Monday, March 22, 2010

Aftermath: Blah Blah Blah

Andrei Markov and Brian Gionta opened their mouths to speak after the game last night, but all that came out was the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher. Wah bwah mwah wah. Translation in the post-Seinfeld era: blah, blah, blah. I must say, though, if we have to listen to the same old excuses, it was a nice change to have Markov offer them up in his charming manner. Maybe the team thought having Markov give his patented eye roll-cheek puff-big sigh while searching for the right platitute for the situation would distract us from the wretched game we'd just endured.

Look, I know no team is going to win seventeen in a row down the stretch. Losses are going to happen, and losses after a nice win streak are harder to accept than your garden-variety mid-season L. There's an inevitable let-down after a team rides such a high. Remember after Montreal stopped Washington's 14-game streak? The Caps went on to a couple of really ignominous defeats after that. It took them three or four games after the streak ended for them to get their play back on track. The problem here is the Habs aren't the Caps, with the division already clinched and priming their muskets for whichever cannon-fodder opponent they'll be taking on in the first round.

The Habs haven't clinched anything and they seem to have forgotten that fact in the euphoria that was the six-game win streak. Last night, the Sens were the more desperate team and they came out with something to prove. They were fast and aggressive all night, and when they got a one-goal lead, they didn't sit back and hope to God it would be enough. The Canadiens didn't wake up until later in the game, and that's not a good thing for a team that's supposed to be determined to move up in the standings. Now they can feel the fetid breath of the Bruins and Thrashers, warm and uncomfortable, on the backs of their necks.

To give the sparse credit due, the Habs did respond in the second by stepping up their listless play. Elliott made some nice stops for the Sens on the chances the Canadiens managed to muster up. Still, I thought the Habs were ready to break through just when Matt Cullen's skate came up and gave Travis Moen some primitive plastic surgery. The refs called for help right away and Graham Rynbend ran with Moen off the ice, his face covered with a towel. Dr.Mulder got out of his seat and followed them quickly to the room. When RDS panned the faces of the guys on the ice and the bench after that, their expressions were pretty concerned. I thought, at that point, Martin needed to call a time out to rally the troops. They'd been pushing hard and the Moen injury rattled them. Martin didn't do that and the brief spurt of dominance died.

Another thing I'll lay at Martin's feet is the PP. When a power play goes 1-for-6 against a team like Toronto, then threatens to go 0-for-Ottawa, the coach has to shake things up. Sergei Kostitsyn needed to see some power play time last night, if only to answer the questions about why, when the team is struggling, he's not out there. The team had nothing to lose, and maybe Kostitsyn would respond to the opportunity. Forty-four seconds of PP icetime isn't much when you're trying to get something going.

Martin blamed the special teams for the loss last night. I blame the Canadiens' lack of committment. On one particular sequence, I saw four Canadiens fail to clear the puck out of their own end because they threw the puck up the boards blind in order to avoid a hit. The D wasn't checking anybody and the forwards weren't aggressive on the forecheck. No Canadiens were going to the net for screens or tips and they didn't fight hard for the puck on the boards. Ottawa DID do those things and that was the difference. This doesn't apply to everyone in red last night. Gionta, Plekanec and Gorges never quit. Gomez and Metropolit were trying, as was Halak.

I'm worried about the play of Pouliot though. Without an effective finisher on Plekanec's line (wake the hell up, Andrei!), the Gomez line needs to be scoring. They need Pouliot to perform, but he was one of those guilty of not skating hard and giving up on the play to avoid checks. He was successful with the Habs because he was going to the net to deflect Gomez's passes. Now he's basing himself on the perimeter and it's not working any better than it did when he tried it in Minny.

Max Lapierre is another issue. He should have been going on rocket fuel for the last few games, knowing that Bergeron and Cammalleri are coming back and someone...likely him...will have to sit to make room. He's showing nothing except stupidity. He'll be eating hot dogs when Bergeron returns and nobody will miss him.

This loss isn't the end of the world, but with good teams like Buffalo and Jersey on the immediate horizon, there's good potential to develop a bona fide losing streak. One thing is certain: if we're hearing players responding with statements like, "We gotta..." and "We need to..." after those games, the playoffs are far from assured. Simplify, shoot more, go to the dirty areas...blah, blah, blah. Stop talking, and get back to doing, Habs!


Anonymous said...

Agree with everything. Especially this gem on Lapierre:

"He's showing nothing except stupidity. He'll be eating hot dogs when Bergeron returns and nobody will miss him."

Unfortunately, it seems Lapierre's spot on the team is guaranteed as M-A Godin reported Darche being the odd-man-out based on line combinations in practice. Darche will stay in now only because Moen isn't making the trip to Buffalo...

To me, this is absolutely ridiculous. No matter how useless Lapierre becomes, he won't be motivated to improve because his spot on the team is a given. Meanwhile guys like Darche, who try their best on every shift, are the first to be left aside...

/rant over.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your analysis as always, but Martin calling a timeout in the second period wouldn't have changed anything. The Habs arguably played their flattest game of the year; they looked like a team with nothing to play for. Pathetic and inexcusable. With the Sens' goaltending situation being what it is, they should have stormed out of the gates. Instead, they fired 6 (SIX!) shots on goal during the first period...

As bad as Lapierre has been this year, he has played better since his return from suspension and was not the worst Hab last night. I think, however, that last season was an outlier for him and not the beginning of a Doug Risebrough-type career as an agitator and occasional producer. So Jack Todd and Team 990 might have to find another Francophone to kick around next year :-) (Breezer's available!!!)

About last night: Pouliot was plain horrible (and has been for 4-5 games) and the Kostitsyns were non-factors. AK46 is the most frustrating Hab since Malakhov.

And as much as I like Darche, Moore and Metro, last night's game showed why they've been riding Greyhound buses so frequently over the past few years. They can be effective for 4-5 game spurts, but it gets quite dicey beyond that.

As I mentioned in a comment to your post following the Leaf game, the Habs need more net presence on the PP. Darche, Pouliot and AK46 are best equipped for this job, but only Darche and Gionta have shown the guts to do so.

Anonymous said...

I believe you mean, "yada, yada, yada"....and yada, yada, yada, you're so right.

MC said...

I think Pouliot got rocked in the first period by a big hit, so I suspect that took the wind out of his sails. It is difficult to compete at a high level after someone rings your bell. I hope he learns to protect himself more; and another 10lbs in the off-season would not hurt. I think he will have a good bounceback game tonight.

The sens exposed the Habs' third and fourth line's lack of speed, as the Sens are fast throughout the whole line up. Normally Gomez and Gionta have a speed advantage, but not against the Sens. Not all teams are that fast. The Habs match up better against other teams and the Sens are an unlikely 1st round opponent.

Even with the Sens dominating on the forecheck and backcheck, the Habs were still in the game. When teams are this close, small advantages make a difference. Ottawa scored on the PP, we didn't, and that was the game. I like to think Cammalleri would have buried some of the chances Pyatt had. I am looking forward to seeing him back, as well as Bergeron on the PP. I am trying not to expect too much, but I am glad they are back.