Sunday, October 17, 2010

Aftermath: Under Construction

It's a great feeling to wake up on Sunday morning after a Habs win. It's an even better feeling when there's not another game until Thursday, and we can spend five days comfortable in the knowledge that the Canadiens' first five games were a success. The two points gained last night, with none surrendered to division rivals, will go in the bank and help build a staircase of games that will hopefully ascend to the playoffs six months from now. The way in which the two points were secured will build something else a little less concrete, but just as important for the post-season.

The win helped lay a foundation of trust between Carey Price and his teammates, and perhaps cemented a sense of self-belief within Price himself. The moment it happened came at 18:15 of the second period, less than a minute after Andrei Kostitsyn's second brilliant goal of the young season tied the game at three. The Senators' Peter Regin broke in on a two-on-one, knowing perfectly well that all three Sens goals had come high, glove side on Price. Being no dummy, the kid fired a laser right where the other goals had found twine behind the Habs goalie. This time, instead of dropping and giving them four, Price stood his ground and neatly snagged the shot. It was a moment for which Habs fans have been waiting since early last season.

Last winter, Price would have been dwelling on the two goals he'd allowed in less than a minute earlier in the period. He'd have been a bit sulky at himself and mad at the extremely questionable defence that had allowed the Sens to have clear access to the Habs' net. His concentration might have been a bit off, and he very well might have given up the backbreaker. It happened so many times last year, when the game was close, or the team had fought back from behind, and Price let in the goal from which the team didn't recover. Last night he made that crucial stop to preserve the hard-fought tie in the second. The team regrouped during the intermission, then came out and smothered the Sens in the third. Plekanec and Kostitsyn sealed the deal and the Sens handed over the two points.

The win is worth two points in the standings, but those intangibles the team gained from it might be more valuable. Josh Gorges said in training camp that when a goalie is having a tough night, the team changes its style of play and tries to get back and help him out more. That means there are players in places they shouldn't be and confusion reigns. When Price made that save on Regin, he sent the message, "Don't worry, I've got this." He freed his teammates to play their game because he showed them he's mentally tough enough to recover from a couple of quick goals. He couldn't do that last year, and it cost him his job.

The thing with building a winning team is that even one guy's heroics aren't everything. That was true last night. Andrei Kostitsyn played a helluva game and made Trevor Timmins feel a bit better about that 2003 draft. Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta scored a couple of beauties. Halpern did a great job on the PK and everybody was skating. The Habs impressively outshot the Sens 40-19 and discipline continued to be pretty good, with only two non-coincidental minors taken. The team was winning a lot of its battles and Plekanec went 21-for-30 in the faceoff circle for a very impressive 70%. None of it would have mattered if Price hadn't made that save and given his teammates the green light to leave him in charge of the net and go try to win the game.

It could have been a little easier for Price if a few other things had been working. The power play was blanked again, despite five opportunities. It may improve when Andrei Markov returns, but there's still the issue of who'll shoot from the right side. It won't be Subban, because he's a right-handed shot, so Markov will still have nobody to set up. That shot has been a major factor in the PP success for the last five years, and the team has shown no sign it's found a new solution. Cammalleri, too, looks a bit off. He shot a lot last night, but when he's on he would have buried at least two of those chances. Gomez, Pouliot and Eller need to finish as well. Those guys will be an important part of future wins, hopefully by more than one goal.

It's still early, and there's a lot of building that needs to happen as the season goes on. Last night gave us an indication that construction has started. Carey Price might not be the foreman on the job, but he's the crane operator, and nothing lifts without him. That he's showing he might be really ready for that job gives us five days of satisfaction before the next challenge the team will face.


Anonymous said...

Geoffrion did fine on the right side so don't see why Subban can't as well.

What a great game and that key save at the end of the second was fantastic. What a treat to see the Habs outshoot the opposition 40-19. That never happened last year.

Wonder when Murray will take Kovalev for a walk in the park. Looks like he needs it. Playing like that he can play until he's 50, the question is where.

DKerr said...


You chose a good example with that shot. Listening to the game on the radio/internet, the announcer had that tone of voice that meant that could have been a goal and the save may have suprised him.

Impressive starts with the previous game. Having memories of Lindy Ruff coaching a win in a similar score last year, I was nervous and then pleased at the way they closed out Buffalo. Against the Sens, they grab the lead with 4 minutes to go and then don't give up a shot - how different from last year! Hal Gill stands his ground and disrupts their best opportunity. Those are blocks to build upon and may be a case where Carey has his teammates trust, because they closed both those games well.

Remember that this possible carryover from the playoffs has been done mostly without Markov. With his return, possibly we can win the special teams battles instead of breaking even (at best).

Ian Cobb said...

Nice article and you are bang on JT.
I had thought we would come out this year on fire.
But with the parity and 3 point games in this league now. This is about as hot as any team is going to get in the NHL now. A far cry from the turmoil at the beginning of last year.
Every point is going to be huge come spring time.

Number31 said...

I dunno, Subban can go on the right side. He scored his point-shot playoff goal from there. (And it was on the powerplay right? I don't remember). I also think with the Bulldogs he would play either side or the high-slot depending on who he was paired with or who was designated to take the point (I know Maxwell plays the point a lot). In junior I seem to remember him mostly on the right side though.

Jules said...


It isn't as much as PK's ability to assure the right-hand point more than the fact Markov has always had success with a left-handed shot on the right point. It'S purely about physics. Subban won't be able to one-time Markov's passes comfortably, unless they both switch sides. But I'm not sure I want to disrupt what has been working so well for Markov in over a decade.

In the near future, I could see PK & Weber on the 2nd unit, both being right-hand shots, with Markov and left-handed shooter X on the 1st unit. I'm thinking someone like Andrei K. or Cammalleri might have enough of a good one-timer, but we probably need them a bit more down low. Also, I realize it's a bit of a waste to have Subban on the 2nd unit, but I just can't see how he'll fit with Markov short term.

JF said...

J.T., I really like your "Aftermath" pieces. You and Mike Boone cover just about everything between you.

Your comments about the significance of that save on Regin are spot on. It was indeed a statement save, Price telling his teammates that he wasn't coming unravelled. And from their reaction, they got the message. One of the claims that was made repeatedly last year was that the team didn't play as well in front of Price as in front of Halak, that they couldn't score for him, that in the final analysis they didn't have confidence in him. There was probably some truth in this; certainly there were many nights on which Price gave his team a chance to win and they couldn't do it, but by the same token, there were many games that the team could have won had Price not allowed a late, soft goal. What we're seeing now is the strengthening of confidence between Price and his teammates. It goes both ways; he knows they'll go out and try and win the game in spite of a soft goal, they know he'll do his utmost to keep them in it. This is something intangible but, as you say, it should prove over the course of the season more valuable than the two points.

As far as the powerplay goes, it looked dangerous at times yesterday and almost converted. I'd give the team a few games after Markov's return to see if they can get it going; if not, I'd seriously consider bringing back Marc-André Bergeron for the powerplay and a very limited role on defence or the fourth line - very limited because we don't want to mess up what's working quite well. For now, we're scoring at even strength, but in view of last year, we can't count on that to continue. We absolutely need the powerplay to work; besides, it would be nice to win by more than a goal sometimes.

Blair Sheridan said...

Superb breakdown, J.T. I'm new to your blog, but have added it to my Habs' essential reading blogs. I'm a born and bred Montrealer (N.D.G.), but live and work in Ukraine right now, so I have to depend on CJAD and bloggers like you to keep me going. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Excellent breakdown. I think the Habs do look better this year than last. There is more pressure on Price but at the same time, he doesn't have to wonder who will get the start and this may catapult his game to new levels. I like the new additions (Halpern, Boyd, Eller) and the fact Halak lost his last start. He'll do well though as he is a quality goalie and person. Gorges looks amazing this year as does AK. I am very impressed with your passion for the greatest hockey team in the world.

Bill said...

Great article as usual; your writing is so natural. I wonder if it isn't too early to breathe that sigh of relief about Price just yet, but I too am heartened by the obvious difference in his psychological approach this season.