Thursday, October 14, 2010

Aftermath: Car-ey! Car-ey!

The Bell crowd was singing, Brian Gionta was speaking la belle langue and Carey Price played a helluva home opening game last night. He was just brilliant; aggressively challenging shooters, tracking the puck really well and making the initial save. None of the four goals against him were his fault. That's the good news. On the flip side, he deserved a better outcome than his team gave him. That refrain, after so many verses of his young career, is definitely a blues tune.

There was a lot of good last night. Roman Hamrlik didn't look like he missed all of training camp. He was in pretty decent form, making the smart play against heavy forechecking more often than not. Andrei Kostitsyn has been noticable in all three games to date, and his goal last night was a beauty. Tomas Plekanec was his usual industrious, creative self. Lars Eller is going to be really good, and showed it with a lot of clever play against the Bolts. Josh Gorges was solid, and continued to quietly cement himself as a vital part of the Canadiens defence. Ryan O'Byrne recovered from a lousy DOG penalty to play an unfussy, effective game.

On the Tampa side, Guy Boucher's much-vaunted system; sending a hard forecheck and rushing defence in waves at the opposition, was effective. It also proved to be beatable. When the defence is high, a fast team like the Habs can get behind it. When a team's system is built on rushing, a skilled team like the Canadiens can pin that team in its own end with an effective forecheck. The Lightning aren't as good as the Habs when they're trapped and not able to use their speed. We saw a lot of that in the first, when the Habs built up a nice two-goal lead. Where Tampa proved superior, and an area in which the Canadiens must improve, was in conditioning. The Lightning were able to maintain the breathless pace they set in the first period for the entire game. The Canadiens started to fade late in the second and fell behind in the third. Some say a lack of killer instinct is to blame for blowing a 3-2 lead with a minute to go, then giving up the winner with a minute to go in OT. It's not, though. The simple fact is, the Habs were gassed and the Lightning were not. There's no excuse for that, and it's a very fixable issue. Martin needs to step up the pace at practice and make the team's endurance better.

What's not so easy to fix is the lack of discipline. Without Andrei Markov, the Habs PP is struggling, which means they're not coming out on top in the crucial special-teams battle that decide most games, unless the PK is perfect. That's not going to happen every night, especially when the Canadiens are consistently in the box more often than their opponent. Last night, the Habs took seven minors to the Lightning's five. The worst part, however, was the times at which they took them. Mike Cammalleri's first of two chintzy penalties negated his team's first PP. His second came at the beginning of the second period, when the team wanted to build on a strong opening twenty minutes. The Bolts scored on the PP and the momentum started to turn in their favour. PK Subban also took a dumb penalty to erase a Habs PP in the first, and his second infraction (debatable, yes, but you can't give the refs any reason to think your stick is not where it should be in a close game) cost the Habs the game. There's no excuse for a vet like Cammalleri playing with his head up his ass. And, if Subban were six inches taller and 56 numbers lower, he'd be parked on the bench until his nether regions went numb. The kid took a lot of penalties in Hamilton last year, a lot in pre-season this year and he seems to intend to keep doing that. That's got to stop.

The other guy with issues so far, notwithstanding his fluke goal against Pittsburgh, is Scott Gomez. The guy is not solely responsible for his contract, but at that price, he can't be playing on the outside and giving the puck away. That line isn't working, but it's not because of the wingers. Brian Gionta is going to the net like he always does. Benoit Pouliot is doing some good things. Gomez, however, isn't getting the job done. His patented flights through the neutral zone are coming up short, and his laser-accurate passes are misfiring. He's got to step it up.

Last night wasn't a disaster. The team got a point out of it, and the above-mentioned good things were encouraging. The bad things, though, need to improve as quickly as possible before two losses become ten. Carey Price is doing his part, and it's up to his mates to start supporting him better. We don't want to draw too many comparisons to the rough parts of last year, but a few times last night, the team was singing the same old song.


JF said...

Great piece, J.T. A really balanced summary of the game. I'm glad you stressed the positives because I thought there were many. I also thought a lot of the negatives are fixable, especially conditioning and discipline. In fact, those two go together. If I remember rightly, we were taking a great many penalties at ther start of last season and looking gassed late in the game, but this improved after the first few weeks. I think we'll see the same this year.

For me, there were three big question marks to start this season: Price, AK46 and Pouliot, and special teams. So far the first two of those have been answered positively. There was a very real possibility that Price would simply be unable to succeed in Montreal, but his stellar performances last night and against Pittsburgh give me a lot of hope that that's not going to be the case. And I like what I've seen so far from both Kostitsyn and Pouliot. They both look to be in better shape than last year, they're playing more physically, and they're more involved.

That leaves special teams, and I think the PK looks pretty good, despite the two goals last night. We won't really know about the powerplay until Markov comes back, but we saw immediately the effect of his return last year.

Andrew Berkshire said...

Completely disagree about conditioning. The problem isn`t conditioning, its how Martin is forcing them to play. No NHL team can stay fresh and fast when they play in a defensive shell for 50 of 60 minutes. It`s ridiculous that Martin feels like he has to sit on every lead we get and rely on miraculous goaltending to get the job done. He took us to the conference finals, whatever, blah blah blah. He`s useless, and I`m tired of watching him sabotage a very good team.

MC said...

Excellent analysis JT.

I was impressed with AK46. On one shift, he was skating in hard on the forecheck and I almost didn't recognize him, I did a double take when I saw 46 on the jersey. If he continues to move his feet like that all season, that line will be awesome.

Conditioning may be a factor, but short shifts is another Guy Boucher-ism. 30 seconds and off, and if you stay longer then you are not going all out, which is not good enough for Guy. I noticed the Habs shifts were closer to 45-60 seconds. It is hard to match the energy of a team rolling 30 second shifts.

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