I actually almost feel guilty about not being happy with the team right now. I know, I know: they're 6-1-1. They've got thirteen of a possible sixteen points. Blah, blah, blah. The fact is, the wins aren't really satisfactory because you come away from them with a strong feeling of "Whew, they were lucky to win that one with the way they played." Of course, they're doing some things right. Faceoffs are better than they were last year, and their goal-differential has improved dramatically. Goaltending has been generally strong. But the problem is, despite the record, it's easier to list aspects of their game that aren't going well than it is to name those that are.
I don't like the long passes on the rush. Last year, passes were shorter, crisper and more efficient. The long passes are off the mark much too often, resulting in a lot of turnovers and odd-man rushes for the opponent. I don't like the way the PP is looking. I think it was a mistake to move Andrei Markov to the right side. He's propelled the powerplay to the top of the league's standings in each of the last two years by performing the left-side set-up role better than anyone in the NHL. The PP's lowly success rate seems to be proving that it's a lot easier to replace the shooter than it is the set-up guy. I'd like to see one of the Kostitsyns or even Hamrlik or Gorges on the right point instead of Markov. But...whatever way you slice it, the PP isn't clicking right now, and a team can't win without a powerplay indefinitely.
I'm not thrilled with the defence. There are too many shots against, and the D are too soft in giving up their own blueline. They're just not challenging opposition skaters.
And the number of penalties they're taking is too high. The PK is only middle of the pack, so spending too much time in the box will inevitably come back to burn them.
Oh, and last year's third line has become three guys trying to score goals by themselves rather than make the nifty little passing plays they did last year. It's become a rare thing to see the three of them breaking out on the rush together.
Worst of all, there are periods in which it looks like the team is regressing back to the lazy, take-a-period-off style they played two years ago.
The good thing here though, isn't the team's record, which I think they're lucky to have. I think it's that the poor play is very likely being caused by the weird schedule, combined with the fact that there have been quite a few injuries to start the year. It's very strange to see five days off between games this early in the season, and the Habs will face that twice in a month. That makes it tough for the players to get their rhythm going. We've all heard how difficult it is for players who've been sitting out for a while to get their "game timing" back. They say it's one thing to practice, and quite another to translate those skills into an actual game. I think the team played much better when they played three games in four nights than they did playing two games in eight days. Hopefully, after next week's five-day break, things will start to even out with the schedule and the team can get some kind of groove going.
And, hopefully, the rash of injuries the team has weathered to date is over for a while. (Hoping against hope Hamrlik is all right after that shot off the knee last night.) When all the players get a chance to work out with their real linemates for a few days, we probably will see an improvement in their game performance too. Right now, it's hard to see how their play could get any rougher, considering the lineup they have. Minnesota is going to be a very big test, and I'm not that optimistic the Habs are ready to play the game they need to play for a win in that game.
On a positive note, though...how about that Tanguay?