Sunday, February 7, 2010

Aftermath: Sigh

Well, sometimes you just run out of luck. The Habs had shots. They had chances after the lacklustre first period. They should have had at least a goal, and probably shouldn't have given up at least one of the two they tipped into their own net. But, Rask was very sharp and the luck wasn't there today.

The best players were trying. Tomas Plekanec had nine shots on goal, many of them good chances on which he got robbed by Rask. Gomez had seven shots and attempted to set up his linemates. Unfortunately, when one of your linemates is Travis Moen, that's not as easy as it sounds.

This is where injuries start to get painful. Yesterday, the energy of the Kid Line and the unbridled wrecking-ball play of Darche inspired the Habs to forget all the reasons why they shouldn't have been in it against the Penguins. Today, the reality of missing half of the team's top-six forwards and the accompanying finishing ability hurt badly.

Moen's a gamer and he goes to the net, but unless the puck deflects in off him, he's probably not going to score very often. Pouliot, on the other hand, goes to the net and has the hands to tip it past the goalie.

In a game when there's only one power play, you have to score goals at even strength. Without your top five-on-five sniper, that gets a lot harder.

Sergei Kostitsyn is playing well, but he's a playmaker. You can tell him to shoot more all you want, but his passing ability is world-class and his instincts tell him to look for a linemate. It's hard to adjust instinct in a top-speed game, so he needs someone on his line who can shoot the puck. Plekanec tried to do that today, but that's not his game either. Andrei Kostitsyn is the guy with the size, nose for the net and wicked shot for whom his brother is looking out there. Unfortunately, Mathieu Darche...who has a lot of other strengths, don't get me wrong...was there instead.

I don't want to make excuses for the team, but when you have five Bulldogs playing in place of your top scorers, you're not going to score a lot. And if you don't score, you don't win. Those who scoff at the idea of blaming injuries for a team's trouble say, "Well, every team has injuries." That's true. They do. But it's also true that when other teams have injuries to their important players, they tend to lose games.

Still, I've seen the Habs play much worse games. A little adjustment in the offensive game plan might have helped. I noticed today they tended to shoot off the rush every time they entered the Boston zone, instead of trying to set up a little more. With that strategy, the puck either goes in the net or it bounces out to the Boston D for an easy clear because the shooter's linemates don't have time to get to the net for a screen or a rebound. If they'd tried a little more patience in setting up in Boston's end it might have helped.

There were good things about today. Halak was pretty sharp, despite the two own-goals his team scored on him. Ryan O'Byrne is playing some good, tough hockey. Plekanec was flying, but misses his linemates. The team showed a lot of discipline by not giving the Bruins a single PP. The players didn't quit after that disheartening goal with three seconds to go in the first.

On the top of the "bad things" side of the ledger, though, is the coach. I thought Martin mishandled his lines today. When it was apparent Sergei Kostitsyn and Plekanec were playing well, he should have put Gionta, the only remaining sniper, on with them for a few shifts. Gionta was doing nothing with Moen on his line anyway. And Martin didn't manage the kids very well. Yesterday, they played nearly nine minutes in a fast, exciting game. Today, they played only six minutes against the Bruins' grinding bottom lines. Trotter and Desharnais aren't grinders and they're small. They should have been playing against more offensive-minded opponents, which would have given them a chance to get moving. Instead, they got checked into the ice and got less ice-time which made them and their gung-ho attitudes pretty ineffective.

Also on the "bad things" list is Max Lapierre. What the heck happened to him since last year? He's gone from being fast, aggressive and opportunistic to being a complete non-factor for fourteen minutes a night. He's still a young player, but at nearly twenty-five years old and with the majority of four NHL seasons under his belt, he should be improving, or at least finding some consistency. I'll give him a break for having craptacular linemates for most of the season, but now he's got Metropolit who works hard and has a little skill. I know other players have had off-years, like Plekanec last year, but the thing is, when they do, you still notice them. I just don't even notice Lapierre. That's a very bad thing.

This kind of game is what happens when the team doesn't have a full lineup all year. The more missing regulars they have, the more often they'll lose. So the Canadiens' place in the standings right now is actually pretty indicative of the hits the roster has taken. Add to that the inevitable emotional burnout of pulling off a miracle game yesterday and today's result wasn't surprising.

But boy, oh boy, is it ever frustrating! The remaining 22 games of the season are going to be one long, terrifying toboggan ride down Mount Playoffs. We'll just have to close our eyes, hold on, and hope we stop safely in the post-season instead of hitting a tree. At this point, it's all about the luck.


Kyle Roussel said...

It's not a surprise to me that this happened. The more the Bruins lose, the more likely it is that they will eventually win one. They had been coming close, taking 2-0 leads in many games, and earning loser points in several others.

For the life of me though, I can't understand what's going through Martin's mind. Why he left Moen on a line with Gomez and Gionta is beyond baffling.

Let me put it another way: If I had told you 7 days ago that the Canadiens would go 3-1 against the Canucks, Bruins, Penguins and Bruins, your answer could go one of these ways:

1- Agree, but at the same time admit that you're on a lethal combination of illegal drugs
2- Tell me I'm completely insane and need to stop taking my lethal combination of illegal drugs.

So far life without Cammalleri hasn't been so bad. The worst part is not knowing which Canadiens team will show up on any given night. You would think that the injuries would have had an immediate and profound effect, but they haven't. Was tonight's game the first in what's going to be a tough stretch? Maybe, but maybe not.

Strange stat: If Jaroslav Halak is 7-0 in games in which he faces 40+ shots, then he is only 10-9-2 in games in which he faces less than 40.

Figure that one out!

Anonymous said...

I agree,its too hard to try and figure out Martin.The Penguins load up lines all the time......but Martin never does. Is he stubborn ? or just too thick to adjust ?
Its very frustrating to say the least. Keep the similies coming-they are hilarious.

DB said...

The yo-yo season continues (the ups and downs are faster than in a roller-coaster season).

Martin seems to quickly lose faith in young players and benches them after one poor play or bad shift. This can't help their development.

A few possible reasons for Lapierre's poor season:

1. Off-season ankle surgery. Yeah he should be over it by now, but there could be a mental block.

2. Complacency.

3. A poorly defined role. Is he a first line winger, a third line winger or a third line centre.

4. Max can't play the passive system Martin favours. He needs to skate hard and be aggressive to be effective.

Shan said...

I think one problem is that they were shooting too low. Rask covered the bottom of the net well and he seemed to make every stop with his pads. And yes, they didn't get to the rebounds. I agree about waiting a bit for some traffic and setting up some plays.