What do you see when you look at the picture to the left? Some people say they see a cup or a vase (whether half full or half empty is beside the point here.) Others see two faces staring at each other. Still others say they can see both simultaneously. The point of this exercise is to say that all of the observers are correct. It's an optical illusion and the thing you see in it is just as valid as the thing the guy next to you sees. There are two sides of the picture.
We've been looking at this season's Habs like we look at that optical illusion, only most of us are seeing just one side of it. We're seeing a revamped team with some good offensive players and a better defence (on paper) than last year's, that's unfortunately just suffering through some temporary injury problems. We've been seeing a good chance of improvement for the team's two young goalies under Jacques Martin's better, more responsible system of play. We see a team that we're expecting to put up a good show and stand a chance of winning every night.
What we should be doing, though, is adjusting our vision to see the other picture in this illusion. Because, folks, what we've got here right now, at this moment, is a bad hockey team. The defence isn't just in temporary trouble. It's missing half of its top-six and will continue to do so for weeks to come. Defensive collapses are happening with the frequency of pee breaks on an all-inclusive bus tour to Medjugorje. There's some good offensive talent, but it has absolutely no support. The four guys who can score are complemented by a bunch of players who work hard (for the most part) but won't put up forty goals between them. I mean, God love Travis Moen and Glen Metropolit, but we can't expect them to be the secondary, twenty-goal men the team needs. I can't even talk about Guillaume Latendresse and Andre Kostitsyn. Those two are more disappointing than Windows Vista. The two young goalies have save percentages below .900 and have been giving up four goals a game on a good night, albeit with very little defensive help from their teammates. This is a BAD hockey team.
So, in order to keep our sanity, we must accept and embrace the suckiness. There's not a damn thing we can do about it and sitting here wringing our hands, tearing our hair and pleading for Bob Gainey to work some sort of miracle that will return Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp for Andrei Kostitysn isn't helping. It's giving us ulcers. We need to see the other side of the illusion. If we go into games calmly understanding that we're cheering for a bad hockey team, we won't be writhing in pain every time Bergeron's on the ice or Latendresse lets his check slip by him for a shot on Price. We will understand these things tend to happen with a team like ours.
It could be more fun that way, if you think about it. If we know and believe that the Habs are actually no better than any other team in the league, we can enjoy the wins they do get more than we have been doing. We've been taking wins against the Isles and leafs for granted...even complaining when the Habs have to get it done in OT...because we've been under the illusion that our team should be doing better than those lowly others. Accepting the Habs suckiness will allow us to value every point and appreciate every win much more fully.
During the games themselves, we can be happier when they do something right, like praising your two-year-old when he manages to get his poop in the toilet, rather than simply near it. We shouldn't expect the Habs to do things well. That way, when they do, we can be proud of them instead of looking for more. With this new perspective, we can marvel at how bad Bergeron can actually be, and even laugh at the comedy that is this team's defensive play in its own zone. We're missing a funny show here, while we're expecting the players to be better than they are. If we're not expecting a win every night, the losses don't hurt as much and the wins, when they do come, are sweeter. Such is life when rooting for an underdog team.
And make no mistake, this team is an underdog. Looking around the East, we see teams that have tanked and become contenders, like Pittsburgh and Washington. We see teams that have drafted very well, like Philly, New Jersey, Buffalo and Boston. Then there are the teams that are beginning to emerge from the basement on the backs of their young talent, like the Islanders and Atlanta. The Habs have done none of those things. They haven't ever been bad enough to land the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the world. Their first-round drafting has turned up the likes of Kostitsyn and Chipchura instead of Parise, Richards, Vanek or Carter. And their young talent is mostly of the solid, third-line variety rather than of the budding-star type, with all due respect to the exception, Tomas Plekanec. The talent and heart Gainey has managed to buy is great, but it fills only a handful of spots on a team that has an equal number of holes unconvincingly filled by underachieving players at the moment. So, while most teams have problems, the Habs have more problems than the others, at least for now.
I know some people will go nuts at this Margaritaville approach to the Habs, because we're supposed to expect more. We're the fans of the most successful team in hockey history and we're supposed to be mad when we don't get a winner. Well, you know what? We haven't been cheering for a winning team in sixteen years and being mad all the time can burn you out. It can make you into the type of fan who expects crazy things of a bunch of nice, hardworking guys and makes you boo developing kids because they're not superstars already. Being mad also makes you forget to enjoy the good moments, few though they may be. Sure, it sucks to lose, but it's fun to watch Gionta and Cammalleri and Plekanec do their thing. Being mad takes the pleasure out of that.
So, I'm going to flip the illusion and stop expecting something that isn't there. Maybe things will get better, but I'm not going to expect that either. I just know that if I get down and bitter about every loss, it's going to be a very, very long and joyless season. I'm going to look for the good stuff and understand that my team, the team I've loved for more than twenty-five years, just isn't very good. The beauty of this approach is if the team ever does get better, it'll be a fun ride to root for a surging underdog. It's all just a matter of perspective.