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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Montreal Canadiens: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - January 2011 Edition

by Tyg

I'm not sure if you know or not, but I wanted Brian Gionta as captain of my favorite hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens. I wrote a blog about it that even got recognized and a shout out from Habs Inside Out’s very own Mike Boone for crying out loud!

Yet after dropping another stink bomb of a game versus Tampa Bay, here’s what my genius pick for Habs captain observed: "Right now, we're a fragile team."

Buddy, right now I've got tougher Waterford crystal wine glasses than you lot. One goal-against during the Tampa Bay game and you crumpled like a trailer in a tornado.

Then yesterday afternoon Habs fans were treated to a Happy New Year courtesy of Les Boys. Not only did they win against the Florida Panthers, it was the manner in which they played that had me delighted, regardless of the outcome.

The boys played with passion, heart and hunger for the first time in a long time.

They looked a lot more like the team that had taken to the ice in October and November, and a lot less like the team that could barely bother to skate onto the ice for most of their recent road trip.

If only they were that passionate all the time, they might score more often!

OK enough with the funnies. Two games with two different results, so let’s talk some Habs hockey.


The Good

How can I not pick James Wisniewski here?

Even in the loss to the Bolts, Wizzer (as I like to call him) came to play. He spent the day in airports and cars trying to reach his new team, missed practice with them and actually had a valid excuse for phoning it in.

Instead he was one of their better players.

Wisniewski is a serious upgrade over most of the defense corps the Habs have been icing this year. He’s looking pretty solid defensively and has already made an impact offensively, scoring two goals and an assist during last night’s game against Florida.

This was a much needed deal to shore up the flailing back end by Pierre Gauthier.

In the short term, I think it will mean Yanick Weber heads back to Hamilton once Josh Gorges returns to duty. Personally I’d rather keep Weber and send Alexandre Picard down, but the Habs never listen to me about these things.

In the long term, I expect Montreal to try to keep Wisniewski at the end of this season, which will likely mean the end of Roman Hamrlik’s days in the bleu, blanc, rouge.


The Bad

There are a whole lot of choices to be had here but rather than go on and on I’m going to put down Jacques Martin’s system as my favorite target right now.

When the Habs take a lead, his defensive system tends to work better. Once they are down a couple of goals it becomes largely ineffective.

I really don’t understand the logic behind applying a trap system when down by three goals. What is it they’re trying to protect? Being embarrassed further?

It’s not working.

Martin’s system as it stands does not get adapted when the Habs are in trouble. Of course even though I wrote that, they came from behind last night to win against the Panthers.

It’s worth bearing in mind that two of last night’s three goals were scored on the power play, and all three were the result of some hard work by Wisniewski.

But unless Martin can get his forwards charging the net more often, parking themselves in the blue paint, and willing to take some punishment to score a few dirty goals, the Habs are going to continue to find it difficult to come from behind.

This team has offensive problems that are easily masked by a win, but get exposed pretty quickly when they’re behind the eight-ball. And Martin’s system is not helping correct that problem at all.


The Ugly

I don’t recognize this team.

Forget, if you can, their style of play and concentrate on their level of commitment and effort. It’s just not there. I haven’t really seen it since around mid-December and I’ve been griping about it ever since.

While workhorse Tomas Plekanec has had a bad game or two, other than him only Brian Gionta and Carey Price continue to bring their lunch pails to the rink every day. Pretty much everyone else on the team has been mailing it in during this road trip.

That just frosts me to no end.

Yes, I understand it’s the holidays, they don’t like being away from their families and the constant travel is hard on them but you know what? Suck it up.

This is neither unexpected nor new. This is status quo for the Canadiens this time of year. I do not consider it a valid excuse for some truly terrible on ice performances.

The Habs had two too many men on the ice penalties within a 45 second span during the game in Tampa Bay. I can’t remember seeing that before and I don’t ever care to see it again.

This is strong evidence of the total lack of focus, drive, desire and determination that got this team off to a great start at the beginning of the season.

The stupid penalties have gone into the realm of the ridiculous.

I now actually consider it a rousing success if the Habs aren’t giving up a late period goal or any five-on-three opportunities.

But when the team’s big accomplishment is to avoid being shut out, when Brian Gionta is dropping F-bombs, when Andrei Kostitsyn gets dropped to the third line and Travis Moen is on the top line, there are still some serious problems evident.

Last night the third was one of the Habs' best periods of hockey I have seen in awhile. There was a lot of passion and hunger, and were it not for the heroic efforts of Florida’s netminder Tomas Vokoun the game would would have been over long before it got to overtime.

I hope the boys remember this particular lesson going into the game against Atlanta on Sunday. I hope they remember not only how great it is to win, but also what kind of effort it takes to accomplish that.

The road trip is over and whatever little patience I had for the incessant list of excuses is now gone.

They’re home now, in front of their most ardent fans, and it’s time to pull up the socks and get back to work.

Nap time is over.

But maybe that's just me. What do you think is going well and what needs work?

Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America

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Tyg used to frequent the Old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder. It was here she fell in love with Larry Robinson so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

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