Friday, February 25, 2011

Aftermath: Trust

Hockey is, as are all team games, an exercise in trust. That's why teams do those ridiculous bonding tests during training camp, in which a blindfolded player is guided around obstacles by a teammate's voice, or a guy's got to fall backward and let a teammate catch him. Those silly games are just metaphors for what happens on the ice. Every player needs to know he can count on the guy skating next to him to cover his mistakes, assist on his goals and have his back in the rough going. Equally important, every player needs to feel that his teammates and coach trust him to do the job he's assigned. The ephemeral "confidence" players talk about starts with knowing others believe he can perform up to expectations, and that, in turn, begins with the coach.

Jacques Martin doesn't trust his backup goalie. He plays Carey Price as often as possible because he doesn't like Alex Auld's chances to win. As a result, Auld plays once a month and, unsurprisingly, comes in rusty half the time. He stunk last night, but you have to wonder how much of his poor timing was the result of sitting for weeks.

Martin doesn't trust most of his defence either. His natural tendency to rely on proven veterans over younger players in must-win situations means he's seriously overplaying the only remaining vet who can actually skate. Roman Hamrlik played more than 28 minutes again last night; the second time in a week he was on the ice for nearly half the game. That included an inexplicable 6:35 on the PP, for a guy who's averaged 2:46 per game with the man advantage all year. Hammer is tired, and when he's tired, he makes mistakes.

Most troubling, the coach doesn't trust his kids. In a game in which the Canadiens fell into a deep hole early, you'd think anyone with a pulse and the potential to score a goal would be taking a regular shift. Instead, Kostitsyn, Pouliot, Eller and Desharnais all got fewer than nine minutes of ice time at even strength. Max Pacioretty was on the ice five minutes less than his veteran linemates, and one can only imagine how much ice time P.K.Subban would be getting if the defence weren't totally decimated. This isn't a good situation. The kids can only learn by playing, and getting minimal minutes because the coach is afraid they'll screw up isn't giving them much confidence. Those five young forwards account for a good part of the team's hope for the future. They need to play.

Spinning off from Martin's lack of faith in the kids is his over-reliance on Scott Gomez. The man has fewer goals (7) than Kostitsyn, Pouliot and Pacioretty and only one more than Desharnais, who's played in 37 fewer games. His 30 points are only slightly better than P.K.Subban's...a rookie defenceman's...27. There is absolutely no evidence, dramatic pointless rushing notwithstanding, that Scott Gomez will be the man who will come up with a vital tying goal. Yet, he played more than 20 minutes last night, including 4:08 on the PP. With all that ice time, Gomez came up with no goals, no assists and was a -1. At least he didn't take a dumb penalty for once. Perhaps that was Martin's justification for sending Gomez out for shift after shift when the team was desperate.

Trust is one of the most important intangibles in a team sport. Players have to trust each other, but they also have to trust their coach to believe in them and put the right players on the ice at the right time. The young players, untried though they may be, have to be getting frustrated when they end up sitting in favour of veterans who don't get the job done.

Martin coaches with a fear of losing rather than a drive to win. Someone needs to tell him losing by one goal is still losing, and he has to loosen the reins on some players. He's got to start trusting players to do their jobs.


Anonymous said...

Right on JT!! I haven't understood why Martin has Gomez on so much. I have felt all season that the Habs are playing not to loss instead of play to win. So frustrating to watch. So what if the rookies are making mistakes, how else are they going to learn? Would a teacher not ask a grade 1 student to not read out loud again because they made a mistake in pronouncing a word or sentence? Doesn’t practice make perfect? The team needs players that can score, a team that can score isn’t afraid to make a mistake because they are confident that they can win the game, every game.

Anonymous said...

Hear Hear JT!

Well said!

Dave White said...

This is the best analysis of Martin that I have read. You are right on the money JT. I agree with you fully except for last paragraph - "Someone needs to tell him". Impossible! Oh he can be told, but he won't listen, at least there is no evidence of that. The only slight hope for this team is to get rid of the coach, now.

V said...

I am not so hard on Martin... decisions about who plays have a direct (and I do mean direct) impact on wins and his job security.

Sticking with vets is just playing the odds - over a season, wins will be decided by the vets more than the younger players. Doesn't look so good in a small sample like one game, but over a season - like this season - it's worked so far. He would be golden if he wasn't missing 3 vets on defense.

Like you, I think our younger players. And I think your reliance on vets in similar circumstances would grow as well.

Anonymous said...

Well put!
Personally, I think they should have fired Martin in the off season. Really, how many head coaches would 'experiment' their line combinations for 30-40 games or longer. How many head coaches would made comments about a player playing well because it is his contract year (re: Kostitsyn). Kostitsyn was never the same after the comment and it did not help that Martin dismantle the then productive Plekanec-Cammalleri-Kostitsyn line shortly after.
It is frustrating to see how Martin failed to develop young prospects which led to their eventful departure. Young players 0such as Latendresse, O'Bryne, Sergi Kostitsyn, D'Agostini, Lapierre, Chipchura and Maxwell. Granted, not all of them worked out for the other teams but Latendresse, O'Bryne, S. Kostitsyn and D'Agostini were playing well when healthy. Sad!

Unknown said...

Well, that's your point of view of course and it has found many supporters today on HI/O. Not sure it's quite the entire reason for this up and down season. The list of faults is long but the fact remains that they're in 6th, 2 wins out of 3rd and 3 wins out of 2nd. Lack of goal scoring and parity play a much larger role I think. Then of course that's only my point of view.
How much additional trust is required to win 2 or 3 additional games over the remaining 20?

Anonymous said...

Always fantastic blogs! I really enjoy (and look forward to) reading your insights!

Anonymous said...

Management J.T.

No other aspect has as much impact on success or mediocrity than who is in the top floor offices. Management puts the team together and hire the coaches.

JM is a good coach as his longevity alone indicates. Gainey put together a small,fast and skilled team and hired a defensive first coach. For as long as I have followed this team they have lacked size, toughness and the big center. Starting from a fresh sheet of paper Gainey failed to address none of these.


dusty said...

Once again my favourite team has made a fool out of me. It's happened before and I've said to myself never again but alas shame on me. I watched the gutty determination in Vancouver and pushed aside the fact that they were lucky to win because the Canucks didn't take the game seriously (who would considering the talent disparity) and didn't until they were down 2-0 from which point on they totally dominated the game.

Fool that I am, I thought the Habs would produce a team effort and beat the leafs to solidify their position. What we fans got was a team made to look silly by a leaf team that is starting to look better than the Habs day by day. Gomez is useless, Gionta good but too small and Cammalleri looks like a huge 6 million dollar mistake. He's too small and soft on the puck.

I see what you see concerning JM but he sees who's playing well and who isn't so maybe his choices aren't as bad as we think. The penalties, however, are something that has to be controlled (phantom call on Gionta not withstanding). And using your top offensive players to kill them is a recipe for disaster. Although I enjoyed last year's playoff run as much as the next guy, it might have actually set the team back in it's development. If the Habs finish in the playoffs, just who could they actually compete with over a physical 7 game series? Philly? Boston? Pittsburgh? Washington? Tampa? New York? Don't think so. Gulp, maybe not even the leafs. UGH.

Love the sweater but not this team so much.

PS. After a big win over the 'Canes I'll be back on Stanley's bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

Exactly JT. There are those that have defended Gomez but all too often he disappears and his propensity to set up guys make him less of a threat. His "cute" end to end rushes never really amount to anything and his compete level is severely lacking. I hope they can unload this guy in the off season.

punkster said...

Hmmm...looks like my comment got posted under the name Curtis. Sorry folks, it was pure Punkster. The vagaries of the interweb.

RAYG said...


Anonymous said...

So there we have it. The last third of the season when everybody picks it up for position, for contract, and pride. The team is skidding along, taking the same stupid penalties, and with a pretty good pk ratio because ...wait for it...the better players play on the pk. Injuries are mounting. My favorite player, Markov, comes back and gets rushed again. Gone again.

What can you say that Leigh Ann hasn't said? You reap what you sow. I really wish the team had folded last year when they barely made the playoffs. I sense we wouldn't be muttering about this situation if they had. (We'd likely be screaming fire Boucher, but who knows.)

Rock said...

Spot on, JT !

Anonymous said...

Ya, good call JT. So the question is: Upper management are seeing the same thing we are, why hasn't anything be done/will something be done this summer?


Anonymous said...

Everyone has a right to their opinon. Here's mine. Many of you would do well to stop pretending that you have the knowledge and insight to do better than PG or JM. As you most assuredly do not. Sorry. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...


Woodvid said...

Dusty commented on the previous blog entry (loss to maple leafs) about how the Habs wouldn't have won game 7 last year vs Washington if Ovy's goal in the 3rd period had counted. I kind of agreed, then took a walk down memory lane and had a look at that brighter time for Habs fans:

First of all, Habs had a goal called back that period too. I'd forgotten about that. So maybe we shouldn't be too quick to take away credit from them for that win.

But mainly, you know what I noticed? The key players in that game for us are no longer here.

Goal 1: A cannon by Bergeron.
Goal 2: Due to the speed and hustle of Lapierre and Moore, who scored it.
Goaltender: Halak. I'm totally fine with Price as our man, but that was one hell of a game by Halak.

And who was our quarterback in that game? Markov. Oh, to have him back now.

Anonymous said...

This is a good article. The Cat ^_^

MC said...

This loyalty to Gomez is perplexing, especially given how short the leash has been for AK, Pouliot and Subban. Where is the motivation for Gomez to improve if he gets ice time regardless of his performance? Ten games on the fourth line or a few games in the press box might wake him up for the playoffs. It might allow him to reflect on his performance and then dig deeper. I wonder if JM is afraid to lose the dressing room if he demotes Gomez to the fourth line because because of Gomez' influence in the room? Idle speculation on my part, but we are missing something, because his ice time defys logic. (He is third highest on the team for a forward, behind only Pleks and Gionta.) 7 goals in 60 games, Minus 18 on a team that is even in plus/minus overall (Gill is next worst at -7), how can he continue to get top line minutes?

moeman said...

Great read. The other thing you can't trust. The refs.

DT said...

Spot on, JT!
When JM put Tom Pyatt out during the shootout against Buffalo recently, I had to wonder what was going though his mind...

Anonymous said...

Trust: we believed you when you said Twitter would not steal your heart. Where are you, J.T.?!?!!!!!!

Jack Todd Sucks said...

Jack Todd Sucks

dusty said...

JT missed you at the 'Canes game. With Auld starting I thought the game was over before it even started. It took all of my strength to continue watching after the first goal. AK46 was a monster. If only he played like that 80% of the time, but alas he never will. I think he's just lonely in Montreal.

The Habs won a big one but were life and death all game long. Looks to me like our team will be out in the first round unless they meet the Bruins. If PG can get some grit up front today or tomorrow, the B's can be had. Any team with Kaberle isn't going anywhere.