Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Aftermath: The Morning After

I wish there was a do-over clause on NHL hockey games, or at least on a period. Hell, I'd take one minute of one period. The Habs played a gutsy game last night. They pushed and hit and shot every puck they could, but bad luck and a deficiency in basic talent spoiled their party.

If I had one minute to strike from the game, it'd be a toss-up between the last minute of the second period and the minute immediately after the Caps' third goal. In both cases, I would NOT have had Roman Hamrlik on the ice. I don't know what the hell is wrong with him, but he's destroying the team in this series. He's been absolute crap on the power play, but even worse, he's been on the ice for two consecutive short-handed goals that broke his team's stride and its heart. Last night was particularly awful. With six seconds to go in the second period, with a one-goal lead and a PP to run out the clock, the Habs should have carried the momentum into the third. Instead, thanks to Hamrlik's bumbling the puck at the Caps' blueline and his inability to recover, Washington scored the shorty that turned the tide. I'd love to have that minute back.

I'd take the twelfth minute of the third back too, if I could. Ovechkin had just blasted one past Price to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. Inexplicably, Martin sent the Lapierre line and the team's worst defensive pair of Hamrlik and Bergeron out for the next shift. Not surprisingly, the Caps scored again to grab the Habs in a chokehold.

If I could go way back, I'd take back the minute Bob Gainey phoned Jacques Martin and asked him to coach the Habs. That may be asking a bit too much, though, even if I could have killed him for pulling Price with more than two minutes to go. The Habs might have had the energy for a big push after Moore scored the third Canadiens goal, but by then the Caps had already put the game out of reach with an empty netter.

That was the story of the game, and the series, really. The Habs played their hearts out and controlled much of the play, but could only cash in three times. Every error they made ended up in the back of their net. The Caps were just too strong and too lucky. A little team with an aging defence exposed to a bunch of freewheeling goalscorers didn't really have the tools to lock down four wins.

You know what though? It's their own fault. If they'd played with half the heart and speed they've shown against Washington when they played the 'Canes, Isles or leafs for their playoff lives in the last week of the season, they wouldn't be facing the Caps right now. I don't think the team would have won the Cup anyway, because I think an opponent with a tight defensive system would have shut down their offence, but it still hurts to go out in the first round.

I've been getting some criticism for saying it's unlikely the Habs will win this series, but I've been realistic. I love the Habs as much as anybody, and I really, really hoped they'd pull it off. Realistically, however, they're not powerful enough to dominate the Caps for a full sixty minutes. Despite that, there are some highs in this series.

It's nothing short of inspirational to see Glen Metropolit, who grew up a Habs fan, come back early from his shoulder injury and leave his heart on the ice. He played like a man who knew he was playing the only post-season games he'd ever get the chance to play in Montreal.

Tomas Plekanec didn't score last night, but he's put up enough points in the series to silence the critics who think he's not good in the playoffs. It's the last question that needed to be answered before management offers him a new contract.

Brian Gionta is worth his money. He's a playoff warrior and if the team stays moderately healthy next year and gets itself a more advantageous first-round opponent, he'll be gold.

Jaro Spacek might be old and look a bit fat, but he knows how to play good positional defence when he needs to. Right now, if it's one of him or Hamrlik, I'd keep Spacek. Not just because of contracts either.

Hal Gill showed me something I wasn't expecting. The big lug can really be useful. I understand now why he doesn't play like this all the time. If he blocked shots as he's been doing in this series all through the regular season, he'd be completely worn out by playoff time. He's been a stud.

The Habs tried hard last night, and I admire them for that. They're doing the best they can with the team management has put together. Unfortunately for them, they haven't tanked hard in the last decade as their opposition has done, and therefore haven't been able to access the franchise players the Caps have.

Speaking of those franchise players, I guess it's possible to have it all and still be an arsehole. Did you catch the Habs taking the ice at the beginning of the game? The little kids who carry the flags were standing on either side of the gate waiting for their heroes when Ovechkin raced across the ice to the Caps' bench, slammed to a stop and gave one of the kids a face full of snow. Real classy. I'd rather have a guy like Gionta on the roster than a superstar so full of himself he needs to make a point to little kids.

Maybe Ovechkin would like a do-over on that moment. I know there are a few I'd love to see the Habs have a second shot at. They're not as bad as their record in this series says they are, and I wish they had another chance to prove it.


Anonymous said...

You have to acknowledge MAB. He played very, very well

beezee05 said...

For crying out loud, aside from being in a pi$$ing contest with Sergei Kostitsyn, why can't Jacques Martin put him out on the PP instead of Hammrlik?! Harm - comparatively speaking - it can't do, good it might.

Paul B. said...

That move by Ovechkin with the kid has to be one of the classless move in the history of the game. A 6' plus, 200 and more pounds, jerk coming at 30 miles an hour and stopping 6 inches in front of a 6-7 years kid !!!

"They pushed and hit and shot every puck they could"...I don't know how many "real" hits they really had but besides Ryan I'm as slow as a turtle O'Byrne, I didn't see many. Cetainly not from Travis I left my toughness in Anaheim Moen.

I love Gionta and Cammelari. I like Plekanec and Gomez a lot but I fail to see how these smurfs can win one on one battles against D's that have a 6 inches and 35 pounds advantage on them. This situation is even worst in the playoffs when referees not only let the other teams get away with murder but are almost on the verge of assessing penalties for being too small.

Anonymous said...

Unless some good decisions are made in the off season by Habs management the Habs won't make the playoffs next year. The Habs are stuck cap wise and I have more faith in management of the other clubs in the east.

DB said...

The Habs are like a light heavyweight trying to beat a true heavyweight. The light heavyweight knows he must jab, take advantage of openings, use his speed to avoid getting stuck along the ropes, and not go toe-to-toe with his opponent in order to have a chance to win.

The true heavyweight knows it's unlikely his opponent can hurt him and that he can score a knockdown with one punch.

As a result, the light heavyweight can only win if he fights the perfect fight. One mistake and he's down for the count. The Habs were perfect for 39 minutes and 50 seconds last night then they made a mistake and got nailed.

pfhabs said...


-Habs are a bubble team...the do overs, if possible, to have are some of the July moves and hiring Martin but only Molson can make that change

-as for MAB wasn't that an excellent no look pass to the opposition that resulted in a goal. oh yeah he played very very well, if you are blind !

-the Ovechkin spray is that really pertinent to the outcome ? the kid to qoute the media is probably hoping the snow on his uni never melts

-as you say, its over and that is realistic. no reason to back off your view there

Anonymous said...

Pierre Gauthier made the call to J. Martin. Bob Gainey was going to hire J. Lemaire.

I can imagine Gainey going back on his word to Lemaire when the man he trained to replace him informed him that J. Martin was available and willing to come to coach the Habs. How could Gainey not hire the choice of P. Gauthier.

Anonymous said...

2 things have been keeping my blood pressure up over the last little while. One being the last three Playoff games for the Habs and the other is the fact that Russell is still around on Survivor. I can't wait for the caps to take the least then my blood pressure will return to semi-normal. For me to sit there and watch this team, playing with the want and desire of that as a Battle Infantry going 'over the top', is nothing less of a double edged sword. On one hand you know the outcome is not going to be pretty but on the other hand you can't help but feel proud to be supporting them. They played their hearts out and that is unargueable. Unfortunately they played with so much heart and emotion that it got them in trouble. They have to learn to play with that same heart but in the same breath they have to keep their emotions in check so not to hurt their chances of a comeback. Unsportmanlike conduct is only becoming of an individual like Ovechkin (and I know its coming. The teams they will face only get harder from here on out.)
However it is not over until the fat lady sings.
I like this team. If you don't, think back to last year and the year before. When someone talked about pride in the dressing room they were all asking "Who brought that magazine in here?".
So for now anyway I'll stick with this team as small as they are, with their capital C on their chest, wearing it as proudly as Superman.
Cause they have heart. And I agree JT I'll watch game 5 with pride. (and no not the magazine)

What! Someone gave Russell their Immunity Idol?
Oh well back on the blood pressure medication.

Anonymous said...

Acknowledge MAB as he played very, very well? Did you actually watch the game dude? He was minus 3 for the game and playoff worst minus 8 for the series.
J.T. I luv you but criticizing Ovy is just petty and sour grapes. Ovy does the same thing in every game and he probably thought it was a funny prank if he did mean to spray the kid. The kid by the way is a hero today in Montreal, hardly traumatized. If we are to be critical of classless antics, then how about Price firing the puck into a group celebrating a goal? I can't imagine Dryden doing that or Brodeur for that matter.

Anonymous said...

JT - good comments overall, but that thing with the flag-bearing kids is soooooo tacky anyway

A huge problem with this team is that so many players are thoroughly miscast. And that's a management problem.

Exhibit A: MAB: Good offensive defenseman w/a game-changing shot. Everything else is very sketchy. As a 6th/7th D-Man and utility guy, he can be very useful, but playing him more than 10 minutes a game is asking for trouble. That's why he has travelled so much. MTL needs his offense, so we have to put up with his atrocious D. Subban will make him expendable next year.

Exhibit B: Hamrlik. At this stage, he's 4th D-Man at best. He spent half the season playing top-pair minutes in an Olympic year schedule. He is running on fumes. It'd be nice to get rid of that contract.

Exhibits C and D: Metro and Moore. Both have nice skills but incomplete games, which make them 4th-line centers with special team bonus (PP for Metro, PK for Moore). A team should have one or the other, not both.

Exhibit E: Lapierre: he is a homeless man's Maxime Talbot. Another guy who can center the 4th line if you didn't have Metro and Moore filling that slot already. I also think he'd be a better hockey player if he played elsewhere.

Exhibit F: The lack of a true top line. Is Pleks or Gomez your top center? How can we know because Martin sure doesn't? Shouldn't there also be a checking line and an energy line?

Exhibit G: Spacek. Good player who's asked to play out of position for the first time at age 35. Put him on the left side and he'll be more than OK

Exhibit H: Defensive pairings without a defined role. Wouldn't the following pairings make sense for next year:

Gill-Gorges (your defensive pair)
Shawn Belle as insurance

Exhibit I: Too many identical players. You have the smurfy centers (Pleks/Gomez), the smurfy wingers (Gionta/Cams), the nonchalant wingers with unused size and skill (Pouliot and AK46); the mercurial K brothers, and so on...

Enjoy Game 5 because it should be the last one for a while...

Anonymous said...

JT - I know this is a Habs' blog, but I have to ask you and your readers to comment on something (in case you watched that game as well).

Last night's game between the Canucks and Kings: on Sedin's GWG, the play starts with 3:00 left deep in the Canucks' zone, the Kings are cycling the puck down low when Sedin commits an obvious trip on Simmonds. It's close enough to the net that the ref has to call a penalty (the old "negating a possible scoring chance" principle).

However, the ref doesn't call it because "you never want the ref the decide the outcome of the game." Of course, after tripping Simmonds, Sedin and the Canucks take the puck up and score 8 seconds later.

I think that by failing to grow a pair and deciding not to call a penalty because "you never want the ref to decide the outcome of a game", the ref actually decided the outcome of the game.

The refs also blew the call on the Canucks' net being off its moorings, which allowed Vancouver to waste at least 20 seconds of playing time.

Naturally, our experts at CBC - "the world's most trusted hockey network" - failed to point out these incongruities despite several replays and a lengthy post-game show.

Isn't this idea that "the ref shouldn't decide the outcome of a game" the biggest load of crap?

Anonymous said...

I suspect the kid Ovie sprayed was scared to death. When I was that age being scared to death was great. I doubt anything has changed and have a sneaking suspicion this is a highlight the little player won't soon forget, and wouldn't change.

The team played well. Boudreau is as gracious as always. Montreal doesn't have a lot of finishers. They can be quick, they can turn it around, but when the chips are down they do not finish. They choke. That is why they were on the market.

Washington is ripe for the plucking, and it would have been a nice salvation of a poor season. A confidence builder to take out the big team. Instead another average goalie will look great on paper stopping mostly low percentage shots, and flashing the glove on the ones that were missing.

Montreal has to get better at drafting. That is why Mr Gainey and his replacement are willing to give up firsts and seconds for patches that may or may not pan out. They have not drafted decently since Serge Savard ran the show and they know it.

Love your blog JT. You nail it. All the best over the summer,


MC said...

I may be wearing rose-coloured glasses, but I do not think this series is over yet. Montreal has been in a position to win every game this series so they are capable of winning the next game with a few adjustments. I would love to see MAB as a scratch. As JT pointed out, Hamrlik has been brutal, but I think we are stuck with him. Put Lapierre with SK and Moore because he can match their speed and put Moen with Darche and Metro and roll four lines all night, with the 3rd and 4th line hitting everthing that moves and going to the net hard to try to get Varlomov off his game. Then the Habs should have some gas in the tank for the third. They are due to catch a break. The Caps are playing so sloppy and opportunistic, it is really bugging me that they are getting away with it.