Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Aftermath: Discipline

The Montreal Canadiens rank second in the NHL in a very telling category. They trail only the Pittsburgh Penguins in the number of candyass, lazy minor penalties they've taken this year, with a grand total of 285 as of last night. Included in that number are a league-leading 12 bench minors; the kinds of penalties that reveal a team's disorganization and indiscipline. In comparison, top contenders Detroit and Philly have just two bench minors apiece.

Some will argue the Canadiens take so many minors because they're small and use their sticks to compensate, or because they don't forecheck hard enough to force the other team into taking penalties. While there may be an element of truth to that against some teams, in reality, a lot of the penalties they take are out of pure carelessness or stupidity. Last night, for example, the Habs took another two too-many-men penalties, as well as a delay-of-game and two minors while on the power play.

The problem with taking stupid minors is the way they influence every other aspect of a team's game plan. Take last night. The first too-many-men call came less than two minutes into the first period. At that point, any inclination Jacques Martin might have had to roll four lines had to be put on hold as the PKers took over for two minutes. They killed that off and started to build some momentum when Plekanec took a questionable interference call and put his team back on the defensive. Again, they killed it off and when they got rolling afterwards, they were rewarded by Max Pacioretty's goal.

Unfortunately, every time they'd build momentum with a good push or a PP, they'd scuttle their own chances with a dumb penalty. The time in the box meant P.K.Subban had to spend more than four minutes on the PK and only 0:25 on the PP. It meant less ice time for Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, James Wizniewski and Pacioretty, who didn't kill penalties. Of course, they're also players with a better chance to score than PKers like Travis Moen and Hal Gill, so the penalties cut down on the Canadiens' offensive opportunities as well. And it meant Atlanta always had a chance to take over the game with a timely PP goal, or a goal scored off the momentum they built every time the Habs shot themselves in the proverbial foot.

It's a good thing the goaltender is often a team's best penalty killer. Carey Price was sharp as a north wind all night, and saved us from a bunch of dressing room cliches about how lack of discipline cost them the game. The kid is the Canadiens' MVP this year, by a mile, and he deserves every bit of applause and every grudging nod of approval he gets. If not for his solid play...make no mistake about it...we would be listening to those post-loss excuses today. In the wake of a quiet deadline day, the bellyaching of the Gauthier haters would have been pretty much unbearable if that had happened.

Going forward, though, the Habs have got to be more disciplined. They escaped with a win last night, despite their flirting with penalty-induced disaster. In the playoffs, assuming the team qualifies, games are decided on special teams. If the Canadiens are in the habit of handing out free opportunities in the post-season, they won't last long. They're not the kind of team that can score at will, so a PP goal scored off a dumb penalty is often enough to bury them. They need to develop better habits now, so they're playing much smarter when it really matters.

Staying out of the box means all four lines can get some flow going, the ice time is better distributed among the defencemen and the team has a chance to build momentum. With the challenges the Canadiens are facing on the injury front, they have to give themselves every advantage they can get. There's nothing they can do about how small they are, or their speed on the blueline, but they can control their own behaviour. They must.


Anonymous said...

I wonder how many times we (and they, I suppose) can say this aloud before it finally changes? You're bang on though, I've watched every game, and the penalties are largely lazy and very similar plays. Though it offers no solace, they'll have no one to blame but themselves if they carry it into the playoffs :(

Anonymous said...

Pleks three penalties were chippy, Im not small watch me hit you variety. AK's was a lazy hook. Throw in the two bench minors and thats 6 penalties or 12 minutes of wasted time.

Do that against Philly, Boston, or Washington and you'll lose by a bundle.

If Price isnt the best goalie in the league this team is nowhere near a playoff spot.


Anonymous said...

the absolute worst penalty is too many men on the ice. i've nearly torn out my tonsils watching the habs pull this one a few times this year, and we know what happened to the bruins last year in the playoffs. concussion issues are valid but size issues shouldn't impede an ability to _count_. maybe the penalty wouldn't come up as often if the NHL renamed it: "too many idiots on the ice."

DB said...

It's time to challenge the assumption that the Habs are small. Yes they have a few short players, but height isn't nearly as important as weight.

If you disagree then explain why sports like boxing, MMA, wresting and weightlifting, where strength is important separate participants by weight and not height.

The Habs' forwards average weight is 196 lbs while the Flyers average 199 lbs (197 lbs without Jody Shelley a 5 minute per game player)and Wings average 199 lbs. Not a big difference.

The Habs' top six forwards (Gomez, Gionta, Pleks, AK, MacPac and Cammi) average 194 lbs while the Flyers' top six (Carter, Richards, Giroux, Hartnell, Biere, and Van Remsdyk) average 193 lbs.

On defence the Flyer's have an advantage because they have 4 defencemen (Pronger, Cobourn, O'Donnell and Meszaros) who weigh in the 220 to 227 lbs. The Habs have only one defencemen, Gill, who is over 220 lbs.

On the other hand, the Wings defence is smaller than the Habs. Ericsson at 220 lbs is their biggest defenceman while Kronwall at 192 lbs, Lidstrom at 190 lbs and Ralfalski at 194 lbs are essentially the same weight as Weber at 193 lbs.

If the complaint is that the Habs aren't physical enough then the problem is likely the type of player the Habs have and not the size of their players. After all one of the Flyer's most physical players, Richards, is the same height and weight as Gomez and Pleks.