Friday, March 26, 2010

Aftermath: Deja Vu Avoided

It's something of a minor miracle that when the Panthers scored with three and a half minutes to go last night, the collective intake of breath by the Bell Centre faithful didn't cause a vacuum. I know I wasn't alone in holding my head in my hands and moaning, "Oh no...not again." Fortunately, though, our Habs aren't slow on the uptake. With the previous night's embarrassing collapse in Buffalo still fresh in their minds, the Canadiens buckled down and potted the empty-netters to put the game away. Whew!

The game wasn't perfect, or, ironically, nearly as good as the one they played in Buffalo for 56 minutes. The Habs started out looking exactly like a team that had played hard and ended with a heartbreaking loss the night before. It's funny how hockey works, though. A team can play a great game and lose one night, then a wishy-washy start the next night gets a boost when a couple of weakish goals go in and the tide turns.

A lot of players looked good last night. Halak did a great job in keeping the team in it until his teammates decided to step it up. Moen looked like the slash around his eye reminded him how lucky he is to be in the NHL, and he played with an extra bit of gritty energy. The Gomez line played a fine game, particularly Gionta, and Pouliot worked much harder than he's seemed to recently. Plekanec's line looked good too, and is showing signs of finally giving the habs that one-two punch on offence they've been lacking all year. I thought Moore and Sergei Kostitsyn worked hard on the forecheck and created some nice third-line chances. The D was sluggish early, but tightened up after the first period. Even Jacques the Knife stepped up his game. His tie wasn't hideous and he actually managed to have the right players on the ice after the Panthers scored their goal. When Pleks got the empty-netter, he was out there with Moen, Sergei Kostitsyn, Gorges and Markov, instead of Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn and Gill.

I tend to overanalyze what players say when they're coming up for contract renewal, but I did take heart from Plekanec's post-game comment about his 100th career goal. He said he'd like to score another hundred...but then, unprompted, specified that he'd like to score them in Montreal.

On the Spacek hit on Booth, I think it was clean. Spacek isn't a dirty player and he came at Booth head-on. I hate the argument that players who get hit in the head should have been more careful not to put themselves in vulnerable positions, but in this case I think there's actually some truth in that. Booth, above anyone else, should have learned to keep his head up. He came across the blueline looking down at the puck instead of at Spacek who was right in front of him.

I hate to find fault in a game the Habs win, but I have to say the fourth line concerns me. Bergeron might be adding a threat to the PP, but so far it's been an empty threat. Lapierre was completely invisible after his stint in the pressbox failed to jolt him out of his season-long lethargy. Pyatt worked hard, as always, but he doesn't do much to create a scoring threat and he's not a terribly intimidating physical player. In the playoffs, you need your fourth line to be a game changer. They're the ones who are supposed to bring energy to a flat game and pressure the opposition into making bad decisions with the puck. They're the guys who get the chances when the top lines are checked into the ice. They should be forechecking like demons, hitting everything that moves and forcing turnovers. A fourth line isn't going to score a lot of goals as a rule, so they need to do something other than just passively eat minutes if your team is going to go very far in the playoffs.

Ideally, in the post-season, I'd like to see some combination of Darche, Ryan White, Metropolit, Pyatt and Bergeron, (if necessary for the PP). I know the coaches hope Lapierre will suddenly become the player he was last year, but it's not happening. He's just not taking advantage of any of the chances he's been given this season and he needs to sit in favour of a player who does want to do that valuable fourth-line job. The experiment to play him over Metro wasn't exactly a success last night.

There are still eight games left to tweak those little lineup problems though. Last night, the Habs needed to beat a team they were supposed to beat and they managed to do the job. They didn't allow the heartbreaking loss in Buffalo to break their heart. Most encouraging, when the Panthers scored that goal, the Habs proved they can learn from their mistakes. While we were collectively moaning, "Not again," the Canadiens were adjusting and fixing the problems they'd caused for themselves against the Sabres. That's the sign of a good team. We'll see how good they can be tomorrow when the potential-first-round-opponent Devils hit town.


Anonymous said...

I really don't see what JM sees in Tom Pyatt that we don't. I don't like to base my judgment on TV analysts and commentators, but when NONE of them can explain why Pyatt is still in the lineup while Metropolit (playing on the powerplay on one night, healthy scratch on the next - huh?) and Darche are out, questions start to arise, as far as I'm concerned.

Also, J.T., I see you like O'Byrne and I agree he's improved over the course of the season. But I still think he takes WAY too many penalties (high-sticking in Buffalo, anyone?). He really needs to work on that aspect, because most of the time they're bad penalties. He is still young and we must be patient, but I'd definitely like to see some improvement in that area.

Thanks for your blog, it's really enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

For the first time Martin has a glut of forwards. He's trying combinations, none of which can be permanent.

Despite a couple of games without goals, MAB will be useful on the power play. They have to keep him in the lineup because he's one of a select few in the NHL who can beat a goalie from the blue line with an unscreened shot. Unfortunately, they have to hide his defense liabilities by sticking him on the fourth line. That will lead to even more juggling on the 3rd and 4th lines.

Guys like Lapierre, Pyatt, Metro and Darche will be shuffling in and out of the lineup from now on because they can be useful for short spurts but they all have bad flaws in their game that can be exposed in a playoff format. Thus the need to keep all these guys in game shape and ready to play.

Martin knows what he's doing in that regard, even if it's frustrating for the fans.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Anon but I don't agree that JM knows what he is doing. Metro is a must in the lineup-just because he knows nothing less than 100% on each shift.I hope JM didn't give in to the Francophone media raving about Yappy Lappy being out !!
Pyatt is obviously related to JM-must be,why else does he out rank Metro ??

MC said...

I also have concerns about the fourth line. There is no denying that MAB is a weapon on the PP, but he also renders the fourth line ineffective offensively. Is it worth the trade off? When you look at the stats, Bergeron has 21 PP points in 53 games, which would be 32 points pro-rated for an 82 game season. None of the fourth liners are on pace for 32 points (if you take away Metro's PP points)so you can make the argument that the team is better off keeping him for the PP and hope he finds a way to improve up front.

But despite all that, the fourth line was clicking after the Olympic break which was helping them win games. As well, I find Bergeron has not looked good on the PP when he spends most of the game riding pine.

I really think if Lapierre had regular NHL-calibre line mates instead of the mishmash of goons and AHLers this year, his numbers would be better. He seemed to be getting a good rythmn with Darche that is now disrupted. Getting a guy like Lapierre going could make the difference in the playoffs.

Other than his great work ethic, I do not know what Martin sees in Pyatt. He is not strong enough for his size at the NHL level and he has hands of stone. He may be good enough someday, but not yet. I hope they go back to Metro/Darche/Lapierre for the playoffs.

pierre said...

The CH is not short on speed but Pyatt is fastess of them all..... I see him playing the dept lines just as Elm does in Detroit and for the same reasons..... both are relativelly light players having demon like speed and a developped sens of anticipation...... both will reduce time and space to their opponents and should create more turnovers in the end.... both are ideally suited for PK duties and both can be used without ambarrassement on the top lines when there is injuries..... I though Pyatt was the best option we had with Gomez and Gionta when Pouliot wasn't playing..... Elm had similar opportunities in Detroit this year and managed 10 goals over a full season.

Am not shure about his offensive potential but at present his speed and his brain makes him a better option than Lapierre and an alternative to Darshe...... I think Martin sees him in a similar light.

Anonymous said...

I hear what you're saying about protection. I am not sure you can protect everybody against everything. Helmets worked for awhile, but now pads aren't pads but shells. Players are bigger, and some open ice hits are footballish. All the padding in the world won't help if the glass doesn't flex when you stand beside the boards and get hit a good one. Likewise your example of the visor with Koivu is a good one. We get our eyes out of the way of a lot of stuff, a survival skill, and a visor can prevent you getting your eye away from the object by hauling it with you.It doesn't feel too good to have your nose meet your visor either.

The skates are different now. Some pretty bad cuts used to happen, but lately it seems there are more. The sticks shatter so easily now. The goalie is allowed to pad out to stupid sizes. Throwing the puck high up the boards can cost 2 minutes. Board work that used to go on is now ended with a hit from behind penalty. The more rules change the more "trickle down" effect they have on the game.

MAB is a liability, and like Lapierre, a popular one. A healthy Habs team has bypassed both. Unfortunately using them on spot duty is a PR issue more than a tactical one. If the Habs make the playoffs I believe they will be in the lineup but JM will likely go with 5 minutes a game for the fourth line. His team is fairly rested, full of players who thrive on ice time, and if disciplined could get into a zone or rythym. Both goalies are outstanding, the D is capable, and the mental toughness of the team a little vague.

Like your blogs, keep pounding them out.