Friday, October 7, 2011

Luck Or Suck

There are two schools of thought regarding last night's pathetic lack of firepower on the part of our beloved Canadiens. One group says the Habs had more than thirty shots and only poor luck kept one of them from finding twine.

The other group, and the one to which I'm increasingly listening, says the Canadiens were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league for the last two seasons and nothing has changed. Excuses can mask the core issue for a while, but in the end the truth remains. Sure, the team is already dealing with key injuries. It's also true that the players have had little time together and are probably a bit short on chemistry just yet. Still, those excuses fail to explain why the Canadiens dominated the first period, then gave up the ghost in the last two.

Pierre Gauthier needs to examine the kind of team he's compiled, and compare that with the style of play Jacques Martin demands. Many of the players have proven they can score at other levels and with other teams. Yet, placed in Montreal, their production drops, almost across the board. Homegrown players like Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec regularly score twenty goals, but you have to wonder if they wouldn't produce more with another coach in another system. Others have. Matt D'Agostini scored two goals in forty games under Martin. Last year in St.Louis, he had twenty-one. Sergei Kostitsyn had seven goals in the 47 games he played for Martin. In Nashville...not exactly the '80s Oilers...he had 23 in 77 games.

Whether there's a failure to communicate between Martin and his players or Martin's system just doesn't produce a lot of goalscoring, there's a problem in Montreal. The team can't score even though the individual players have proven they can. Unless something changes, it's going to be another year of Carey Price playing out of his mind to preserve 2-1 and 3-2 victories. If he doesn't, if he gives up a couple of goals early, there's little chance the team will recover. When it's time for him to start thinking about his long-term contract next year, it won't be a plus for him to know he's got to be perfect every night or the team will lose.

There's also a problem with the powerplay, which has been the one positive in the scoring desert of the last two years. P.K.Subban is trying to do everything and making costly errors instead, but there are few blueline alternatives. There's little cohesion, and there doesn't seem to be much of a plan. Kirk Muller, who last year worked with the kids like Subban and planned the PP, is gone and appears to have left a greater void than we were expecting.

Of course, it doesn't help when a coach has two big scoring wingers, one whom he benches after an iffy penalty call and one who gets third-line linemates and fourth-line ice time. Neither Andrei Kostitsyn or Erik Cole were used in a way that would maximize their abilities. When a team can't score much to begin with, the coach doesn't have the luxury of playing games with the people most likely to pot one.

This is not to let the players off the hook. In the second and third periods last night, they did nothing to help their cause. They need to be better...a lot better...than they looked in that sad forty minutes. Still, one can't help thinking they'd have a better chance if they played a system more open to scoring goals. The Canadiens certainly have their share of bad luck when it comes to lighting the lamp, but the style they're playing just adds to the suck.


Kyle Roussel said...

Where's the mystery? From nearly day one many people, and I know I stand among them, knew that Martin's system was the square peg to the round hole that is the assembled personnel on the ice. Without Price's brilliance last year, the Canadiens would have been looking up at the Leafs.

Martin is a bad fit, and always has been. The crap about "he led us to the conference finals" is a load of hooey. It was a suicidal game plan that worked because Halak, Gorges and Gill were on another planet in terms of blocking shots.

Martin's just good at tempering the crazed media in Montreal. Case in point from last night's post game presser: "It doesn't matter who's on the powerplay - whoever is there has a job to do". Answers like that are pure garbage, and half the reason why Martin was hired in the first place. Answers like that - and he spews them at every press conference win or lose - are nothing more than elaborate "next question" type answers. Just fodder for scribes to write about while he comes up with his next series of doodles in his notepad.

Of course, the lack of scoring punch and players' drop in production once arriving in Montreal predates Martin, but what matters is that Martin is here NOW, and that's what is important.

We talk about how great the Canadiens powerplay has been for years, often finishing in the top 5 of the league, if not top 2. But that doesn't matter one iota if you suck at even strength, which the Habs clearly do. The passive, counter-attack system fatigues players as they scramble on defense, which drives the number of penalties taken. The passive system leaves Price prone to being trampled. It ensures that players don't have the energy to win puck battles in the offensive zone - assuming they can win a faceoff to get there. They compound the issue by taking the most minor penalties in the league while at the same time having among the fewest powerplay opportunities. Even if the PK is good (let's say 25%), because they get so few PP chances, the powerplay would have to be successful at a near-30% clip to make up for the shortfall. And that can't happen when Darche gets more powerplay time than Cole. That is simply not justifiable. Even if Cole is hiding an injury, the powerplay is when he ought to be played more!

While fans continue to brush everything under the rug and justify the low scoring numbers with the nonsensical "injuries" excuse there's no doubt that in post-lockout hockey, Jacques Martin has been unable to produce a team capable of playing up-tempo hockey.

Pierre said...

Have to agree with your analysis, and kyroussel's. I'm still keeping my cool, but this is going to be a long season. I cannot find any reason to play Darche instead of Cole on the power play, that is not even mind-boggling, it's down right stupid. I'm sure Martin is the only coach in the NHL who would make such a decision: to leave your 25-goal power forward on the bench in favor of...Mathieu Darche.
And Cammalleri on the PK? Sure, he did a good job. But, honestly, what a way to treat a 30 goal scorer?

dusty said...

Great post and comments.

Just want to add another JM insult. Plekanec is a passer first. What the hell is he doing on the point on the PP? He has no shot and so the penalty killers simply collapse and clog the passing lanes. How is this not obvious to our coach?

dusty said...

PG gets Woywitka and immediately loses him on waivers to the Rangers who like our Dmen even if we don't and signs Joe Callahan? Is this the strategy of a competent GM? Don't think so.

Did Philly put Betts on waivers because he's injured and can't play and PG got fooled?

I was depressed this morning after watching the leafs skate rings around the Habs but now I need a new word to describe my mood. Any suggestions?

Brian said...

The real tragedy in all of this is that they might have had the right coach down in Hamilton - Guy Boucher - and let him get away. They are goin to pay for that miscue for years to come.

Woodvid said...

Regarding Boucher, my hope is that when he's cut his NHL teeth in Tampa, he'll return home and lead us to glory -- the opposite of what's been happening with all our other coaches (Julien, Lemaire, etc.), who left after their apprenticeships here.

The Habs do not play an entertaining style of hockey. It's painful to watch, so I'm not gonna anymore. I'll watch Winnipeg get hockey back today at 5, and that'll be it.

Guaranteed the Habs go down today, btw. If I'm wrong, I'll do the chicken dance in front of my family after Thanksgiving dinner tonight.

dusty said...

When will your chicken dance be on youtube? I'm looking forward to it Woodvid.

Too bad about Betts but at least PG got his money back.

Real gutty performance by all the Habs but when will the injuries end?

Woodvid said...

Chicken dance done. Family joined in. That is all.