Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aftermath: Winning Ugly

If ever there was a poster boy for the saying "it's better to be lucky than good," it was Jaro Halak last night. The Habs' number-one was was far from good in regulation time against the Oilers, and he was certainly lucky to come out with two points. People will say you create your own luck and Halak buckled down in OT and the shootout to create his. That's true. Overall, though, he was pretty bad. Four goals on 25 shots against a team like Edmonton just stinks, even with minimal help from the defence. The fourth goal he gave up was not only dreadful, but it was the kind of demoralizing goal that can kill a team, coming immediately after a great effort to take the lead as it did.

Luck prevailed for the Habs though, and they did get two points that could really have gone either way. So today they're lucky to be tied with sixth-place Philly and two up on Boston; lucky to be at five games over .500 for the first time all season.

Even so, no matter how lucky you get, there have to be a few good things about any win. Last night they were, in order, the gradual return to form of Andrei Kostitsyn, another good game by Sergei Kostitsyn, Plekanec's twentieth goal, a really nice overall game by Markov and Halak's big save in the shootout. The rest of it pretty much sucked.

Of particular concern amonst the suckage was the wretched performance of the pass-first power play. Actually, I should say the pass-first, pass-second, pass-third, pass-fourth power play. I'm not too worried about that because a little more focus on shots and people at the net can improve it pretty quickly. Bergeron's return will help too, bringing back a real threat from the point. That raises the dilemma of who Bergeron will replace in the lineup, but you have to give up something to get something in this case.

A more serious issue highlighted by last night's performance was the defence's response to speed. The veteran defencemen are smart and experienced, but they're not as fast as they used to be. When quick, aggressive forwards, especially ones with some size like Dustin Penner, enter the Habs zone with speed, the defencemen fall back on their heels. Hal Gill in particular, can be easily beaten by fast forwards, as was boldly in evidence on the first two Oilers goals. This is worrisome because Washington, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Ottawa are filled with fast forwards who can expose the Gills and Spaceks of the world with ease. If Martin wants to not only make the playoffs, but make an impression in them, he's going to have to adjust The System to protect the D better. We saw some of that in the Anaheim and Tampa games, when they employed a more aggressive forecheck and challenged the opposition puck carrier in the neutral zone. That has to happen with more consistency.

In the big picture, this game underlined how injuries can really devastate a team. The Oilers, like the Habs, have been dealing with a decimated roster all year. The difference is the Habs have found a way to stay competitive despite it all, while the Oil are last in the league. That, to me, is a tribute to the determination of the team Bob Gainey assembled. How well determination can overcome some of the weaknesses they exhibited last night remains to be seen, but scrounging out a pair of points in a game like that one is a start.

A lot of the rest will depend on luck.


Paul O. said...

Great post. Halak needs to step it up though. We need all the points we can get and we don't want to be giving away freebies in overtime. Also I have lost faith that Carey will be able to take us to the playoffs if we lean on him too much. I know that he has the ability, I just can't see him doing it this year. Hopefully he mirrors Fleury and turns it up after a few years.

pierre said...

I was a little worried before last nignt's game.... fact is, as long as our team's one-two punch remained downgraged dû to the absence of Cammy or/and that our PP is not at the level it can be without Bergeron I will remain nervous.... not as nervous as I was before they had nailed in this amazing post Olympic accomplishement of 5 wins in 6 games..... but a little nervous just the same.

Getting those 2 points against EDM was important because another win saturday against BOS would represent a crucial step out of what have been a difficult and uncertain season thus far..... a new perspective should reenergised and focus the troup in a way only a new perspective can..... eventually Cammalleri will be back and then the fun will be there a plenty.

Anonymous said...

I agree that defence skating speed is a concern, although it looks like Hamrlik really benefitted from the olympic break. O'Bryne is doing well with Markov, so that's encouraging.

A heard a great quote this year from a respected NHL scout (sorry, but I can't remember his name). He said when assessing talent, you should focus on what a player can do for your team, not what he can't do. I repeat this in my head everytime I watch Gill so that I don't get frustrated, because I want him to crush people and intimidate, but the fact is, he is too slow to hit and he knows it. If he tried, he would get badly out of position and be completely ineffective. What he can do is play good positional hockey and use his amazing reach to pokecheck the puck away, or drive the attacker to the outside. He can also use his huge frame to block passes and shots. A guy with a big reach like that can be tough to play against.