Sunday, October 23, 2011

Step Right Up!

Photo courtesy of Josie Gold

The Canadiens season is rapidly becoming a carnival guessing game. How many clowns can fit into the tiny car? How much does the fat lady really weigh? How many games can the sucky hockey team lose before something gives? The popular guess is, not many more.

The Canadiens are in that position in which you know one more clown can't possibly squeeze into that car. The fat lady is 400 pounds and the Habs, at 1-6 to start the year, are spiralling into a void of suckage not seen since something a big 1995. That year, the team started with a handful of losses and Serge Savard and Jacques Demers, Cup winners just two years previous, found themselves on the street. In considering that sequence of events, one might recall that neither Pierre Gauthier nor Jacques Martin has the luxury of resting on his Cup-winning laurels.

The terrible cycle in which the team is caught means they either keep the goals against low and can't score themselves, or they score enough to win, but give up more than they get. Carey Price has been good enough to win on most nights, but he's been waiting four games to get his hundredth win.

Every power play looks disorganized and fruitless; no surprise with Tomas Plekanec on the point and Mathieu Darche on the first wave. Scotty Bowman always says the trick to good coaching is having the right people on the ice at the right time. There's certainly a time and place for Darche, but first-wave PP is probably not it. Erik Cole hasn't done squat in a Habs uniform, so maybe a coach should think about jump-starting him with some PP time. Perhaps a good coach should recognize that Tomas Plekanec, who's got a cannon off the rush, doesn't have quite the same shot on the point. Maybe a successful coach would recognize that there are better shooters and Plekanec's skills are in making sneaky passes and setting up the guy who's willing to break for the net.

Cole's a story unto himself. After a less-than-stellar stint in Edmonton, and a bounce-back on his return to Carolina, there was great concern at the time of his signing in Montreal that he only plays well with Eric Staal. As a heart-and-soul kind of player, he's got to be willing to sacrifice himself to play his game properly. It was clear when he signed that he came to Montreal for the money, and while nobody would accuse him of not trying, he can't make himself love his new team the way he did his old one. It's got to happen naturally, and it hasn't happened yet. The Habs need what he can bring, but he's not bringing it.

Then there's the defence, or what's left of it. The three guys with fewer than 100 NHL games between them are holding up surprisingly well. It's their experienced teammates who are making the most egregious errors. Josh Gorges alone has been directly responsible for two dreadful mistakes that have led to backbreaking goals. P.K.Subban's getting denuded by Paul Stastny is still fresh in our minds as well. It's not really their fault. Gorges is meant to be a 3-5 defenceman and he's essentially playing top minutes at the moment. We forget Subban's got one NHL season under his belt and Hal Gill has 1000 NHL games, but looks like he's 1000 years old half the time. Short of a trade, there's no help coming in the forseeable future, unless you consider Jaroslav Spacek your personal Jesus.

If there's one positive from the most recent disappointment, it's that the team is no worse with Scott Gomez out of the lineup. Lars Eller, in fact, did an excellent job in the second-line centre position. He set up Travis Moen (who sits in 11th spot in the league in goals scored) for a beautiful shorthanded goal in the first, and made a nice pass to Andrei Kostitsyn on his goal as well. He was also 56% on faceoffs and led the team with a plus-three rating. He killed penalties (but didn't get any PP time...that's Darche's spot, after all) and he used his size to make room for himself. The kid is going to be good, and if he keeps up this level of play in Gomez' continued absence, he'll be proving there's no need to hold onto the vastly underwhelming veteran.

That's a small comfort in the face of some very large problems. The Canadiens are rapidly approaching the point of "somthing's gotta give." The clown car is full.


dusty said...

Your comment re Gomez is spot on. I think a new coach stepping in (I can hope can't I?) will immediately move Eller to the top line. If and when a new coach comes, the Habs will be in rebuilding mode and Eller is the only center with size and grit on the team. With Max and AK46 the top line would no longer be a bunch of pussies.

After that I would hope for a GM with brains and vision to fix the rest of the mess we call the Habs.

Pisano said...

Good points. Who is responsible for the line changes? Another area that needs improvement and has for sometime now.

Martin's favouritism toward certain players is quite baffling.

When Scott-the void- Gomez returns, it is probable that Martin will return Eller to the wing to accommodate, in spite of the fact that Eller is much better as a center while being much better than the void.

Twice Martin has 'called out' or criticized or spoke negatively, whatever venacular you choose, in reference to Cole. I would like to know why he doesn't like him...

moeman said...

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Molson the RingMaster should step right up and make some CHanges.

Anonymous said...

Here are a few thoughts on some of the more popular theories about why the Habs have sucked this year.

Inexperienced Defence

The Rangers just won 2 out of 3 out West with a defence consisting of Girardi, Del Zotto, McDonagh, Woywita, Erixon and Bell. Not exactly an all-star line-up of grey-beards. Maybe the lack of NHL experience can be overcome.

Small Forwards

It seems some people look at Gionta, DD, and Cammalleri and decide that every Hab forward must be small. They aren't. Habs have 3 forwards over 210 lbs and 3 who weigh 190 lbs or less. The Flyers have 4 players over 210 lbs (excluding Betts) and 5 190lbs or less. The big, bad Bruins have 3 forwards over 210 lbs and 3 190 lbs or less.

Weber, Diaz and Gorges are too Small

Weber and Diaz are 5 11 195 lbs. Gorges is 6 1 200 lbs. Here is a partial list of other "small" defencemen.

Lidstrom 6 1 190 lbs
A Ferrence 5 11 189 lbs
N Kronwall 6 0 192 lbs
P Martin 6 1 200 lbs
D Keith 6 1 200 lbs
R Suter 6 1 198 lbs
Bieska 6 1 198 lbs
Del Zotto 6 0 193 lbs
Shattenkirk 5 11 193 lbs

I guess these players would be considered small if they were on the Habs.


Designing and implementing a system that gets the most out of the available personnel is the responsibility of the coaches. Babcock does it in Detroit. Blysma does it in Pittsburgh.

In Montreal Martin's system has resulted in a terrible power play, awful penalty killing and a team that's been out of synch since the start of the pre-season.


Anonymous said...

I am not sure Gauthier knows what he is doing. I mean he does not appear to value the draft or understand how to retain personnel. Woywitka is an example. Sign him, lose him on waivers, look around for a defenseman. Blunden will be another. He's coming up but needs waivers going down. Nokelainen needs them both ways. Gauthier seems to be gambling that no want will want either? Why then does he? Unless someone else will be gone instead? I thought the name of the game was to acquire the assets to obtain other assets, not diminish the asset base.

Anyway the team is in a hurt locker and I don't think it is from a lack of talent. The guys inadvertently saved Martin's job with the playoff run two seasons ago. I don't think they thought that would happen. They are young and likely thought Boucher or Muller would be allowed to coach the team. When Lemaire was upstairs in the booth they may have even thought he was interested.

To me the problem with Martin is twofold. A) he knows more about coaching than I ever could dream of and B) he knows that and is too arrogant to change. This is good in that it keeps no-minds like me from having an effect and bad in that any decent coach can change his game plan quickly, or over the intermission, while Martin will stay the course of the plan he laid out.

Couldn't they bring Muller back and pretend that Martin is the head coach for us fans? Since he is big on what Cole didn't do in Carolina with three pp goals last year and can explain using Darche with 3 pp career goals instead perhaps he could just do the press conferences?

Awh, I'm just so disenchanted with the way they are using and losing these guys.

Raj said...

Good post JT. Something's gotta give but what exactly?

Fire the coach? Who would replace him? Don't say Jacques Lemaire (turned it down once), Larry Robinson (too much stress, also, does he speak French?) or Bob Gainey (been there, done that). The Michels (Bergeron and Therrien)? I don't think so. The interim coach has to speak French. Personally, I'd like to ride out the enxt couple of years and have Kirk Muller come back as coach -- which is why I wouldn't bring back Carbonneau. Perhaps the French issue will be manageable in a couple of years.

Fire the GM? Who would replace HIM? There are lots of people who would salivate at being the Habs' GM but wouldn't be an upgrade over PG. And, no, I don't think we want Gainey back as GM.

Talk at HIO has brought up the names of Pierre McGuire and Patrick Roy for GM and coach, respectively. Talk about nightmares of the Houle-Tremblay era! For all his strengths as a player, St. Patrick has to do more before he can be entrusted with the Habs. Pierre, well, no more needs to be said.

I think the best option is to do nothing right now. The trade today qualifies as nothing. Let JM fulfill his contract. If we fire him, it's only to hire an interim coach. Lets trade veterans for picks at the trade deadlines. The only untouchables are Pleks, PK, Eller, AK46 (I know, I know, but I like the guy), Cole (only because he has a NTC-- perhaps he would waive it?) and CP. We'll become the Florida Panthers North. In the meantime, we put up with losing seasons, build through the draft, have Captain Kirk come back as HC in 2 years, and then hope for the 25th Cup. We would need a new GM because I don't see PG staying here without JM. By then, perhaps someone could be groomed so that it won't be a panic move done in a rush.

Steve said...

What about Dryden as GM, he is out of work?

Number31 said...

Cole was having the start of a great game and got benched for his efforts. Darche wasn't looking too great, whiffing on a few passes let alone shots. A good coach would recognize that hmmm maybe give Cole some ice time and a chance on the PP with a very weak Leafs goalie.

Hell even Moen might have done better on the PP than Darche. He is our leading scorer! With Eller and Kostitsyn, their basically our best line...

But nope. Martin (and Perry for that matter since he runs the PP supposedly) has the plans written in stone in his little notebook and thou shalt not rewrite the Commandment!

Man...even Carbo had a few moments where he threw his notes out the window because of what was going on on the the ice.

Anonymous said...

I was at the Rangers-Oilers game in Edmonton on Saturday night. Ryan McDonagh was the best Ranger defenceman on the ice, and it wasn't close. He played the first minute or minute and half of every penalty kill, and was on the 2nd Power Play as well. He was their starting left defenceman at the beginning of each period and logged the most minutes. He is 6'1", 222 lbs. and strong as an ox. The year the Habs drafted him, he was said to have one of the best numbers in the history of Combines testing --quite simply, the kid is a stud. On the ice Saturday night, I didn't see him make a single mistake. He just always seems to make the right play. He doesn't get out of position to make a hit, usually ends up with the puck, and then efficiently clears the zone. He is an outstanding lateral and backwards skater.

I have read elsewhere that when he was traded for Gomez, his progress hadn't been "up to par" -- could someone please explain that statement to me, because the very day he was traded, Glen Sather said "Ryan McDonagh will play in the National Hockey League."

This is a trade that will haunt the Canadiens for years to come. It falls in the same category as trading 5-time all-start John LeClair to the Flyers for "diddley and squat" as Jack Todd would say.

Anonymous said...

I guess these players would be considered small if they were on the Habs.

3 D's under 200lbs is akin to suicide..2 of them without any significant NHL experience...Weber has not proven he's NHL calibre yet...much better as a winger...

Diaz and Emelin lack NHL experience....

Habs defensive core is smaller than last year...

PG ought to be fired....on three counts

1) Gambled on Markov - without signing a "cop" to protect him - Markie has been protected for the last 10 years by either Komi or O'Byrne

How long will he last without protection?

2) The non-replacement of Hamrlik

Hammer was a workhorse and though a non-fighter, had enough strength and size to clear the front of the net

3) Non replacement of a good face-off man, in Halpern-

PG had all summer and a pocketful of cash to find good replacements

He failed

It will probably cost a 1st or 2nd rounder that will need to be sacrificed to rectify the situation but unless its done soon it may be too late and sayonara play-offs....

Anonymous said...

Hey JT, quick comment on Cole if I may.

I will humbly disagree with ya. Cole for the past few games HAS been bringing it. He has been physical, drove the net and so on...but still gets under 14 minutes of ice time! Martin is creating a crap storm here. Play cole 18 minutes, give him ice with Plek and Cammer, full on. ESPECIALLY when he is physical and driving the net like he has been for the past few games....

dusty said...

Can hardly wait for Josie's picture and your take on the upcoming loss to the Panthers. Am starting to chuckle already.

Read a headline on HIO saying Habs bulk up for Panthers ignoring the fact that Weber and Spacek will play while Emelin, the Habs ONLY physical D-man, will be eating hot dogs. Quite the oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit concern about the results but not the way we are losing. The Habs are very much present and..scoring goals...
The last years was a lot different: we would win despit not competing...

Anonymous said...

Why wasn't Hamrlik re-signed as an insurance policy? He was a workhorse with experience. PG should have given him the 2 years he asked for. Halpern should also have been re-signed. He provided depth at center and was a good faceoff man...for $700K. Funny, they're good enough for the Capitals but not for PG. I guess he thought 3 European rookie defensemen, with virtually no NHL experience, could do a better job. And Enqvist would provide the badly needed depth at center...what a joke....And why not have signed Moore 2 years ago?? He tore it up in playoffs, is looking great in TB (was good enough for Yzerman to sign...we would have some decent depth at center...oh well another 2nd rnd pick flushed down the toilet for a rental. Letting Muller go was another huge gaffe...clearly the heart, soul and brains behind the bench....Moen with his 2 cement blocks as hands is the leading scorer while Capn Gio is taking tons of stupid penalities???...what gives?? if you ask me it's a sypmtom of the new NHL...size, grit and strength scores goals...speed is fine, but speed without protection just leads to they're taking runs at CP....what a mess. Fire PG and JM and get BG out of the system. Bring in some modern thinking fresh blood to turn things around. I like the Pierre McGuire as GM and Kirk Muller as head coach idea.