Sunday, April 10, 2011

Endings and Beginnings

I didn't really know what to write today. On one hand, it was nice to see the Canadiens end their season on such a positive note by beating the leafs. On the other, it's always a bit sad to see another year, with all its ups and downs, draw to a close. During the regular season, there's always another game for redemption and another chance to fix mistakes. Moving on to the playoffs is more fun, but a lot scarier, because every decision counts and expectations are magnified. The start of the playoffs also means hockey's on borrowed time and long months of quiet stretch ahead.

Looking back now, I'm pretty proud of how the team survived this season. The emergence of Carey Price and P.K.Subban has been a joy to watch, and, to some degree, offset the horror of seeing Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty go down to injury.

Price has unquestionably been the biggest success story of the season. Back in September, he came to camp as the greatest unknown of the year. Would he be able to rebound from his lousy campaign in 2009-10? Would he withstand the pressure of knowing the team's fortunes rested pretty much solely with him? And would he be able to placate a disgruntled fanbase in the wake of the Jaro Halak trade? The answers to those questions looked like they'd be in the negative after a poor showing in the first pre-season game, followed by a bunch of stupid booing and Price's succinct post-game "Chill out." As it blessedly turned out, he was right. The goalie has risen from trade bait to team MVP in just a few months, with a newfound maturity and ability to shrug off a bad goal.

Subban is the other great story of the season. The kid is brash, fearless and a really, really good hockey player. He probably won't win the rookie of the year award, or even be nominated, but when we look back at this season's freshman class ten years from now, I expect Subban stands a good chance of being the biggest star on the list. It's not been easy for him. He's been benched, booed and criticized by every scrub reporter and bush-league opponent with an agenda of one kind or another. Through it all, his unbridled joy in playing and rapidly developing skills have thrilled us.

On the flip side, the year has been one of disappointments too. The injuries, obviously are one. No other playoff team has had to deal with the long-term loss of both its top offensive and its top defensive defencemen. Forwards, even great forwards, can be backfilled for a time. The loss of defencemen who play 25 minutes a night, control the special teams and face the other team's best forwards cost a team more. The Canadiens might have had an even better season with both Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges in the lineup. The devastating injury to Pacioretty, just as he was emerging as the power forward the Canadiens had hoped he'd be, was demoralizing for the team because of both his of actual loss and the manner of it.

The bigger disappointment, however, was the general underachievement of just about every forward on the team. With not a single 30-goal or 60-point scorer among them, it's hard to imagine them competing against teams like the Canucks, with two 40+ goal scorers and the league leaders with 75 assists and 104 points. Whether the injuries to the defence have forced Martin to play a more hermetic team style, or he'd have just chosen that game strategy anyway, it didn't work for the Habs. It probably helped prevent a lot of goals, but it kept the Canadiens off the board as well. The paucity of goalscoring from players who've all had better seasons has been a major let-down this year.

And now, the Bruins. Again. Some fans say they're afraid of Boston. They're so rough and big and skilled, and their goalie owns the league save-percentage record. There's no doubt they'll be a tough out. The Canadiens have proven this year that they can beat Boston. This series will depend on the continued success of Subban and Price, and a reversal of the year's disappointments. The Canadiens can't afford to lose anybody else to injury, and they have to start scoring goals. If they can do that, they'll have history and the knack of getting into Thomas' head on their side. Good goaltending and team discipline will do the rest.

It's always a bit sad to say goodbye to another season. There are so many moments you'd love to relive and so many others you'd love to have another shot at. The playoffs offer a chance to start over with new moments and opportunities. I'm looking forward to it.


Anvilcloud said...

Thanks for helping us get through another season of highs and lows. We all wonder what the near future will bring.

DB said...

Overcoming injuries certainly was a key to the Habs' success this year. The extent of the injuries was often overlooked by many on HNIC.

Last night the announcers on the Vancouver game kept discussing the Canucks success despite having to use 13 different defencemen during the year. It's funny that HNIC never mentioned that the Habs also had to use 13 defencemen during the season. Here's the list:

1 Markov
2 Gorges
3 Hamrlik
4 Wiz
5 Gill
6 Subban
7 Mara
8 Spacek
9 Weber
10 Picard
11 Sopel
12 Nash
13 O'Byrne

Seeing the clips of Gomez from his Jersey days got me thinking. Maybe he's like Samson - he lost his mojo when he lost his hair.

norcalvol said...

Considering everything, this was a successful regular season. PKS is my fav Hab for the ensuing decade. And, your writing kept me warm throughout the winter.
We should have played the B's last season in the conf finals (who knew Philly would do what they did), and now we got'em.
This team continues to grow out of adversity - all good ones have to.
Go Habs Go.