Thursday, November 27, 2008

Avoiding rock bottom

First of all, sorry I didn't get to this last night, but I had a new radio show that made its debut on The Team 990 and I was pretty beat when I got home. The show's called "Hump Night" and I co-host it with professor/musician/comedian/professional eater Dave McGimpsey. We basically give our twisted spin to the sports world and try to be funny without really trying, if you know what I mean. Anyhow, Wednesday nights at 11 p.m. on AM 990, if you want to check it out.

On to Wednesday night's game, and there were tons of things to feel good about if you're the Canadiens. To walk into Detroit and bottle up a high-powered attack like they did is more than commendable, it was downright out of character for a team that hasn't respected a game plan in weeks. Last night, the Canadiens knew what they wanted to do, and they did it for 60 minutes.

Alex Kovalev, in my eyes, had his best game since that comeback on Long Island. He only wound up with one assist on the scoresheet, but he had a team-high five shots on goal and was the guy that did the dirty work on Maxim Lapierre's bank shot goal to open the scoring. Kovalev was involved physically, had a few dangerous moments on the attack and looked genuinely interested in playing. When he's interested, he's one of the top five forwards in the game. When he's not...

Also encouraging was Tomas Plekanec's power play goal, not necessarily because it came with the man advantage, but because it was the first time in a long time we've seen a goal that resembled the ones scored nearly every game by someone on the top line last year. Ty Conklin's neck must have been sore trying to follow that puck, and it served as further proof that Andrei Markov can play hockey like grandmasters play chess - always three or four moves ahead.

I would say Carey Price's play in nets was encouraging, but that would suggest he's done something of late to warrant being discouraged, which simply isn't the case. Ever since Guy Carbonneau called out his goalies a little while back, Price has been without reproach. It was the same thing last night.

But you can't have good without bad, and aside from Alex Tanguay leaving the game with a "sore neck" after getting annihilated by Brad Stuart with a clean hit, there's one thing I have a problem with from last night. When you see how well this team can play when they stick to a game plan and work hard as a team, it really makes it frustrating to watch the same group of men put up stinkers like they did in Boston, Carolina and against the Islanders at home Monday.

This is the second time this season the vultures were circling above the Canadiens heads, ready to proclaim they had hit rock bottom, and the team came out with an effort that will keep their fans satisfied until the next slump hits. That is not the measure of a consistent team, which was the identity of the Habs last season and a big part of the reason they had so much success. They never reeled off six or seven-game win streaks, but they never lost three in a row either.

After the 4-0 win over Ottawa, Carbonneau mentioned how it was an important win because of what people were saying about their team. Last night, Carbonneau spoke about how he told his team beforehand that this was one of four or five games all season that can indicate what kind of year is in store. The only reason neither is a ridiculous exaggeration is because of the context the two games were played in, with the Canadiens playing poorly and feeling the heat from fans and media.

The key test now is to see how the Habs show up in Washington tomorrow night against a rejuvenated Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals have yet to lose in regulation on home ice this season, so maybe Carbonneau would do well to add this one to his four or five games that can define a season because it would show the Canadiens are able to play to their full potential in back-to-back games, against tough competition to boot.

Marc-Antoine Godin of La Presse makes a great comparison between last night's game and the third period comeback in New Jersey last year, and it's entirely possible that win could have a similar effect on the Habs of this year.

But the first indication of that will come Friday night because so far, despite all those wins early in the season, the Canadiens haven't proven they can take success from one game into the next. That's something any team with realistic aspirations for the Stanley Cup must have first and foremost.


Yves said...

I thought Kovalev played well last night.. Lapierre and his "hustle" really brought alot.

The 4th line guys spread out on whatever line always seem to play well... Kostopoulos was with Higgins and Koivu a couple of times and they had numerous chances....

If Tom K had a scoring touch...

I'm hoping that the same amount of effort shows up in Washington!

pierre said...

Althought I missed part of the first period it seemed to me that the CH showed some versatility last night by being more of an attacking team in the first and more of a defensive team on the second and third but not matter which style they were playing in the efforts always sprung from the cohesive perpective of being part of a 5 men unit and no energy got ever wasted in vain so focused and efficient were their game in this highly competed context.

The Habs have been innacuratly portrayed by the local media as a cup contending team at the start of the season but being a finalist aspiring team is what they are and althought I mite not be expecting the fans to look at it that way I wished at least that our so call sport media people had showned better sens and measure because making jugements from a tip topped calibrated scale can get hopelesly irrealistic in the end.

With Price and the way we have been playing as a team in our last three outings I can expect the CH to be an exciting team to watch this season and to finnish very near the top in the East going a couple round in the playoffs....... if their PP can get over being without Streit and raise its efficiency in the top 5 than add to that a couple more rounds in the playoffs...... but in the end the Red Wings + Hossa do remain in a unique class apart from the rest of the league just as they were last season...... and that for me is one more reason as to why I really enjoyed watching the Habs winning against them yesterday..... which could well be, let it be noted, the lone lost in regular time the Wings might have to indure in the whole of november.

Sliver24 said...

First off, THANK YOU for not mentioning O'Byrne in today's entry. I was afraid that, despite the fact that he had one of his better games of the season, his Souray-esque moment that led to the Franzen goal would garner a lot more media attention than it actually did.

Now, to the actual game. Great win last night, but just as I try to avoid writing off the entire season after a single loss, I'm not yet ready to make my plans to attend a parade this summer.

I'm not convinced that the 0-FC implemented by the Habs last night is the way that I want to see them play on a regular basis, but it did seem effective when it was in use. My favourite part of the TSN broadcast was when Mike Babcock actually scoffed when McGuire asked him about the lack of a forechecker. Mere minutes the Wings were down by three. I wonder if he was still scoffing...

I don't know that Carbo implemented the system because it's inherently good, though. I think that the real idea behind the 0-FC was to get all five guys on the ice and any given time playing as a unit.

The Habs have been way too spread out this season, which is a major contributing factor to their lack of offence, not to mention all their defensive-end give-aways. How many times have you seen the Habs D forced to dump the puck out off the glass because there was no one around to receive a pass. Or worse, try to force a pass that just wasn't there, which is what leads to those turnovers.

That was not the case last night in Detroit, in large part because of the defensice system. Convincing a group of guys to support the D when they have the puck in their own end is a more difficult task to both achieve and enforce than asking them to hang back together in the neutral zone.

On a final note, I did notice that Higgins was planted in the slot on the Habs PP, which is what I wrote I wanted to see in my comments yesterday. I could be wrong but I don't remember him spending so much time there in the past. Arp, do you think Carbo reads the comments on your blog and implements the ideas the ice?

Arpon Basu said...

Carbo definitely looks to The Daily Hab-it for all his coaching moves, he told me so himself! That's why he decided to go with no forechecking when me and everyone who bothers to write comments have been saying for weeks that he needs to go with two if not three forecheckers. See? Carbo just does the opposite of what we say.

Hey Pierre, great insight, as usual, but there's just one thing. If you're a team that's considered a favourite to make the finals, then you automatically become a Cup contender. Just the fact you are playing for the Cup makes you a contender, but not a favourite, because a hot goalie can win you a series against pretty much any team.

Anonymous said...

interesting point about the 0-fc but i disagree, at least for the moment when the habs have done everything but play as a unit - that was all i wanted to see and it not only made room for scoring opportunities but it saved pleks a headache or two. he played one of his best games last night. so if they are going to play a fc-ing game (and the playoffs tell me they are not very good at it) than let the unit come first, and worry about being physical later.

actually, i'd like to test your theory and see them play this game plan against say, the bruins and see if it's as effective or not.