Monday, December 27, 2010
1:17 PM Rosalyn Roy 5 comments
Going into last night’s game, I sort of expected a loss.
The Habs had barely scraped out a win against Carolina, and lately they tend to drop the next game rather than go on a tear. On top of that, the Islanders had just won a couple of games and I expected them to come out confident and pumped, which they did.
It’s the intangibles that are killing the Canadiens right now and I don’t pretend to understand a lot of them. Perhaps someone could help me out here with a few things.
Remember last year when Andrei Markov complained that they had to play for the full 60 minutes as opposed to just part of the game? Remember how Brian Gionta pointed out that there were times when they sat back on their heels and got into trouble?
The Habs seemed to remember those hard-learned lessons back in October and November. Sure they still had off-nights but there were also times that after an intermission they emerged re-focused, came out hard and played some good hockey to grab the two points.
I don’t know where that team went. I haven’t seen them at all this month.
This current Habs team mails it in more often than not.
There are always exceptions like Tomas Plekanec, but a lot of the time most of the team takes the night off as opposed to just one or two individuals not having their minds or hearts on the game.
Does that happen with other teams too?
Do they all go AWOL at the same time for 40 minutes, showing up only to play for the first part of the second period and once the panic finally sets in, for the last ten minutes of the third period?
Coaching and Leadership
There are some benefits to Jacques Martin’s system though there are some serious downsides to it as well. Puck possession and speed are supposed to be the hallmarks of this Canadiens team and there are have been nights when they have played to those strengths.
Last night was not one of those nights and before post-game interviews were even conducted I predicted on twitter what the head coach would say about the game. I pretty much nailed it.
Martin’s actual quotes were: “lacked intensity”; “too many turnovers in the neutral zone”; “too many penalties and a lack of discipline”. None of this is new or unexpected.
What is troubling is that almost half-way through the season, Martin still can’t seem to fix it.
If one of the kids has a bad night, he gets sent to the press box for a game or two. I can understand why the veterans are exempt from this treatment. I just don’t see how the “Pick a Player to Scapegoat” helps out the team spirit any, or benefits the player.
This "be-perfect-or-else" pressure is not an effective teaching tool. It didn’t work last season either but Martin seems to think it’s the way to go though.
Another problem is the constant line shuffling—which Martin mercifully seems to have stopped with the top two lines—is now going on with the bottom two lines. It didn’t work before, but Jacques is a "never say die" kind of coach once he gets an idea in his head.
Remember the PhD line?
The Habs former third line was a strong offensive threat which bailed out the team when the Gomez line was foundering early in the season.
It was a north-south line that played hard and smart at both ends of the ice, and delivered some timely goals. Since it’s been torn apart Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche have contributed little offensively, and Benoit Pouliot is playing so poorly he’s been sent to the press box.
Martin found his lightning in a bottle and stumbled upon a truly effective third line, but he won’t use it. Since his team clearly has trouble scoring goals I don’t understand his logic behind this decision either.
Has the head coach lost the room? Is the lauded leadership group not getting it done anymore? These boys lack more than discipline, intensity and focus that Jacques Martin cannot seem to inspire within them.
The team spirit the Canadiens had in abundance at the beginning of the year is nowhere to be found and that, more than anything, troubles me right now.
P.K. Subban has made some egregious errors and so has Alexandre Picard, but the fact is these kinks needed to be worked out now and not towards the end of the season.
That means they both need ice time.
But there is something Jacques can and will not do to offset their ability to commit these errors, and that is pair them with a veteran mentor.
Why is Jacques so reluctant to break apart the Hal Gill and Josh Gorges pairing and allow them to back up their shakier teammates? Subban is fast enough to offset Gill and Gorges is solid enough to help out Picard with his foolish decision-making.
The Subban-Picard duo is simply ridiculous and has cost the team games, so why won’t Jacques change it? For a defensive-minded coach, he’s chooses to take a risk by continuing to pair these two.
No, Carey Price’s stats are nowhere near as impressive in December as they were in October and November, but did anyone really think they would be?
Martin’s system counts on a goaltender playing out of his mind. That means that Price has to shoulder a lot of the load, just as Jaroslav Halak did during the playoffs last year.
The Habs scored one goal last night.
That means in order to win, Price had to deliver a shutout while being hung out to dry by a D corp that continued to break down in front of him. That is completely unrealistic and the fact that he did it for the first two months may have led to the expectation that he could continue to do so for the entire season.
Like every other goaltender in the league, Price needs offensive and defensive support to be effective. He’s not the reason the Habs lost the game last night, and I don’t believe he’s the reason the Habs have lost any game this season.
There are too many nights the Habs simply cannot complete a tape-to-tape pass, the forwards can’t hit an open net with a flashing neon sign, and when no one other than Mathieu Darche or Max Pacioretty will go within ten feet of the blue paint.
Dwayne Roloson, like a lot of the goaltenders the Habs have faced lately, was good last night when he had to be. But there were also times when it was clear he got lucky he wasn’t facing the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Montreal’s forwards lack finish but they also lack commitment, determination and some good old fashioned grit. They rush into the offensive zone and take hurried, low percentage shots from the perimeter.
This is almost amusing to watch because it’s largely the same strategy that Martin has his defenseman employ to keep opposing teams from getting good clean shots at Carey Price.
It doesn’t work for the opposition any more than it works for the Habs. The difference is that the other team will adjust and take the punishment to get past our defense corps, outskate them, go to the blue paint and beat Price.
The Montreal forwards rarely do the same.
Instead they try for the perfect shot, the fancy play and allow themselves to get pressured off the puck. And before someone cites that they’re too small to play allow me to point out that Brian Gionta can and does win puck battles, and Mike Cammalleri almost never does.
It’s the size of the fight in the dog and lately the Habs forwards have none. Roloson gave the Habs some good chances last night, as did the netminders before him.
I don’t think this team has to be a bubble team. They proved as much during the first two months of this season. I think sometimes they choose to be, and I really don’t understand why.
Tyg used to frequent the old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder, where she fell in love with Larry Robinson, so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.