Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Aftermath: Asked and Answered

Yesterday I said the Florida game would be a definitive one for the Canadiens. Given the pressure to move up in the standings, the two days of rest, the injuries to the opponent and the momentum coming off their best two games of the season, all the variables were in place for the Habs to come out with a win. That meant the usual lame excuses for losing would not apply. That game was one the Canadiens had to win, for the playoffs but also for themselves. The question facing them was: "Can we not only make the playoffs, but prove to ourselves that we can compete in the post-season if we do make it?"

The answer came back with depressing surety: No.

Murray Wilson on CJAD put it best when he said the Habs were doing too much reaching in that game. That exactly described what I saw. Instead of skating for the puck, the Habs were stopping a stride or two short and just reaching out for it with their sticks. And, as anyone with even high school physics will tell you, when an object like a body is applying force against an object with less mass, like a stick, the heavier object is going to win that battle. That's what the Panthers did. They went into the corners and onto the boards leading with their bodies. The Habs lead with their sticks. The bodies won.

So, what does that tell us about the Habs' chances of making the playoffs? Not much. They're still in a dogfight with five or six other teams for a seventh or eighth seed. They might make it. That game, however, tells us something about the Habs' vision of themselves as a team. A good team, when it really needs to win a game, believes it will win. It comes out skating, hitting and competing. It might not win every time, but it gives a damn good showing in a loss. The Canadiens don't see themselves as a good team. Last night they were passive, slow and, most revealing, took fewer than twenty shots. In the NHL, if a team doesn't believe in itself, it has no chance.

I think the Canadiens have enough talent to be competitive. The defence isn't the best in the league, but with Andrei Markov bringing all-star skill, and veteran experience in Hamrlik and Spacek, it's not the worst. The goaltending is stellar. The special teams are excellent, and the top two lines can score when everyone's healthy. That's a better package than a lot of teams have. But no matter how talented a team is, it won't win when it matters if it doesn't believe it will.

Listening to the bewildered post-game comments from the players who couldn't explain why they failed to play better last night, that's the message I got. They say they didn't play with confidence, but what they mean is this is a team that doesn't believe in itself. If it doesn't have that vital winning mindset, its talent will only be enough to keep it at an average performance level.

So, this will be an average team, with average chances of making the playoffs, and an average showing if it does manage to make it into the top eight. Its GM will walk to the podium in Los Angeles this June and call the name of an average draft pick. It will be another average year for a franchise that has forgotten it used to believe in winning.

If the difference between winning and being average is believing, well, belief can be instilled. A captain or a coach can bring the passion of belief to a room and make it contagious. But the Habs have no captain, and can anyone picture Jacques Martin breathing the fire of life into this team? Me neither.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump's mother, average is as average does. The Canadiens do average really well. The disappointment for us is that we believe in them more than they do themselves. That answers a lot of our questions about the team this year.


Anonymous said...

I really believe it is the coach-he is the most lifeless man I have ever seen.He is old in his approach and never changes his mind. He will not lead this team to the playoffs.
It's probably too early to call up Bouchard but what do we do in the meantime?? I'm ready to draw a bath and get a razor blade.....

Anvilcloud said...

They don't know themselves yet. Their game is speed but they slow down and try to waltz to their opponents game plan.

dusty said...

-Looking at the Habs as they really are is depressing for us fans. Let's face it, most Hab fans (myself included), believed that Montreal should win in Florida because we have a better team. This flies in the face of fact. Last season the Canadiens were tied with the Panthers for 8th and got in because of a tie breaker. Florida was the better team at the end of the season and would have done better in the playoffs than the Habs did. This years version of the Canadiens lacks a third and fourth line which are required to compete on a nightly basis. I blame the coaching staff as they juggle players in and out with no cohesive plan. As a result the team has no confidence in the system or game plan. The coach seems in panic mode but unfortunately can't be fired. The Panthers on the other hand, are well coached and believe in themselves and it shows. Halak stole the previous Florida game but can't do it all the time. The Panthers may well make the playoffs this year and deserved it last year so this sense of Hab superiority is clearly delusional on our part.
-It would be nice to have a captain but it isn't necessary. Florida is doing fine with a slug for a captain so that isn't the reason the Habs are what they are.
-On another topic, what's with Laraque wanting to play in Sweden for lunch money when he wouldn't play in Montreal for 1.5 mil? Am I missing something here?

Anonymous said...

So the Canadiens have two faces, the problem is that the difference between the two faces are very extreme, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We love Mr. Hyde's side. We can even think of going far in the playoffs, 2 very good first lines and a good group in the defence part and two very good goalies.

But when it's Dr. Jekyll turn to come at the arena, like yesterday with the skates full of sand inside, we have only a very small chance to see the playoffs (if positive = 4 games max) but could always hope for a good draft choice.
It is becoming though to play yoyo with our feelings and like you say, the feet in the oven and the head in the fridge make a good average but not a very pleasant posture.

Unknown said...

I think Dusty is on the right track. Another way to look at it: I've been wondering for almost two years now why the Habs keep saying "we need to try harder" after games. Why say it and not do it? Why is this is still happening this year with totally different personnel?!

I think the reality is that *no* team works every night -- not the Panthers, not the Devils -- no one. Not even the 1977 Habs! We're no different. But in this age of parity some teams can get away with it, thanks to people like Crosby, Ovechkin, Brodeur, etc. We're not one of those teams. We don't have those guys, let alone Lafleur, Robinson, Gainey, etc. When we don't work, we lose, unless the goalie saves us. Like you said, we're an average team, and average is as average does.

DB said...

I don't think one game can be used to assess the team. However, yesterday's game was the continuation of a mediocre season - win two, lose two, stay in the fight for the last playoff spot while hovering around 500.

What's the problem? Could be the coach, could be the players, could be the team culture, or it could be Stephen Harper's fault. If parliament can be prorogued when the economy is weak then why should we expect the Habs to show up and work hard every night. If it's good enough for the government to take a nice long break then it's good enough for the Habs.