Saturday, January 19, 2013

Aftermath: That Sucking Feeling

Well, the Habs, almost predictably, dropped a game against the leafs broadcast nationally on Hockey Night in Canada, following a nostalgia-filled ceremony. It was pretty much a recipe for disaster, judging by recent performances in those circumstances.

It certainly wasn't the outcome fans were hoping for after a nine-month absence from NHL hockey, which was evidenced by the restlessness and occasional booing emanating from the Bell Centre crowd. Really, I disagree with jeering your own team, but I understand the feeling behind it. It was warranted.

First, we have to get the excuses out of the way. The Habs' new motto is "No Excuses," so saying they were rusty and hadn't had a proper training camp doesn't cut it. So did the leafs, and they still came out looking like they wanted to win. We might say the problem was the number of penalties the Canadiens took right out of the gate, which threw off their rhythm. That's true, they did. However, they are responsible for their own actions and can't blame the refs for the rest of the game in which they were just failing to set up any offence.

By the middle of the third period, the Habs looked like they'd been to the body shop and had the rust scaled off. Of course, by then, it was too late to make a real difference. Brian Gionta at least kept the team from yet another ignominious shutout in a big game. The players who fans expect to make a difference: Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais were pretty ineffective. One might forgive Plekanec who's playing hurt, but this is the No Excuses team.

Still, there were positives. When the legs started to come back to life in the third, there were signs of potential on the offence. Alex Galchenyuk performed admirably in his first NHL game. He was noticeable on every shift (until Therrien moved him to the third line) and had a couple of nice chances. He's going to be an NHL player if they don't ruin him. Andrei Markov showed beautiful awareness on the ice, with lovely tape-to-tape breakout passes. Rene Bourque was more interested than he's ever been as a Hab. He was going to the right places and was just slightly left of dangerous. The David Desharnais line, with Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty not playing any serious hockey at all and Desharnais getting only 16 games in Switzerland in the last nine months, was out of step, but will be much better when they remember their connections. Alex Emelin laid some very heavy checks. Brandon Prust played his role perfectly, stirring things up, fighting and crashing around. Lars Eller showed some decent moves. Carey Price was solid and kept the result closer than it should have been. Scott Gomez was negotiating to play in San Jose.

On the other hand, Josh Gorges was beaten more than Andrei Kostitsyn on an IQ test. He looked slow and backward and made fans wonder whether heart and soul without wheels is really worth a long-term contract.   The PK, the only redeemable feature of last year's Canadiens, got exposed twice, not a good sign if a team takes as many penalties as the Habs did. (Although the Plekanec penalty for snowing the goalie was ridiculous. Was he supposed to fall on top of him instead of stopping?) Passes generally were more off-target than the first twenty-seven attempts to kill Bin Laden. The power play looked like a bunch of kindergartners trying to square dance. Therrien's response seemed to be switching up his lines, but, as we know, that doesn't necessarily get players going.

So today, a lot of fans are going to be wondering whether this season will be an abbreviated version of last year, or if the team will get its act together before it hits the dreaded losing streak that will end their hopes early. The answer is, it's tough to say after one game. As a good hockey buddy says, "Have patience." That's wise advice, even if it's difficult to practice. The fact is, there's just not a lot of room for error this year. A ten-game losing streak is recoverable in an 82-game season. With only 48 games, five losses in a row can sink a team.

Watching the first game of the year, one has to believe the Habs aren't ready for prime time. Galchenyuk was a great draft pick and Trevor Timmins would love to choose high in this year's deep draft. Yet, one game hardly tells a story. Ten games, maybe, but not one. So, fans, don't drop the torch just yet. Give these proud players a couple of more chances to prove they're in it to win it. They deserve that much.


Anonymous said...

I forgot how much I love reading your after game posts!

Kyle Roussel said...

Last season the Habs were toast by will be much shorter than that this year. Considering 8 of their first 11 games are at home, and the team sucked so badly on the road...if this team can't muster 10 points from their 7 remaining home games before getting a road-heavy schedule, it's sayonara.

moeman said...

I agree 100%.

Steve said...

Tell me AK46 would not be an asset on this team. The Leafs are probably the easiest opponent we will face all year. Scott Gomez may have left, but he left behind 23 dopplegangers. There is no recovery, this is still a bottom feeder of a hockey team. Therefore Plexs or DD has to go, Eller needs a shot at center. Lets use this year to give the kids (Gallager, etc)a chance. Its not going to change the outcome.

J.T. said...

@Kyle: Agreed that the tanking cliff is much steeper and closer at hand this year than last. I do think there's more there than we saw last night, though.

@Steve: Chill, man. It's one game. The team might be bad, but it doesn't mean you cut off living flesh as you try to stop the rot. Kostitsyn is what he is: a talented hockey player with lots of skill that he used periodically to great effect, along with the smarts of a toaster that impeded his ability to be consistent. With his size, his skating, his skills and his shot, he should have easily had 40 goals a year. He just didn't have the brains to do it. Eller, by the way, *is* playing centre. He started between Moen and Bourque and ended between Moen and Galchenyuk last night.

TommyB said...

Pretty much agree with everything you have stated. To me the Habs looked like a team that has spent just seven days together on the ice. No legs. No cohesion.

True, the same can be said for all teams, but the guys who did not play anywhere during the lockout are playing catch-up, and that was very evident in the Habs lineup last night. With the exception of Price, that is. Price was sharp, and it would have been downright humiliating last night without him.

The Habs as a whole, looked very slow. But Cole in particular, looked like a player who has been contemplating retirement. I have faith in him. He will come around quickly, but the rust was quite evident last night.

You can't make judgements on one crappy game. These guys are much better than they showed in game #1. I don't think last night was a real indication of what we are in for.

I would like to touch on the absence of Subban. No doubt we need the skillset PK brings to the game, and we are a much better team with him in the lineup. However, the truth of the matter is, the Canadiens need a "Subban-like" defenseman. So if not PK, then someone else. I would like that guy to be PK. But, at what price? Most GMs are going to be careful how much money they throw away at a handful of players on their team. Next year's cap adjustment will come quickly. Let's remember that it's a team game, and you need quality players down through your roster. Load the top 3 guys on your roster, cap-wise, and what happens if and when they start to underperform, due to injury, age, or just plain laziness and disinterest? Gomez happens!

Marc Bergevin knows the ropes. He will do everything reasonably possible to sign PK Subban. If it becomes far too unreasonable, he will deal him. Habs fans will cry. But those same fans would cry even louder two years down the road, when there is no money to sign whichever free agent might be available. I am glad Habs fans don't run the team.

Better days are just around the corner. Maybe even Tuesday night.

J.T. said...

@Tommy: I agree the team missed Subban's skills. And I agree that Bergevin needs to do everything possible to sign him without handcuffing the team for the future.

The question is, what does Subban want? If it's money, you have to be careful about overpaying for an essentially unproven player. If it's term, I'd be leaning towards giving him an extra year or two at sensible money to make him happy, in the expectation that he'll continue to develop.

One thing I don't like are the whispers about Bergevin and Therrien not being keen on his attitude. I'm inclined to agree with Elliotte Freidmann when he says if that were true, Bergevin would have traded him by now. I don't think there's much wrong with the kid in the room, but whispers can grow into issues and then into getting rid of good players. It's Montreal, after all.

Woodvid said...

I think there is one legit excuse for the Habs last night: they have a new coach and a new system to learn. The Leafs at least are familiar with theirs from last year.

That said, it was pretty uninspiring to watch, and very disappointing that the Habs took themselves out of the game so early with all the penalties. Bottom line: The leafs played better and deserved the win.

Jim LaPlante said...

I should have read this earlier. Hearing some fans take on last nights game made me wonder if we were watching the same game. I cannot remember a worse performance from Gorges. I also agree that Markov and Bourque both had solid outings.
That said this looked an awful lot like last season. Trapped in our own zone, no speed through the netrual zone and no open areas in the offensive zone.
Enjoyed the post. CHeers.