Thursday, January 31, 2013

Aftermath: Wobbly

You know how you can look at a little kid and just love him to bits, but at the same time he tries your patience to the point at which "time out" just isn't enough and you end up yelling at him? I'll bet Ryan White's parents felt like that more than once. Last night, I understood them.

The Canadiens have been doing many thing correctly this season. There are great improvements in attitude and approach to the game since last year's depressing basement finish. They are not perfect, however. The new style is still very much a work in progress. One of the biggest problems they're facing is with the penalty kill. Last year's PK was second in the league, with a stellar 88.6% efficiency rate. This year, the Canadiens sit at 78.1%, good for only 19th place. They've given up seven PP goals in their six games. So, when Ryan White got called for a marginal roughing call, then decided to antagonize already whistle-happy officials, which landed him a double minor, it was not a good thing. White's absence resulted in another two PP goals against, and that sunk the Habs in what had, up until then, been a pretty close game. On a night when the refs appeared to be working on commission, White could have been smarter. In the meantime, the coaching staff needs to address the PK immediately. Surely there are tapes somewhere showing a successful penalty kill that doesn't involve Hal Gill.

Of course, it's not all on White. The poor kid looked like Braveheart after the English killed his wife for the rest of the game. Hockey games are lost because a team makes mistakes, and White's was just the most obvious of the Canadiens' errors last night. There were defensive breakdowns enough to go around, and being behind on the scoreboard illuminated some problems inherent in the lineup. David Desharnais is struggling badly without Max Pacioretty. He's getting pushed around, and he's having trouble connecting with Lars Eller, who's never looked comfortable on the wing. The rookies showed they work best with a lead, when time and space are available. Tight checking by the Senators last night kept them to the outside and largely harmless.

The other big problem, though, aside from the PK, is faceoffs. The Canadiens haven't had a really stellar top line faceoff guy since Saku Koivu put up a 54.1% success rate in the 2008-09 season. Jeff Halpern, Dominic Moore and Maxim Lapierre were all good on the draw, but none of them took more than a thousand faceoffs in a season. Tomas Plekanec has averaged 1555 trips to the circle in the last four years because of his versatility after the puck drops. This year's team average is just 46.1%, which puts them fourth-last in the league. When you're facing a big, aggressive team like the Senators, you can't spend the night chasing the puck without giving up a lot of chances. The third goal, in particular, came directly from a lost faceoff on the PK. Plekanec, still the go-to faceoff guy is a dismal 44.8% on the draw. If the Canadiens hope to take advantage of their skills with the puck, they need to start a shift with the puck. They need a faceoff guy for those big draws, and they need someone like Guy Carbonneau or Yanic Perreault to come in and work with the centres.

All that said, the Canadiens this year are a work in progress. You can't really draw a whole lot from a third game in four nights, with two important young bodies in P.K.Subban and Max Pacioretty out of the lineup. Andrei Markov played a team-high 23:51 and Francis Bouillon got the second-highest amount of ice time with 21:25. These are not young men anymore. The amount of hockey they've played this week was bound to catch up with them and Markov, in particular, looked off his game. Their overuse will be mitigated by the return of Subban, who, hopefully will not be held out of the lineup longer than necessary in order for Michel Therrien to prove a point.

The positive from this game is that after a brutal second period (which seems to be a recurring theme so far in this young season), the Canadiens didn't quit in the third. They kept trying to get back in a game on which they would have given up last season. So, while Therrien will likely give Ryan White and a few others of his kids a stern talking-to today, they'll do better next time.


NorthCoastHab87 said...

You didn't give a review of Budaj's performance, do you think this is cause for concern? He had no chance on the PP goals last night in my opinion.

With back-to-back home games this weekend will Price start both or does Budaj get another shot at the Sens on Sunday? The team needs to win a game (sooner the better) with Budaj as the starter.

TommyB said...

I guess the habs were due for a stinker. And yet, though not a great performance, the game was kinda not really in the stinker category, except for that brief period of time where they allowed 3 quick goals against.

You touched on some important points.

While we all want to see more grit, there is a balance that needs to be attained. Players like Ryan White, who are short on other important skills but bring the sandpaper, might feel they are being sent mixed messages. They know they are supposed to get under the opposition's skin, and stand up for their mates. But at the same time they need to be smart enough to stay away from the penalty box during games where the team is not in full control, such as last night.

Ryan White has heard the call from the fans, the media, and the team's management that the Habs need to be tougher to play against. He's doing his best to bring the team to that level. In fact, he's trying to please his coach who made those same statements in his interviews. Now the same coach is muttering that Ryan White is responsible for two power play goals against, and may have cost them the game. This is where the mixed messages come in.

Both Ryan White and Michel Therrien will have to find that balance that I mentioned. It's going to take a little time, but they are both smart enough, I think, to find it. What Therrien has to be careful of here, is that he does not take away basically the only tool set that a player like Ryan White has. If White has to think too much out there, he may lose the only effectiveness that he has. They'll work on it.

J.T. said...

@NorthCoastHab87: I thought Budaj made some really nice saves after that iffy first goal against. He gave the team a chance, but the less-than-solid PK took that chance away. Budaj has to get his starts because the season is too condensed for Price to play every night. It's just too bad for him that his starts will always come on the second half of back-to-backs and the last of three games in four nights. The team in front of him will always be at less than its best in some way, which is the lot of so many backup goalies. I put little blame on him.

@TommyB: I agree there's a bit of mixed messaging going on here. But White has to make better decisions. Nobody asked him to take an unsportsmanlike penalty call after the fact. Take the roughing, sure, if it's required, but there's no need to put the team in a deeper hole because you weren't that smart after the whistle.

JF said...

Nice balanced assessment, J.T. Games like last night's are going to happen. We are rebuilding, with a new coaching staff,a new system, and some very young players. The game exposed certain problems that were perhaps masked by our four-game winning streak. Discipline, penalty kill, and faceoffs all need work. Also, Therrien is going to have to experiment a bit with what used to be our top line; so far, nothing has worked.

Budaj is getting a lot of criticism, but I did not see him as a problem last night. There was little he could do on the three second period goals. He played well last year, especially at the end; it was unfortunate for him that he had to get his first start in what was the third game in four nights.

I'm not sold on Ryan White. I realize he's trying to cement his place in the lineup, but he is too ready to jump in with fists flailing without asking himself if the moment is right. He and Tom Pyatt came up together, and I'm not sure we didn't give up on the wrong one. Pyatt was an excellent penalty killer for us; he had twelve goals last year with Tampa and has three already this year.

I think the coaching staff will make some adjustments for the weekend games, including benching White, probably for Blunden, and inserting P.K. I also think the team can learn from games like this.

J.T. said...

@JF: I think a lot of people are crapping on White today because he's been taking a lot of dumb penalties. However, I think TommyB above has a point in that he's probably getting mixed messages from the coaching staff. They're saying, "Go out and be physical." That's probably got White thinking about making his mark with his body, so he's not using his head. I liked Tom Pyatt a lot, but when the team made the decision on him, it wasn't an "either/or" proposal. Both brought very different things to the team. With the dearth of physical players with youth and energy in the organization, White offered something different from a lot of other Habs prospects like Olivier Fortier or youth like Pyatt.

Picture the lineup with Pyatt instead of white right now. Where does he fit? The spot available is on the fourth line. Would Pyatt be enough of a grinder to fill that role with Moen and Armstrong? I don't think Armstrong is that physical a player, so if you expect your fourth line to play that style, two of the three guys have to be ready to play that way. White does it, but he also has a nose for the net that doesn't get its due because of the role he's asked to play.

I always thought it'd be a great idea for teams to be allowed to carry a specialist on the bench, in addition to the regular lineup. Hal Gill would have been a great guy to have as a PK specialist without having to give him a regular shift. Perreault for draws, Dagenais for shootouts, Bergeron for PPs. It'd be great if teams could carry a guy like football teams carry a kicker.

Anonymous said...

The Habs had a win streak of 4 wins. Somehow that translated in the media as the Habs being a .800 type team. I don't think they are. Last year they certainly weren't, and over the last 4 years they were essentially a below .500 team (if we simply count an overtime loss as a loss) and a playoff bubble team. Sure they added Galchenyuk (and a new seemingly energized management group) this year and they have some good young players but to expect them to suddenly be a top tier team is premature. The key to this team has to be to develop the youngsters (both in the NHL and in Hamilton) and there will be some bumps. This was one of them. Hopefully management doesn't panic if this bump turns into a slide. Keep playing the youngsters and keep a longer term view of this team.

I'm actually a little torn with this year's team. On one hand with a supposedly deep draft I wouldn't be disappointed if they miss the playoffs and get high draft picks, on the other some playoff experience for the youngsters is always beneficial.

Ian said...

Hi Leigh Anne,

You commented that you hoped MT would not keep PK out of the lineup 'to prove a point'. I have that concern too.

Apparently MT was not a PK supporter on the RDS broadcasts last year. He concerns me! After just seeing the movie Django, I related the plantation owners to him. I want to give him the benefit of doubt, but it is hard. I do not trust him!

I see Eller's confidence going down the toilet. I like Eller. I think he has a great upside, and I worry MT is going to destroy it.

I hope he proves me wrong....Ian.