Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Aftermath: Sigh

You know, I can't even be mad today. Sigh. As frustrating and humiliating as last night's second consecutive shutout at the hands of the wretched Flyers was, the Habs tried. They skated hard and they took lots of shots; two things they didn't do in Game One.

In the end, though, they just didn't have the horses they needed to pull the wagon. Offence, as I've argued before, comes from defence. The Habs can't score because they're crippled on the back end. They don't get much offence from the blueline outside of Andrei Markov in the best of times, and without him, the ability of the defence to move the puck is radically hurt. Hal Gill is playing with heart, but he's obviously in pain and his already limited agility is even more compromised by his injury. Josh Gorges is playing hard too, but he's got his hands full just trying to keep the puck out of his own net, and offence isn't his strong suit. PK Subban's a rookie who's finally looking like a rookie under pressure, and while Hamrlik and Spacek are doing pretty well in their own end, Spacek's playing on the wrong side and neither of them is an offensive force.

Then there's Bergeron. Yeah. Sigh. I actually think I understand what Martin's doing by putting him in the lineup. He sees the same thing I see: that without Markov, the ability of the D as a group to move the puck quickly and jump-start the offence is very limited. O'Byrne certainly brings size and the ability to move bodies out of the crease, but weighing the team's needs right now, puck movement from the blueline is a priority. Bergeron can make a good first pass. Unfortunately, he's a very small, soft defenceman who's being pressured by Flyers who want to hurt him. Under pressure, his first-pass ability disappears. So, while the idea to use him makes a sort of sense, the reality of him on the ice isn't helping. I'm not a big believer in plus/minus as a reliable stat in assessing a player's abilities, but in this case, MAB is the biggest minus in the playoffs for a reason. Without his PP shot, which is also MIA, he's useless.

Without good puck movement from the blueline, the forwards have to carry it more, which gives the positionally-sound Philly defence (the tightest the Habs have yet faced) lots of time to get back and protect the middle of the ice in their own zone. It's no surprise, then, that we've seen so many shots from the perimeter on the Habs' attack. I don't buy the "size is an issue" theory. Briere and Giroux aren't huge guys, but they're gaining the Canadiens' zone because they're catching good passes from their D while moving through the neutral zone. The Habs don't have a comparable full-team attack.

When it comes to play in their own end, the defence worked well against teams that used their huge talent to fire tons of shots at Halak, which the Habs could block. Now it's facing a team that takes lots of shots from three feet outside the crease, and moving those opponents out of there isn't the Canadiens' defence's strong suit. When your D can't move the puck OR the opponent, it eventually comes to pass that the team will lose games.

Last night, the Habs "leadership group" said all the right things. Cammalleri said, "It's just sports and sometimes even when you work hard, you lose." Gionta said, "They kept their home ice, now we'll try to do the same thing." Gomez said nobody's panicking and the series is far from over. It's good to hear them try to stay positive, and I think their heart and determination will help them win a game in this series. Whether they can do more than that is in much greater doubt, largely because their defence isn't as good as the one they're facing.

It would help them win if they could stay out of the penalty box (I'm talking to you, Gomez!) and if they could get their sticks on a rebound or two. A bit of luck would help, since they've had exactly none since the Pens went home. I think the writing's on the wall, though, and the magic is over. Last night, the forwards did what they could to maintain pressure in the Philly zone, and they did well. Everybody worked hard. But sometimes, when a team doesn't have the horses, the bandwagon grinds to a halt. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, Andrei Markov is the only thoroughbred they've got on the blueline, and he's not going to be around to pull.



V said...

Let's see what the Bell Centre brings. I have to agree with the old expression 'you're not in trouble till you lose at home' (think San Jose).

We are down, played much better in Game 2 and we will see if we can keep elevating our play. You never know what a little success might do.

Kyle Roussel said...

I'm not sure that banking on home ice advantage is the smartest idea. The Habs are a mere 3-3 there this year.

You make a very good point about the defense, JT. There is no transition game for the Habs right now, and Markov's absence has finally caught up. The Penguins and Capitals both had weak defense corps as well, but the Flyers don't.

The other issue right is that the Habs can't win one-on-one battles and find 2nd chance opportunities for themselves. Some of that is size. More of it hunger. The Habs just don't look as hungry to me as they did in rounds 1 and 2. Perhaps that's fatigue setting in. They'll deny it of course, but it should be a consideration.

At this point, the last hope is that Halak regains his form and that the boys stay out of the box. With Gomez being in the box for both game winning goals, he's got to be better, or at least smarter.

And the guys who are paid to put points on the board need to start contributing, and I'm not talking about Gionta and Cammalleri.

Anonymous said...

MAB is a liability but he has become a lightning rod for frustrated habs fans like the Breezer was!

The problem is deeper. The power play has gone pop gun and Pleks , Gomez , Pouliot and Andre have just not done the job. Cami and Gio have netted half of the goals but when these two cool off like that the others have to dig deeper.

In my heart I think they can come back but my gut tells me the names on the Flyers won't let it happen!

Anonymous said...

How much would it cost to sign Holmstrom this offseason? Him on a line with Gomez and Gionta :))))

Anonymous said...

I think it odd that JM is hailed as a genius after every win but when the team is shut out twice in a row he goes unscathed. If a coach is responsible for wins then is it not logical he is somewhat to blame for losses. JM's use of his roster and lack of any adjustments is certainly deserving of criticism.

MC said...

I hate how loose the Flyers are playing right now. I would like to see what would happen if the Habs put some pressure on them.

The difference in the series is special teams. They have been scoring, the Habs have not. Part of the problem is Subban on the first PP unit. MAB needs an accurate pass for his one timer and he is not getting it. I would try Spacek on the first PP unit. They may need someone bigger than Gionta in front of the net as well. Leighton was looking right over his head.

Anonymous said...

It looks like lady luck has finally run out on the Habs. The Flyers are the real Cinderella team beating King Henry (the shootout master) to get in on the last day of the season. They are getting healthy at the right time and the Habs handed them a gift beating out the two teams that probably would beat them.

I think you may be right about JM wanting MAB's passing ability and shot but let's face it his first pass from his backside won't help and his shot isn't getting through as he's easy to key on. This series sweep may wake management up so they don't get stuck with Plekanec and Halak long term. The Habs need a lot of work before they can compete for the cup. It was a glorious run while it lasted and as a fan I'm grateful for the effort the Habs made against all odds.

It will be fun watching the Hawks pound the crease and Leighton and blow the Flyers off the ice. The Flyers will be wearing the perfect color when they turn into a pumkin.

J.T. said...

@MC: Agreed on the PP. Put Subban in Bergeron's place because he's used to being the shooter, not the QB. Spacek is too, really, so how about putting a real creative passer with experience on the powerplay back there? Sergei Kostitsyn has played that role in junior and in the AHL at times. He's a genius passer and he's fast enough to get back if the puck gets away from him. Plus, he's got a howitzer of his own if he gets a chance to shoot. Maybe a dumb idea, but I'd try it.

@anon: Don't look here for anyone calling Martin a genius. I think he's been following Muller's gameplan so far. Now they're just up against their kryptonite: a good, tight defence and a strong forecheck. All the game plans in the world don't give you the guys you don't have to counter that approach.

V said...

Like the idea of Sergei on the point for the powerplay - and after last nights performance fear he may be back in the pressbox.

Where he belongs with that sort of output I guess. I mean, contrast his effort with what the Philadelphia 3rd and 4th liners are bringing. Big mismatch.

To put it in context, if you were given SK's ability JT, you would probably eat your own leg off to get the opportunities he has been given. Anyone can question Martin's stance with SK, but you have to think SK is at least 50% responsible for his sitation and the impact he has on the team.

NorCalVol said...

Looking at the shot scatter plot from Game 2: 20 of the Habs' 30 shots were at the blue line or no closer than from the top of the circles. NO shots were in the immediate vicinity of the crease. Says a lot for the Flyers' defense (or our relative meekness)- they are not giving away the territory at the goalmouth. That goes for not allowing us to shoot from point-blank range as well as not allowing bodies with CH on their chest in close to help screen Leighton.
I'm not giving up. Yet.
The Habs better bring the entire kitchen sink to the goalmouth in the first 10 minutes of Game 3. If we can get a 2-0 advantage over Leighton early, he might just cave the rest of the way.
But shooting from the blue line with no screening will get us nowhere.

MC said...

@JT It would take big stones for the coach to put SK on the point for the PP after all that has happened, but it would be an interesting experiment. They certainly need to do something to shake it up because it is not working right now.

Number31 said...

Trapped in their zone with a D that can't move the puck? That's the bonus of a puck moving goalie like Price who moves the puck out better than the rest of them. (Jaro is too hesitant and slow when dealing with the puck). Though no one seems capable of accepting the pass so it ends up coming right back in. In Game 1 when he came in the D changed to a "Can't get out! Quick! Pass to Price! Let him do it!" train of thought only they forgot what to do afterwards....

I'd rather have Rhino out there crease clearing and (shock!) hitting things. Even putting Bergeron as a wild card for the powerplay isn't working anymore but I wonder if it's because he's playing too many minutes. Bergeron's job should be one thing: SHOOOOOOOOOT. And I don't care if he hits a leg. If he blasts that thing like he's supposed to and it hits a leg, well, the leg would most likely break. (See Foligno, Nick). However because he looks so hesitant and afraid that he ends up flubbing his shot that causes a breakaway he (or his partner) either has to scramble to break up or pray they don't score....

Anonymous said...

It's funny to read those negative comments about Bergeron...if anything, he is one of the reasons why the Habs are still playing.
Don't give up hope yet! I don't like the losing attitude at this time...

Christopher Sama said...

Game 3 will be completely different.
No more sighs.

pre-math: a little nervousness
math: total domination
aftermath: confidence that we can still pull this off

Anonymous said...

Teams are a group of people. They can get down. They can get up. The worst is when they are up and get down suddenly. Montreal was up after Pittsburg, and Philly took them down. They are shaken. Bobby Clarke's laughing face said it all.

Leaders grab teams that are down and drag them back to reality. I don't know who the leaders on the Habs are. Gomez took dumb penalties in both games, hardly setting the tone, so I don't think it is him. If it is then he needs to look inside a bit.

The Montreal Canadiens could emerge here. Distraction from booing hometown fans could negate any lift from cheers but home ice should help a bit. We'll see. They have to have confidence in each other, and play their game. Bringing in little Kostitsyn last game was hopefully the last time we have to see him in a CH. What an insight into his true character, and a sign of panic dans la maison.

Yeah, MAB was passed over by all 30 teams for a reason last year. But at least he tries. Some other guys just come along for the ride.