Thursday, February 10, 2011

Aftermath: Statements

We woke up this morning to all kinds of hyper sports analysts (who may or may not have played pro hockey in their lives) telling us the Bruins delivered a "statement" game last night. The question many of us are asking in response is what "statement" did they make? Was it that they have ten guys who will fight players who really aren't fighters, for no apparent purpose? Or that they can take advantage of a team with a patchwork defence, half of whom have played 1000 NHL games, and the other half less than 100? Perhaps it was that Colin Campbell's nasty kid plays for them, so they can commit head shots with impunity, as they did on several occasions? Or maybe it's that they have cretinous fans who rival Philly's for pure bloodthirsty idiocy? Yup. Lots of statements there. Sure.

The Bs weren't the only ones who made statements, though. Lost in the shuffle, bob and weave of last night's game were a few Montreal Canadiens statements. Prime among them was that Timmy Thomas still has a hard time stopping the Habs. He looked like an all-star in the middle of the all-star game last night. The Canadiens beat him at will, which, when you consider the Habs' general lack of firepower, is impressive.

The Canadiens made a very important statement to their GM as well. The defence, when faced with an aggressive forecheck by skilled forwards, completely collapsed once again. Jaro Spacek is just done. He's soft on the boards, and he's lost a step since last year. Hal Gill is just painful to watch against speed. He's good at blocking shots, but when it comes to quickly manouvering the puck, he's hopeless. He's too slow to get himself into the proper position against fast teams, and he can't make a simple zone clearance with his hands of stone. Jacques Martin recognized the difficulties the two oldies were having, as both of them played less than 17 minutes. Fellow senior citizen Roman Hamrlik was also on the ice for just over 16 minutes, probably partially because he got rocked by a dirty hit. As a result, P.K.Subban played a game-high 26:22 on a night when he was clearly not at his best (he ended up a -3), and James Wisniewski, in his first game back after strep throat, was on the ice for nearly 25 minutes. Yannick Weber played 19 minutes, put up three points and finished even, so even if he looked a bit overwhelmed at times, his stats didn't show it. The problem with the defence was, in the end, Martin had no other choices.

The loss of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges was never more apparent than it was last night. The message the team sent to Gauthier was: if there's any shopping to be done in the next couple of weeks, it must, without a doubt, be for a solid defenceman who doesn't skate in cement or panic when faced with speed. If he comes with size and an ability to make a solid hit, that's a bonus. Carey Price might have been able to stop one or two of those goals last night, but for the most part, he was helpless. That has to change if the Canadiens are to make even a squeak in the post-season.

A secondary need is for a fourth-liner who can handle himself better against a brainless goon like Gregory Campbell than poor Tom Pyatt did last night. If beating up a guy twenty pounds lighter who's not a fighter means the Bruins are making a statement, it's a pretty shameful one. Still, since there are Neanderthals running loose in the division, the Canadiens might need to make a play for Mike Fisher, Chris Neil or Zenon Konopka to counter that.

Some individuals made statements of their own last night as well. Benoit Pouliot played some of his best hockey of the season. He worked really hard for his 11:42 of ice time, and since punch-driven statements were all the rage last night, he made his by dropping David Krejci.

David Desharnais delivered an emphatic statement too. The smallest player on either team in both height and weight, he provided a goal and assist and was one of only four Canadiens who ended the night on the plus side of the +/- ledger...all in 13 minutes on the ice. He was 50% on faceoffs as well. The biggest concern about Desharnais has been that he's built to play against quick, offensively minded teams, but will fold against tougher oppponents. It turns out, DD's two best games have been against the Flyers and Bs, and you can't get bigger bunches of goons and bullies than those teams. He's held up his end of the bargain admirably, as opposed to the alleged top-liner Scott Gomez.

Ah yes. Gomez. He made a statement last night too. He said when the going gets tough, he'll do nothing. He was atrocious in his own end, although he wasn't helped by Andrei Kostitsyn's usual brain-dead stretches of play. The pair of them, as well as the unfortunate Lars Eller, ended up -4 in less than 14 minutes on the ice. Gomez was a humiliating (if one were to give a crap in the first place) 0%. Jacques Martin made a huge statement back at him, by nailing Gomez and his unhelpful linemates to the bench for the majority of the third period. That the Canadiens were never out of a close game until late in the third, it was shocking that Martin thought so little of Gomez' or his linemates' contributions that he sat them out altogether. Gomez has spent the entire season dragging down every winger he's been given while contributing little to nothing himself. He's got to go.

Max Pacioretty's statement was "I have arrived." The kid is big, tough and strong, and can skate like the wind. His two PP goals (thought he tipped Weber's for the hatty, but the league didn't agree) showed an admirable wrister too. It would be very interesting to see last night's three hardest workers; Pouliot, Desharnais and Pacioretty on a line together, if one of them can play the right side.

Brian Gionta re-stated he was the right choice to be this team's captain. Down two goals after the first, he was the one to break through and score the goal that got the Habs' offence going. He never backed down, even though he faced hulking Zdeno Chara on just about every shift. His leadership was a source of inspiration for the younger players, who all seemed to respond. (With the exception of Lars Eller, who was stuck in the Pit of Despair, also known as Scott Gomez' wing.)

Despite all the statements flying around on both sides, though, the outcome was poor for the Habs. Losing 8-6 doesn't look good any night, but it's worse when it's against the team directly ahead of you in the division standings. The concrete positives out of that game were few, with the exception of the three PP goals the Canadiens scored. That was a relief, considering the dreadful showing over the last couple of weeks.

The intangible positives included the way some players responded to bullying. They answered the bell, even though most of them were not physically suited to do so. That kind of brothers-in-arms mentality goes a long way toward forging bonds that sustain a team during a long, hard playoff drive in which bullying and idiocy is at a minimum.

Amidst the mess of statements this morning come questions. What's the league going to do about the four unpenalized head shots against Canadiens players, including the most egregious on P.K. Subban, when the kid had been knocked to the ice by Nathan Horton and had his head stapled to the boards by another Bruin while he was down? What's Pierre Gauthier going to do to shore up a desperate defence? What will happen if the Bruins try this crap in the playoffs, as it's looking likely that they'll be the Habs' first round opponents?

The statements are clear enough today. The answers to the questions, however, are not.


Anonymous said...

I agree that we need help on the backend - but who sits? Not Subban or the Wiz; not Hamrlik; likely not Gill, as he's at least needed on the PK; Spacek is here another year and has played well at times; Weber is young and seems to deserve a spot.

So who sits?

J.T. said...

@anon: Spacek, most likely. His contract *says* he's in Montreal for another year. That doesn't mean it's necessarily so. Spacek has already been moved down to third-pair minutes, and there's no way Gauthier can justify paying nearly four million dollars for a 5-6 defenceman. It wouldn't surprise me to see him moved, demoted or bought out, especially since we can expect to see Gorges and Markov coming back next year. That would give the Habs Markov, Subban, Gorges and Weber as well as Spacek. There've been indications that Gill's agent has been talking to Gauthier about another year, and Hammer wants to stay...both of them have more value than Spacek.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I just can't see them doing that... I think Spacek is popular in the room and has had some very strong along games to go with his very weak games this season. Tough decisions.

Anonymous said...

With Georges and Markov out, many were saying that the team should be careful not to exhaust the veterans before the playoffs. Now that a lot of the load appears to be taken off the veterans' shoulders, people are saying you can't justify paying that much money for someone with 5th line minutes...

J.T. said...

@anon(the one who misspells "Gorges"): Of course you have to be careful about exhausting the veterans. The fact is, though, that there are games like last night's when you need strong veteran games. The Habs didn't get that from the vets they have, and when you look at the three who played fewer than 17 minutes, Spacek is the one who's been the weakest.

Managing the load for energy conservation reasons is one thing. Playing vets for limited minutes because they're not capable of playing more without hurting the team is quite another.

Paul B. said...

Once again, I couldn't agree more with your statement.

A few comments about that wonderful demonstration of courage by the Ruins...

I really was surprised that the APE and all of his 6'9" didn't try to take on David Desharnais in an effort to surpass Campbell's fearlessness at the end of the game.

The big problem last night was that les Glorieux forgot to show up at the start of the game. Moreover, without Price, the score should have been 5-0 after the first period. Once the Goons had a lead it was inexorable that they would show who they really are.

Come to think of it, I'm glad Markov was out last night. They probably would have tried their best to severe his head from his shoulders.

Am I the only one who has noticed that whenever the puck is shot on the defensive zone, Subban is the only Canadiens D who has a chance to reach the puck before any opponent.

I'm just about about to contact my bookie and see what are the odds that the NHL will do NOTHING about what happened last night.

Finally, our brilliant coach mentioned after the game, that he will remember what happened last night. I supposed that he meant that for the March 8th game, he'll have Cammaleri as an add up item on the menu for the Boston butchers.

Anonymous said...

When you watch a game like last night, you can’t help but just feel sad and frustrated at the same time. They say that hockey is a tough sport but that wasn’t a hockey game but a school yard fight with the president and the teachers just watching. What was Boston trying to prove that they are bigger than the Habs? Well we all knew that. But we also knew that they suck against the Habs and even though their brainless goons beat on our smaller players, the Habs were still able to score 6 goals on them. Great statement game, we can only win if we beat the crap out of the Habs with our fists.

I have my young kids that love to play hockey but as a parent I’m not always that thrilled about it. I want them to have fun and play hard, but I want it to be about playing hockey and not going on the ice to hurt someone purposely. How do you teach the kids that what happened yesterday is not part of playing hard. Playing hard is about going after the puck, and doing what you can to score goal but it’s definitely not about going out there and hurting another player just to make a point or “statement”, how does last night’s game show that.

You have the NHL saying that they will not allow head shots and cheat shots in the game but what are they really doing about it especially when you have Campbell’s kid on a team and the refs allow it to go on all game. What is the punishment that the player gets even when they are punished? 2 or 3 games, big deal. How about, especially for repeat offenders or hits that are very obvious, that the player that caused another player to be out for weeks, that he isn’t allowed to play until that player returns and that the team isn’t allow to replace him on the bench. Even now with the 2 or 3 games suspension, the game should not be allow to replace him. The saddest part is that this behavior is cascaded down to the young kids leagues. When an young player is allowed to go into players on the boards with his elbows up aiming for heads and the home ice refs don’t make a call against the home ice player but the visitor’s team coach gets suspended because he got upset at the ref, it make you wonder if this problem will ever get fixed in this sport at all levels.

Anonymous said...

I remember Boston winning game four in Montreal taking a 3-1 series lead the year the Habs acquired Kovalev and celebrating like the series was over. A so called statement game, the Habs curse was done. Guess what, they failed to win another game. These statement games aren't always what they seem. I think the Habs were winners because of their effort and fearlessness. I hated the score but loved the players (well, maybe not all of them) for a gutty performance. Lucic made his reputation beating up Komisarek who can't fight worth a damn but got his head handed to him by Bolton so I'd like to see some Hab take a shot at him again. Bobby Orr fought his own battles so I'd like to see Subban in action. I'm getting sick of reading that Subban is a cowardly little Hab from the Bruins and Flyers. One way or the other he'll have to step up. I think he can do it.

Anonymous said...

Well as just another anon among the anon too lazy to sign up: Yes the Bruins made a statement. They got ahead and they kicked some butt. The Habs made a statement as well: We can come back, except 25% of our forward lines can't re-adjust at that point and let it slip away again.

Poor Price. No one can stop stuff like Gomez and AK allowed. The Habs are built on a philosophy of everyone working together. Gomez has been off page all season. Face it. He will say what it is expected he will say but like "Stan the Steamer" that doesn't detract from the truth of the matter. Saying yes I sucked is worthless unless you follow it up with a change in your ways. Gomez doesn't and AK, bless him because he can hit bodies if not twine, is lost in his own zone. He sees the viagra signs and PTSD sets in.

Bottom line: it was a fun game. Mainly because you got to see what the team is if it breaks down and where the breakdowns will occur against competition.

I luv the team, but it is two players away from being there.

Anonymous said...

Does no-one remember Hammer and Spaco stepping up when the Bruins started bitch-slapping everything that moved in blue and red? OK, they tire faster; aren't they the ones also somehow still finding outlet passes? They're old guard and from the old Iron Curtain System (pre-dates JM's System) that says move hard until you pass out. It'd be a shame to lose all the vets from the blue-line.

Gill's a horse in play-off games, and saves PK's bacon often (and it's a good match-up), but these two Czechs are mules - take that how you want - daily. It's not the D that needs shaking up, it's the front-lines. The D does its job, but the front-liners need to double their output.

Anonymous said...

The D is awful. Too small, not tough enough and slow to boot.

There is no way we go anywhere without a serious upgrade. The Wiz is part of the solution but unless we can unload Spatch and Hammer we arent going to upgrade much.

We need a defence to look something like this:

Markov-Tough Stay at home type
Subban-Tough watch his back type
Wiz - Tough clear the crease guy
Weber in the press box


Ian said...

I haven't heard how many games Campbell got suspended for continuously punching Pyatt in the face with his elbow pad. Has anybody else heard? Assholes!

Hadulf said...

I know I'm late on this article but...

He's got to go

Now there's a statement I agree with.