Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Psych!

When I was a kid, I went to school with a guy we called "Psych," who shall otherwise remain nameless. Psych was an arsehole. If we were supposed to have a math test Monday morning and most of the class had forgotten about it, he'd rush into the room and say, "Hey guys, I just ran into Sir in the hall, and he said he's putting the test off 'til tomorrow." We'd all breathe a sigh of relief. Then the teacher would come in with the stack of photocopied tests and our classmate would snicker and sneer, "Psych!"

The thing was, we all knew he did it, but we'd fall for it every time. "School's closed after lunch because the bathroom flooded!" "Psych!" "Miss said we're watching a movie on Friday afternoon!" "Psych!" The guy was successful because we really wanted to believe what he said. And he was smart. Every once a while, something he announced would actually be true, just enough to set us up for the next round of "Psych!"

I was trying to think of a way to characterize the Canadiens season when I remembered Psych and how he used to "get" us so often. In this case, just when we were pretty convinced the Habs were in freefall following the All-Star game, they rolled off those four wins in a row, pulled within seven points of the playoffs and looked like they were gearing up for a serious run at eighth place. Then, with an eminently beatable Hurricanes team in town, the Canadiens came out tentatively and were run over by the Carolina forecheck. They were second to the puck nearly all night, with exception of the six-minute stretch in the second that put them up a goal. Those three quick goals were, in microcosm, the psych! this season has been.

Essentially, this year has been composed of vast stretches of the entire team's looking lost (with the notable exception of Erik Cole, who consistently looks like iron filings consistently pulled to the net's magnet). Their play has often ranged from mediocre to bad, interspersed with bursts of promise fulfilled that make us hope...for a period, or a day, or even a week...that things have turned around. The good thing about this is that those things we see, the ones that make us keep hoping, are real. This is a team in transition, but it's going to be a quick transition because the players who are beginning to step up now are the ones who will be the core in a year or two.

Louis Leblanc and Aaron Palushaj might not be lighting it up every night, but they're working hard and going to the right places. Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais are coming into their own. P.K.Subban, Lars Eller and Alexei Emelin have been up and down, but gradually swinging toward more good nights than poor ones. Carey Price is on the cusp of his prime. With healthy veterans like Erik Cole, Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec, the team is better than it's been playing.

The problem is that there's still so much immaturity to overcome, especially on the defence. The D generally tends to panic when pressured, and that results in bad decision-making and poor passes that keep the forwards bottled in their own zone. The general immaturity shows in the inability to hold leads or push back when the other team pressures them. The "leadership group" that Bob Gainey assembled three years ago is disintegrating as Gionta is hurt, Mike Cammalleri is gone and Scott Gomez and Hal Gill are getting smaller minutes and reduced roles. The kids are learning to be their own leaders, and that will take a bit of time. The good thing about this is the whole group is going to mature together.

With the risk of being labelled a bad fan or an unbeliever, I have to think the Canadiens will not make the playoffs this year, even if they continue to show flashes of what they're capable of being...and will be, in a year or two. Their terrible start to the season with all the injuries and patchwork D has formed a barrier too big to batter down now. That's not to say they should stop trying. They're not likely to be bad enough to land one of the top-two draft picks and after those two, there are lots of other second-tier stars to choose from, so draft position isn't really a consideration at this point. Continuing to push for the playoffs will teach the kids some important lessons in perseverance and in being hungry enough to really want it, which will help in that group maturation process.

It'll help us too, as fans. Winning is so much more fun to watch than hopelessness. Even if they don't make the post-season, they can still be pretty entertaining in the trying. For management, the reality that this will not be a playoff team must be clearly understood and moves to improve made accordingly. We've got to believe they're not as easily duped into false hope as we fans can be.

The four-game winning streak was a little bit of a psych! situation, certainly. However, it's also managed to put this season into perspective. This isn't as bad a team as the record shows, and it's going to get better. We've seen that for ourselves and nobody's going to convince us it was all an illusion.

9 comments:

DanielleJam said...

Well, it's still not over. There's no way to win all the games from here on end. Let's just look at it as one loss and hope the boys will bounce back with another W streak.

The "psych" character strung you guys along for a good bit. How could you not catch on after two or three tricks?!

Ben said...

If you look at the goals for and goals against for montreal, you'll see that they only have 2 less goals for than goals against. Other teams within a few points of them are almost always in the area of 20-30 less goals for than goals against. I think that shows how close montreal is to being a team that it winning most of it's games

High Glove Side said...

Really nice (and sadly rare) balance of reality & positivity

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My comments to my daughter after 2 periods were about how the Canes pushed back after falling behind 3-2 and how dangerous for the Habs to lose this one in the third period. Sadly, my worries turned into nightmares.
One has to wonder what if PG fired Martin when he fired Pearn. At the minimum, PG would not be trading for Kaberle to save his friend at the expense of the future of the organization. Sad!

JF said...

J.T. - I agree that the team is not as bad as its record, in fact is not very far from being a good team. Nevertheless, there were serious blunders made in the off-season which have cost us points all year. Leaving aside the Markov situation, Gauthier should have done something to replace Hamrlik. It was madness to start the season with a defence consisting of two veterans, one of whom was coming off reconstructive knee surgery, a second-year player (or two, counting Weber), and a bunch of rookies. Gauthier also failed to put together an effective fourth line and did nothing to address concerns about size and toughness, although the Cammalleri trade seems to be a belated recognition of these concerns. But there were options available over the summer; Gauthier chose to brush them aside and start the season with what amounted to little more than the skeleton of an NHL roster.

But the team is improving and their games have become exciting again. The defence is getting valuable experience, better chemistry seems to be developing, and I like a lot of what Cunneyworth is doing. It's taken most of the season, but we're starting to look as though we're only a couple of pieces away from being a very good team. By 27 February it should be clear to Molson and Gauthier that we should be sellers rather than buyers. Hopefully we can deal those players who will not form part of the team next year and restock our somewhat bare prospect cupboard. Meanwhile, our young players can be given lots of ice-time to prepare for next season. This one might be effectively over, but what is left of it can still be useful.

Anonymous said...

A 4 game winning streak sure felt good, but it really didn't do much to change the Habs' chances of making the playoffs.

Here's the winning percentage the Habs needed to reach 92 points(Ottawa and Toronto are on pace for 91 points) after each of its last five games.

Games left Points Needed %
30 45 75
29 43 74
28 41 73
27 39 72
26 37 71
25 37 74

The Habs have dug such a deep hole to crawl out of that a win is one step forward while a loss is two steps back. Tell that to "psych" next time he rears his ugly head.

DB

The Spirit of Cook said...

LOL. The recent win streak totally reeks of a "psych". As much as I like the Habs I have been pulling for them to lose as much as possible lately. Even if there are lots of similar 2nd-level type talents available in the draft, I think that picking early over each of the rounds has a benefit. But, given that I believe they will not make the playoffs, I think the more important thing is for them to be in a position where they can shed veterans at the deadline (something I suspect they will be less inclined to do if they are withing eye shot of 8th place). I'd like to see them move Gill, Weber (or Diaz) and Campolli for draft picks and either re-sign Moen and Kostitsyn or trade them too. In an ideal world, they'd also find a donation bin willing to take on Gomez and Kaberle too. Getting a draft pick in return for those two contracts would be a miracle.

MC said...

The reason your friend Psych got you every time is the same reason this team will get you again if they win four more in a row: if you want it to be true, it is easier to believe. Too bad they didn't have this team at the start of the season, things would be a lot different. But they will run out of racetrack this year. It is actually a good opportunity to stockpile some picks and prospects like Pollock used to do by being sellers instead of buyers. This will be a good chance for Gauthier to redeem himself and it will be interesting to see what Timmins digs up with a few extra picks.

G said...

I wonder how many times "...even if they continue to show flashes of what they're capable of being...and will be, in a year or two" has been written by Habs fans over the last 19 years?

Some guys on the team didn't show up against Carolina. Oddly two of them were on the bench most of the night. The same two guys having the laugh on the bench after Gomez scored last week, Gomez himself and Kostitsyn. Tuesday Ladouceur ripped Gomez in practice. So he's been sat by the head coach Monday, ripped by the assistant coach Tuesday, and tells the press it's all part of the normal drill. For once I agree. It is part of the normal drill. The same drill Gauthier used when he tried to get a point across to Martin.

Now you could think that Gomez is doing the psych on the fans, or management, but you know I have a funny feeling. I don't think Gomez sees it coming. And if the team decides Kostitsyn isn't salvagable he could have his name on the Cup this year.