Monday, November 10, 2008

A telltale game

Tuesday night's tilt against the Ottawa Senators will go a long way toward determining just what kind of team the Montreal Canadiens are this season.

More specifically, it will tell us if the Habs are really an improved version of last year's squad, or if this is a completely different team that needs to forge its own identity.

Last year's Habs would take the humiliation they suffered Saturday night and channel it into their next game. More often than not, it resulted in a victory, and a convincing one at that.

Will the Canadiens best players be their best players, as Guy Carbonneau said they needed to be following the loss to the Leafs?

The matchup with the Sens is a favourable one for the Canadiens, and you probably couldn't find a better one for the team to bounce back against. The Sens, to be generous, have been erratic all season and are a team in disarray to a far greater extent than the Canadiens. And the players who have been in Montreal a while remember all too well how Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza have ripped the Canadiens to shreds over the past few years, so getting up for the game should not be an issue.

Before anyone gets too carried away with all the problems in the Canadiens play of late, they should take a look at the standings. With all their warts they've shown this season, and while playing only one of 12 games to the fullest of their potential, the Canadiens are still 8-2-2, right in the thick of it for the best record in the league. In fact, based on points percentage (as in the precentage of total points available earned by a team), the Habs .750 number is third to only San Jose (.813) and Detroit (.769).

If the debacle in Toronto truly serves as a wakeup call, imagine what this team can accomplish when it finally clicks?

Bouncing over to the three-game sentence handed down to Tom Kostopoulos, I think it's a slap on the wrist, but I'm not the least bit surprised. Colin Campbell gave Randy Jones two games last year for knocking Patrice Bergeron out for an entire year, so in that sense I guess this suspension is severe, because the situations on the two hits are very similar.

But just because Campbell gave Jones a cream puff punsihment last year, does that mean Kostopoulos should get the same treatment now? Does "legal" precedent apply in a league where one man is responsible for all disciplinary decisions? Should we not allow for the likely possibility that Campbell made a mistake last year?

I'm just wondering what happens the next time a guy commits the sin, as Mike Van Ryn apparently did here, of deciding to change directions with the puck along the boards. Why is this a factor in the sentence? Is it so unheard of that a player decides to change directions to avoid a hit?

It's high time that players, who often say they should be allowed to police themselves, start looking at videos of situations like these and make the conscious decision that when a guy is vulnerable along the boards, it's a more prudent move to play the puck. That, in my opinion, would be a far more effective way of self-policing than dropping your gloves and pounding a guy into oblivion.


Sliver24 said...

If the NHL has shown anything in their handing out of suspensions over the years it's that they're not willing to use an offending player as a scapegoat, even when the media is screaming for blood. That, in my opinion, is an honourable thing. Why should Kostopoulos pay for the sins of the players that have come before him? He should not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

The NHL is starting to move towards making these types of hits more of a serious infraction. That is clear based on the fact that Kostopoulos got three games despite the fact that it's clear to everyone he had no malicious intent when he hit Van Ryn. That's more than the two games received by Jones last season. The next guy who's unfortunate to get caught in this situation will likely get five games. After that it will be seven, and so on. As each successive incident occurs the players will know the the bar has been raised and they'll be that much more careful when they're headed into the corner.

What I hate, though, is that because of this escalation we're going to see even more of what I've increasingly noticed over the past few years - guys turning their back to opponents while in the 'danger zone' in order to ensure they don't get hit. I'm not talking about the Van Ryn/Kostopoulos hit here. Nobody would be crazy enough to purposefully put themselves in that position in such a high-speed situation. You generally see it on the cycle when a forward in the corner completely exposes his back to an impending body check, preventing the defender from being able to hit him without slamming him head first into the boards. The player with the puck knows that 99.9% of the time the oncoming defender will wisely back off. The rest of the time the play draws a penalty. Almost all the time the player that was hit escapes injury since he knows the hit could be coming.

pierre said...

Back to the drawing board ?

After a dozen games, the mantra now is to go back to how we played the game last season.

The quality of our game as a group is less than ordinary ... nothing special ... group cohesion is a must no matter which system a team might be playing in ... this team has been ill-prepared to face the music nevermind dictating the pace of a game ... has Carbo watched the Wings playing last season ? as he taken notes ?
The CH cant just play the way they did last season if they want to be a better team than last season ... they had flaws last season that went under the radar because of their impecable PP ... their 5 on 5 game was weak and will remain weak unless Carbo has something better to propose than using last year as a reference to get our act together.