Sunday, March 7, 2010

Aftermath: Oh.My.God.

Mea culpa! Mea culpa! In lieu of actual sackcloth and ashes, is a Centennial barber pole sweater and the ashes of my Stanley Cup dreams appropriate garb for a fan who gave up with six minutes left?

I should have known. Really. I've been seriously tempted to quit on a game only twice since the nineties. In one, the team was down to Jersey in the swamp and came back to win it. As a bonus, Brodeur was furious and Sutter bagskated the Devils right after the game. The second time, the Habs were down to the Rangers 5-0 in the second period. You know what happened there. I stuck it out through both of those games and was intensely glad I did. So, I should have known, when I told myself I'd shut the TV off if they hadn't scored with ten minutes to go in the third and I kept hanging on until there were six minutes left. I finally gave up with five and a half on the clock. Mea culpa!

There are lots of excuses. The Habs were playing badly. The time difference meant that I was getting fewer than five hours of sleep before a big work day. But, as I've said when referring to the team, excuses are just explanations of failure, and I failed to stick with it. I've since made amends and watched the last five-and-a-half minutes on PVR. WOW!

I honestly didn't believe they had it in them last night (mea culpa!). They'd been so listless and so defensively confused for the first 55 minutes of the game. But Gionta gave them a shot and, thanks to Corey Perry and his slash, Markov woke up like an angry Russian bear.

It would be easy to say the team turned it around because of the goaltending change. There's no question they did find a cohesion they didn't have in the first. They still weren't playing great hockey, mind you, but they looked like they were at least familiar with the game in the second period. It's possible that this was just another example of Price's extraordinary bad luck. Maybe the players would have pulled their socks up if #31 had come out to start the second and the result would have been the same. As it stands, the record will show Price gave up three goals on 11 shots and Halak came in and shut the door in the comeback. The reasons for that will undoubtedly be up for debate ad nauseum today. So I'll just say I think it was a combination of bad luck on Price's part for missing the comeback after a shaky start, and the team's response to the arrival of Halak in net. Many times, a goalie change will shake up a team and underline the fact that the players have been performing like crap. I think that might have been a factor in play last night. But there was something else involved too.

I've been talking to a lot of goalies and defencemen in a sort of informal opinion poll lately. The overwhelming consensus is, yeah, teams play differently for different goalies. It's so many things in sport...about confidence. If a team feels its goalie is struggling, it will try to help him out. What that means is an instinctual game becomes a thinking game, and when hockey players start thinking, that's a bad thing. Thinking too much means players end up in awkward positions and make slow decisions that result in bad plays. On the other hand, having confidence the goalie is okay back there frees up the players to go with their instincts. The Habs saw Price struggle as he has on a lot of goals this year, and they changed their game to help him out. They just ended up making things worse because changing their game meant they made a lot more mistakes. Thankfully though, Martin recognized what was happening and made the switch before it was too late.

Plekanec was great. Absolutely great. His performance underlined the undeniable necessity of signing him as soon as possible. If the guy was going to score one shootout goal in his last fourteen attempts, that was the one to score.

I thought Sergei Kostitsyn looked really strong as well. Now, if can only get his brother up for a little sibling rivalry, it'd really help. I worried about this with Andrei. It always takes him about fifteen games to get his mojo going at the beginning of the year, and I was afraid his long layoff would reset his intensity clock to zero. So far, it looks like that's happening.

A lot of people think five million bucks a year for Gionta is too much. It may be true, when you look at his overall numbers. But I think what Bob Gainey had in mind when he hired the little guy was his ability to come through in the clutch. Gionta's a big-game performer; the guy who steps up when the going gets impossible. He's the kind of player who, if he only scored five goals a year, would have five game-winners. If the Habs are to make the playoffs he'll be a big part of it, and he'll step up in the tough post-season as well.

Having now watched all of the game, I can say my absolute favourite moment was Markov giving Perry the "in yo face sucka" gesture after the tying goal. Pleky's game winner was a close second, as was his breakaway goal to get things going. The most heart-stopping moment was when Ryan missed the empty net just before Markov scored. Honourable mention on the heart attack scale goes to Gionta's shootout goal barely trickling through.

I should have learned by now never to quit on a Habs game. No excuses. Mea culpa!


Paul B. said...

Ok, you keep asking for a new contract for Plekanec. I sort of agree but for how much ? Do you think he's worth $5,000,00/per season, for several years ? What if he aks for $6,000,000 ? And how are we going to pay Markov when his contract expires ?

One more thing. While we keep hiring average marginal defencemen (Mara, Gill, Spacek) isn't there a possibility to hire one as marginally average but who's a real mean SOB who will get penalties for hitting opposing players instead of taking DOG penalties or for merely placing their stick on hips of guys with a different jersey ?

Right now, most of our defencemen act as Walmart greeters, at the blue line. "Hi and welcome in our defensive territory. Hope you'll find what you're looking for and may your stay amongst us be as pleasant as possible." Then, they back up and leave the "customers" free to look for a nice free spot to position themselves for a scoring opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, really love your writing! I used to go to HabsInsideOUt first thing in the morning, now I go to you!

HabsProf said...

My favourite moment in the game: the Ducks players on the bench watching Gionta's shootout attempt. If Hiller saves, it's over. Gionta shoots, Hiller seems to stop it - and the Ducks plays all stand up, grinning and get ready to charge off the bench to congratulate Hiller. One player actually had his leg over the bench. Then the goal is signalled, reality sets in, the faces sag, and the Ducks all have to sit back down again.

All this happened in the space of 2 seconds. The look on their faces was priceless.

James said...

Paul B. - Pleks is easily worth 5M per year for several years, so yeah I would pay it. 6M is a bit much, but if that's what it takes... there are no real alternatives - we have no one on the farm who can come up and reasonably be a 2nd line center (that's assuming Gomez can be 1st) and the UFA pool is very very thin this summer. So letting our #1 center leave without adequate replacement would be suicidal. Hence we might have to overpay a bit, which IMO is fine as long as the contract length isn't crazy.

As for defense, I agree with your Walmart assessment of our D. However, one thing about real mean SOB: Toronto. That's exactly what Burke has tried building in TO and look at them - not only are they terrible but they're defensively even worse than the Habs.
I'd rather have a fast, intelligent and mobile defense (ie: Detroit), if possible.
Part of the problem with our D is all the guys that are actually any good (capable of having an impact) are all over their prime to some extent (Spacek, Hammer, Markov).

Anonymous said...

Worked until 3 last night and read your post about turning the game off....had to laugh thinking about your reaction this morning when you checked the score... I have never been blessed to have that situation, hope you enjoyed it!!


Anonymous said...

I don't know J.T. I think they came out flat, and played flat most of the game. They got a chance and took advantage of it. As for hockey players thinking...that is a good point. Gionta thinks, yet the goal he scored in the shootout was lucky. Martin thinks, and look at last night's shootout order. Neither Kostitsyn seems to think about the game.

I suspect that if a hockey player has to "decide" then s/he is in trouble. Deciding means a hesitation, and those who hesitate are often in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thinking about what you're going to do with the puck before you get it makes Markov deadly on the powerplay. Suddenly deciding what to do with the player on the right side boards makes the same player look bad.

I think that is what everyone means by confidence. You think about what the play will be and if it develops then visualization only helps. If the play doesn't turn out that way you have confidence in your team that you all can handle it. Set lines help.

Last night the team did well when there was no big plan, no assignments. Just put the puck in the net. Maybe they're over preached.