Monday, December 20, 2010

Aftermath: Needs and Wants

Remember that old children's verse: "for want of a nail?" It goes, "For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."

In the case of the Habs, Andrei Markov is the nail and the playoffs are the kingdom. What it comes down to is the Montreal Canadiens really need a defenceman. Nothing against Alexandre Picard; despite his occasional brain farts, he's acquitted himself decently as a number-six D so far this season. The problem is, the Habs don't need a number-six. They need a number-one. Or, at the very least, a top-four guy.

The consequences of Andrei Markov's absence run much deeper than just missing the man himself, which is hard enough. Without him, P.K.Subban is making his rookie mistakes while paired with a just-competent journeyman. Subban needs an on-ice mentor who can teach him and cover for his errors, which currently end up in the Habs net way too often. Without Markov, his learning curve is much, much steeper.

Without Markov, Hamrlik and Spacek become the top defensive pair. Unfortunately, they're not as young as they used to be, so their minutes need to be managed. If they're to play smaller minutes than the horses who lead other teams on the blue line, somebody else has got to step up. That means Gorges and Gill play more than they should, including at times when the team is trying to score...which is definitely not their forte. In fact, scoring is not the specialty of any of the blue line corps.

Without Markov, the Canadiens have only one way to win. They take an early lead, then patiently defend it while they wait for an opportunity to build on it. This method depends on actually getting that early lead while the other team is still getting a feel for the game. It also depends on Carey Price playing otherworldly-good hockey, rather than just ordinary good. For most of this year, the plan has worked pretty well. Lately, though, Price is coming back down to earth and playing only well rather than superbly well. Fluke goals and softies that didn't figure into the plan earlier in the season are causing problems now because without Markov, the Habs can't score very much.

If the plan breaks down and the opponent scores first or manages to pull ahead later in the game, the Canadiens don't come back. The forwards have to start their rushes at their own blueline and battle through to the offensive zone because they have no help from their defence. When they do get to the o-zone, the forwards don't go to the net as often as they should, so they end up passing around the perimeter instead of getting chances on net. They have no threat from the blueline who can break the cycle with a hard, accurate shot. The opponent can just collapse around their goalie and keep the Habs to the outside, which they usually do pretty effectively.

The Canadiens have learned a method of winning without Markov, but it's precarious and depends on everything going according to plan. The Habs are not a team that will blow an opponent out of the water very often. They rely on hard work, discipline and opportunism. When something goes wrong, they find it very, very difficult to recover. This is a deep, systemic problem and the only cure is to bolster the defence with a guy who can pass the puck and who's a threat to shoot from the blue line, while also playing a steady game in his own end.

There aren't a whole lot of candidates out there who might also be available to sign or trade for. Kim Johnsson is without a team, but he's dealing with post-concussion syndrome and may not even play at all this year. Tomas Kaberle comes to mind, but dealing with the leafs and probably giving up a first-round pick to them is repulsive. Still, it may happen that the Habs don't have a choice. The only goal they should have right now is staying ahead of the Bruins. Doing that much will ensure a playoff spot. They're now in danger of falling behind, and, if they do, they'll shortly be at risk of falling out of the post-season picture as well. Ideally, Gauthier would wait until the trading deadline to make a move. In reality, the Canadiens may not be able to hold on that long.

For want of a nail...or a Markov...the season could be lost.


Bianca Sommerland said...

I hate to say it, but I think you might be right. I've noticed the Canadiens will do much better when they are confident that their net is covered, and earlier in the season, they were. Lately, with Price letting goals in he would have batted aside easily before, they're collapsing back. The whole team is less certain and the hesitation costs them scoring opportunities.

With Markov on IR, there must be room for a decent trade. Soon would be good. These almost wins are painful.

Anonymous said...

I mentioned when O'Byrne was traded that it was a huge mistake and he would become a legitimate top four logging 20 minutes a game. Well guess what? He is playing awesome top two and is exactly the steady big D that the Habs need. He is too slow too prone to taking dumb penalties. Funny I did not see the Habs blowing by on the outside. I DID see Avs blowing by Spacek and Hammer! JT: I believe you countered that O'Byrne was given plenty of opportunities and was just not very good. I think the problem lies with player development in Montreal not in the players. I saw the potential and talent in O'Byrne. What is the reason Montreal management did not see it?

Anonymous said...

I love Markov but we can't credit the team as 7-2-1 w/o Markov then state the world will collapse when he is gone. Why didn't it at the start of the season? You can't say Price is coming down to earth then go on to say the d can't hold up the minutes. You might as well say the team plays worse without O'Byrne to blame.

The team is in it's usual blah period. You could put Ray Bourque in there and it wouldn't help them hit the net. Pucks not being blocked but everyone blocking the goalie? Pucks bouncing in off chests? Those are not signs of bad luck but lazy unfocused play because the bruises and muscles hurt. It is easy to not think then blame the refs for the calls, or the bounces for the goals. That is why they invented the excuse, to get players away from looking into the mirror. Besides you can't be called for hooking if you have the puck on your stick.

This team is better with a healthy Markov. The poor SOB has been trying so hard the last few years and we all think he can be replaced with some one dimensional player no one else signed? Or by eating someone's huge mistake of a contract because the team has room?

We all sit idly on our cushy chairs discussing if the team should even attempt to re-sign Markov because he gets hurt now. Then we write cutsy comments about loyalty, team spirit, and working together.

Weber, Subban, they have to play to get better. They need minutes against the big kids to learn but not to be swamped. Lazy icings, stupid penalties, and a lack of finish throw this team out of kilter, not Markov's absence. The coach needs to manage the game and I don't know how he can do that with a half hearted effort. That is why Darche or somebody gets minutes their skill doesn't deserve. Because their effort at least does.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they saw O'Byrne's potential but they just didn'T have room for him as, and that is clearly stated in this article, what the Habs need is a good D-Man that would also be a threat offensively, which O'Byrne will never be.
But it'S true that O'Byrne - Weber as the 3rd pairing wouldn't have hurt...
Good paper !!

Anonymous said...

O'Byrne got away with crosschecking in the crease alot last night, precisely what he was consistently called for in Montreal leading to the bench and press box. Like the guy but only as a number 7.

My feeling is that Hammer should play with Subban, Spacek should return to the left side, where he is best, with Weber. Gill and Gorges should continue as the third pairing and PK duo. Picard should rotate in and out to spell the geezers. That defensive alignment would best utilize the abilities of all concerned.

Habs played pretty well and got beat by a younger more talented team so no shame there. Too bad the Habs have to play the second period and also too bad the first period isn't 19 minutes and 30 seconds instead of 20 full minutes.

Agree that Markov's loss is huge for the team but Kaberle isn't the answer. And as far as him being worth a first round draft pick, that's ridiculous. The Habs biggest need continues to be a consistent top line winger to score. My guess is we will have to wait for the trade deadline to see what can be done.

The Habs need to win at least one before Christmas and I hope it's Carolina.

Anonymous said...

Try to get Wisniewski from NYI.
Fast, gritty, a UFA that could be had cheaper.
Plus a RH shot.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a puck moving D man is needed but giving up a first rounder even for Kaberle, is too steep. Even though his best years are behind him he would want a longer term deal. Besides, he continually invoked his no-trade-clause which suggests a player that is way too comfortable with losing. Not the kind of guy I want on my team. As for the trade deadline, I would start shopping now instead of waiting until the options are limited and you're at their agent's mercy. You don't want to look too desperate.
Changing gears, it looks like Jacques has found Carbo's line-o-matic and dusted it off. Could it be that the lack of scoring has less to do with a puck moving D man and is more due to the revolving-door winger scenario? And is it possible that some of those late period cerebral cramps, have more to do with fatigue which suggests a conditioning (or too much post-game celebrating?) issue. As a resolution, I would consider keeping Brother Andrei with Pleks until he strings few points together then offer him up. Since he seems like an unending source of frustration for Martin (and probably some team mates) it could be a case of addition by subtraction. Keep Max Pac with Gomer and Gionta and bring Pouliot up to replace Andrei. Benny can and is willing to skate with them and unlike Andrei (whose face should be on a milk carton), rarely takes a shift off this season. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

O'Byrne was definitely not part of the solution. Good for him that he's doing well. I liked his personality and he was decent in his role up to a point, but even in the game against the Avs, if he had made some of those plays for us, I'd be slamming my remote and cursing in French (which I turn to exclusively for games). OB is in the right fit on a highly offensive team, not a defensive one.

Either way, the point is correct, we badly need to get that D-man since Subban is turning out (not unexpectedly) to be just what he is - a rookie and not a saviour. No time to panic, he needs help and not from Picard. I think PG is already in the process of making a deal. Thing is, sometimes I really feel like Spacek was our worst D and having Weber in instead would have produced a better result. Can't bench the vet though, can you?! We also need to score/capitalize more. We're always a goal away when we lose. Just need to convert a few more and we'll be good. Here's hoping we get that important piece.

Anonymous said...

With Pac and Gomez finding chemistry (who thought love only comes in the spring time) we now have two good offensive lines. So, yes JT the D is the issue. Mostly. Sort of.

Ladouceur quantified in stats what we all have seen in the last couple of games: Price has let in a softie a game for the past several.

But he will tighten up. That will take the pressure off of finding another D. Remember, we'll have to give something of value to get something of value, and who on our roster would we want to give up?

One poster above said O'Byrne was not part of the solution, and could play only on an offensive team. Horsefeathers. The Avs won 3 - 2 and OB logged lots of ice time. His game is like Hal Gill's, except he is faster.

Anonymous said...

No O'Byrne was not the answer, as posted above. Congrats on pointing out that you "predicted" that O'B was going to do well elsewhere/anywhere.........Basically, he was given many chances and could NOT handle it yes. He couldn't do worse right?

Did you predict Latendresse would would score 30 last year and then disappear?


Anonymous said...

"My feeling is that Hammer should play with Subban, Spacek should return to the left side, where he is best, with Weber. Gill and Gorges should continue as the third pairing and PK duo. Picard should rotate in and out to spell the geezers. That defensive alignment would best utilize the abilities of all concerned."

This is exactly right... Hammer with PK, Weber with Spatch and move Spatch back to the side that got him his contract. The D would be fine with this scenario.

GD said...

I think the purge of players who do not know the meaning of hard work (*sneeze Kostitsyn) is not yet completed. Everyone says it's because he was taken of his line that his production dropped off...but I could see he was returning to his lazy ways before the move. He's like Kovalev without the talent. He could dominate most games with his size, strength and talent if he had the heart of a Gionta. I will bet he will not finish the year with the Habs and will be packaged in a deal in the New Year. Maybe it's why he's a healthy scratch against the Stars? Who knows...

Bring on Bieksa already.

Anonymous said...

Pitkanen and Wallen are probably the most likely UFAs that could help. Phillips would be nice if the Sens crash but doubt it would ever happen.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who things teaming Subban and Picard is insane? Watching the Dallas debacle and the Habs defense is not good. If JM doesn't fix the pairings for the Carolina game, he must be trying for a lottery pick. Poor Carey!