Saturday, March 26, 2011

Aftermath: Disaster

Okay, I'm back. First of all, to be fair, I think I should tell you a little bit about the background of my trip to Montreal. I try to go once a year to see the Habs in person. The sense of something momentous about to happen in the Bell Centre is pervasive and persuasive. For me, it's been truth. Last year, for example, I was at the Rangers game, when the Canadiens won in OT on Mike Cammalleri's hat trick goal. It was impressive. So, this year, even though things haven't been going great lately, I decided to go to the game with hope.

I have children, so the first thing I had to do, after working since 5:30 in the morning, was drive three hours to bring the kids to their grandparents for the weekend. Then, drive another hour and a half to get to the airport. There was a huge snow storm happening, so my flight got cancelled. I then had to rebook for another flight four hours later, which went to Toronto, then on to Montreal. All told, it took 30 hours of travel to even get to Montreal.

We got to the game tonight to a great sense of expectation. The team had been bitch-slapped so thoroughly in Boston (seriously? a DOUBLE shorty?) that people in the crowd were stoked. Surely, we thought, the Canadiens would fight back with pride and backbone. They'd prove their feisty nature wasn't crushed after that Bruins game.

The puck dropped. The Canadiens lost the faceoff and meandered around their zone with some bad passing and ill-advised clearing attempts. Next shift...same thing. Finally, after about two minutes of messing around fruitlessly, Tomas Plekanc, surely playing hurt, lost the puck at the blueline and the turnover resulted in the first Caps goal.

After that, we expected push back. We thought the team would stand up and say, "NO! We will NOT be shut out three games straight." What we got was something different. There were many culprits in the screw-up club. Roman Hamrlik was probably the worst D on the ice, with his many turnovers and soft plays on the boards. Andrei Kostitsyn was playing like his brain was still on ice back at his apartment. And the eternally bad Scott Gomez was eternally bad.

There were several moments that stood out. Once, Gionta laid a big hit in the corner, and the puck popped out. Nobody was there to collect it. Another time, Plekanec was behind the net with the puck, with nowhere to go because there was no one in front. Still another time, a Cap had the puck on the boards and Gomez was "battling" for it. That involved him sticking his ass out behind him and poking at the puck with his stick. God forbid there should have been body contact of any kind.

One observation of mine, after I decided to consciously watch for it, was that the Canadiens defencemen, with the marked execption of P.K. Subban, collectively and consistently failed to make one single completed forward pass. Outlet passes were in skates, or just past sticks or behind players. As a result, everyone had to slow down or stop altogether to pick up the pass and the Caps lined up to stop the rush. Bad decisions by the D really are shutting down the team's offence.

After the game, I was really despondent. It came to me that the behaviour we've seen the last few games is very reminiscent of the Flyers series last year. The Canadiens got shut out twice in the first two games, just like they have this week. After two dramatic series wins, they were done. They just didn't have anything else to give. Looking at them now, with the injuries they've dealt with (and are likely still dealing with, even though the hurt players are trying to come back), they look like they've got nothing left. This team is done.

I can almost have sympathy for most of them. They've battled through injuries to themselves and teammates, they've handled an immense learning curve by all the new players and they've still managed to win through a great deal of adversity. Now, though, they're done. The only one who has no reason to be done is Scott Gomez. He's had lots of icetime, but not worked very hard during it. He's not been hurt. He's a slacker and a drain on the organization's resources. At the end of the game tonight, people were booing him and I understood why.

In spite of it all, there was good, though. Carey Price was steady. P.K. Subban was the only D who could make any kind of offensive play, while still fighting hard for pucks in his own zone. Lars Eller was the team's best forward, making some nice physical plays and moving the puck well on the rush. These are all guys who'll be important for the future. The problem is, their supporting cast is supposed to be the team of today. That's not happening. Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri, Plekanec, Kostitsyn...none of them have stepped up and made the team better.

My friend who watched the game with me tonight thinks it's Jacques Martin's fault. Well, inadvertently anyway. He says Gainey built a fast, skilled team, then he hired a dull, conservative coach. The players and the coach are not well matched, and the things Martin's lacking hurt the team's chances of winning.

Right now, outside my hotel room window, I can hear drunken idiots singing "Ole." They have no idea why they shouldn't be singing, and that's very sad.


Anonymous said...

Glad to have you back (thanks for answering my email as busy as you were) too bad you had such a lousy trip thanks to the Habnots.
I couldn't watch the 3rd last night and went to bed,I don't know what to think.BGL said on the radio that there is trouble in 'the room'-who knows?
I almost wish they would drop out of the playoffs-its going to be too painful.

Bob said...

I think I understand the drunken idiots. We are now mocking our own team as the fans of other teams do when the Habs are in their towns.

Anvilcloud said...

What a disappointment for you after going to such lengths to get there.

I am wondering if we're seeing an implosion like we did two years ago.

isabellapasbelle said...

It's funny (meaning not funny at all) how they REALLY spent their whole quota of weekly goals in Minnesota last week...

Rock on the Rock said...

JT, your friend was right; remove the reins and let 'er rip - can't be any worse.
You know, the last "good" thing was PK's performance in Minny; I wonder if a few 'entitled, overpaid' players got their nose out of joint?

dusty said...

Welcome back JT. Sorry that your trip was such a disaster. All the obstacles in your path was foretelling the stinker of a game that was coming.

This belief that the Habs are a fast, skilled team is simply delusional and has to stop. JM, while not my favorite coach, is no fool. His system gives this sad sack team it's best chance to win as we saw last year. Only a week ago we were hearing how JM was a miracle worker getting so much from so little with all the injuries. Now, we want to let them loose when, as you correctly note, the defense can't complete a pass out of the zone. Good idea? Don't think so.

Your assessment that the team has run out of gas is probably spot on. Plekanec must be playing hurt to be suddenly so ineffective. Hammmer is too old and worn out to be a top 4 defenseman as is Gill. Great guys they may be, but they have to go as does Spacek. Is there another team in the league with so many old, slow guys on the blue line? Nope.

There is another issue you mention, that of the room. Obviously I have no insight to add on that subject. However, the Senators may be a very informative example of team chemistry. Without Alfreddson, Kovalev and Gonchar in the lineup, Clouston has a young team that does what he says and plays hard. It may well help that they are playing with no pressure being out of the playoff race but with a young leadership group they are improving by leaps and bounds. Gionta is a leader and can only have a positive influence. His double pad stack to save an empty netter was a joy to watch. Love the guy. But Gomez and maybe Cammalleri could well be the cancer in the room. If gone, the team might come together as the Senators have. Gomez has to go one way or the other and Cammalleri can be traded so it's doable. The post lockout game requires grit above all else. PG needs to rethink this team or get out of the way. And Hab fans need to accept a rebuild for the good of the team going forward. The fans have accepted crap for almost twenty years now so the idea that Montrealers won't stand for a tank job (if that is necessary) is not true. They have and they will.

Anonymous said...

Can't really blame Plekanec for the bad bounce. It was Cammalleri who cost them the first goal. Instead of taking a hit to make play, he tried to avoid the hit and flipped a rolling puck backward and caught Gill in a no win situation. Plekanec did what he was supposed to do - covering for the D-man.
Both goals were caused by bad bounces but those bounces bound to happen when the team played so poorly. Bad passes and turnovers plagued the team for the entire season. It is a small wonder that they are in the top 8 this season. Of course, they have to thank Price (lesser extent Auld) for that.

moeman said...

You are a great and honourable fan J.T.

Deniz Bevan said...

Hope the rest of your time in Montreal was fun [g]

Anonymous said...

I don't agree about AK as he was on fire the past 10 games BEFORE JM put him back with the black hole called Gomez. Eller and AK had magical chemistry I believe you mentioned it once yourself. AK had magical chemistry with Pleks early in the season remember? Every time AK gets on a scoring roll JM puts him back with Gomez. JM will cool off any player in hopes of firing up a deadweight like Gomez. Go figure!

Brian said...

As long as the journey to Montreal was in hours, I bet the return trip was even longer in mental terms. Long bus trips after ugly losses were always a 2nd intermission motivation (for some of us at least)!

Anonymous said...

Feel for you that you had to see such a stinker. Happened to me last year - Game 4 against the Flyers. 3-0 if you don't recall. Drove from Toronto (not 30 hours), dropped a pile of cash and lived through the goose egg.

I think they have the character to survive this but they are in tough for the playoffs. Just not enough depth up front given the injuries.

Anonymous said...

Better to have a slump now and get it going in the playoffs.
Don't worry. Keep the faith.