Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Aftermath: Gimme a T-E-A-M!

The highlight reels today are going to show Carey Price making a dozen gorgeous saves to shut down the potent Flyers offence last night. He'll be there in HD, perfectly playing his angles, kicking out a pad or flashing the glove to frustrate the hottest team in the league. It's not an illusion. Price is on fire, in a zone he's not visited since sometime before the All-Star game two years ago. He's not alone, though.

Brian Gionta, last night's third star with three points, when asked about Tomas Plekanec's goal, said, "Moen went hard to the net, which a lot of people won't see." It's true. Moen might have hands like oars, but his effort gave Plekanec an option. Pleks was able to look to Moen and freeze Bobrovsky before blasting a laser by him. Moen's play on that sequence typifies the way every guy in a red sweater pushed for the win last night.

There was a time, not too long ago, when the horrible news that Andrei Markov would be out indefinitely would have meant the Habs missing the playoffs. Now, the Canadiens have a new identity that's founded in a belief that hard work can beat anyone, and every player is buying in. Remember early last year, and for many seasons before that, when the post-loss comments invariably began with "We have to play for 60 minutes?" We don't hear that anymore because the team comes out flying and continues to fly for the whole three periods. While it's true there have been a couple of stinkers this season, there's usually some explanation that doesn't involve lack of effort. The best part of this team approach is that nobody's above it. Alexandre Picard stepped in and helped fill part of the gap left by Markov on the blueline. P.K.Subban stepped up his game and filled the rest of it. We can live in fear of Plekanec or Price getting hurt, but it's becoming easier to believe that if it happened, the others would find a way to go on. They learned that lesson during last year's injury-ravaged season, and they learned it well.

This is not just a hard-working, versatile team, either. It's a talented one. With Cammalleri and Gionta coming to life on Plekanec's line, the offence is picking up, including on the power play. The PK, which is a talent in itself, is tops in the league. And, in goal, there's not a thing you can say about Carey Price that the NHL didn't say when announcing him as last week's first star. He's not just shut up his critics; he's made them some cement sneakers and dropped them off a pier.

There are weaknesses, without a doubt. Spacek and Hamrlik played 23 and 24 minutes respectively. That can't happen every night at their age, so Martin is going to have to manage their ice-time carefully and trust Subban and Picard more. That's going to be tough for a coach who prefers to let young players come along slowly, but unless Gauthier plans to bring in a horse of a veteran D, Martin will have to relax the reins on the kids.

The Habs really don't have an answer for the pushing and shoving and general dirty play the Flyers engaged in later in the third (you tool, Powe.) Lapierre just can't fight, you don't want Subban to fight and Moen can't do it all. The Habs need to add a bit of intimidation to the bottom-six. It may come in the person of Ryan White if Jeff Halpern is going to miss some time. We know it won't be Dustin Boyd. I'd never advocate hiring a goon in the modern NHL, but grit is important.

So, while there are weaknesses, they're fixable weaknesses, rather than glaring holes. In the last week, the Canadiens have answered a lot of questions about their identity and about whether last year's playoffs were a fluke. Just about every player in the lineup has contributed to the cause...even if they didn't show up in the morning highlights.


Jessica and Stephan said...

Well said, I definitely agree! I have to say last year was hard to get behind the Habs, because they just didn't feel like a team. They felt more like a group of random players thrown together on the rink.
This year, I'm loving what I see. Finally some chemistry!! And I'm very glad to see Price is shutting up his critics.

MC said...

Good point about Price. I was a huge Jaro fan; pass the cement shoes...

Moen is such a useful player. Not only can he kill penalties and add some offense, he can also keep a game like that from getting completely out of hand. He was like a wrecking ball in the third period and Martin started playing him every other shift which was great. The Habs might not be as tough as some teams, but they have three lines that can score, and they use their fourth line to develop young talent like Eller and Pyatt. It is a trade off; they win 3-0 but we have to watch Lapierre fight.

Anonymous said...

A few comments in no particular order:

1) People comparing Pleks to Datszyuk are insane. Pleks does not have the same speed and dazzle of our detroit friend. Toews is a better comparison for Pleks. Hard work and ability to adapt.

2) Price, what can we say... BOOM SHACK AND SAVE! Keep it up... And stay away from Alcohol. 1 thing I did notice last year... It was Saint Patricks day and I saw a few of the Habs downtown because it was a rare 2 days off for them. A few of the Habs were getting drunk (rly drunk) and hitting on girls. Price only had 1 beer... (still hitting on the girls tho... Can't blame him)

3) Hammerlik and Spacek have been playing rly well but they need to play less minutes as to not get drained by the end of the season. The question is... how do we distribute the minutes more? Gorges +Gill? Gill can not play those extra minutes... Subban Picard? Do we trust Picard enough yet...

4) MArkov.... We love you... Get well.. Heal... AND COME BACK.... The team is better with Markov and we should sign him. if he is healthy, for life.

6) If Markov is out for the season.. then we will have 5+ million in a cap cushion. (Markov's salary - the 18 games + the 1.5+ that we have now). It will be interesting to see what we can do with it. MAB is not the answer, neither is weber. The biggest thing that comes out for this, is its effect for the Leafs... Now they have another competitor that has cap space, but 1 that also has picks and prospoects.. What could the leafs offer that we couldn't.. It sucks for them but also for every other team because it means they won't do as well meaning bostons pick is getting better :(

7) Subban... what can we say about you... We love you.. But please, for the love of g-d, don't be the 1 to stand up for your teamsmates like that... We can't afford for you to get hurt.. you are more valuable then them...

Jay in PA said...

Great post-game analysis as always, LA. The one thing you said that really hit home with me was the "60-minute effort" issue that has haunted the team for as many years as I remember. We might have stunk up a few games this season, but it was more a lack of execution or of success than it was a lack of effort, and none of the post-game commentary had that finger-pointing nature of the "60-minute effort" line. Frankly, if this is truly the end of it, I'm glad of that. I've long believed that we have the talent on this team to go far if the consistent effort and the system led to strong execution. We're finally seeing that, and Canadiens hockey is getting to be fun to watch again.

Anonymous said...

The cromagnon Powe is having a blast on the bench after his hit from behind on Halpern.
The small brain of his actually thinks it is funny to watch his victim being carried off the ice....Let's wish Powe all the best for the future.

Anonymous said...

Watched the game on Versus and the announcers said Powe's hit on Halpern was clean. Absolutely shocking. Halpern's head was on the boards when Powe decided to "finish his check" and apparently the refs agreed. I just don't get it. This is all too common these days and the only way to end it is to go after the perpetrator and make him pay. Respect Lapierre's intention but gettting clobbered only makes it worse. Shelley plays 4 minutes and the Flyer coach sends out in the last minute. What a douche.

All in all the Habs push back to the physical intimidation was better than last year but my money's on the Flyers in a seven game series.

Shea Weber is an RFA for next season and he'll never sign with Nashville so I hope PG goes after him aggressively. With Hammer's money the Habs can afford him and definitely need him going forward.

Great post JT, thanks for your efforts they are much appreciated.