Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Remember, these guys are winning

Alex Kovalev feels the Canadiens are too hesitant and lacking confidence with the puck in the early going of the season.

Guy Carbonneau thinks his team is lacking some timing, due largely to big pre-season expectations and a wonky schedule that had the team with four days off last week and another five-day break next week.

Saku Koivu felt his Canadiens may have tried to get a "bit too cute" and didn't put enough pucks on Cam Ward in the Carolina net.

Do these comments sound like they are coming from a winning team, one which snapped a nine-game losing streak at home to the Hurricanes with a bore-you-to-tears 3-2 victory in the shootout? Does it sound like these guys are 6-1-1 after eight games, tied in points with the high-flying Minnesota Wild, their next opponents Thursday night?

Not exactly.

But the Canadiens record, even it has been compiled against some less than challenging opposition, remains impressive because it's being done while the team continues to search for itself.

Kovalev said after the game that the Habs need to start playing the way they did at the end of last year, but in fact what they need to do is figure out what identity this version of the team is going to ultimately have. Despite relatively minor personnel changes, this is a hugely different team than last year.

The additions of Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay and Georges Laraque are not the only new players Carbonneau has at his disposal, because the Kostitsyn brothers in their current form are essentially free agent acquisitions when compared to last year at the same time. Last year's team had a clearly-defined checking line, and nearly half the forwards were muckers.

Now, Carbonneau has three lines that are threats to score every night, no matter what combination he ultimately puts them in, and opposing coaches will lose sleep trying to figure out who they will play their checking line against.

The other night against Anaheim, Randy Carlyle threw his shutdown line against the Plekanec line half the time, and against the Koivu line the other half. Most teams don't present that dilemma.

Forging a new identity takes some time, and eventually it will come, but one guy who is clearly having trouble accepting that adjustment period is Plekanec. He has only an empty net goal and two assists to show for his season thus far, and it's becoming increasingly clear to anyone paying attention that he's over-thinking the game right now.

Early in the second period Tuesday night, he had a marvelous opportunity to step over the blue line and put a shot on goal. Instead, Plekanec faked the shot and tried an impossible pass that ultimately killed the rush. It was almost as if he told himself in the split-second before the play, "OK, I tried throwing everything imaginable on net against the Ducks Saturday night, it's time to try something different."

When someone is thinking that much out there - and I'm not saying Plekanec is necessarily, it just looks that way - it becomes chronic and a slump can start to perpetuate itself.

"He's getting frustrated a bit and you can see it in his body language on the ice," Carbonneau said. "But for me what's important is his overall game, not points. He's doing some very nice things defensively and 5-on-5 since the start of the season, he's had some scoring chances and creates scoring chances. It's just a question of time with him."

That, to me at least, sounds like a man who is going to give his number one centreman from last year some time with his current linemates to find his scoring touch. But the deeper Plekanec goes into this slump, the more it will become clear that perhaps a change of linemates may be the best thing for him.

This is, after all, a new team.


Sliver24 said...

I agree with Koivu's assessment wholeheartedly. In fact I used the exact same words (too cute) last night while I was suffering through the first period. (Although the real suffering came later when my freaking satellite crapped out because of the freaking storm and I missed the last half of the game. I actually spent ten snowy minutes in my driveway throwing snowballs at the dish on my roof in hopes that the problem was being caused by snow on the dish rather than the clouds. It was not, but luckily no damage was done to the dish by my howitzer of a right arm).

The Plek line set a high standard last year. I would regularly react to one of their goals with, literally, a dropped jaw, instead of the standard loud cheer. Some of the plays they made were absolutely astounding. I’d say that all three of this year’s offensive lines have the ability to amaze me with their talent, but that doesn’t mean every goal needs to be scored like that. When three talented players line up together amazing goals will occur in due course, but there’s nothing that says Koivu can’t chip home the junk left behind from a shot from the point.

Be it next game or after a slump, the team will eventually get on the right track. Frankly, as you point out, they’re winning, and if this constitutes a rough patch in the season the next eight months or so are looking pretty rosy from here. I still bear the scars from not that long ago when Oleg Petrov was tied for the lead team in scoring with 47 points. That’s right... I said Oleg Petrov... and 47 points!

pierre said...

Our game against TO was the sole game we played so far this season were we showed to be clearly superior to the next team.... most of the others were unconvincing wins... some were steals.

Our team is superior on paper but not on the ice... the ingredients are quality ingredients but the needed recipe to united them together as a cohesive whole is lacking.... thats why inferior teams can compete with us the way they do.... they have their shit together... we dont.

The X factor between the players on paper and the team's performance on the ice is the coach... his vision, his system, his directives are what reunite players into playing as a team with a forged identity in unison.

Coaches are the best bang for the bucks in the NHL.... the good ones will consolidate performances at the eight of what it is expected from the definite roster they have in their hands.. and the best coaches will go beyond that... not unlike what Julien and Babcock did for for their respective roster of last season when providing custom made bending systems that made both their teams behaved and performed better than the sum total of their parts would have suggested.

Despite the Rangers profound overhauled to their roster this summer they are already playing as a team.... I dont see why our team isn't except for no other reason then they have not been as well prepared and conditionned to do so..... unlike the Renney coached Rangers.

Its not clear to me what is Carbonneau's vision, system and directives ?

According to Lang's interview I read yesterday in the Gazette it is a simple one and not something he had any trouble adapting to...
as he said Carbo is asking players '' to read the situations well and to react well to it '' and has Lang said... '' its a simple one and something I know I can do well by it ''.

I found it a little sad that our sport journalists are not providing us the nots and bults about the Montreal Canadiens's coach's system and how he is using the team's practices and time in order of implementing it..... I want to know why does Carbo thinks that the team needs 10 or 18 games to get going.... you dont need that time to play as a team when you are well prepared to do so.... but yes you need that time if ill-prepared for better result.

Frankie said...


Great analysis, as usual. In just a few short weeks the daily hab-it has become my go to spot for Habs analysis -- keep it up my friend, word she is a spreading! No concerns for me on Pleckanec. I am not quite ready to call the end of the Plek-Kost-Kovy line, but there is something telling me that the Kostitsyn brothers ned to play with each other and soon. Where centered by Plek or Lang, it needs to be tried. On Lang, the more I se, the more I like. He has great control in the offensive zone, uses his size well, and creates opportunities. But possibly the best part is that he looks really engaged out there - no floating, going hard each shift, showing the young guys what it takes to succeed shift by shift. What this team needs to do is chill out, play some simple hockey -- by game 20 we are going to be firing on all cylinders and it will be, in a word, "sick-atating" to behold. You can quote me on that.