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Friday, October 21, 2011

Canadiens - Penguins: Depleted Pittsburgh Lineup Dismantles Reeling Habs

Wow, that was sad now wasn't it? At least for Habs fans it was.

The same night Montreal welcomed sniper Michael Cammalleri back into the lineup, they put forth their most disorganized performance of the season.

For a team whose claim to fame is that they play a five-man unit in all three zones, their "system" was nowhere to be found.

Replacing the five-man unit was five islands, not communicating, not working together and always out of position. The only one who looked like they knew what was going on was Carey Price, and he can't do it all by himself.

It it wasn't for Price's phenomenal play, Pittsburgh would have easily scored five or six goals on the night.

It's true that the season is still young because it's only five games in. But with a 1-4-1 record so far, the Habs had better right the ship soon.

As my HabsAddict.com colleague, Louis Moustakas pointed out—quoting Elliotte Freidman—since the lockout, only seven percent of teams that were three or more points out of the playoffs by November 1st, recover to make the postseason dance.

Considering Montreal is currently 14th in the East and November 1st is only 11 days away, the clock is clearly ticking.

PSH Numbers: Pittsburgh dominated 52 percent to Montreal's 48, while posting a 215 momentum rating to Montreal's 201.

Final Score: Pens 3 - Habs 1

Game Notes

Juggling act - What is wrong with Jacques Martin? Seriously? Cammalleri starts the game on the fourth line with Mathieu Darche and Andreas Engqvist?

Really?

I know it was only for a shift or two, but why? To make sure he was ready? If he was in the lineup then he was ready and should have started on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Erik Cole.

And why was Moen still on a line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta? Wouldn't it make more sense to put Lars Eller on their wing with Cammalleri on the Plekanec line and Moen on the fourth, possibly providing more of an offensive boost?

No? Is it me?

Alas, this is one of many problems with Jacques Martin's style: he goes the safe, cautious and conservative route far too often. Play it safe. Be passive. Prevent, prevent, prevent.

That's why, with Montreal trailing by two goals midway through the game, the Habs continued to play the trap.

Sigh.

It was fun while it lasted - With the Habs scrambling in the defensive zone and firing blanks offensively, Coach Martin spun his roulette wheel of line combinations again.

The result was that Montreal's best line over the last two games—David Desharnais centering Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostitsyn—was dismantled early.

Once the dismantling started it seemed like it didn't stop until the final buzzer. The result was that we even saw Cammalleri playing a shift or two with Desharnais.

As I stated recently, what made the DD-Patches-AK46 combo so good was that the two big wingers created space for Desharnais to work his magic.

As good as Cammalleri is, his 5'9 frame isn't about to make things easier for DD.

I struggle to understand why I see this and fans see this but, for some reason, the Canadiens coaching staff does not seem to.

Sufferin' Subban - It's no secret that P.K. Subban hasn't had a great start to the season. Part of the problem is that he seems to be trying to do too much. Be too fancy. Overthink things.

The other problem is that, unlike parts of last season, Subban is a known commodity in the league. As such, and as the prime skilled defenseman on the backend, teams are basing their shut down of the Canadiens on shutting down Subban.

As a result, he's seeing a lot more attention this year.

Now don't get me wrong, because Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz and others on the Habs backend have skill. But in the absence of Andrei Markov, Subban is the undeniable No. 1 defenseman on this team.

And right now, he seems to be withering under the pressure that buoyed him to greatness last season.

Not to worry, however, because Subban has the confidence and work ethic to find his way through the forest. That and hopefully for Montreal, Markov will be back in November.

No Crosby, no Malkin, no problem - What a well coached, well rounded team the Penguins are.

Seriously. Wow.

Without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their lineup, not to mention Kris Letang serving a suspension, the Pens were no worse for wear. So much so, that James Neal potted his seventh goal of the season against the Habs last night.

In case you're counting, that ties him with Phil Kessel for tops in the league in that department.

Unlike the depleted Pens, Montreal does not seem able to overcome their injuries—which became more plentiful when Scott Gomez left the game in the first period last night.

So why is the margin of error so slight for the Habs and not so for the equally injured Pens?

It comes down to coaching and the system each team employs.

The Jacques Martin system is all about prevent, safety, playing not to lose. The Pens, on the other hand, attack and take the play to the opposition—as they did all game last night.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Jacques Martin's system works fantastically when the Canadiens have the lead. But it's a style that does not allow for many victories when the Habs are trailing.

And hey, if you're down by two goals and are still using the one-man forecheck with everyone else sitting back in the neutral zone, that's what's going to happen.

Power outage - Speaking of slim margins of error, the Habs path to glory this season is undoubtedly paved by special teams.

Over the last few seasons, and since Jacques Martin took over the coaching reigns, that Habs have always had top-10 special teams, especially the power play.

With woeful 5-on-5 scoring, it's their power play that has made them a playoff team over the last few years.

So far this season, things are not going according to Hoyle.

Montreal has the 25th ranked PP at eight percent efficiency and the 14th ranked PK at 84 percent.

The PK is respectible but, in absence of any kind of scoring punch, Montreal absolutely needs to average one PP goal per game.

Last night, with the Pens leading by two in the second frame, Pittsburgh handed Montreal three straight power plays. Not only were the Habs unable to score, but they struggled to even gain the offensive zone.

Things got so bad that at one point you saw Gorges on the point on the PP. That smacks of pure desperation to me, and shows that the coaches just didn't know what you do.

Not a good sign.

Up Next - The Habs have the day off before taking on the red-hot Leafs at the Bell Centre Saturday night. Toronto is coming off a 6-2 spanking at the hands of the Bruins, but have otherwise been playing inspired hockey thus far.

It is only five games in and Montreal still has plenty of time to turn things around. But if their skid reaches three straight losses—with a loss to the Leafs—and one regulation win in seven games, look for the panic button to be pushed in earnest.

---
Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com and Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on TSN Radio 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 9 - 10 AM. Listen live at http://www.tsn.ca/montreal/

Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter


(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America)

15 comments:

Could it be that we are experiencing the Muller effect? I don't think there's as much emotion in playing as there was when Muller was behind the bench. I think we will miss him dearly. I don't think Cunnyworth brings the same enthusiasm to the locker room.

@anon: Thanks for your comment!

I'm sure missing Muller has had it's effect on the team, but the two Randys are very capable coaches too.

I think this has more to do with the reality of the JM style/system. I also think that the injuries, especially on the backend, are hurting that Habs a lot.

There is too much inexperience on the backend, with Emelin, Diaz and to a certain degree, Weber. And that is making it difficult for Montreal to play as a 5-man unit.

And that, imo, is the biggest problem with this team right now...they are running around all the time...there is no cohesion.

I'm not sure that Muller would have been able to fix that all by himself!

Kamal the reality of JM's system is that they play to not lose as opposed to playing to win. This means no two man forecheck, no ability to score consistently.

JM's stubbornness and over-reliance on his fave go-to-guys (Pleky on the point and Darche on the PP in practice again today) means he has no vision and ability to adapt.

He's playing a defense first style when his defense is comprised of rookies and sophmores (who are not THAT bad) and a bunch of frustrated vets who have no cohesion and are confused about their own roles.

At the end of the day it's Martin's responsibility to fix and he simply can't do it. Can it be done? Hell yes. Look over at Dan Bylsma. Their injury situation is much worse than ours.

It has less to do with injury and more to do with the coach and his archaic out-dated system which the Habs are no longer executing like they used to. Either they so totally unable to do it anymore or are they less willing to try? Their post-game commentary is telling and it's less about what they're saying than how they're saying it, and the fact that they're still saying the same things 2 years in.

I counted. It took Martin 5-6 shifts before he started juggling the lines like a mad man. He lost it.

@Rosalyn: Bingo! Nailed it! Sounds like it's time for someone to write a rant. :-)

And yes, the same problems have been in place since he took over and haven't changed. How about discipline? How's that working out for the team and coach who's constantly saying they need to take less penalties.

Sigh. The only silver lining for non-JM lovers, is that IF the slide continues and they miss the playoffs he will surely be let go.

Or will he?

@anon: Nice pick up...and SO sad.

Someone on Twitter pointed out to me this past week that the constant line juggling was what we saw from Carbo too...just before he was fired.

There is no way JM survives this season if the Habs miss the playoffs. No way.

Last year the Pens lost their top three centers for 39-43 games and they still ended up with 106 pts. That's coaching. The habs looked totally disorganized last night. On every line change there was a different line.The players must have been wondering, what's this guy doing?

On a lighter note. If Martin tanks it and gets canned, it frees up a void for Captain Kirk to fill.

I like it!

He had the line configuration sorted out for the Buffalo game there were simply two mistakes made that resulted in two goals against and they ran into a wall in Miller who basically stole the game for the Sabres. Subban needs to be playing with Georges to give him a saftey net which will allow him to play the only way he knows how which is risk-taking. Love watching Emilin playing with Diaz, they compliment eachother well and Gill allows Weber to be a little more offensively minded. Weber is not as wild (to put it) as Subban so he can make up for Gill's lack of mobility. Up front you can not touch the Desharnais/Pac/Kos line, they are dominating whenever they are on the ice and it will only get better as the year progresses. Having a 3rd line of this calibre forces teams to watch 3 lines instead of two and will certainly open up the ice for one or two of them. Cole needs more icetime and Moen should not be anywhere near the first line or be playing anything close to 15 mins a game. Eller/Plek/Cole (when Gomez is healthy)is a great line, again two bigger bodies to open up the ice for Pleks to work his magic. That leaves the apparent top line (PS I hate Gomez). Something is going on with Gionta, I read an article that Eric Engles wrote stating he is not smiling and I totally see the body language, he is on the ice but does not appear to be having fun out there and he is the captain and the younger guys look to him especially having a young defensive corps they need leadership. I would love to see Eller playing center with Camm and Ginota, Eller is great with the puck and has the big body needed to open up the scoring lanes for the two goal scorers. I get so frustrated watching Gomez coming in from behind our own defense to enter the zone, makes no sense when we have one of the fastest teams in the league why they are not using a dump and chase offense. As much as I read how Muller leaving is not impacting the team, the body language is saying a different story. A change will be coming and I believe Martin is on his way out sooner rather than later, but I don't see Muller coming back, however a familar former goalie for the habs recently stated he was ready for NHL coaching, wow would that be something to see him behind the bench. I am not getting into special teams because I believe that is directly related to Muller, he was a master and we miss him greatly. Our PP is garbage right now and until we have a system in place that gives our players on the boards more support rather than these stupid cross ice passes the PP is not going to get any better.
My ideal lineup:

Cole-Plek-Palushaj
Camm-Eller-Gionta
Pac-Desharnais-Kos
Darche-Trotter-Moen

Subban-Georges
Diaz-Emelin
Gill-Weber

As injured players come back adjustments can be made.

Just my two cents but changes are coming and I think Martin will be the first change....

@anon (the second to last one) - Very true about the Pens winning despite missing their superstars. As far as the Habs go, I'm not sure if he has lost the room yet...but that can't be too far off!

@Marcus T: LOL! Well played...

@anon (the last one) - Wow, lots of good stuff in there!

As for Eller, depending on the extent of Gomez's injury, he probably will be slotted into the line with Gionta and whoever else Martin decides to play there.

I was extremely disappointed that JM broke up the DD-Patches-AK line so quickly last night. They were absolutely dominante in the previous two games...and that is a big part of the problem...he doesn't seem to be patient.

Martin I mean...

I don't know that his job is in danger at all, to tell you the truth...

He and Gauthier go way back and it will take a lot more than a 1-4-1 start to get him booted. I think short of missing the playoffs, Martin is sadly not going anywhere.

As for Roy coming in to coach, I think Montreal will avoid hiring another "rookie" coach...even if it is Roy. I think he needs some NHL seasoning but that, at some point, he will get behind the Habs bench...

I am almost at the point of not caring. There is an obvious problem with this coach but nothing will change because of the relationship between JM and PG.

As Ros said, we are a team coached not to lose and quite frankly that is unacceptable.

There are obvious changes that need to be made and JM won't change.

Hate to say it. I give up.

I have so much anger towards Martin. From the players he chose for this team to the line changes, to roles, I am just fed up of this guy. And I think the players are too.

@Bryan: can't argue with you there. But, again, he is a known commodity and this is the coach they knew they were getting when he was hired.

If we back the truck up a bit, I never liked the way they just slide PG into the GM spot when Gainey stepped down. They should have done a proper search.

PG has made some decent moves but his "old boys club" which includes JM, is a little hard to stomach.

Martin was hired by Gainey though.

I like what Gaithier has done. I mean picking up Wiz, Sopel, Halpern, I liked what he did. This offseason he got a heck of alot bigger brining in Emelin, Woywitka, Cole, Blunden.

JM just doesn't see the need to go big even though every other person on this planet sees it.

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