Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Now, on to other matters

In my haste to defend Ryan O'Byrne and cut off a hate campaign at the pass, I failed to mention what would have been by far the biggest news coming out of Monday night's game were it not for No. 3's brain fart.

After the game, when asked about Josh Gorges getting a goal during a rare shift on the power play, Guy Carbonneau had this to say:

“We’re going to try a lot more experiments because since the beginning of the season we’ve been leaving the 10 players who are supposed to make the power play work, but it’s not working. If we have to put the fourth line on the ice to change things up, that’s where we’re at right now.”

Hmmm...I guess going 3-for-38 over your last eight games will make you say some pretty crazy things.

Can you imagine a power play of Gorges, Francis Bouillon (who was his partner when he scored last night), Maxim Lapierre, Steve Begin and Georges Laraque? If that ever happens, I want a permanent camera shot of Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu stewing on the bench.

Of course, that will never happen, but Carbo's point was clear: he's not happy with the players on the power play right now.

Those 10 guys he's referring to, of course, are Koivu, Kovalev, Christopher Higgins, Robert Lang, Sergei Kostitsyn, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Tanguay, Andrei Markov and either Patrcie Brisebois or, if he's not dressed, Roman Hamrlik.

I have no problem with Carbo calling his players out, but I think there's been some coaching problems with the power play.

My biggest problem with it, and I've said it before, is that Markov and Kovalev are often on the same side of the ice, if they're on the ice together at all. Last night, the few times they were opposite each other, Markov was on the right point and Kovalev on the left half boards, where he can't let go of a one-timer.

Mark Streit was a big weapon last year at the right point, but a big reason why he was often open to shoot was that the top two guys of the PK box were so worried about that cross-ice pass from Markov to Kovalev. Their priority was to take that away, and if Streit beat them then so be it.

If the Canadiens don't have that Markov-Kovalev threat, they become a very easy team to defend. The Habs have had a major weapon each of the past two years that other teams had to not only think about, they had to draw up entire game plans on how to stop it.

Two years ago it was Sheldon Souray on the right point, and eventually teams began to overplay him, which created openings in the slot and for passes through the box. Last year it was the Markov-Kovalev diagonal feed, and it could be the same again this year, except those two guys aren't in the same spots they were last year.

Another reason I believe the power play is sputtering is the use of a forward on the point. The Canadiens in the past have always had two guys on the blue line that, for the most part, stayed there. Every now and then a defenceman would cut to the net for a backdoor pass, but by and large their role was to man the points and remain there as an outlet option if one of the forwards got in trouble in a battle for the puck.

This year, whenever Tanguay or Sergei are on the point, which is all the time, they invariably wind up drifting down to the hashmarks, if not lower. That leaves one defenceman to cover the entire blue line, which is not only a defensive risk, it also eliminates one of those outlet options.

I would love to see Carbonneau or Doug Jarvis scrap the idea of having a forward at the point and go back to using four defencemen. Markov-Gorges and Hamrlik-Brisebois work for me until Komisarek returns, and when he does, I say you throw him out there with Markov.

That not only assures having two guys on the point when you need them, it would also keep the defence pairings together for when the teams get back to 5-on-5.

Speaking of 5-on-5, it is dramatically improved so far compared to last year, almost to the same degree the power play is worse than last year. The Habs are plus-6 in 5-on-5 play through 20 games, which nearly matches their plus-8 through 82 games last year.

I think we can agree the Canadiens would be a tougher playoff opponent if they didn't need to wait for a power play to score a goal. Of course, in last year's playoffs they couldn't score even strength or on the power play, which may have simply extended itself into this season, but you get my point.

Meanwhile, the 20-game mark is also one that's fun for projections because they're so easy on the arithmetic side of things. I think it's safe to say a lot of people will be disappointed if all these guys maintain their pace, which would look like this:

Kovalev - 20g-40a-60pts
Plekanec - 16g-28a-44pts
A. Kostitsyn - 12g-16a-28pts
Higgins - 20g-20a-40pts
Latendresse - 8g-24a-32pts

To me, there are only three forwards who are delivering the goods at or above expectations right now, Koivu, Tanguay and Lang. The first two are on pace for 68 pts each, while Lang is on pace for 56, which is exactly what is being asked of him.

Sergei Kostitsyn, with three goals and six assists while logging major PP minutes, is doing pretty well in my books, but I think the expectations for him were a bit inflated considering he hasn't even played a full NHL season yet. The one number he really needs to work on is the PIM column, which at 22 in 20 games is way too high.

Finally, I have a question for all of you: Considering Carbonneau's comments Monday night that we can expect personnel changes on the power play, what five-man unit would you like to see him try out?


pierre said...

Early season practices must have reveal that Markov had the most reliable one-timer in the group..... using him as a replacement of Streit made sens when you have a left-handed with good vision and passing skills like Tanguay to replace Marcov in its former role as a feed man.

Tanguay has not deliver the quality feeds that we got from Markov..... his paralelle passes to Markov for the one timers are not perfect and his diagonal passes to Kovy dont come often and are not as clean as they could be either..... a little more time and practices might be all is required for him to better serve Markov..... until that happens its hard to judge on Markov's one-timer hability.... which I supect to be more than just fine.

Lang being a right-handed should only have made our group of PP forwards better.... I cant see this facet of our game not improving in the long run... I hope it will.

Sliver24 said...

While the idea of putting Komisarek out there with Markov on the power play is intriguing is does have a fundamental flaw. Komisarek is a right-handed shot and he'd be playing the right point.

It's one thing to have your PP playmaking d-man on his natural side (which may actually make the Markov-Kovalev pass easier to get through) but you need your shooting point man on his off side to take advantage of one-timer opportunities as well as move quickly toward the middle of the ice to get a shot off after a pass from down low.

Gorges fits very nicely in that spot. He's a lefty that's used to playing on the right side. He's quick and confident with the puck in tight situations and he almost always makes good decisions.

One caveat, though, is that a good decision in your own end at even strength is not necessarily a good decision when you're being pressured by an winger on a power play. Gorges is a good defensive defenceman because he's conservative with the puck and plays within the limits of his abilities. A good trigger man on the power play generally needs to take more chances and push the limits of his abilities when working in close quarters against an opponent.

I think Gorges will be able to make that adjustment if he's given the confidence of his coach.

Here's who I'd like to see on the PP's first wave:

-Markov on left D. He should never play anywhere else.
-Gorges on right D. See above for reasoning.
-Kovalev in his office, where he belongs.
-Lang on the left wing. He's our only talent forward with a RH shot. He and Kovalev will have lots of opportunities for cross-ice passes. He'll also be the PP's faceoff man.
-Higgins at center. Giving Higgins a simple role on the PP will be good for him: Plant yourself in front and look for deflections and rebounds. Get in the way of the opposing goalie. Do your best Tomas Holmstrom impression.

I like this set up because Lang can take faceoffs and Higins can back him up. That leaves Koivu and Plekanec (RW) with AK46, Hamrlik and Brisebois for the second wave.

Yves said...

I agree with what you're saying about Kovalev and Markov on the PP... and just as I was reading this.. Jacques Demers just said the same thing on RDS....

I'm not sure who I'd try out there.

I think Gorges is definitely a possibility.

I certainly wouldn't put the whole 4th line out like Carbo said... although, in alot of these games, the 4th line has been their best line.

Anonymous said...

1st unit - kovy pleks andrei
markov georges

2nd -tangs koivu higgins/tender or lang
hammer breezer

seems pretty straight forward to me. its almost like carbo and jarvis are OVER coaching. we lost 1guy so why switch everything?