Friday, January 7, 2011

Aftermath: Reprieve

As T-Rex so aptly put it back in 1971, Benoit Pouliot's shootout goal against the Pens was "dirty sweet." The man has skills, and when he gets it together every six or seven games, he's a joy to watch. Equally joyful for Habs fans was Carey Price's little show of attitude after blanking the Pens in his first shootout of the season. It's a very good thing for team confidence when the goalie is feeling it like that.

The thing is, as fun as last night's win was, you can't help thinking it was just a reprieve from reality. Reality, for the Habs, is more than a little sobering. With Josh Gorges' season ending, the team has lost something unsung, but extremely valuable. Every good team needs a guy like him, who plays big minutes, kills penalties and provides a calm, reliable presence in his own zone. Losing that is bad in itself, but replacing it with a player who can't do the same kind of job is really rough.

The news that Gorges is gone was shocking because he's been so impervious to pain and injury in his time as a Hab. Blast a rocket at his head that leaves the print of the puck in his helmet? No prob. He'll be back tomorrow. Crush him to the ice with a hit that would hurt Chara, and he just bounces right up and gets back in the play. To have a guy like him lost for the year is a blow to team morale, no matter how his teammates are determined to conduct business as usual. The fact that he's a passionate leader in the room doesn't help things.

Gorges' absence leaves a gaping hole in the defensive reliability department that will only be partially filled with Alexandre Picard. And James Wisniewski, while a welcome addition in many ways, isn't exactly Fort Knox in his own end. For a D corps that was already labouring under the loss of Andrei Markov and the integration of two pretty raw rookies, this is a body blow.

Couple the patchwork D with the popgun offence, and there will be rough days ahead.

Ah yes, the offence. When a team has nearly two-and-a-half minutes of 5-on-3 time and fails to produce, you know you're not dealing with the 1984 Oilers. Noticing Habs cast-off Mikhail Grabovski would be the Canadiens leading goal-scorer right now just adds insult to injury. The question is why? Why do players who obviously have offensive ability have such tremendous difficulty scoring? Part of it is the natural inconsistency of top-sixers like Andrei Kostitsyn. Part is the crappy play of Scott Gomez. There's also the complete lack of net awareness by bottom-sixers like Travis Moen and Tom Pyatt. And there's something wrong with Mike Cammalleri, who's waiting a beat too long to shoot this year. He's the kind of sniper who relies on perfect timing for the quick snap shot or the seeing-eye one-timer. If he waits that extra moment, the goalie gets over or a D gets into his lane. He needs to react more quickly. The only guys in the top six who're playing with any sort of consistency are Tomas Plekanec and Captain Gionta. Two out of six, in any test in the world, gets you a fail.

Whatever the reason for the offensive Sahara through which the Habs are trudging, the fact remains last night's game is just an oasis, and they're already loading the camels for another dry spell. This team doesn't score, and with a challenged defence, it's going to be a very long, arid slog through the second half of the season unless Pierre Gauthier brings in some help.

He already made one good move in acquiring Wisniewski. (Just imagine, if he hadn't made that trade, we'd be watching Mathieu Carle along with Weber, Subban and Picard. Shudder.) The Habs have the space to bring in a goal scorer and supplement the D with a proper shut-down guy. The problem is those things don't come for free, and being able to pay the salary is only part of the equation. Gauthier already gave up a second for the Wiz, and one doesn't want to be throwing away one's draft picks for temporary assistance in a cap world where youth is gold.

With that in mind, we can expect perhaps one more move of any significance before the year is out. Gauthier will have to weigh which is the heavier need; goal-scoring punch up front or goal prevention on the blueline. In the meantime, we can hope David Desharnais' sparkplug energy and nose for the net might help get the offence going...especially if Jacques the Knife ever sees fit to reunite him with Pacioretty.

Today, though, is a reprieve from reality. It's a day to revel in another defeat of the Pens, another vital two points, Carey Price's solid game and cocky celebration and Benoit Pouliot's dirty sweet goal. Soak in it today, Habs fans, before our team heads back into the fray like a three-legged horse in the Belmont.


Anvilcloud said...

If Carey plays like that and the boys play with intensity, they can be competitive in most games. At this point, I think that's about the best we can hope. I never did think this was going to be our year, and now I think it less. Let's enjoy matches like last night when they are competitive. The good thing is that PK should get lots of ice time and keep developing.

Hadulf said...

Actually, I did not think that they looked too bad last night. We had a lot of giveaways and that is to be expected from our D from now on.

While I don't agree 100% with your 'doomed' view of the Habs' roster, I have to admit we are thin on D AND on offense. I think the team moral is (or seems) quite good. I'm not in the room with the boys so, this is all speculation...However, I think Gauthier will move. I have a strong feeling that AK46 will be a goner. That's actually a wish of mine. I don't really care if he becomes a scoring threat elsewhere. I'm just sick of him in a Montreal jersey not giving a F....

I trust Gauthier, a little more than I trusted Gainey, to make a move. Either it be for a D or an O, I don't know but one more move is needed.

MC said...

@JT: You are bang on about what we have lost in Gorges as an individual player, however there are reasons to think that the Habs may have improved overall as a team by replacing Gorges with the Wiz:

- The Habs now have 3 left-handed and 3 right-handed defensemen. No one is playing on their wrong side anymore. Their instincts and reactions will be better on their natural side. They no longer have to turn their back to the play when picking the puck off the boards or while pinching. Spacek will benefit the most from going back to the left side which alone is a boost to the D.
- The PP now has the big shot again and Wisniewski is willing to shoot. Just the threat of a big shot should open things up down low.
- All three lines now have at least one good puck moving defenseman which should improve the overall offense. Gorges-Gill were a good shutdown pair, but they did not generate much offense.
- The D pairings now have youth matched with experience. The Subban-Picard pairing was getting worse each game they played together. Having PK with a vet should give him some needed guidance.

The downside is any depth on D the Habs had at the start of the season is now gone. If the top six stay healthy AND Weber and Subban continue to improve, they still could make some noise in the playoffs.

Just_another habs fan said...

What's really funny is that Gorges is according to CKAC hurt since 2003, wow I follow NBA,FIFa and other sports but je's for sure the warrior by excellence. Is it too late to annoint another capt'n.