Friday, December 31, 2010

Habs vs.Panthers: Stop the Bleeding Edition

Notes on the third:

-Canada lost. Poo.

-Well, what do you know? The Habs have clawed back. Didn't see either goal, but good on them.

-Wisniewski a goal and assist? Well, whaddya know? A good trade, I think.

-What is this thing I see? Passion? Determination? Habs getting to the puck first? It's a Baby New Year miracle.

-There are such flashes of light from the kids. Weber, Eller, even Pouliot. They show what they might be if not forced into a "System"

-Gill still handles the puck like a roadside bomb.

-Spacek is done. Just done. He should have pulled a Neidermayer and only come on board around February.

-OT. The players are actually celebrating a loser point. Sadly, so am I.

-What? Who? Wiz AGAIN?! I missed it because RDS totally screwed up and didn't show the winner. Allegedly the Habs won. Thank God.

-Love the Gill face wash on the way to the room.

-Happy New Year!!

Notes on the second:

-1-0 Panthers. I guess that's game over.

-It's really kind of amazing that every single player on the team has completely forgotten how to score, all at the same time. At some point it's got to reflect on the coach and his "system."

-Auld blows flying monkeys. Habs should have held onto Desjardins.

-There's no way this suck-ass team is going to recover from a two-goal deficit against Vokoun. I'm watching Canada-Sweden.

Notes on the first:

-No Lapierre. Will we miss him? Probably...not. The man had four years to prove he was more than a generic slug and he rarely ever did.

-Oh no! Darche turns the puck over on the PP. Whew! He turned it over to Higgins. No harm done.

-An interesting mathematical equation would be dollar value of player per minute of suck.

-At least they're shooting tonight, but they still can't hit the net.

-Rhetorical question: How tough is it to learn "go to the net?" Obviously very.

-Didn't the Habs used to be fast? It seems so long ago.

-And the penalty parade continues. One of the best French penalty names: retarde le match. The Habs are retarding a lot of matches lately.

-The stupidity metre seems to be peaking as usual, but the damage so far is minimal.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Habs vs.Bolts - Annual Christmas Disaster Edition

Notes on the third:

-The saddest thing about this is the Lightning give up goals like a newborn gives up poopy diapers.

-THAT was a penalty shot? You're friggin' kidding me!

-Oh, and I guess St.Louis and Boucher and all those other Tampa meatheads will be bitching about Stamkos "disrespecting the game" with his little spin move to score, right? Morons.

-My hockey buddies say it should have been no goal anyway, because Stamkos stopped his forward motion. I'm inclined to agree, but the world, Fate and the hockey gods...not to mention the refs...are all against the Habs right now, so it doesn't matter.

-Once that PS goal went in, the Habs checked out. We have a serious problem here, ladies and gents.

-I feel so badly for Wisniewski. He thought he was going to a Cup contender. He's gamely passing the puck to guys who can't handle a real NHL pass. He's shooting when there's no one providing a screen. He's hustling when all those around him are dragging their asses. He's probably missing the Isles right now.

-This is unbelievably bad. As in, if I weren't wasting a night watching it, I wouldn't believe it.

-Good for Desjardins. He always dreamed of playing in the NHL. I'm glad his first game was against a complete bunch of minor-league patsies to ease his transition to the big time.

Notes on the second:

-Oh, this team makes it so hard on itself. I think I've never actually witnessed TWO too-many-men calls on one team at the same time. Never mind target practice. These guys need math class. After that one sequence, they deserve to lose. They're too stupid to win.

-Poor Halpern has got to be wondering what he did to end up with Moen AND Lapierre as linemates.

-Unbelievable stupidity going on in the Canadiens' end. It's like the whole team has caught Kostitsynitis.

-Thank God for Wisniewski tonight. He's the Habs' best player.

-Sigh. Watching a Habs' 4-on-2 with Lapierre and Spacek, you know exactly what they're going to do. Lapierre will shoot, no matter what his passing options. Check. It'll bounce back to Spacek at the point and he'll shoot it into a leg. Check.

-Price was completely helpless on the second Tampa goal, but you won't see a goalie interference call when it's your own big dumb defenceman taking him out of the play.

-I'm baffled. Why would you come back from a tough goal against with the most useless line on the team? Lapierre stinks.

-Habs have to change their goal song. They've heard "Vertigo" so many times they're taking it seriously. I've never seen a team play so much on its collective ass.

-Honest question: If Gomez wasn't making 8-million, would he still be on the team?

-On the plus side, Subban isn't playing as dumb as most of the vets. And there was no late goal. That's about it.

Notes on the first:

-I hate to say it because I really liked him, but I hope Cedric the Entertainer gets lit up tonight.

-And, no sooner written than done. Good to see Pax's strength put to good use.

-Wish it was Spacek's contract up this summer instead of Hamrlik's.

-I don't really like it when Gorges isn't in the lineup. There's a real sense of stability missing.

-And The Wiz unloads his first four-pounder right of the post! It's nice to have heavy artillery again.

-Hamrlik is wearing the Ryan O'Byrne memorial delay-of-game crown. they EVER just practice hitting the damn net? Come on, Spacek!

-Gotta love how Eller will take the hit to make the play without panicking.

-Pouliot is going to be so far in Martin's doghouse he's going to need a collar and a dish of Kibbles and Bits.

-The rink looks so dark. Are they saving on lightbulbs because of attendance problems?

-Subban looks a bit tentative. He needs three or four solid games to get his confidence back.

-A prize for the first person who can tell me what's the point of Lapierre.

-Well, only two dumb penalties and no late goal. That's a better first than we've seen in a while.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aftermath: A Bad Patch

You want the good news or the bad news? The good news? Well, even though the Habs lost to the Caps last night, it wasn't the worst game they played all year. The bad news? The worst game they played all year was the one against the Isles on the same road trip from hell.

The team is going through one of those bad stretches when everything they do turns to crap. It starts off not really giving a damn in a game against the leafs, that ends in a loss. Then the little bad habits...coasting to the bench on a line change, reaching with the stick instead of taking the body, passing into traffic rather than breaking for the net...that don't add up when the team is winning start to accumulate. The losses add up too, and the hole gets a little deeper with each one until the losing starts to feel insurmountable and frustration leads to more bad behaviour.

RDS illustrated some of those bad habits last night. Brian Gionta, with the puck on the boards had two options: chip it straight ahead to Tomas Plekanec waiting for a pass at the blueline, or pass through three guys to try and hit Travis Moen on the other side of the ice. Instead of making the easy chip, he tried the low-percentage pass and was, naturally, intercepted, which led to a Caps chance. On another sequence, Gionta had the puck with a clear shooting lane on the right side. Instead of taking the shot, he chose to pass through a crowd across the crease. The puck again got knocked away and the scoring chance was blown. RDS didn't make a big case about it, but there was another telling play on the too-many-men on the ice penalty the Canadiens took. The Gomez line was changing up for the Eller line and Pacioretty and Gionta motored to the bench. Gomez coasted, so Eller, who came over the boards with his linemates,passed him on the way to the bench and, of course, the Habs got called.

The only way to break out of a slump like the one the Habs are in is for the team's leaders to take things into their own hands. The difference is not in coaching or systems or luck or anything else except their own effort. There are a lot of Canadiens feeling sorry for themselves right now, and it shows in their tentative play and dumb decisions. The leaders on the team, like Gomez and Gionta, need to be come out one night and skate their asses off. They haven't been doing it for the last three weeks and the rest of the team follows suit. That's why they're leaders. You can't have Tomas Plekanec taking dumbass stick fouls and then be mad at Benoit Pouliot when he does the same thing. You can't have Jaro Spacek making ill-advised pinches and throwing himself out of position in an attempt to recover, then be surprised when we see P.K.Subban making similar plays.

The Canadiens' veterans are better than this. They have the skill to play better hockey, and the experience on which to draw in order to get out of this hole. They just have to do it. It starts with hustle, and that's the main thing that's been missing during this slump. Guaranteed, if the team comes out against Tampa determined to get to every loose puck first, they will look a hundred times better than they have. The only weapon the Canadiens own is their ability to make skilled plays at high speeds. They have the personnel on the top two lines to be a serious offensive threat, but it all starts with the effort of the veterans. If Gomez, Gionta, Plekanec, AK and Cammalleri come out flying tomorrow night, and if they continue to skate hard all game, they have every chance in the world to win.

The addition of James Wisniewski on the blueline (a great move by Gauthier) should help in the recovery. He adds a bit of grit, is capable of taking some of the minutes load off Spacek and Hamrlik, and can shoot hard on the PP. A solid team effort with a stronger blueline corps can only be a good thing. A word of caution to people who think Wisniewski is going to be the new "saviour" in Montreal, though. While he's certainly an improvement over Alexandre Picard, Wiz is just one player. He can fill a role, but he's not Lidstrom, and if the rest of the team, starting with the veterans, doesn't pull it together, he won't singlehandedly turn the Habs around.

The good news today is the slump won't last forever. Sooner or later, the veterans' pride will kick in and they'll just go balls to the wall to pull off a win that'll turn things around. The bad news is we have to wait until they get desperate enough to do that, and we can only hope the playoffs aren't in the toilet by the time it happens.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Habs vs.Caps - The Road Trip From Hell Continues Edition

Notes on the third:

-Unbelieveable, the number of penalties. Just unbelieveable.

-We can talk about bad luck, but the old adage about making your own luck is really true. When guys like Gomez are dragging their asses, nobody's making any luck.

-Eller shows some nice flashes, but the rookie mistakes are painful.

-RDS is showing some interesting sequences of veterans making stupid decisions. Instead of making the simple play, they're passing into traffic and getting picked off.

-Spacek looked like Serge Savard on Chimera. Too bad it only happens once a month.

-When a team hasn't scored on the PP all night, the coach should never pull the goalie. All he's doing is padding the other team's stats.

-I HATE getting shut out. Worse, my new Patrick Roy sweater has a losing record.

Notes on the second:

-Once again the Habs are spending half the game on the PK. Discipline has got to be better.

-Cammalleri's playing like ass, but he didn't deserve a pass in the face.

-It would be nice if Plekanec could play all sixty minutes.

-Gomez is just terrible. He's as bad as year-old eggnog.

-I hope when Wisniewski's in the lineup Picard never plays again.

-Speaking of affirmative action, what's the point of Lapierre this year?

-Typical. Finally exerting some pressure and then a TMM penalty. The dumbest penalty possible to take.

-Maybe a bit too harsh on Picard earlier. He made a pretty defensive play on Ovechkin. He's still not consistent enough to be an everyday NHL D though.

-Price is coming around. A couple of nice stops helped him regain equilibrium. Too bad none of the millions of dollars of talent in front of him can score.

-Gill handles the puck with the concentration of a drunk guy trying to walk a straight line.

-Habs are getting killed by a guy named Beagle. Poetic justice for a team playing like a bunch of dogs.

Notes on the first:

-Well, the PP at least looks like it's sick of losing.

-Price wants this one, just to prove he's as good as Jaro.

-Gomez is playing Christmas a turkey. Actually, he's doing more watching the puck than playing with it tonight.

-The Caps aren't looking as angry as they should be after last spring.

-It's nice to hear Kostitsyn's name not immediately followed by "ay yi yi" on RDS.

-You know what's funny? In some games you can almost feel a rhythm to the penalty calls. It's like the refs feel they should be doing something, so they call something after a lull.

-Price didn't look fabulous on the first goal, again. He seems to be having some concentration issues similar to those he experienced last season. I think it's a combination of fatigue and weak defensive plays like the one Weber made right before the Caps scored.

-Wisniewski can't get here fast enough. Great trade.

-Oh, crap. The last-minute goal again. This team is just falling apart. Subban made yet another dumbass play to cause that one. Now, if recent history is any indication, the game is over.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yes, Tomas, There Is A Stanley Cup

"DEAR BLOGGER: I am 28 years old. Some of my little leaf friends (okay, it's Kaberle) say there is no Stanley Cup. Gomer says, 'If you see it in a blog it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Stanley Cup?

Tomas Plekanec
Bell Centre, Montreal."

Tomas, your little friend is wrong. He has been affected by the leafism of a losing age. He does not believe except [what] he wins. He thinks that nothing can be won which is not comprehensible by his little mind. All minds, Tomas, whether they be Burke's or Sather's, are little. In this great universe of ours players are mere insects, ants, in their intellect, as compared with the boundless world about them, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Tomas, there is a Stanley Cup. It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Stanley Cup. It would be as dreary as if there were no Canadiens. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this winter existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in books and movies. The eternal light with which championships fill the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in the Stanley Cup! You might as well not believe in Santa Claus! You might get your GM to hire men to hit everything that moves and who can score at will to catch the Stanley Cup, but even if they did not win the Cup, what would that prove? Nobody buys the Stanley Cup, but that is no sign that there is no Stanley Cup. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see character and sacrifice visible on a man's face? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the Chris Pronger's head and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not Chris Nilan, nor even the united strength of Nilan, Laraque and Boogaard could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the winning and the glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Tomas, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Stanley Cup! Thank God! it lives, and it lives forever. A thousand years from now, Tomas, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, it will continue to make glad the heart of fandom.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Aftermath: Whew!

Scott Gomez was first star last night, and deservedly so. It was Tibb's Eve, and it was his birthday; two reasons why he should get a nice gift. People will say he's a slow starter and he's finally warming up, and that's why he's playing better all of a sudden. That's not the secret, though. Max Pacioretty is.

If you watch video of Gomez, you'll see a pattern emerge. He breaks out of his own zone at top speed, cuts through the middle like a chainsaw through saplings and crosses the other team's blueline with the puck. Then, he finds himself alone in enemy territory and he almost always drifts wide left. The unfortunate effect of that is he's usually ahead of his left winger. That means the only option he's got on that side is a drop pass, which hardly ever works. The difference Pacioretty makes is profound. He goes to the net aggressively on every rush, and he's fast enough to match Gomez' pace. As a result, Gomez can continue his habitual left-side drift and it now gives him an option to pass to the crease, and he's still got the right-wing possibility with Gionta. That's why the line is working and it seems that Gomez is suddenly emerging from his funk. It's not quite that simple. Gomez is actually playing the same game he always plays. It's just that now, he's got two compatible linemates, one of whom compensates for his biggest weakness.

So that's that line worked out. As for the first, well, Jacques the Knife managed to figure out that if he wants Kostitsyn to work, he puts him with Plekanec. Otherwise, he's useless. He got back on the Plekanec line last night and he showed his first-round talent again. We have to accept he's never going to be consistent, but we get the best out of him when he's got a smart, creative centre.

Eller is better than the scrubs he's playing with, but he's a kid. The good thing is, he knows he's a kid and he's just glad to be there. It's refreshing to see a kid like that, who's got no attitude about his line or his ice time. He's just there to learn, and he will. He's showing some great things so far, and he'll sort out the other stuff as he goes.

The PP came through when it really counted. Two goals during the 'Canes major for boarding was more than we've seen all year, and it made the difference.

Carey Price is the difference in every game this year. If he plays well, the Habs have a pretty good chance of winning. If he's only good, they lose most of the time. That's a lot of pressure, but the young man is showing he likes it. It just gets a bit scary when he gets bored and goes for long skates, handling the puck. Overall, he's an excellent goalie who's fulfilling his first-round promise.

Josh Gorges is certainly playing hurt, and one might ask why that's allowed to happen. He's a very valuable shut-down guy, but if he's hurt he's not doing his job. He's giving the puck away, he's having trouble keeping up with the puck carrier and he's in difficulty in the corners. He needs to rest his injury, whatever it is, and let Subban and Weber try to help out. Now is the time to look after Gorges because in the stretch he won't be able to rest.

The Habs, despite the win, still display a worrisome lack of finish. They had many chances in the crease last night that would have been goals if better players had had them. That's something they have to work on.

Overall, it was a good win on a night when the Habs really needed one. This season, it all comes down to staying ahead of the Bruins and arriving in the post-season reasonably healthy. If they can do that, Gomez, Pacioretty and the rest of them might have a much bigger reason to celebrate.

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.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Aftermath: Needs and Wants

Remember that old children's verse: "for want of a nail?" It goes, "For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."

In the case of the Habs, Andrei Markov is the nail and the playoffs are the kingdom. What it comes down to is the Montreal Canadiens really need a defenceman. Nothing against Alexandre Picard; despite his occasional brain farts, he's acquitted himself decently as a number-six D so far this season. The problem is, the Habs don't need a number-six. They need a number-one. Or, at the very least, a top-four guy.

The consequences of Andrei Markov's absence run much deeper than just missing the man himself, which is hard enough. Without him, P.K.Subban is making his rookie mistakes while paired with a just-competent journeyman. Subban needs an on-ice mentor who can teach him and cover for his errors, which currently end up in the Habs net way too often. Without Markov, his learning curve is much, much steeper.

Without Markov, Hamrlik and Spacek become the top defensive pair. Unfortunately, they're not as young as they used to be, so their minutes need to be managed. If they're to play smaller minutes than the horses who lead other teams on the blue line, somebody else has got to step up. That means Gorges and Gill play more than they should, including at times when the team is trying to score...which is definitely not their forte. In fact, scoring is not the specialty of any of the blue line corps.

Without Markov, the Canadiens have only one way to win. They take an early lead, then patiently defend it while they wait for an opportunity to build on it. This method depends on actually getting that early lead while the other team is still getting a feel for the game. It also depends on Carey Price playing otherworldly-good hockey, rather than just ordinary good. For most of this year, the plan has worked pretty well. Lately, though, Price is coming back down to earth and playing only well rather than superbly well. Fluke goals and softies that didn't figure into the plan earlier in the season are causing problems now because without Markov, the Habs can't score very much.

If the plan breaks down and the opponent scores first or manages to pull ahead later in the game, the Canadiens don't come back. The forwards have to start their rushes at their own blueline and battle through to the offensive zone because they have no help from their defence. When they do get to the o-zone, the forwards don't go to the net as often as they should, so they end up passing around the perimeter instead of getting chances on net. They have no threat from the blueline who can break the cycle with a hard, accurate shot. The opponent can just collapse around their goalie and keep the Habs to the outside, which they usually do pretty effectively.

The Canadiens have learned a method of winning without Markov, but it's precarious and depends on everything going according to plan. The Habs are not a team that will blow an opponent out of the water very often. They rely on hard work, discipline and opportunism. When something goes wrong, they find it very, very difficult to recover. This is a deep, systemic problem and the only cure is to bolster the defence with a guy who can pass the puck and who's a threat to shoot from the blue line, while also playing a steady game in his own end.

There aren't a whole lot of candidates out there who might also be available to sign or trade for. Kim Johnsson is without a team, but he's dealing with post-concussion syndrome and may not even play at all this year. Tomas Kaberle comes to mind, but dealing with the leafs and probably giving up a first-round pick to them is repulsive. Still, it may happen that the Habs don't have a choice. The only goal they should have right now is staying ahead of the Bruins. Doing that much will ensure a playoff spot. They're now in danger of falling behind, and, if they do, they'll shortly be at risk of falling out of the post-season picture as well. Ideally, Gauthier would wait until the trading deadline to make a move. In reality, the Canadiens may not be able to hold on that long.

For want of a nail...or a Markov...the season could be lost.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Habs vs. Avs - Left Coast Edition

Notes on the third:

-Disorganized PP during which nobody remembers to shoot. And NOW Anderson gets hot.

-Habs doing a great job using their bodies to protect the puck.

-Price is doing his best to keep them in it now.

-Mentioned to non-hocky watching spouse that Gill seemed to be doing okay with the altitude because he wasn't panting on the bench. Spouse says, "That's because he doesn't move fast enough to get short of breath."

-And the PP goes back to sucking just when it's needed most.

-Martin, please don't pull Price. Just don't.

-An exciting, defenceless flurry to end it, but no execution.

-O'Byrne will be lighter of pocket after he pays his teammates their money for beating his old team.

-This is not good.

Notes on the second:

-Nice to see Carbo on RDS. At least the TV gig means his extensive and expensive tie collection doesn't go to waste.

-Thank the lord for the PP. Never thought I'd say that this year.

-Gomez' sudden burst of energy and Pacioretty's presence in the crease made the Picard goal happen.

-Sigh. It's probably safe to say Carey Price is no longer hot.

-Still, that was a helluva save on the 2-on-1. If anything's going to help him blow off that bad goal, it's a save like that.

-It's sad that my heart was in my throat when I saw a Hab injured on the bench. Then I saw it was Lapierre and I thought, oh well, they'll just sub in Pyatt and have a better PK.

-Then he comes back and takes a penalty. Ugh.

-Just noticed Martin is rocking the warped amoeba tie again tonight. I wonder what his record is wearing that thing?

-Subban was soft on the clear that led to the Galiardi goal. The bottom-pair Ds are struggling hard lately. It's soon going to be time for Gauthier to address the defence stability issue.

-Speaking of the Galiardi goal, another one with less than five to go in the period is NOT a good sign. It was also probably goalie interference.

-Habs don't play well from behind, as we know, and now another penalty call. The wheels are falling off.

-Price has given up three goals on 15 shots.

-Now the Habs have to try and come back in the third for the first time all year while sucking for air.

Notes on the first:

-Lots of Lapierre early. Either he's on the ice more than usual or he's more than usually visible when he is.

-Fleischmann used to kill the Habs in Washington all the time. I'm so not thrilled to see him again.

-Oh Gomez. Target practice after practice would do him wonders.

-Hamrlik stickhandled like Gretzky to allow his mates to change.

-Avs D looks a bit iffy.

-Cammy's stick should be part of the line of Black&Decker precision tools. Gill's, on the other hand, is more like a blunt instrument.

-Hamrlik just rode Duchene out of the play with fantastic patience. He waited him out longer than Kate Middleton.

-It's surprising that for the highest-scoring team in the league, the Avs don't forecheck harder.

-Seriously, the guy in My Left Foot had better hands than Moen.

-Poor Spatch is gonna need oxygen by the third. Or a pint. Or both.

-Kostitsyn has got to be harder on the puck than that. Now a Habs penalty because of it. I hate him when he plays a half-assed game.

-Plekanec kills penalties like the leafs kill hope.

-This "last second in the period" goal thing is getting REALLY old. Really. It's enough to suck the limited amount of air out of the Habs balloon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Culture and History

Cal Botterill is a pretty fascinating guy. He spent three years in the 60s with the Candian national hockey team. After his playing days ended, he got a PhD in psychology and began teaching courses in sports psychology at the University of Winnipeg. He spent eleven years as a sports psychology consultant for several NHL teams and wrote a book called Human Potential, about developing mental skills like focus and perspective. He's got two children; daughter Jen plays for Canada's national women's hockey team and his son Jason is the Penguins assistant GM. Botterill knows hockey, and he knows psychology. So, who better to ask why the NHL culture drives established players to criticize rookies who dare to be outstanding?

He's been as fascinated as the rest of us by the reactions of guys like Mike Richards and Don Cherry to P.K. Subban's flamboyance, and to the Lightning's criticism of Oiler rookie Linus Omark's fantastic spinerama shootout goal.

"I think it's against the grain of the traditional culture of hockey," muses Botterill. "Historically, on the negative side, my God, there was hazing to no end. There was real oppression of rookies. I think this is changing as we're seeing more and more exceptional rookies; more and more Sidney Crosbys who come along and can clearly make an impact on a team right away and are pretty much welcome because they're recognized for their talent and what they can do. So I think the culture is changing."

Botterill thinks self-preservation on the part of players who already see the end of their own hockey road, or who've been around long enough to know time at the highest level of the game is fleeting, plays a role in the criticism of guys like Subban and Omark by veterans.

"They're protecting their turf. If too many cocky good rookies come along, some of their positions will be lost," he says. "So, if you look at it kind of cynically, they're promoting humility and a super-high respect level partly to make sure young players don't become a threat to their own culture on the team. I don't know how much of that is still the case, but historically, that was a big part of it."

Botterill also sees a link between military culture and that in the NHL. Both have long histories and a tradition of hierarchy.

"They're protecting that hierarchy. I had to go through it, so you have to. I always thought that was about the worst reason to do anything. The biggest thing that perpetuates this is the history of the game. Whether it's appropriate or not, it's gone on much longer than it should have. Hopefully, it's changing."

One of the things he thinks should happen to make that change is a more focused approach to mentoring young players by veterans.

"One of the guys I thought was an amazing mentor was Chris Chelios," he recalls. "He'd be the first guy to take a rookie out to lunch and kind of educate him on the realities of the game and show some support for him, but also warn him about the risks he needed to avoid. He was a pretty good influence on the young players when I was around. He helped a lot of them deal with the pressures and the temptations of the game.

"On the good side of what a culture has done," Botterill continues, "if you look at the Dany Heatley story where a kid is killed when they're racing cars through town, clearly there were no senior character players on that team. And here were these kids, young stars with their egos totally out of control, and in the end risking civilians and costing the life of one of his teammates. In the NBA, and they've got a bigger problem than hockey, they're trying to institute a program where they align every young player with a veteran character player, just to mentor them and educate them on the realities of the game and avoid some of these problems with egos getting too big too early."

So, from the sports psychologist's perspective, is P.K.Subban doing anything wrong?

"I think he's doing a great job. I was kind of surprised that Jacques sat him for a couple of games. I think he was probably protecting him from a more serious barrage along those lines," he opines. "I haven't heard anything from the kid that's problematic. I think that the extent of the attacks by Mike and Don were a little overboard. We talk all the time about giving kids the confidence to be able to play and admiring those that have it, and just because a kid is confident and, in this case, pretty articulate, why are we chastising them or imposing that much negativity on them?"

Botterill is convinced the future of hockey is in the hands of young entertainers, not in the staid methods promoted by the veteran hierarchy. In that regard, he thinks Subban and Omark are pioneers for the kind of game the league is slowly moving toward.

"I hope the idea of embracing confident young players becomes a bigger part of the culture," he explains. "Whenever there's change, this is usually the way it happens. There's a dramatic case, and then after a while people start to say, hold it, he's not a bad kid. He's trying to be as confident as he can and doing what he needs to do for his team, so let's back off. We need more players like this. It's good for the game. But cultures don't change overnight, so it might be a little while.

"I think there's an element of what the game needs in that creativity and in the confidence to try things that other people haven't tried before, so the quality of the product gets better for everyone involved," he continues. "Right now they're not doing that. They're kind of clinging to this old school idea of pecking order and hassling the kids a bit. This is a dynamic process and I think these things are part of what will change it. Hopefully sooner rather than later."

Cal Botterill's opinion is, of course, just that of one man. So is Don Cherry's. Of the two, one might argue that the person who believes young, creative players should be embraced rather than vilified has the better credentials.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Aftermath: Relief

The Canadiens really, really didn't want to start a seven-game road trip on a four-game losing streak. That was the story of last night's game. They came out on the attack right away and they got the jump on the Bs. The Bruins, being pretty keen to not extend their own losing streak, fought back. Every time they did, though, the Habs had an answer. They were faster than the Bruins and, through the ebb and flow of a game between two good teams, they were better for longer. It was a good sign that when the chips are down against an important rival, in a game both teams really want to win, the Canadiens respond with enough moxy to end up on top.

The desperation and determination to pull that game out at all costs was the main story, but as in any good script, there were stories within the story as well. Michael Cammalleri's strange game was prime among them. Cammy made a fantastic move to score his first career penalty shot goal, on a play that probably shouldn't have been a penalty shot. Then he fought his first NHL fight, bloodying and being bloodied by David Krejci. The goal was great. The fight was odd. Cammalleri acquitted himself well, but the question is, why was he fighting at all? It fits with the new, angry Cammy we're seeing this year. He's been taking pointless penalties, he's terse with the media where last year he was thoughtful and entertaining, and he's reacting visibly when he's frustrated on the ice. There's something bothering him and you can't help thinking he'd be an even better player if he could work it out.

Another story within last night's story is the emergence of Max Pacioretty. The team has been looking all year for someone to jump start Scott Gomez, and Pax might finally be the solution to the Gomez Conundrum. The man looks bigger than he was last year, and he's definitely savvier on the ice. The crushing hits that used to knock him flat before aren't getting him now because his head is up and he's more aware. He's using his size to win the puck, and he's discovered an ability to make a dandy pass. It's interesting that he gives so much of the credit for his turnaround to playing with David Desharnais. He says DD is the best centre he's ever had, and watching the way he operates taught Pacioretty a lot. Whatever the reason, it looks like he might be the missing top-six winger the team has needed forever.

Subban the Destroyer is another thing a lot of people will be talking about today. The kid laid an open-ice hit on Brad Marchand that had Marchand seeing little birds flying around his head. It was a devastating, clean hit of the type you see maybe once or twice a year in the NHL these days. They're so rare, you half expect a penalty on them because the refs react to seeing a guy pasted like that. The particular joy in that hit was Subban's discussion of it post-game. He sounded so sensible in explaining how he won't do that all the time because he doesn't want to take himself out of position. The amount of potential the kid has is astonishing and when he fully harnesses his ability, he'll be a force of nature.

The troubling story from last night was the fluctuating intensity level. Each time the Canadiens re-established a two-goal lead, they seemed to let down. The Bruins suddenly started getting to loose pucks first and the Habs D began running around. Passes got really sloppy too, when the Canadiens stopped skating. That's a concern and needs to be fixed when they hit the road for the west.

The D needs to be shored up as well. Watching Spacek try not to get hit as he favours his shoulder, and Gill repeatedly giving the puck away because it's difficult to handle when it's on the end of a ten-foot stick exposes weaknesses on the blueline that aren't going to get better as the year grinds on. Without Andrei Markov, the Habs are an elite puck-moving defenceman away from being a contender. Just imagining how good they'd look with him is almost heart breaking. Pierre Gauthier has got to be keeping his eyes open for a potential deal to fix the problem. It'll be interesting to see what he comes up with.

All in all, though, the Canadiens came through when it counted most. That's the story. This is a good team and it's getting better with the addition of guys like Pacioretty. Barring a disaster, it will be a playoff team and that's the only tale that matters.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bs vs. Habs - Kill the Streak Edition

Notes on the third:

-You can't help thinking the 4-3 goal is inevitable. Everything is just so bouncy.

-Oh, Pleky. If the puck had been flat, he would have had the wing goal.

-Ha! Lucic hit Kostitsyn and just fell as though he'd hit a brick wall. AK just looked around as though to say, "What? Did someone touch me?"

-BS call late in the third and predictably, the Bs make it 4-3. Lucic with his ass in front of Price and once again earning his pay. OT feels inevitable.

-Good holding them off. I hate Milbury.

Notes on the second:

-Habs start off looking like a swarm of red hornets in the Bs zone.

-It'd be great for Eller's dad to see him score an NHL goal tonight.

-Add to the list of things the Habs do better this year than last: shoot the puck and send the Ds to challenge the rush at the blueline.

-I really wish Price would wear a better neck protector. He looks so very vulnerable.

-Thomas is standing on his little round head tonight. Habs should be laughing by now.

-Wish the CBC sound was still off. The Savard goal has Cole so excited he's going to have an "accident."

-Spacek's reluctance to get hit is reason enough to have Weber in the lineup at this point. Brutal.

-Hamrlik is older than Methusela, but he's still a warrior.

-Cammy could be on Battle of the Blades with that dramatic wind-up to his fight. He gets the nod though. They both bled, but Cammy ended up on top of the pile and got the last three shots in.

-Price is handling the puck like Cassanova handled virgins.

-Pacioretty might be finally turning into the guy Timmins drafted. Great pass across to Gionta.

-Questionable call on Darche by jumpy refs looking for head shots. I thought that was okay.

-Nice to get out of the period with the two-goal lead. Now to get one more in the third.

Notes on the first:

-Cammalleri had more moves on the penalty shot than Josephine Baker in Black Venus. Amazing shot.

-These two teams trying to get the puck off the boards is like an armwrestling championship...frozen in limbo.

-I think Martin's ties are made of that special stuff modern spies use so they can't be photographed.

-Pouliot is finding a new gear tonight. Looking great.

-Lapierre must have felt the noose tightening. Pyatt wouldn't be out forever if Lapierre didn't score soon.

-Oh, this is awesome! CBC lost the Cole feed for a few seconds and all you could hear was rink.

-What baffles me about Gill is that he was apparently an All-American quarterback. How can a guy who can obviously make great passes on the football field completely lose that ability when he's on ice? I asked my non-hockey watching spouse that question. He said it's because on the ice, Gill doesn't have "ten big fat guys tackling everyone who wants to get in his way."

-The Habs are faster than speed tonight.

-Really not liking the kind of goals Price is allowing in the last couple of games. They're not necessarily his fault, but they're spookily reminiscent of the kind of bad luck that's haunted him in the past.

-Subban, when he gets a permanent nickname will be something involving a reference to a transport truck. He hits like one, as Marchand now knows.

-Pacioretty! This is a different player than the one we saw in Montrela before.

-Ugh. Good thing Cammalleri can score, because he's lousy on the boards.

-Great period. They need two more to send them off on the road trip the right way.

Aftermath: Sometimes, There Is An "I" in "Team"

Hockey is a team game. Everyone knows that. That's why there are cliches.
You win as a team and you lose as a team. It was a team effort. The team really pulled together. We went to war as a team.

Sometimes, though, the team gets screwed by the bad play of individual players. That's what happened to the Canadiens last night. As a team, they had some very good moments. Both of the newly-revamped top-two lines were fast, aggressive and opportunistic. Some of the passing plays they made were just glorious, particularly in the second, when, down two goals, they began to take the game to the Flyers. The third and fourth lines contributed their usual cycle, advance-the-puck types of shifts. The D, as a whole, was pretty decent despite a half-dozen glaring turnovers.

What it came down to, in the end, was individual error. For the first time all year, Carey Price gave up a couple of softies to make the difference in a close game. The second Flyer goal, off Gill then off Price's head, was the kind he allowed last year when he was sucking. Still, the team managed to rally and draw even again. The go-ahead goal was a plain old softie that gave the game away. Price should have had that, and on 99 nights out of 100, he would. Last night was lucky number 100.

Then, there's Subban. P.K. is such a mix of risk/reward right now. We know, as he gets more experienced and better able to control his emotions, that we'll get more reward as time goes on. Last night, however, the risk clearly outweighed the benefit. He scored on a rocket from the point, which we're all hoping to see more of from him. Unfortunately, he gave up two with two horrible up-the-middle giveaways. You just can't do that when you're playing a team whose fourth-line centre has more goals than your team's top guy. It will end up in the back of the net. PK should have learned that on the first giveaway that turned into a goal. He didn't. Instead, he repeated that mistake. Now, despite his glorious rushes and great shot, he'll probably be scratched in favour of Weber against the Bruins.

Jaro Spacek, who should have known better, looked brutal on the fourth Flyers goal; the one that ruined the comeback. For some inexplicable reason a veteran who should have known better pinched deep on the PK, got caught and ended up getting back just in time to witness the backbreaker.

Tomas Plekanec has been in the box for killer goals twice in the last three games, both times for slashing. Pleks is the team's Old Reliable, but he's got to have better discipline with his stick when important games are on the line. He's got a reputation for stick work and he's going to get called for it.

And, for all his exhortations about playing as a team and playing within the system, Jacques Martin didn't hold up his end of the bargain either. From starting Andrei Kostitsyn on the fourth line where he was as effective as a chicken-wire parachute, to playing Maxim Lapierre with two minutes to go, his lineup decisions were poor, to be kind. One couldn't help but wonder why Lars Eller was on the crucial PK that led to the Flyers go-ahead goal, or why Tom Pyatt was scratched over Lapierre to begin with. If the latter decision was because Lapierre offered more "grit" against the aggressive Flyers, it was a misguided choice. Laps is a yapper, with occasional delusions of being Guy Lafleur, not a tough guy. Watching Eller, who hadn't played for most of the third, trying to kill that penalty, made fans long for Tom Pyatt's PK reliability.

Every team breaks down at some point in every game. The difference between winners and losers comes down to keeping those breakdowns to a minimum. The Canadiens didn't do that. They had too many breakdowns against a team with too much firepower to contain effectively without some serious discipline.

In the meantime, however, the flashes of team play the Habs showed were tantalizing. The Pacioretty/Gomez/Gionta line looked dangerous all night, but especially in the second. After Martin put Kostitsyn back on the Plekanec line, that trio too showed some nice skill. The impossible dream of having an actual NHL-calibre top six with two scoring lines looked close enough to touch.

It's those flashes that outshine the breakdowns. Against a team with not quite as much talent as Philly, or a goalie not as on his game as Bobrovsky was last night, the Canadiens would have easily won that one on the strength of the second-period dominance, despite the individual errors.

That's what we have to look at now, because if we look behind the Habs in the standings, the pack is slavering right at their heels. We have to hope that the team shows up tonight against the Bruins and the individual screw ups aren't the story of the game. After all, when it comes down to it, the team makes or misses the playoffs together. That's all the record will show, no matter how many mistakes add up to the loss.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Flyers vs. Habs - World War Three Edition

Notes on the third:

-This period should be all Habs with the fresh legs and all.

-Oh lord. Another softie on Price. Not good.

-PLEKY! Hard work ends up in a hard-won goal.

-And GIO!! Could this team possibly have discovered two scoring lines?

-Please, don't give this up. Winning this would be so sweet, but the Flyers are getting the scarier chances.

-Pacioretty is a different man. He went to Hamilton as Pee Wee Herman and came back as Tom Cruise, when he was cool.

-Oh no. van Reimsdyk again. I hate the Flyers so much.

-You have to wonder if Lapierre had been scratched instead of Pyatt, whether he would have helped prevent that go-ahead goal.

-Subban with his second giveaway is fulfilling his risk-reward potential. Score one, give up two is not a good ratio.

-Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Price has notched his first stinker of the year. Even though three of the goals were off brutal defence, two should have been stopped.

-This sucks.

Notes on the second:

-Oh crap. Price hasn't been burned for a horrible fluke goal like that all year. Not good.

-Pax is looking good though. A little time with Desharnais setting him up worked wonders for him.

-Kostitsyn is waking up, and Subban wants to make up for his braindead clear at the end of the fist. There's hope yet, even if they haven't come from behind to win all year.

-If only Gill...ah, never mind.

-Ooh...Pierre's getting a mancrush on Pacioretty. Max and McGuire, up in a tree...

-Habs are everywhere this period, except on the scoreboard.

-Take that back. PK!!! The only thing nicer than the goal was Cammalleri picking Richards' pocket.

-Momentum is in the Habs favour and the Flyers played last night. It's a climb, but not a steep one.

Notes on the first:

-Sock it to 'em, P.K. Carcillo's going to be complaining about a lack of respect after this.

-Nice fast start. Hope there's some gas left in the tank for tomorrow.

-Gill's stick is really behaving like a third defenceman out there.

-Martin's got the lines back in order now. AK's back with Pleks and Moen with Halpern.

-Typical of Gomez this year. Perfect two-on-one at top speed with Gionta's stick on the ice, and the pass just lies there like a dead fish.

-Zherdev with the dirty hit from behind on Subban, and as per the New NHL, no call.

-Pierre McGuire's Homoerotic Comment of the Period: (after a series of observations on various guys' big sticks) "Size does matter."

-Great. Bobrovsky's going to be hot tonight.

-Oh, P.K. A high to start the period, and a low to end it. Brutal.

Moen-ing in Pain

As Habs fans, most of us aren't dumb when it comes to hockey. We like to think we know the game and we have reasons for the opinions we bear. That's why many of us are wondering what the hell Travis Moen is doing on Tomas Plekanec's wing?

Look, I like Travis Moen. He's a hard-working, never-back-down Saskatchewan boy. He works the family farm in the off season. His attitude is the kind the Habs would like to inject into a couple of other guys on the team. Moen will fight when he has to and he'll do whatever his coach asks of him to the best of his ability. He will not score goals.

You can see it coming tonight, can't you? Plekanec chips the puck by a Philly d-man and breaks in on a 2-on-1 with Travis Moen. Pleks makes a lovely pass under the second defenceman's stick, right onto Moen's tape and Moen...misses the net. Or Pleks is behind the net and looking for an open man for the pass. Moen is there in the crease, with his butt to the play and doesn't see the puck.

Now, being smart Habs fans, we know what Martin's up to here. We understand he wants to put a bit of grit on the top line because he knows the Flyers will focus on Plekanec and try to forecheck him into the ice. Moen's supposed to offer the resistance the line needs to outplay Philly. (Shaking up a fairly dormant Andrei Kostitsyn would be a bonus).

It's a great idea, in theory. In reality, not only does Moen not offer the finish Plekanec needs on his line, but he's really not the right kind of tough either. "Tough" on a top line means a guy who drives the net and intimidates defencemen with his aggression. It means someone who forechecks with such ferocity he wins all his battles for the puck while his linemates set themselves up in scoring position. Once the puck is won, the top-line winger has to have the skill to actually do something with it; redirect it from in front of the net, put it upstairs on a sprawling goalie, make a nice pass off the boards to Plekanec or Cammalleri. Those things require skill, and Moen doesn't have it. Martin's trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in this case, and poor Moen ends up looking like the whole pig.

I hope Max Pacioretty shows his AHL stuff in the NHL at last, because the Canadiens need a guy with real skill to play that net-driving role. If Martin shakes Kostitsyn out of his recent slumber, the team might, finally, have two real scoring lines. That's a lot of "if"s, true. None of them are as big an "IF" as saying the Habs could beat the Flyers if Travis Moen plays like a first-line power forward.

We, and Jacques, know, it ain't gonna happen.

Monday, December 13, 2010


The NHL is busy developing a social media policy now, that will govern how the league and its players interact online with fans. It's an important move because if it's done right, it could really help promote the sport among the generation of people who think opposable thumbs are meant for texting. Conversely, if the league bumbles it, it could create the perception that the NHL is a dinosaur and paranoid.

The internet is already changing the influence of the fan in the hockey world, giving them a power they never had before. Once upon a time, a newspaper reporter wrote Maurice Richard skated like a rocket, and an iconic nickname was born. This year, when the Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri line was tearing up the league, a quick-witted fan tweeted or facebooked or blogged that the line should be the "ATM" line because it's money in the bank. Two days later, the title was showing up on TSN broadcasts.

It's also giving the fans a new kind of power over the players. It's one thing for the guy who's slumping to avoid watching highlights on TV or reading the paper. It's a whole different thing to avoid tweets or facebook messages from fans, or the online headlines that pop up every time he tries to check a score on his blackberry. Opinions are everywhere, and when you're dealing in ego with confidence as a currency, negative ones can hurt.

Information travels at greater speeds than ever online, and so do trends. The guy who's today's hero is forgotten tomorrow as the next star emerges. And the power of the internet is like the ultimate word of mouth, giving fans opinions about players they've never seen on the ice. A kid like P.K. Subban can come into the NHL with thousands people already chanting his name, and you can be sure most of them weren't checking out the Hamilton Bulldogs games last year. The adulation is unearned, but it's intoxicating, and a player can buy into that at his own expense.

The flip side of this is the player gets a little closer to the fan. Following a player's facebook or twitter account gives the fan an insight into the feelings a guy has when his team loses six straight. We get to know the little mundane details, petty annoyances and insane privileges of the pro hockey lifestyle. Suddenly, the guys who were idols doing things we mere mortals could only dream of doing became more like the guy down the street who just happens to make a hell of a lot of money for playing a game. Players we hated on teams we couldn't stand can elicit our sympathy or make us laugh.

Look at Paul Bissonette in Phoenix. The guy is a goon who gets scratched for most games, yet he's created a huge fan following because he's philosophical and irreverent about his role in the NHL. He's everyman, who's a lucky enough bum to be living the dream, even if it comes with a few bumps. He's an appealing and funny personality online, and fans are drawn to him for that reason. It's refreshing to get inside the head of a guy who doesn't speak robot, like so many NHL players do.

Still, I'm not sure if that closeness between player and fan...even the artificial closeness of the a good thing. It's certainly nice to have the peek inside the NHL world. But part of the fun of being a fan is having that mystery. We believe in intangibles like leadership and courage. We don't really need to know if there's a squabble in the room or a respected leader is a dummy or someone we admire is really a jerk. Knowing the truth and demystifying the players who dazzle us with their skills takes a bit of the magic out of being a fan.

There's a fine line between knowing a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes and humanizing players to the point where we can no longer suspend disbelief, which is part of our role as fans. We need to keep the players on that pedestal or disillusionment sets in pretty quickly. There hasn't been a whole lot of attention focused on the NHL's new social media policy, but perhaps there should be more. Even if it's flying under the radar, it's going to be a very important step in the evolution of the player/fan relationship.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Aftermath: WTF?

Contrary to all appearances, there were a few positives to last night's stink fest. For example:

-The win keeps the leafs two more points away from handing the Bruins another lottery pick.

-Alex Auld got some much-needed work.

-There are four days to plan how to get out of this mess before the next game.

-The breaks tend to even out over the course of the season, and the reffing has sucked hard for the Canadiens in the last two.

-There's lots of good video for the "Don't" file.

-The Habs were a bit concerned about peaking too early and wanted to go back to flying under the radar. They've succeeded.

-Dustin Boyd got a chance to shake off those sore muscles you get when you don't exercise for weeks, then work out hard.

That's it. That's all I can come up with on the plus side of this game. On the minus side, there's a lot more. Like:

-Subban is lost. He's making poor decisions, hitting when he shouldn't, pinching when he needs to stay back and shooting at shin pads with his giant windup. His windup is so obvious it's got a police escort. He needs help and there's nobody to offer it. The kid has resorted to calling Tampa's assistant coach for advice. Perry Pearn might be a fine strategist, but he never played defence in the NHL. This is where Gauthier regrets not returning Larry Robinson's phone calls, if he's smart.

-Andrei Kostitsyn has found his invisibility cloak. The guy is so dominant when he's on and so frustrating most of the rest of the time.

-The D is vulnerable without Markov. They all know how to play the system in theory, but they frigged it up in execution last night. It all goes back to Markov's injury. Without him, Spacek and Hamrlik become the number-one D pair, Gorges and Gill move up to number two and Subban is left without veteran guidance as he's stuck with journeyman Picard. Not to say Picard is a bad player, but he's only just competent and really needs an experienced guy with him too. Those two guys together can be a bit like the inmates running the asylum. Remove Spacek from the equation and you've got two rookies and a journeyman in the top six. When Roman Hamrlik is your top offensive D, you've got issues.

-Nobody can score. The Martin defensive system is extremely effective in preventing goals against because all five players collapse to the net. Unfortunately, that means everyone has to skate an extra twenty feet to even gain the offensive zone on the attack. There's a LOT of skating involved in playing the Martin way, and covering that extra distance means there are extra passes and more chances to get picked off. Throw a second game in two nights at them, and all that skating adds up to a tired team.

-The power play continues to be a big problem. It's barely respectable right now, and misses Markov more than any other aspect of the game. That's IF the Habs actually draw a penalty. In the last couple of games, they're second to the puck a lot of the time, which means they have to take chintzy penalties to recover. Between that and some really iffy reffing, there aren't many PPs to be had, and the ones they get aren't effective.

-There's nobody on the team other guys are afraid of. I don't want a goon. Far from it. I think goons are outdated and a waste of valuable cap space, as we learned in the Laraque situation. In the NHL today, though, you do need a real player who's tough enough to beat on opponents who take liberties. I hate to give that much credit to Lucic, but he's a guy who'll do that. When that little pissant MacArthur went aboard of Spacek, he needed someone to give him an atomic wedgie and punch his head. Nobody did, because nobody aside from Moen is capable. And Moen can't do it every time, especially when the team is down and they're trying to avoid penalties.

-We've been exceedingly positive because the Habs have been winning, but in reality, the team last night was missing two top-four defencemen and a top-line centre. When you're dealing with those kinds of injuries, something's got to give. If those injuries are long-term, the Habs, frankly, are in trouble.

Habs vs. leafs - Waffles Anyone? Edition

Notes on the third:

-Martin's looking like his brain hurts on the Hamrlik penalty.

-Pouliot handles the puck like Faberge handled eggs.

-A powerplay! I thought they didn't apply to the Habs.

-Subban has got to shorten the windup on his point shot. He might as well hire a singing telegram to announce it.

-Halfway through the period, I'd take the loser point. It's better than pointlessly losing.

-If Lapierre had hands he'd be a superstar.

-One good sign is that they seem to shift to desperation gear earlier in a losing cause than they did last year. Now it happens with about eight minutes to go, where last year it was more like a minute.

-Wish we could have last night's Pouliot bullet tonight. I'd rather get shut out by the Wings than lose to the leafs.

-This team has a serious scoring problem. There's too much talent on the roster to not be able to scrape up two goals against the leafs. There's an issue here.

-With Spacek out along with Markov, there's also a serious stability problem on D. This could turn into a slump.

-WHY does Martin keep pulling the goalie? Yeah, it's in the coach's manual of things you should do when down a goal, but when you're talking about a team that can't score on the PP, what sense does it make?

-They should have played Desharnais. I wanted waffles.

Notes on the second:

-Subban appears to have suffered a setback in the confidence department.

-The Habs are just giving the impression that they don't give a damn about this game. While it's true the leafs are a lottery team again, that's just not a professional attitude.

-A little more life when the Eller line is out there, but Subban/Picard are getting killed.

-The Jacques the Knife roulette wheel of line creation is spinning wildly.

-Eller's played with so many linemates it's like speed dating.

-It's kind of funny that on a leaf rush, as the camera pans down the rink, Gill's stick appears in the frame a full second before he does.

-Moen removed the visor after nearly losing an eye last year. This is not a member of Mensa.

-Finally. The Pleks/Cammy/AK line is back together.

-It lives! Cammalleri can shoot like a bazooka when he gets a chance.

-Gorges laid out Phaneuf like an undertaker.

-Finally, signs of the Habs we recognize.

-Can we assume that since the Habs have only played one period, we don't have to worry about tired legs in the third?

Notes on the first:

-Jeez. Hemmed in your own zone by the leafs is just sad. The home team must be all inspired by the greatness of Alan Bester.

-If Cammalleri had a better chance than that, it'd come with a bow on it.

-This is choppier than a forest full of lumberjacks.

-Sigh. Auld just lost sight of the puck and the Uniballer had an easy time on the redirect. Subban was wildly out of position on that too. This is not going to end well unless the Habs pick it up, immediately.

-Halfway through the first and the Canadiens haven't got a shot. This isn't just the worst start of the year, it's an absolute disgrace.

-Well, this is just great. Kessel with his first goal in a million years and Kaberle with his first of the year. Christmas comes early to the ACC and the Habs are playing Santa.

-Spacek gets broken by MacArthur. This is when the Habs need an avenger.

-There's more icing in this game than on a wedding cake.

-Way to go, Halpern with a four-minute interference penalty.

-We can only hope Kaberle is auditioning for a place on the Habs blueline when the deadline rolls around.

-This is beyond awful. There was nothing good in that period.

Pre-game notes:

-All the cool contenders are beating the leafs these days. Hope the Habs are in the club.

-If Lapierre were really as big an asshole as people say, he'd tuck a waffle into his shirt and toss it into the leafs bench if the Habs win.

-Marcus Naslund qualifies for a sweater retirement? Really? I guess it really show the difference in standards between Montreal and the rest of the league.

-Just realized, Hammer might be feeling some contract-year pressure. It's a lot easier for an old guy to take it slow every now and then when he's guaranteed five million in salary next year.

-Great, a pre-game ceremony. Hope the ceremony jinx that usually hits in Montreal affects the home team tonight.

-Wait, does a ceremony count when it's just Sittler, Clark and Bower with a bunch of fourth liners?

Aftermath: Time and Distance

Branch Rickey, the great baseball innovator, described his sport as "a game of inches." In a game in which success is measured in ninety-foot lengths, it's an apt description. If baseball, then, with its precision of distance, is a game of inches, hockey is governed by time. Length of shift, quickness of release, minutes remaining in a period, swiftness of stride. Effort and desperation are determined by time. Hockey is a game of seconds.

For the Canadiens last night, hockey came down to one second. The Habs were skating with the mighty Red Wings and riding a hard-working one-goal lead. Then Michael Cammalleri took a dumb penalty. A soft call on Tomas Plekanec later, and Montreal was down two men. Still, the heroic PK was killing it excellently. It appeared the Habs would escape their own folly unscathed. Then came the fateful second.

Josh Gorges, exhausted, had control of the puck during the dying seconds of that penalty kill. Maybe it was because he was completely drained, or because he didn't know how few seconds were actually remaining, but in that instant of time, he made the only bad decision possible in the situation. He flicked the puck away, right to a Wing who made a perfect pass to the front of the net for a perfect goal with one second to go. That was the difference.

One could argue that if the Canadiens had gone into the second period ahead, they might have played a different, more disciplined game. As it was, a combination of silly penalties and bad officiating meant the Habs took six minors to Detroit's one on the night. As a result, guys like Cammalleri, Kostitsyn and Pouliot spent a lot of time on the bench, while Plekanec and Gionta got worn down on the PK. Plekanec, for example, played 4:11 shorthanded, which, when you consider that he served one of the minors himself, is a lot of time spent defending instead of attacking. You can't have your leading scorer doing that in a tight game against an excellent opponent.

Pavel Datsyuk, in contrast, played just four seconds on the PK. Plekanec was supposed to be covering the Wings' top scorer, and he did a great job at it when he was actually on the ice. It was the game within the game, and the one time Babcock managed to get Datsyuk away from Pleks, the Red Wing scored. It's a small consolation for Plekanec, who admitted he viewed the matchup as something of a measuring stick of his own ability. He wanted to win the personal battle with Datsyuk, but he never really got the chance to go one-on-one with him at even strength much, without the interruption of a PK. Still, the fact that he kept Datsyuk off the scoresheet and beat him soundly on faceoffs is something of which he can be proud.

Once again, Carey Price dominated in goal. The man is playing some deeply impressive hockey right now. He could not be faulted on any of the Wings' goals, and he gave his team every chance to come back and win.

The attempted comeback was actually encouraging. In the only period in which the Canadiens stayed out of the penalty box, they gave the Wings more than they could handle. A different bounce or quicker release might have changed the whole complexion of the game during that period. They showed they can skate with the best, and, when playing a disciplined game, they can beat them.

Some games are real tests. They let a team know where it stacks up against the contenders, and the Canadiens know now they're almost good enough...but not quite. In the end, they just ran out of time in the third to fix the mistakes they made early in the game. They forgot for a little while that hockey is a game of time, and a lot can happen in a second.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Habs vs. Wings - Holiday Treat Edition

Notes on the third:

-I don't know who I'd like to see score more: Gill, Gorges or Boyd. Well, pretty much anyone at this point, but it'd be great if those guys lit the lamp.

-The perils of The Knife's system: noticing a Hab had the puck behind the Detroit net, everyone bolted out of the zone to protect their own end.

-You can tell Eller's front teeth are his own because they stick out more than the artificial chicklets most guys wear. I wonder how long he'll keep them?

-NASA scientists will be tracking the Pouliot shot for the next decade.

-This game is perfect evidence of why the NHL should enforce wood sticks only. The breakage is ridiculous.

-Cammalleri's SO weak on the boards. He's soft as bunnies.

-Great pressure at the end, but it's not enough after giving Detroit a 10-minute PP. Dumbness decided this one.

Notes on the second:

-That was the chintziest too many men call I've ever seen. Really awful. If there's not a borderline even-up call soon, I'll be shocked.

-Nobody looked very good on the second Detroit goal, but this is the rookiest Subban and Eller have looked all year.

-The difference between first-liners and fourth-liners is first-liners go where the puck WILL be, while fourth-liners spend all night going where it was.

-Auld should start against the leafs. Price is getting shelled tonight.

-Great defensive play by Eller. The kid adapts quickly.

-Subban is a bit messed up. He's trying really hard to go for the hit, sacrificing position. He's got to settle down.

-The man-love of the CBC guys for Datsyuk is making me slightly squeamish.

-PK on the PP! NICE saves on the blueline.

-Sigh. That's why he's Datsyuk. You give him a millisecond of opportunity, and he'll make you pay.

-Can Markov go to the Lidstrom school of how not to get hit?

-29 shots against after two periods probably wasn't in the game plan. We can only hope Detroit is tired of shooting and the Habs will have a shot in the third.

Notes on the first:

-Interesting matchup of young goalies with very different paths to the NHL. Howard steeped in the Detroit philosophy of patience and development, Price annointed and thrown to the wolves.

-Passes are going to have to be a whole lot better tonight than they were against the Sens.

-Looking at some of these coloured mouth guards, I'm thinking Lapierre should get something really annoying written on his, so that every time he gives that cocky grin, his teeth read "Douchebag" or something.

-Pyatt is a good puck handler in his own zone. I wonder why he freezes in the O-zone so often?

-Nice to see Hughson give Plekanec credit for his defence.

-Nicer to see Moen cash in. The guy works like an oarsman in Ben Hur.

-Bad dreams of Pleks hurting there. It was his hip that slowed him down in the second half last year. I hope it's not chronic.

-Brilliant save by Price, weird stuck stick, lots of fumbling around by the Habs and an excellent shift ragging the puck by Pleks and through it all, the Wings don't score on the PP. It's a Festivus miracle!

-Too many dumbass penalties is the exact definition of "Fire: Playing with."

-Rafalski dove on that Plekanec call to cause the 5-on-3. I hate when refs fall for that.

-And, of course, one second to go and they tie it. Gorges was completely burnt on that.

-It'd be nice if they actually stay out of the stupid penalty box and play some hockey in the second.

Pre-game notes:

-Why is it we can't stand Gomez when he's in the lineup, but we worry the team will be hurt without him?

-Babcock's a great coach, but he talks like he swallowed his tongue and he's trying not to barf.

-Wow...didn't know Darche had that big bald spot.

-During the anthems, a perfect microcosm of personality: P.K. bouncing out of his skin, Gorges standing steady as a rock.

-Gionta's face is shaped exactly like Mr.Incredible's.

-I like it better when the Habs are the guys in red.

-Danny Cleary's one tough hockey player. Good Newfoundlander too.

-Pleks vs. Datsyuk. HNIC says he's looking forward to the matchup. He's not the only one.

-You know the Habs are playing well when you're excited about playing Detroit, instead of dreading it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Aftermath: Minute Men

It's funny to hear people talking about how the Canadiens are the "new Devils" these days. The backhanded compliment comes from people frustrated by watching a team that effectively boxes out opposing forwards to protect its goalie, and which bottles up the neutral zone to force turnovers. The Canadiens, like the Devils used to do, patiently defend and then jump on the offensive opportunities when they come. The funny thing is, the Devils (when they were good) were just the old Canadiens with less talent. Scotty Bowman's teams were always built with a defence-first mentality. Take care of your own end, he reasoned, and the talent up front would do the rest.

Whatever comparisons you make, though, what critics are saying is that the Canadiens are good. The sign of a good team is that it finds a way to win, even when it's not playing its best game. It shows discipline when a team pulls up its socks part way through a poor showing and re-establishes its game plan. That's what the Canadiens were able to do last night. They started out with a decent effort, but really looked awful in the second period. What should have been nine minutes of PP time in which to bury the Sens, instead showed a disorganized, uncommitted Habs team that allowed Ottawa to think they could take over the game. They, as Murray Wilson is so fond of saying, spent a lot of time "reaching;" poking at the puck with their sticks instead of going after it with their bodies.

One of the surest measures of a team's performance is simply to look at which colour shirt gets to loose pucks first. Throughout most of the second, even on the Habs' PP, the Sens jumped on every loose puck. Going into the third tied, it was anybody's game, but Ottawa had the momentum. That's where the whole "good team" factor comes in.

Instead of continuing the headless chicken routine, the Habs came out in the third moving their feet. Suddenly, red sweaters were getting to the puck first and the odd-man rushes caused by the Habs' speed became an issue for the Sens. That in-game readjustment is what good teams do. Once that happened, chances started to come and Gionta's and Hamrlik's goals were the products of that.

Every good team needs a good goalie. Carey Price, once again, came within a few seconds of a shutout. The man is playing phenomenal hockey, and gives his team the time it needs to regroup after a rough period. With him in net, the Canadiens can win every night. His success, though, raises the workload question.

The Habs have been succeeding without Andrei Markov and with P.K.Subban in the press box. They had a strong, bounce-back third period with Scott Gomez missing. A lot of the credit for that goes to Price's strong play. The other major factor in the stability the Habs are enjoying right now is the performance of the defence corps. The reliability of Roman Hamrlik and Jaro Spacek, as well as Gill and Gorges, means the rookies and Picard don't have to play too many minutes. The downside is the vets are playing a lot.

The same thing happened last season when Markov went down early in the year. Hamrlik and Spacek played huge minutes against the opposition's top lines, and Hamrlik put up some points in what looked like a flashback to ten years ago. Unfortunately, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Hamrlik was burnt out and played some terrible hockey. It's imperative for the Canadiens to protect those guys. If they or Price were to get hurt, it would be a lot to expect the rest of the team to cover for them long term. Depth can only go so far, even for a good team.

To that end, even though we know those three guys give the Habs a chance to win every night, the coaching staff will have to think about spelling them more often. Price is on pace to play 75 games right now. That might be okay at his age, in terms of durability, but we don't know how he'll hold up when April rolls around. Alex Auld isn't Price, but he's a decent enough backup. Martin should use him more often. Ditto for Spacek and Hamrlik; even Gill and Gorges. If they can get a break here and there, or even, as the old Habs and Devils used to do when they were set in a good playoff position, a little holiday toward the end of the season, the team's depth should be enough to get the job done short term.

Winning games like last night's is proof the Canadiens are a good team. Now, as any good team does, management should start planning for how to best preserve its hardest-working elements. It's what the Devils, and the Habs on whome they based their success, would do.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sens vs. Habs - Reboot Edition

Notes on the third:

-Once again, Halpern has to be the best bargain in the league.

-I'm not sold on the whole Eller/Spezza matchup. Martin could be better with that one.

-Speaking of Eller, you got to know when to hold 'em and know when to blast the friggin' thing at the net as hard as you can.

-That Gionta goal was going in, pass or shot. Gorgeous!

-RDS says Gomez has a bad back. Must be from carrying the team on it. Or from trying to lift his wallet. There's so much you can say...

-Gorges playing keepaway with Kovalev. I'm betting that's a first.

-Man, was Elliott even in the net for thirty seconds before Hammer's goal?

-Way to bounce back in the third. Looks good on them. I'm thinking Weber didn't play well enough to keep Subban out against Detroit.

Notes on the second:

-It was unintentional, but also kind of unfortunate that when Pang on TSN was comparing Subban to Pietrangelo in St.Louis, he said Pietrangelo does everything the "white" way.

-Now is the time when a smart coach recognizes that Cammalleri's playing his ass off tonight and plays him with Plekanec for a few shifts.

-Habs have made more missed passes this period than a blind guy at the Playboy mansion.

-Nice quick release on Weber's point shot.

-Subban almost got his ticket back into the lineup punched along with Weber's head.

-Darche, faced with open space on a five-minute PP, freaks out and spins the wrong way for a giveaway.

-Eller can be cute, but not against Alfredsson.

-Something about a five-minute major gives them the idea that they can dick around because there's lots of time. Sigh.

-No fair chanting for P.K. Even he wouldn't have saved that wretched PP. That one called for a Markov. Double sigh.

-Wretched isn't the word for the PP. It's worse than that. That'll probably decide this game.

Notes on the first:

-One definite improvement over last year's team: The defencemen actually move with the puck. There's not a whole lot of standing around looking for a pass this year.

-All this talk about the scoring-jinxed Sens has me nervous.

-Pyatt needs to stay after practice and shoot a hundred pucks on net every day.

-Cammalleri's finally using his pissed-offedness for the greater good. Excellent second effort on the PP.

-Darche playing a little Premier League on the zone clearance.

-Pleks is faster than the Pink Ladies.

-Spacek has an unfortunate tendency to throw a suicide pass to a guy in the line of fire when he's in trouble.

-We know Price wants to score, but it'd be nice if he wouldn't risk doing it on his own net.

-End of period goals just suck the life right out of you. Price was beaten like a lame horse on that.

Inventing Strife

Winning is boring.

Not for the players who are always happier and having more fun when they win. And not for the fans...never the fans!...who go to bed smiling when their team plays a great game. For the hordes of media who follow a team like the Habs, though, winning gets pretty dull. After all, a person can only talk about great team defence or Price's solid play or Plekanec's steady production a finite number of times before the answers to those questions become predictable. It's even worse when everybody's reporting the same story day after day and nobody's got a scoop.

That's the pitfall of winning in Montreal. If there's no hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing of the type inevitable during a losing streak, the journalists get restless and start looking for something a little more juicy to report. That's why the scratching of a 21-year-old rookie who's been a little too enthusiastic in his shift lengths and a little too risky in his decision making is suddenly the biggest story of the season. It's why a press corps, which has little else in the way of potential controversy about which to write, is now trying to set up a divide between P.K.Subban and Yannick Weber.

Subban himself tried to deflect the so-called issue yesterday, telling the reporters who drilled him with questions about his benching that he's just trying to learn how to play in the NHL and improve his game. He, rightly, pointed out that nobody is asking Dustin Boyd how he feels about getting scratched every night. He tried to steer the conversation to the fact that the team is winning and, perhaps, that should be the focus of the barrage of questions.

No dice, P.K. Winning is boring. There's no controversy in winning. There's nothing to hash over on sports call-in shows. There's little in the way of second-guessing the coach or screaming for a trade to liven up the copy when a team is rolling along. So, until Weber stumbles or a veteran gets hurt to allow Subban back into the lineup, the reporters will keep poking at the kid. The hope, perhaps, is that Subban will flinch and say something about frustration or unhappiness that will explode into headlines about how the team is ruining its star rookie.

Still, considering some of the other much-publicized controversies within the Canadiens' fold, this one is pretty minor. Subban and Weber are friends and have been teammates on a close-knit Hamilton Bulldogs team. Both are level-headed young men who will sigh and continue to patiently divert attention from themselves, no matter how much reporters want to stir them into an injudicious remark. Eventually, something else will happen and they'll be left alone.

If winning keeps the controversy around the Habs to such innocuous levels, let's hope it continues all year. After all, the reporters are the only ones who think it's dull.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gomez Conundrum

You have to be impressed with Pierre Gauthier's ability to sniff out a deal. He's like a mom of six who can always find the cheapest place to buy Pampers and milk. Of this year's Gauthier acquisitions, there's Mathieu Darche at the league minimum $500-thousand. Jeff Halpern rakes in a whopping $600-thousand and so does Alexandre Picard. That's a total of $1.7-million for a reliable young defenceman, a hardworking, effective forechecker and an experienced shut-down centre who rocks on the faceoff. That, good reader, is some seriously astute bargain shopping. Add to that the long-term signing of Tomas Plekanec for $5-million per, and we can conclude Gauthier doles out his cap dollars with the generosity of the Conservative government and the forsight of Nostradamus. In other words, he's the anti-Glen Sather.

Sather, notorious for the ridiculously expensive, long-term deals he throws at seemingly every available free agent, saw an opportunity to secure a number-one centre when he bought Scott Gomez from the Devils in the summer of 2007. Gomez had played for seven seasons in New Jersey, and had averaged 14 goals a year in six of them. Sather, however, didn't look at those six seasons. He looked at the one outstanding year in which Gomez scored 33 goals and put up 84 points. In no other year had he accumulated more than 70 points, but that didn't deter Sather. As soon as Gomez hit the market, the Rangers threw a 7-year contract with a $7.357-million cap hit at him. Gomez, naturally, jumped at the offer. Sather realized after just two seasons that it was probably a mistake to have spent superstar money on a guy who's really more of an energy-efficient lightbulb. Enter Bob Gainey.

With Tomas Plekanec coming off a dreadful 39-point campaign in 2008-09, Gainey was desperate for some talent to kickstart his off-season rebuild. Perhaps more importantly, he wanted a player who was respected around the leauge, who had never had off-ice issues, who knew how to win and who conducted himself with dignity and class. He made the deal for Gomez based more on image than pure numbers. Gomez offered a fresh look for the Canadiens. After a couple of seasons of off-ice controversy, team slumps and questionable attitudes, the team needed an overhaul. Gomez offered the level of professionalism Gainey wanted. The contract that came with him was the price the Habs had to pay to change a team culture the GM found unpleasant.

Since Gomez' arrival, the Canadiens have evolved into a completely different entity than the one that got pitifully swept by the Bruins in a wretched playoff defeat two years ago. Now they're a hardworking team with skill and determination. They're able to maintain consistency in the face of injury because they buy into the coach's system. Ironically, the weakest link on the ice right now is Scott Gomez.

The question is, what can Jacques Martin do about it? Gomez is usually a slow starter, but 27 games into the season he's on pace for just 27 points; by far the worst total of his NHL career. While one might overlook a $7-million cap hit for a guy who puts up 50 assists to go with his 14 goals on a winning team, it's a lot tougher to ignore it when the guy is making $259-thousand dollars a point. In terms of value by production, Plekanec is four times as good. Darche, making an actual salary of $7.5-million LESS than Gomez this year, is on pace for six more points. More worrisome is that on a team with a combined team plus/minus of 12, sixth in the league, and a goal differential of 18, which is tied with the conference-leading Capitals, Gomez is a -2. He's one of only three forwards on the team who's in the minus category. The other two are fourth-liners.

The problem is, the combination of Gomez' lousy start and giant salary makes him completely untradeable. So, barring a demotion to Hamilton, the Canadiens are stuck with him. That means they have to find a way to get him going. Martin has already tried giving Gomez Andrei Kostitsyn and Michael Cammalleri as linemates. Those guys had great chemistry with Plekanec, and went stone cold with Gomez. Ditto for Brian Gionta. So, it's not the quality of linemate Gomez has been given.

It's not ice time either. Despite his low production, he's averaging 18 minutes a game, including two-and-a-half minutes per night on the PP. The numbers don't justify the lack of points.

In the last few games, Martin has been gradually reducing Gomez' even-strength time while he increases that of Lars Eller. Eller has been more and more visible and effective as the season has progressed. At the end of the San Jose game, Gomez had also been sent to the fourth line with Pyatt and Lapierre. It seemed to have the desired effect, as Gomez seemed more involved in the third period.

Ideally, however, the Canadiens don't really want to carry the world's most expensive fourth liner. To that end, Kirk Muller has tried to show Gomez what he's doing wrong. Gomez has admitted he's probably not doing some things as well as he can, and says it helped to get Muller's point of view on his game. He doesn't really seem to be putting that point of view into practice, though. Muller told him he's cheating for position and getting away from the puck. Gomez knows this. Yet, HNIC was able to show him on the lone Sharks goal on Saturday, leaving the zone early while San Jose pressured the Habs D.

Right now, Gomez is the only forward who's cherry-picking and, as PJ Stock put it, on the offensive side of the puck more than the defensive. Martin's patience is running out. In Gomez' case, it's not a question of ability. We know he's able to go harder to the net and make better, faster passes than he's been doing. Whatever's going on with him is in his head. It's hard to believe it's a lack of confidence because he does a good job of portraying himself as the cockiest SOB in the room. So, one has to start thinking it's his will to compete that's not up to snuff.

A coach has a few options here. He can cut the player's ice time. He can demote him in the lineup. Martin's already done those things. Next is a trip to the press box, which I think Martin is reluctant to do. He's got a lot of respect for his veterans and is willing to give them time to work out their own problems. Gomez, however, must surely be running out of goodwill from his coach. Getting scratched will prick his pride and he'll either come back on fire, or he'll shrug and let it roll off him. It could go either way, and if it doesn't work, Martin's out of tricks. That's why pushing Gomez right now is a bit risky. And that's why the answer isn't with the coach. It's within Gomez himself.

The likelihood of Gomez getting demoted to Hamilton is slim to none. Gauthier isn't Sather or Lamoriello and probably won't bow to cap pressure at the expense of a respected player. Still, the thought of what the bargain-shopping champ of general managers could buy with that money is tantalizing. We'll never find out because Gomez will probably get himself out of this funk. The key to this situation is his own pride. If one believes his show of insoucience is a bit of an act, he will eventually get angry to see his ice time and linemates going to a rookie like Eller, and he'll start actually doing the things Muller is telling he needs to do.

He's got to do it soon, though. With Markov gone for the year, the team needs all the offence it can generate, and it needs it's highest-paid player to earn at least some of his salary. Right now, he's not, and when you look at the guys performing over their pay grade by a mile, you have to wonder how long that imbalance can continue.