Friday, April 8, 2011

Aftermath: Motivation

It's a constant source of amazement to me how a group of hockey players, with a goal and the determination to achieve it, can rise above their individual skill levels to achieve great things. It's the story of the underdog, and we saw the Canadiens do it last playoffs. It's equally amazing that the same group, without that goal or determination, can become a disjointed collection of individuals, unable to do much of anything.

We'll have to hope the Habs will have a goal and find the collective will to play for it during the playoffs, because if they approach Game One against whomever like they took on the Sens last night, they might as well give up the ghost now. That was one lousy hockey game. It's probably unfair to contrast it with a gem like the one against Chicago, but you can't really help seeing the difference between a motivated, focused Canadiens team and whatever the hell they were doing last night.

Admittedly, they were coming off the emotional high of clinching their playoff spot in a great game on Tuesday and were probably not too driven last night. Every team is allowed to have those motivation holidays once in a while, especially after a game in which they've given their all. They did get a point, despite a pretty abyssmal team effort, so that's good.

Now, though, it's time to shake off the lethargy and get down to business. The concern after a game like last night's is that the gentle mental relief that comes from coasting can become contagious. It's like working long hours hauling cement on a construction site for months, then taking a vacation in Hawaii. When it's time to go back to the construction job, you drag your feet and have a hard time getting up on the first morning. For a team like the Habs, which can't win without absolute commitment, slipping into holiday mode can be dangerous.

The Toronto game tomorrow will be a test for the Canadiens. Even though the leafs will be golfing next week, they've been playing hard since the All-Star break, and they'll bring it against the hated Habs. The Canadiens don't really need to win the game, but they have to be competitive. They'll be going into the playoffs as an underdog (again) and they need to be in the right mindset. They'll say the playoffs are a whole new season, but no matter how hard you try to believe that, it's the way you finish the regular season that sets the tone for the spring. The Habs have a big enough job ahead of them without entertaining self-doubts engendered by sliding into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak.

We need reassurance too, that the Chicago game wasn't a one-off. All the coasting around and soft play we saw last night can be erased by a good effort against Toronto. Basically, the Sens game was an emotional let down. The leafs game will be a tune up for the playoffs. We'll know a little bit more about the Canadiens' preparation for their coming role as underdogs.


Anonymous said...

According to some sites, our boys' minds are on golf too.

Anonymous said...

Never ceases to amaze how the Canadiens seem to effortlessly lower their game when playing bottom feeders.

How many times this season has a team coming off a long loosing streak, a player who hasn't scored in weeks or a goaltender who hasn't been able to stop a beachball will play lights-out against the Canadiens who seem to take pity on bad teams!

Ken Dryden in his book the game, when referring to the Canadiens team of 1976-1977 which had an amazing winning record said that team played every game until the tank was empty and that the team never accepted they had lost a game only they ran out of time to win.

It is possible to motivate NHL players to play every game "until the tank was empty" but it doesn't seem possible in the JM/PG system!

Anvilcloud said...

Let's not get too disturbed. The Sens have defeated the Caps, Flyers, Rangers and Lightning recently. The Leafs usually get sky for the Habs, so they might also be in tough Saturday night. These games mean little. Besides, going into the playoffs on a losing streak might be a good motivator.

JF said...

J.T., I more or less agree, but then I remember how we stumbled into the playoffs last year. We had three games to earn two points, and it took the OT loss to the Leafs in the last game of the season to clinch. So we entered the playoffs on a 3-game skid, of which one game, the one against Carolina, was as dreadful as last week's game against them. No one thought the Habs looked playoff-ready, and there were concerns about goaltending. We all know what happened. So I'm not overly concerned about last night. It was a game that didn't matter, following an intense, emotional game that did. There was bound to be a letdown. I was happy it wasn't a greater one and that we got a point.

dusty said...

Some perspective on the leaf game. Two seasons ago the Habs entered the playoffs on a four game losing streak. Last year they entered on a three game losing streak. This year maybe on a two game losing streak. Improving right? The game means nothing to the Canadiens and everything to the leafs. So let's chill (who was it who said that?).

Of course it would be nice to see the Habs pound the leafs just to piss off Cherry and Burke.