie our hands? I can't say no, although many people thought that our hands were tied with Camms and now, miraculously, they aren't. I can't help but be upset, however, about the fact that we just lost our best playoff performer (non-Halak) of the past three years. He was money in the post-season and, for me, it is worth the regular season that he is having to hold on to that. When our team changed directions in 2009 I was most happy with the Cammalleri signing. To me, this was the biggest name player that we had brought in since Kovalev. The biggest out-of-town star that we made a move for since the lock-out. There was promise and after four playoff series and an electrifying Centennial game I knew that we had a big-game player. I am sad to see him go as I don't care if a player is selfish, has an ego or is soft in his own end when he can score. He hadn't been scoring lately, but I always believed that he would again. After all, you can't teach what we just lost.

On Cammalleri

By now, you have all no doubt heard about Cammalleri's comments on his team playing a loser's brand of hockey.

It's caused quite a stir. And so it should have.

The stir as seen from the Antichambre (half-baked, generous assessment of baking duration) point of view is that players who call their teammates losers are losers. They are losers because one should never say anything bad about their t4eammates to anyone outside the group that makes up the team.

I adhere to this too. But only for so long. I would be upset with Mike if this was the first expression of these thoughts about losing hockey. I'd also be very surprised if it was.

My feeling is that he probably intentionally sat down with journalists he knew would make this an important and wide-reaching story because he intended to cause a stir. Why? Because saying it in the locker has failed yet to do so. Probably on multiple, maybe regular attempts.

What then to do to make the teammates take notice? Cause a storm that they can't help to hear outside the Bell Centre walls.


Losing

What Cammalleri said contained nothing novel in it at all. This every observer has seen and known for quite some time. This his teammates must deep down have known too.

I was once part of an underdog team that ended up losing in a final of a tournament by a closer than expected margin. The player who had refused to stick to our special strategy (because he thought it was stupid) and ultimately cost us the game absolved himself with a comment something like this: "We were always going to lose, no matter what we did".

It was especially flagrant during the sting of loss. but it made me realize an important difference between winners and losers. Winners win because they believe they can affect the outcome and follow through on what they believe will do that. Losers lose in part because they don't fully commit to the winning.

When a team loses despite committing to winning, one might see shrugs and hear all that about luck turning, etc. When it's losing for lack of winning commitment, it's good that at least some can see it.

We see it in constant early deficits, and frequent sagging comeback attempts. The Canadiens have plenty of excuse for losing to the Blues (they are a good team now), but they have no excuse at all for only putting two serious tests to the Blues net in their own arena.If I only take the example of missing the net on so many occasions. What will it take for a team that rarely comes back to make their challenges on goal serious and not just numerous but wide?


Was it Cammalleri's place?

No player would have got off the hook entirely with this act, but some might have had more leeway.

But I think it's cop-out to read this as Cammalleri's excuse to the city of Montreal for his goal total. Cammalleri likely doesn't think he owes the city of Montreal anything of the sort. And he certainly knows as a veteran of the sport and this city what the implications of this action would be (brouhaha-wise)

The Cammalleri goal production discussion probably does need to take place, but let's not ignore that it was the weight of losing and the perceived reasons for this that probably led him to put a much bigger media bulls-eye on his back. There's no smoke without fire. And because of media bullying there's no smoke outside the locker room without a blazing inferno.

We've seen it. Pundits have repealed it nightly. Coaches at times have mused it. Now a player has said it. I'm glad someone did. I'll call it his tenth goal.


What next?

The first thing is that I hope the players notice this. It was the clear intent, and it would be a real flag if the coaches feared so much for character of players that it could be broken by a call to try and win more.

Cammalleri will get backlash from "I played and I know" types, so it would be nice if his teammates backed him up. In words and with action.

Trades may need to be considered. But let's not assume I'm talking Cammalleri. If losing is endemic, the ones happy to continue should be questioned as future stalwarts.

Then, wait and see.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How Scott Gomez's Injuries Have Been a Blessing for GM

Scott Gomez looks close to returning to build on his 4 point effort this season. No longer a member of my hockey pool roster, I can watch his play once again with simple appreciation -- without asking for tangible results.

Thinking about his return got me thinking about how his absence has been a blessing in a way, perhaps not for the team, but definitely for the GM.

Here are some reasons I think Gauthier should be thanking Gomez:

1) It has allowed the team to lose
More people have been accepting of the recent losses than we'd have previously thought possible. Another injury and the new salary floor model Canadiens shouldn't have been expected to do anymore. or so the story is evolving. The notion that the team would have made the playoffs without injuries is fully untested now and so the GM's team building will always be considered next to the couplet "considering injuries"

2) Proving some worth
At this stage of his career, it seems Gomez is better at proving his worth by absence than presence. It's hard to ignore how this has affected Tomas Plekanec, usually the Canadiens best player. Whether we like it or not, other teams dedicate effort to guarding against Gomez. Without that distraction, Plekanec is withering und3r the brights.

3) Desharnais is establishing a permanent niche
Without any real competition at centre, Desharnais has been getting plenty of minutes and all the top wingers. During the process, he's proving that he can handle that. Whether this ends up benefiting the Canadiens with a long-term player or a fruitful trade, it's not something that was guaranteed had Desharnais been subject to the reality of a four-way competition for centre minutes.

4) Eller may finally be emerging
When Eller first came, the flashes of offensive confidence were very rare indeed. It probably didn't help he was toiling next to lesser passing options. With Gomez out, Eller has had chances now and again to get top billing and has taken that as a vote of confidence, it seems.

5) Money in Molson pocket
Want to know what pleases owners as much as wins: money. Gomez's injury compensation has probably provided as much revenue for the Molsons as a short playoff run, and without the need to cancel the April trip to the best golf resorts in the Carolinas. An owner in a good mood is an owner more likely to be lenient about that other business objective.


It's been my opinion from the start that this Habs team was on the bubble. In the summer, I noted some very important assumptions that people were making about Price, Subban and Plekanec among others that would have to align for the expectations to really come to fruition.

I wrote this about Gomez, but I could have written it about Markov. The notion is that injuries, whoever has been affected, have affected our ability to judge this team properly. There is sufficient doubt now that what we saw is what we could have seen, and so the evaluation of the GM's work is not realistic.

I don't mean to pass judgment on the GM myself or any of his isolated decisions. I merely wished to highlight how in this case an injury has worked out quite nicely for the guy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Game #42

Halak Takes Another Win at Bell Centre

Details


Date: 10/01/2012
Opponent: Blues
Location: Montreal

Loss: 0-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Halak (W)

Habs goalscorers:
Opposition goalscorers: Arnott, Backes, Stewart



Play of the game

It's always tough trying to pull a play of the game out of a night like tonight. I'm going to go with the short-handed chance on the Blues' 3rd-period power play that saw Eller creating a rush that caused some chaos in front of Halak. Darche collected the loose puck and lifted it high over a sprawling Halak, who deftly robbed Darche of a well-executed shot with a luckily placed glove hand.




Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Lars Eller
Helped create some of tonight's most dangerous chances, even if they were futile efforts. Took a bit of a dumb penalty, but at least it was early. Didn't drop the ball on defence.

Andrei Kostitsyn
The other half of what is likely our most effective on-ice duo right now. These guys play well together, I've said it before. Hopefully they'll be given the chance to do so a bit more over the coming weeks and we'll see some success come from whatever line forms around them.

Tomas Plekanec
Some nights, it's really tough to fill out the dome. This one. Pleks makes it in tonight basically because he was about the only forward who seemed to smell any offence over the first period. He opened the second with some nice pressure with linemates Gionta and Cammalleri, but they were consistently shut down through the duration. As always, his penalty-killing remains outstanding.


Defencemen

PK Subban
Yeah, I know he shouldn't have let Reeves beat him on the outside like that on the first goal. However, that was the only one he was on for despite playing over 22 minutes. He also delivered the hit of the night (and what a hit it was!) and led the team in shot attempts.

Josh Gorges - Game Puck
While the rest of the defence seemed to be experimenting with their skating and puck-handling (was that a Subban-style spin from Hal Gill in the first period?),
Gorges quietly went about his business, as per usual. He was on for almost 22 minutes and kept the puck out of the net while setting the tone for the other defenders, even if it went unheard. It was exactly the kind of simple, effective, blue-collar hockey we want from Gorges, and that's why he doesn't get many game pucks. He delivered tonight, and that's why he gets this one. Plus those hip-check clinics he's been giving, that Subban hit had Gorges written all over it!


Goaltender

Carey Price
I wanted to put Halak in here for old times' sake, and he did make some spectacular saves in his shutout bid. Price did make some good saves, and I felt like he was let down by the guys in front of him a couple times. The Blues were handed some good opportunities to score, and they executed. Budaj wouldn't have helped us tonight, and even the best goalie in the world can't steal one for you if you can't put the puck in the net.

Comments

While we had a couple good-looking moments, they were few enough and often far between. A strong Blues squad showed us why they moved into first overall in the West with this win by playing some smart, possession-based hockey. They did a great job of working the body and clogging up the neutral zone to take away our speed and transition game. Their forecheck was aggressive and caused problems for us the whole way through, and they won the majority of the battles in their own end.

This was a tough game to watch, as we were simply and thoroughly outplayed. There weren't many positives to take away from this one. We came out of the locker room very strong in both the 2nd and 3rd periods, but we were unsuccessful in building any kind of momentum. One of our few strong points was the penalty kill, which shut down a red-hot Blues power play (9 of last 26 coming into this game; 0/4 tonight) and arguably had 2 of our best scoring chances tonight. I'm sure this game just goes to show something, but I'm not sure what yet.

Fun fact: Halak has the best all-time record in the history of the Bell Centre: 38­-15-3 including tonight.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Habs By Half:

League-Indexed Shot Metrics

I didn't have the time to do the LIW pie charts for you this time, but thought you'd still all like to see the data. It comes from Behindthenet.ca and shows even strength scoring for and against together with shot metrics (shots, misses, blocks) pooled into attempts on net.

As you'll see, there are colours to indicate where the members of the Canadiens fall amongst the 700+ players that have played 10 or more games this season. It's not a perfect assessment, but it does give some context which is good when looking at single team's worth of numbers.

General notes

Just before the data, some general notes. Behindthenet is best for looking at ES data (and by that I mean only 5-on-5). And the Habs, as bad as they have been in our perception and the unforgiving standings are actually a good even strength (5-on-5) team thus far this season.

The team ranks 10th in goals for at ES/60 and 21st for GA/60, but come out even (with 1 more goal against than for). As a result, the Habs come up in the whole rainbow of colours and seem about an average team -- despite the obvious possibility as suggested by the January 9th standings that they are below average.



Anyway, keep that in mind as you peruse.


Forwards (ranked by ES TOI)



Notes on the forwards:
Who's good? Who's bad? This chart really does contain a lot to both reinforce perception and blow it right out of the water.

Take Scott Gomez. His Corsi number is staggering and it's based on a top-notch offensive generation of attempts, together with a well above average defensive prevention of attempts. It's food for thought for those who still think he's good for nothing. I still contend there's food for thought for those who need to reconcile what we see with this.

The other excellence that shows are Louis Leblanc's and Andreas Engqvist's goals against in only a few games, and Pacioretty and Palushaj's shots for. Of the four stats, I think we should probably only take the Pacioretty attempt generation stat too too seriously. The guy shoots. He didn't use to, but now he does at league leading levels. Unfortunately for Max, he's practically team leader in misses and blocked shots per game too, so his attempts should be viewed with this consideration. Concern perhaps also that for 63 releases of the puck, this goalscorer's line is outside the top 20% of all players in the league for goals per ice time.

ON the negative side of things, Blunden whose low ice time should probably not be questioned despite his recent skill display, and the offensive output of virtually the whole fourth line. Palushaj, either very unlucky or very keen on shooting from the worst possible positions was getting a goal per 100 of his line's league top ten percent chances taken. The word waste might be considered.

The other, and perhaps more surprising, member of the bottom 10% club is Tomas Plekanec at even strength GAA. A relic from the 1980s, his 3.47 must surely be a matter for concern going forward. It takes away attention from the high attempts against number as well, which is practically team worst at this point.

Guys that avail themselves well here: Cole, Leblanc and Engqvist!

Guys that need to pull up their skates (a lot): Plekanec and Nokelainen

And on a team that flutters about the uninspirational average in this area, the rest of the guys display positives, but not too many and negatives, but not too few.


Defencemen (ranked by ES TOI)



Notes on the defence:
St. Denis had an excellent spell. And were it not for just about every other Dman being a rookie on the team, I think he'd get a longer chance. Talk about shielding all you want, one still has to perform under the shield and this AHLer clearly outperformed the lower line NHLers he was put out against.

Gorges has been the best all-rounder, but is painfully average in all but goals for (which if you have to choose one category is probably best).

Campoli is on paper exactly as he is on the ice, a nightmare on the back end, but in the NHL because somehow he involves himself with goalscoring.

Subban deserves credit for his balance sheet, as he plays against the better opponents all the time. His goals are balanced and his shots balance is slightly in favour of offence. He certainly hasn't put on the flash of last playoffs this season, but is becoming a more stable option according to these stats.

The rest are blending a bit. Gill and Kaberle nearly share a profile which is wacky. Showing that Gill is neither as good as he was once was at stopping chances or those that become goals and Kaberle is no longer that great at producing them or the goals.

Emelin, Diaz are learning and have the requisite below average marks, but could be worse. Weber still learning too, perhaps suffering from being at different positions.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Game #41

Payback; Canadiens Comeback To Beat Lightning

Details



Date: 07/01/2012
Opponent: Lightning
Location: Montreal

Win: 3-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Garon (L)

Habs goalscorers: Blunden, Pacioretty, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Lecavalier



Play of the game


Getting back in the game once down was critical, but I did expect it would happen. What I didn't expect was that we would get contribution from our 4th line. It was Blunden, in fact, that scored the goal, his first as a Hab. I would have maybe kept Nokelainen in over Blunden, but Cunneyworth obviously knows better than me. The move paid off with a timely goal and it was a nice goal to boot. I don't expect too many more from Mike, but his goal is a reminder of just how skilled all NHLers are when they have space and time to do what they want.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
Max had a great goal and picked up an assist on Cole's goal at the end. Beyond that, however, there was so much offence; he led the team in shots (7), attampts (11) and take-aways (2). He also drew the penalty at the end of the game which meant the Habs avoided a potentially frantic final 30 seconds. We needed a better effort from him and we got it tonight. His line was one of the big reasons that Tampa got little going all night as they were, more often than not, in the Lightning's end. I like that lines have formed and that people know their roles, I think that that is helping us right now.

Erik Cole
It was between him and Desharnais. Both players played well, but I thought that Cole had the slight edge tonight. Stealing David's goal at the end of the game, of course, plays in his favour! Not his most dominant game, but he showed that good players can have quieter nights, yet still be better than most of their opposition.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Despite Cole's line being in the dome almost entirely I felt that Eller's line was the most dangerous all night. They didn't score, but came oh so close on so many different occasions. The best element on that line was Kostitsyn as he continued his very strong play. When your top line is your third best on most nights and they aren't playing that badly you know that things must be going well.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Gorges came back hard after Subban lost the puck in the offensive zone and took the puck away from Downie beautifully. That was his best play all game, a game in which he was solid throughout. As Gill fades away as a regular it is Gorges who is becoming the shot-blocking machine; tonight he added five to his tally.

Alexei Emelin
Three of our seven guys are being used sparingly and I think that it is brilliant. So, it is like we have four regular D and Emelin is now firmly in that group. It was more of the same tonight as there were more hits and more rushes. I believe that it is only a matter of time till his rushes and shots turn into assists and goals. The more I watch this player, the more I like what we have here. He could very well end up being a fixture on our back end for many years to come.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Price played a very good game and could have easily had a shutout. The goal was a bit unlucky (or very skilled from Lecavalier), but wouldn't go in 9 times out of 10. When the team plays well for a full 60 minutes it makes Carey's life a whole lot easier. Tonight they only allowed 24 shots and that makes it much more realistic to expect him to let in 2 or less than when we let up 35 or more.


Comments


The knock on the Habs earlier this season (like in December) was that if we went down we were out of it. Well, for a second straight game we showed that there is fight in us and that, given time, we can find a way back in. Tampa managed to get the lead, but weren't necessarily playing that much better than us. In fact here was a team just like us in their fragility. For some reason they are another team that lost to Boston in 7 and is having a hard time this year. So, the Habs did well to come back, but I can't say that it was too hard. We just kept plugging away and the chances came and within them a couple of goals. And, once we were back in it we kept playing that same way. It seemed that we had a plan and our goal was to execute that plan for a full 60 minutes. When that happens and the players are on we show our depth, speed and tenacity. This 'small' team is winning a lot of battles right now as players like Cole, Emelin and Kostitsyn are providing the muscle that most people don't think we even have.

I wanted to see us play seven defencemen for a long time. Not seven D like Carbo, Martin or Julien did, though, but to use them all as D. For the past two games we have done just that and it is working rather well. The cost to the forwards is that we have a player from a top-3 line play on the 4th rather than a D-man . That means we get a better player on the ice more and our 4th line is better than if we used a 4th-liner or a D in that spot. The benefit can also be seen at the back end. Gorges, Subban, Emelin and Diaz (and eventually Markov) are all-around guys, guys that can log 20+ minutes and play in all situations. But, I think that it is clear that, ideally, Gill, Kaberle and Campoli (and Weber) aren't. So, what we do is we take that 34-38 minutes of ice-time and divide it by three instead of two. It doesn't hurt the team as those guys are only still on for about 17-19 minutes as a pair
(about 12 minutes on average each) and it also keeps them fresher. It also keeps each individual off the ice (which isn't a bad thing) more. You can then use those three when the timing suits them - Kaberle and Campoli when more offence is needed and Gill when we need a bit more of a stay-at-home presence. I really like the concept and hope that we keep it up, especially when Andrei gets back.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Who Will Stop The Bruins?

Isn't enough for the suffering Montrealer that in the year of the Cursed Bear that his Habs are stumbling in the dark.

To have to wake up to a scoreboard that shows a 9-0 victory we so crave and standings that show our bitterest rivals scoring 69 more goals than they have allowed is a lot to manage.

The question that remains is who will stop this scoring/shut-down machine?

The answer is ever less likely to be the Habs. Though once or twice last season. The Bruins were pretty Jennings-esque last year as well, and scoring more than they had in years. They ended with 195 against and 251 for, eclipsing the Habs on both counts.

But at those one or two junctures the Habs came close to toppling the would be juggernaut. Whether it was the embarrassment that took place on March 8th and ended in ghastly silence, but without history of discipline, the opening of a playoff round that saw Thomas beaten early and often or the final seconds of a season where the Canadiens called for goals and got them.

Those were the days, and but for a few wayward shots maybe this would be a different post. As it stands, these clubs have taken off in very different directions since the challenge.

The divergence for me comes somewhere in between Game 2 and 3 of a heated playoff series between the rivals. To that point, we were dealing with teams that were 46-30-8 (Habs) and 46-27-11 (Bruins) 84 games into a season -- two respectable, yet just above average units.

From that point, however, the difference is staggering. The Bruins are a Stanley Cup champion with the impressive record of a half season in January, the Habs are a first round loser and squad mired in decisions about which draft pick to take.

The Bruins have a record of 42-17-1 over 60 games 85 points and 0.708 hockey. They have scored 202 goals (or 3.37 GF/G) and allowed a mere 105 (1.75 GA/G)

The Habs for their part have 16-22-7 over 45 games for 39 points and 0.433 hockey. They have scored 118 goals (2.62 GF/G) but allowed 129 (2.87 GA/G).

They could not be more different. The Bruins are challenging for tops in every category, with trophy candidates abounding. The Habs are happy if they hit the middle of the charts in certain categories and at this point would have trouble justifying a representative at the All-Star participation-fest.

What happened?

Lots of things obviously. But to contrast a few aspects:

Thomas has set the world on fire in the Bruins goal and set records in the process. Even Tuukka Rask has been league-leading when called on. Carey price for his part is doing a nice job at keeping his head above average water levels, but no more.

The Bruins have promoted Tyler Seguin who now leads their team in scoring. The Habs never picked anyone like Tyler Seguin and hope that players like Pacioretty, Eller and perhaps Leblanc represent at least capable options for the future.

Zdeno Chara has patrolled the blueline without break for the Bruins. Markov in Montreal. The rest of the Bruins defence, critical to their defensive scheme has been consistently there and consistently performing in their tasks. The rest of the Habs defence has been hodge podge of second years, rookies and at times declining vets orbiting Josh Gorges as the #1.

Claude Julien's defensive system was given time to solidify as the offence took its sweet time to bloom. Jacques Martin was never able to fully commit or convince his players to commit properly that offence could or would bloom.

The Bruins seem to ask not if they will win after scoring first, but by how much. The Habs may win by much, but usually only when the generosity of opposition goalies allows the team to stumble past early doubts.

The Bruins have set records for shooting and goaltending efficiency at times. The Habs have been setting their own marks.


There are a lot of differences, but really the two teams that were nearly equals last April have not changed that much in their make ups. Though 9-0 would be fun, they still only award 2 points for that, and the 9+ boost in the goal differential rarely comes into play.

If I were an acolyte of regression, I might suggest that it would be her turn to step in and end the Bruins year of fun, perhaps at least in one aspect of the shooting or goaltending fortune they have been basking in.

But instead, I ask the vengeful Canucks this Saturday and the resurgent Canadiens to emphatically extend their win streak to four next Thursday instead. It was a Canadiens win that started this thing, a Canadiens win that kicked it going again in the fall. Fitting that it should be a Canadiens win to call time.

The psychology of winning and losing has been on wonderful display with these two clubs. All turned on a dime in early spring and has remained on edge since. Yet, psychology is only as strong as the last reinforcement and moments of doubt need not pile too high to find lots of company.

Let's use 2012 to set things straight. The year of the Cursed Bear is closed. Let's open another era of the Lion.