Monday, March 10, 2008

Go East, young men!

Whew, am I glad that's over! I hate the western road trip. It's so disruptive for the team, with the weird time zones, the switch from winter to summer overnight, the strange competition, bad ice and multiple games crammed into a short time frame. It's just unsettling.

Most people are relieved and happy the Habs have escaped the western trip with four out of eight points. I guess I am too. But I also found it more than a little frustrating. Watching a team we know can skate better, pass better and be much more disciplined, in both shots allowed and penalties taken, play the slow, confused games we saw last week was enough to make you pull your hair out. It reminded me of learning to play the piano as a kid. I'd be great in practice in my livingroom...mastering the tricky key changes and difficult fingering of a piece. But when the recital came, I'd almost always perform worse than I did in practice and then I'd spend the next week wishing I could have had a do-over. If only I could show them how I can really play it, I'd think. That's what I feel about the road trip now. If only the Habs could have a do-over now that they've adjusted to the time change and the weather, and the western competition has been demystified. Last night's game against the Ducks I especially would like to have another shot at. The real Habs, playing the way they really can, would have won that game.

But as it stands, the western road trip has left us with four out of eight points and a whole new list of things to stress about before the playoffs. Team discipline slowly eroded on the trip, culminating with the lousy eight minors they took against the Ducks. The powerplay was less than stellar, with players trying to be too fancy instead of relying on their bread-and-butter crisp passing. The defence looked weak and slow in the first three games. Shots against were outrageously high in all four games. And Mikhail Grabovsky has dummied himself out of a roster spot, despite his strong play against the Ducks.

At a time of year when we just want the team to clinch a playoff spot so some of the regulars can rest, the western road trip has thrown unwanted questions into the mix. It's upset the coaches and worried the players. It's not a great state of mind in which to be before facing the Devils and Senators at home this week.

I hope Carbonneau has a good meeting with the team as they try to shake off the West Effect and get back to business in the east. Because despite all the craziness, there were two good results from the western trip. First, both rookie goalies were able to make a statement about their ability to carry this team in the playoffs. We'll hear a lot less about how Gainey has doomed the Habs by trading Huet now. And second, the western teams...the great unknown opponent...have been weighed, measured, and found to be, really, not that much better than the Habs. If the Canadiens do defy the odds and end up competing against a western team for the Cup, they now know what to expect. And considering the fact that they were at least in every game, and knowing how much better they can play than they showed on this western trip, they have to have some measure of confidence about their ability to beat those teams.

So, if you look at it that way, the western trip, while unsettling and weird, taught the team a couple of things. But I'm still glad it's over.

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