Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Aftermath: Perspective

First, a disclaimer: I saw only the first two periods of last night's game because of the super-late start. However, it turned out two periods were quite enough to see what's going on.

Now, perspective: The Habs are not a terrible team, they're just playing one on TV. Carey Price is not suddenly a sieve, Tomas Plekanec and Josh Gorges suddenly lazy or Jacques Martin suddenly a complete moron. The Habs are slumping, yes. However, they have not simply forgotten how to play the game they played earlier in the year.

The development of a slump is like a toothache. It starts with a little throbbing. You can't stop touching it, and it starts to get sore. After a couple of days, it's the only thing you can think about and you start trying just about anything to relieve the pain. For the Canadiens, what began as a lacklustre effort against the leafs has now become a full-blown panic.

It's not the time to lose it, though. It's the time for Martin and Muller to bring some stability to a pretty confused team. It's not helping to have Lars Eller playing wing on the Plekanec line when he's been a centre all his life. He was working well with Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche, and he should go back to that line. Kostitsyn, Cammalleri and Plekanec started the season together very well and there's nothing to say they can't click again. Pacioretty is helping out the Gomez/Gionta line and they should stay together. When things are bad, people naturally turn to the familiar to find answers. They're looking for confidence, and they'll find it where they found it before. It may be rough for a few more games, but there's a better chance of emerging from slumpdom if the players feel secure in their linemates and know they'll be given a chance to work together to find an answer.

There are a lot of little things the Canadiens are doing wrong...pinching at the wrong times, flubbing passes, circling backwards instead of driving ahead, making low-percentage rushes with only one guy, failing to make simple clearing passes...but bag skating them is not the answer. They're not stupid. They know things are going badly. A video session showing clips of what they were doing right earlier in the year, juxtaposed with examples from the last few games might be more enlightening. If that's followed by a solid practice with work on the flagging fundamentals, it could actually translate to success on the ice.

In any case, what this will come down to is desperation. At some may be tomorrow against Carolina or some other night a week from now...all the thinking and worrying about mistakes will stop and the desperation to win will take over. Then the basic element of winning hockey games; getting to the puck first and moving it forward with speed, will kick in and they'll win. Until then they'll tinker with the lineup and try different punishments/motivations to get players going, but none of it will work. They'll lose until they do the little things right, first among them skating hard all game.

That's the biggest difference between what they were doing in October versus this month. Then, they were first to loose pucks, everybody was backchecking quickly and the forwards were moving on breakout passes. Now they're often second to the puck and reach for it with their sticks rather than pushing for it with their bodies. Backchecking forwards are gliding back rather than racing and forwards are stationary on the boards on the breakout. All of that will turn around again when desperation kicks in and there's no other solution but to put their heads down and skate.

In the meantime, we need to understand every team has slumps. The Caps, when they were losing eight in a row looked like total bums, but we know they're not. Neither are the Habs. Bad habits creep in, and good players drive them out again. We just have to refrain from dumping on everyone associated with the team while we wait for that to happen.

After all, these are the same players who looked great to start the season. They still can play hockey. They just have to remember the basics and get back to them. That's not to say the team doesn't have weaknesses. Markov's place on the blueline cannot be filled long term with Alexandre Picard. The first line can't find its way with a different winger every game. Still, they managed to win before with some of those same weaknesses and no team is perfect. The Habs will win again because they're really not as bad as they've looked.


Anvilcloud said...

Two things on my mind. Well more, but let's leave it at that.

(i) Habs seem to play best when they're underdogs or feel as if they are. After their early success, they aren't playing with the same intensity as they were when they knew they'd have to be at the top of their game.

(ii) By luck or because they deserve it, their opponents are now scoring on what I am calling minimal opportunities. Their goals come easily and are not the result of hard work. I think this is confusing and demoralizing the team.

Anonymous said...

Don't really know what to make of the Habs. As you say they're not a bad team but then again they're not a very good team either. Looking at the next five on the road trip only the Islanders are clearly worse the Montreal. The Caps and Tampa have much more talent and the 'Canes and Panthers are more than capable of beating the Habs at any time. This could get ugly.

I'm glad JM didn't bag skate the players. My only hope is that he puts Eller back at center and plays AK46 with Pleks and Cammy and leaves them together. If that doesn't work then Ak46 has to go and maybe Pouliot too before the trade deadline. If these two aren't showing anything soon, they need to be replaced. The Habs will need a couple more years to contend so there's no time to waste.

Also Weber has to be used now. The Habs need young legs and someone on the point on the power play. If Gorges is hurting or the geezers are tired sit one of them and if not sit Picard. I like the guy but he's not the future so move him in and out not Weber.

JF said...

The Habs are certainly doing a lot of little things wrong which is costing them games. It's also true that the constant line-juggling isn't helping. The lines that worked earlier should be reunited, and the team should go forward on that basis. But they're starting to look very frustrated and negative, and this is leading to more mistakes. They've reached a point when losing becomes self-perpetuating, when confidence plummets, and it's increasingly difficult to correct bad habits.

Like you, I think the team will get over this slump and start winning again. But at the same time, I think we'll need help, certainly on defence and probably up front as well, if we're to make the playoffs. JM's winning formula has been tight defence, opportunism, and stellar goaltending. Lately our goaltending has been a little less than stellar, and our defence has been allowing the opposition countless chances to score easy goals. Price is still playing well, but he seems unable to bail his team out on the numerous defensive breakdowns and turnovers; nor is it fair or realistic to expect, game after game, that he will. He's also starting to look unlucky, the way he did last year.

I think Gauthier needs to make a move soon, because if we do fall out of the playoff race, it's difficult to see what team we could displace to get back in.

Anonymous said...

You have it Leigh Ann. The players right now are just waiting for it to stop. The more you throw at them the worse it gets. At a point some will think "That's enough." and pick up their games. The rest will relax and the team will be an above .500 team again.

Every year, same old, same old. 82 games is too long for 20 players. 17 might be ok, the pace would slow, everyone would get into the game, and a little more thought. When a player is bagged at the end of a shift, when an icing is dreaded, then the guys are playing at the point of exhaustion. That is fun for a few games but by mid-season everyone is not sharp.

Fast is fun but calm and steady brings it home. Like a powerplay. You move the puck and they run around, not the other way. When they come to you someone is open. Crosby makes a fortune because he knows that.

moeman said...

I agree solidify the lines.