Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cole's Notes on The System

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty busy these days. Work is getting back into full swing after the holidays. Kids are back in school and their activities and homework take up a lot of time. In places where you actually have snow, you might be busy with hockey or skiing or snowshoeing or snowmobiling or ice fishing or snowblowing the driveway. Then there's all the volunteer work many of you do, and the little home improvements you might be working on while the weather isn't fit for outside work. You get the point. We're busy.

So, in an effort to save you some time, I've prepared Cole's Notes on The System for the remaining Habs games of this season. Remember Cole's Notes? Those blessed little handbooks that broke down all the hard stuff in school into easy-to-read, test-ready essays for you? Well, I believe I've seen enough of this year's Habs to know the pattern by now, so I hope these Notes will give you three extra hours on game days to devote to your own activities, which you might otherwise have wasted watching the Montreal Canadiens attempt to play hockey.

We'll start with the opening faceoff. Most often, the Canadiens will lose this draw and the puck will go back to the Penguins/Panthers/Bruins/Flyers/Ducks/Blues/etc., henceforth known as the Other Team's, defencemen. Conversely, on the off chance the Habs win the draw, they will tip it ahead into the Other Team's zone where it will be immediately corralled by the Other Team's defencemen.

Once the Other Team's defencemen have control of the puck, they tend to skate toward the Canadiens' zone and pass it ahead to a forward in motion. At this point, the Canadiens' five players will drop back over their own blueline while the Other Team's puck carrier will enter the zone without challenge. The System does not recognize the blue line, and sees no need to defend it. The Other Team's forwards will begin to pass the puck around the boards, while the Canadiens attempt to take it from them, usually unsuccessfully.

While in the Canadiens' end, the Other Team will take the puck off the boards after what seems like two minutes of effortless cycle control and shoot at Price/Halak, who will usually make the save. The Canadiens will pile in around the crease, and look frantically around for the puck. If the goalie doesn't freeze it, the Other Team will most often get another whack at it. At this point, the goalie will have difficulty seeing through the forest of legs and sticks in his crease, yet will many times, somehow, make the second save anyway. If he doesn't, the puck will likely deflect off someone in front, quite often "someone" being a Canadiens defenceman who's looking for the puck instead of clearing men out of the crease, for the Other Team's first goal.

If, however, a Canadiens defenceman *does* manage to get control of the puck, he will pass it to his defence partner. He, in turn, will pass it from deep in his own zone to a winger who will likely be standing still at the blue line. The winger will then have to fight through a forecheck to move the puck anywhere. Usually, he will lose that battle and the Other Team will return the play to the Canadiens' zone. Otherwise, the winger will desperately chip the puck off the boards into the middle of the ice, in the often-vain hope there will be a teammate there to receive it. If the centre is there, and manages to successfully catch the pass, he will most likely dump it into the offensive zone corner, where the Other Team's defencemen will grab it, avoid the single forechecker the Canadiens have sent after it and quickly return the play to the Canadiens' end where the Habs, in frustration, will hook or trip or crosscheck someone and wind up in the box. Fortunately for the Canadiens, they will shut down the Other Team's PP and survive the penalty. Most of the time.

Sometimes, just to mix it up a bit, the centre, usually Scott Gomez, will carry the puck through the neutral zone himself and then peel off to the boards once he gains the zone. His wingers, when they catch up, will set up the cycle along the boards and once in a while they'll get a shot on net. However, as there will be no Canadiens player in the Other Team's crease, the goalie will get a good look at it and usually steer it away with little problem. The Other Team's defencemen will then clear the rebound out to a winger in motion and send it back down the other way.

If Tomas Plekanec is the centre who successfully enters the Other Team's zone, he will try to skate as close as he can to the net, then look for a pass. Sometimes Cammalleri or Kostitsyn will realize what he's doing and put their sticks down for the redirect. If Max Pacioretty is playing on that line, the Other Team will gang up on Plekanec and disable the trio's effectiveness.

Occasionally, the Canadiens will actually draw a penalty. It will usually be the result of a blatant disabling of one of their players, as the refs don't seem to notice more subtle fouls against them. In that situation, the Canadiens will lose the offensive-zone faceoff. They will regroup, sometimes after a struggle to get around the Other Team's lone forechecking penalty killer, and Andrei Markov will control the play from the blueline. He will pass to Bergeron for a one-timer, or cross-ice to Cammalleri for a quick shot from the right wing. They may or may not score. If they don't, the second wave of the PP will come on and Glen Metropolit may knock one in off some dogged work behind the Other Team's net.

The play will continue for three periods in this fashion. By the third, the Canadiens will have allowed double the shots they've taken and will have taken at least double the number of penalties the Other Team has. If Price/Halak is on fire, the score may be tied, or the Habs may be a goal ahead. If the goalie has had an ordinary night, the Canadiens will be down by a goal or more. If they're up, the Habs will attempt to defend their zone against the other team's vigorous late attack, often allowing the tying goal with five minutes or less to go while Josh Gorges falls on the goalie during a wild crease scramble. If they're down, they'll belatedly realize they need to step it up and push hard for a tying goal, which they'll sometimes get, depending on whether the Other Team is above or below .500 themselves.

A trip to overtime gives the Canadiens a pretty good chance for two points, as four-on-four play tends to reduce pressure on the Habs forwards along the boards, giving them more room to make a decent pass. If they do prevail, they will hand the Other Team a loser point that will hurt them in the standings.

When the game is over, the Canadiens will have either a close loss or a one-goal/OT win against a sub-.500 opponent. They will have a one-or-two-goal loss against a middle-of-the-pack team, and a sound beating by a contender. Jacques Martin will give a press conference explaining that he's pleased the team kept it close but the players need to raise their compete level to push their game to the next plateau. Mike Cammalleri will tell reporters in an intelligent and thoughtful way that the team's performance isn't good enough and the players need to play with more passion and better execution. Carey Price may sound upset or angry if they lose, completely monotone if they win. The pundits in armchairs at L'Antichambre will hold up newspaper headlines demanding trades and/or Bob Gainey's head on a Centennial commemorative platter and/or explaining why there's a goalie controversy.

The End.

Now, when the next game is about to start, take this out, read it again and save yourself another three hours of repetition and torment. Enjoy a book. Catch a movie. Go for a skate with the kids. Cook a nice meal. The three hours Cole's Notes on The System will save you can be so much more rewarding than they'd be if you spend them watching what you've just read.

Teachers will tell you the risk with Cole's Notes is that you might miss the nuances of the real thing, so when a question on the finals isn't in the Notes, you'll be lost. Don't worry in this case. There are no nuances and it's pretty certain there won't be any Finals either. Which is okay in the grand scheme of things, because you're busy anyway. Right?


Unknown said...

Fantastic! Man I hope someone in the Habs' braintrust is reading these.

dusty said...

Awesome notes. I would add 1 more to the things to do list. Watch another team. Hockey is a great sport. I refuse to let the pussy Habs ruin it for me.

Unknown said...

I don't often agree with your comments, especially on the success of one Bob Gainey. But this was simply brilliant. You really are a talented writer.

DB said...

Are these the Coles Notes expanded version? The Cole Notes I have only say:

1) In the defensive zone watch the other team handle the puck and take shots. Send any lose pucks back to the other teams point man.

2) Stay out of the offensive zone.

3) For 2 minutes of each game send out the enforcer to not fight anyone.

Derek said...

That script is dead on and it reads like Groundhog Day. When will they figure out that if you only try to move the puck up the boards there are only a limited number of places the puck can come out, and that other teams know this.
No power down the middle = lack of options = opposition waiting for the turn over. Especially true of there are more than one Canadien trying to advance the puck along the boards. It's like sharks waiting for some poor unsuspecting fish to come out of their cave.

Arune Singh said...

You are a genius.

Bill from HIO said...

Hahaha, brilliant, made my day

Anonymous said...

I just had a seasons long flashback!

Anonymous said...

I wonder with a brilliant description of the Habs system or lack there of, do you still watch. I can't stop watching even though Im totally frustrated. If a hockey fan can accurately figure out how to beat us, imagine what other teams can do with our gameplan/system

Harani said...

Awesome! The only thing you forgot is Max-Pac having his head almost taken off every game and Spacek falling down for absolutely no reason.

J.T. said...

@Harani: Pax's nightly near-decapitation and Spatch's inner ear issues are individual quirks. As are Gill's pointless icings and Laraque's polite invitations to fisticuffs. They are incidental to The System, so don't rate a chapter on their own.

Unknown said...

I seriously feel no need to watch tonight's game. Thanks for hours in my life back, JT!

Topham said...

Thought you and readers might enjoy the same system in tabular form: http://www.lionsinwinter.ca/2010/01/canadiens-shots-allowed-flawed.html

Anonymous said...

Could not agree more JT. And I agree that the smurfs tend to thrive in OT because of the space and lack of physicality.

But when people keep making reference to a 'system' ( that is the most overused word in hockey and for the Habs has not existed for a very long time )i shake my head . They don't play a system except sit back and try and weather a 60 min storm.

I would say that even when the Habs win I am not satisfied.

Perhaps it is because it is rarely in convicing fashion, the Centennial game ( which one?) against the Bruins notwithstanding.

Is there a more predictable team in the league? Score a goal, hang on for dear life and hope that you get to overtime to salvage a point.

And Martin's unwillingness to use 4 lines and B.G unwillingness to recognize George Laracque has outlived his usefullness is frustrating!

My hope is they don't ruin P.K!!

Anonymous said...

One of the bloggers said you were an excellent writer. I agree 100%. However I think you'd probably be a great coach. How come all the so called professionals employed chez habs can't figure this out??!!! My beer league plays like this. It drives me crazy seeing how little time Les Boys spend in the offensive zone and how long they spend in their own zone. This has changed a little lately,but it never changes for more than a period. It's called inoperant conditioning. You can't be predictable when you reward your fans with good hockey because they will avoid watching the losses and only turn up for the wins. The Leafs have mastered this for 40 years. We are not there yet but I can feel it coming... unless Markov can lead these guys out of the wilderness. Love your stuff JT. Thank you.


J.T. said...

@anon: Thanks for your kind words. As for the coaching thing...the easy thing is to recognize what's wrong. The much, much more difficult thing is to make the players stop doing it.

Denise T. said...

Brilliant, J.T.! I always enjoy reading your stuff. Thanks.