Monday, February 7, 2011

Aftermath: Devilish

It would be easy to say the Canadiens lost to the Devils because of the "Devils Curse." It'd be even easier to say the loss was due to a depleted defence and missing Cammalleri in the top six. Those excuses are just excuses.

It's pretty hard to blame the missing Markov, Gorges and Wizniewski when Gill and Subban were the ones getting beaten like dusty rugs. It wasn't injury replacements giving the puck away like Gill did on the Devils first goal, just over a minute in. It wasn't fatigue on a back-to-back weekend either, because the Habs weren't falling behind late in the period. They were down two before the game was five minutes old.

No, in this case, the Devils came out ready and the Habs did not. End of story. Once Jersey went up by two, they just shut down the Habs' sputtering offence for the rest of the game. If, as some critics say, the Habs are just the "new Devils," the old Devils are still the kings at clogging up the neutral zone and suffocating all hope of offence. They forgot for a while, but the return of Jacques Lemaire has brought it all back. It's not that the Canadiens didn't try to get back into it. They did. After the first five minutes, they tried like hell. It just goes to show how tight the league really is. If a team slacks off for five minutes, it can mean the difference between two points and none.

That said, the Habs have done admirably since the all-star break. With two sets of back-to-back games (what's with all these back-to-backs anyway?) in a week, while battling illness and injury, they still managed to take six of eight points. And even when down against the Devils, they didn't quit. The Canadiens are a competitive bunch and they don't like to lose. That attitude can give us some comfort after a game like yesterday's. Every team loses games. At least the Canadiens lose them relatively infrequently.

As the team gears up for a real measuring-stick kind of game against the Bruins on Wednesday, however, we can be sure Pierre Gauthier is carefully considering what to do about some of the team's persistent weaknesses. The one thing they always have trouble with is getting to the net when faced with a tight-checking opponent. Also, the Habs are a hardworking team that, when on their game, can compete against anyone. The problem, perfectly illustrated by yesterday's loss, is that there's absolutely no room for error. When the Canadiens don't put in a full 60 minutes' effort, they lose. They need to be able to score goals more easily, and they need to be able to drive the net to break other teams' trap.

Max Pacioretty is doing that really effectively. He made a great move to push past a defenceman and get a shot off on the rush. The good news is, he's developing into a real power forward. The bad news is he's the only guy doing that right now. We've seen flashes of it from Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn, but neither of them is a consistent threat. Lars Eller has the size and skill to do it, but he's still pretty green. If Gauthier is shopping at the deadline, he needs to be looking for a mix of size and speed in a guy who goes to the net regularly. Among bottom feeders who are likely to sell at the deadline, Ottawa's Mike Fisher would be lovely. So would Trent Hunter from the Isles (his current knee injury would help him fit right in as a Hab) and the Oilers Dustin Penner. The thing is, all of those guys would be more than just rentals, and they would be expensive to acquire.

If Gauthier is considering a move, it should be for a player like that, who would be part of the team going forward. That way, since he's going to have to give up assets in any case, at least he won't be throwing them away for a long-shot playoff run that will limit the team's depth for next year.

It'll be interesting to see how the GM manouvers in the next couple of weeks. If he decides to stand pat, we know what the Habs' weaknesses will be going into the playoffs. Unfortunately, so will every opponent they face. They'll continue to be a hardworking team that wins when it out-hustles the other guys. When they let up for a few minutes, though, they fall behind. Sometimes, when the games are tight and the opponent stingy on D, the Canadiens just don't have the tools to get back into it.


Anonymous said...

Why would we even consider Penner? At his crazy salary? NO WAY! PLEASE? NO OILERS! Why would we want some one who they do not even want? They are a bottom feeder team. I live near their city, do you not think that I know this? They are cutting down Penner left and right!. Go after Mike Fisher! Leave the Oilers out of this, they just want to unload this guy for our draft picks and our prospects! Enough Already! Please, do not trade for an Oiler. They want to burden us with paying their mistakes while the spin-off for them are youngsters. Cheap and playing full tilt to earn jobs.

Anonymous said...

Gauthier is building the team as he goes. I dont see a panic trade for a rental player.

I could see an AK plus Spacek or Weber deal for another defenceman. With Hamrlik's contract being up at the end of the season we will have offseason cap space. Cammaleri coming back will mean a forward has to sit.


Anonymous said...

I am old enough to remember the Habs of '60-61 being manhandled by the Hawks to end their hopes of a 6th Cup and the following years of leaf physical domination of the Habs. In 1963-64 John Ferguson arrived on the scene giving the Canadiens the physicality (he could score too) that the speedy talented Habs needed leading to 4 Cups in the next 5 years. It is with this in mind that I would love to see the Habs acquire Konopka from the Isles and Neil from the Sens. Can you picture Konopka at center with Neil and Moen on the wings? Moen is a fish out of water playing with soft line mates. Stick those three together and see what Carcillo and Powe do then. Thornton, Paille and Campbell won't look so tough anymore and the Habs may well give the Flyers a run instead of rolling over in 4 or 5 games.

Would love to get Fisher but he may be too expensive (assets not money) but I think PG could get Zenon and Chris for not so much. I'm drooling at the thought of a real physical energy line to protect our small players.

Anonymous said...

I think the Devils came out and took it to the Habs D. That was enough to pot a couple. Game over because the Habs are a perimeter team. Sure a low percentage shot could bounce in but pushing for it leaves you open so there is a fairly good chance the two goal gap remains constant or increases.

Yep. They tried. In a few weeks Lemaire turned the Devils around, got them back on page, and they made the Habs look like ...well like what Philly makes them look like.

Enough pleasantries. If a team wants it more than the current Montreal Canadiens there is a really good chance it is their's.

I find the team boring. No quit. I admire that. But they are boring, staid, lacklustre. Do I ever really expect that AK is going to light it up? That Gomez is going to play inspired? That Pouliot will get motivated? No. I watch and hope Price or Auld is playing above and beyond.

No one wins Cups that way.