Monday, November 24, 2008

This place can get nasty

Early in the third period of Monday's shootout loss to the Islanders Ryan O'Byrne was called for an interference penalty when he tackled a guy in front of his net. The Isles didn't score, but as O'Byrne skated toward the penalty box and the Bell Centre crowd booed, I noted to my press box neighbour how I felt bad for the guy.

He's not perfect, far from it, and he's a long way from becoming a legit top-four NHL defenceman. But O'Byrne is learning, and he's been getting a rough ride in the media for the past little while.

What I said to my neighbour was that the fans and the media were a lot more tolerant of Mike Komisarek when he was making a lot of the same mistakes O'Byrne is making now, but that was largely because the Canadiens weren't particularly good back then. When the fans expect to win, there is no room for error for anyone.

But the ultimate error was still to come, and if O'Byrne thought he was getting a rough ride before he hasn't seen anything yet.

His own goal Monday night is the first of its kind I've ever seen, and for it to happen when it did, to O'Byrne of all people, is a downright cruel joke on the part of whoever's in charge of fate and karma.

O'Byrne didn't ask to be put into this position where he has to get better probably a little faster than he's ready for, where he has to play more minutes to compensate for the loss of Mike Komisarek, where he has to become the scapegoat for everything that's wrong with the Canadiens.

But that's the position he's in, and he hasn't been nearly as bad as a lot of people have made him out to be, but because of that he's subject to scrutiny.

And that can be a nasty ride.

"It always sucks (C'est toujours plate)," Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said of the "O'Byrne, O'Byrne" chants that came raining down from the upper reaches of the Bell Centre after the game. "It's the best place to win, but the people are hard. People pay good money to come to the games, and they don’t only want to see the team, they want to see us win. Not once in a while, all the time.

"It's too bad because we’ve been giving them some good hockey for the past couple of seasons, and it’s hard to win in this league. It’s not like in the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s, it’s a lot tougher to win at home than it was back in the day. People will have to get used to that."

As th Habs filed off the bench and the chants were picking up steam, I couldn't help but notice Josh Gorges shoot a cold stare up into the stands. Gorges is a team guy through and through, and it looked as though he wanted to run up into the stands and shut some of the fans up himself.

After the game in the dressing room he'd calmed down and said all the right things, but I would have loved to ask him my question as he was coming off the bench, because his answer surely would have been more colourful than this:

"I know how it feels, I’ve put the puck into my net before. It's never intentional, it's a bad break, and nobody feels more sick to his stomach about it than Ryan does. I just thought to chant his name was tough because I know how he feels and he'd give anything to take it back. It's tough because in a situation like that you want to support a player and not have him feel down. But at the same time I know it’s disappointing for a lot of fans."

Luckily for O'Byrne, finding someone to give him advice on how to deal with this won't be difficult because if there is one guy in the world who knows of what Carbo speaks, it's his teammate Patrice Brisebois.

Brisebois might have had his worst game of the season Monday night, but he didn't hear it from the fans at all, probably because they're afraid of another Bob Gainey tongue-lashing.

The rough night began early in the first when Brisebois hit Steve Tambellini and bounced right off him, clutching is right shoulder as he slowly made his way to the bench. The only problem was that the puck was in the Habs end, and as Brisebois skated towards the bench the Isles maintained the pressure.

The way he was skating, I figured he would be out for a while, and I even had time to think that maybe we would get to see a Yannick Weber audition to replace him (I know he needs work on his defence, but look at who he would be replacing). Luckily for the Canadiens the Islanders didn't score during that mini power play, but Brisebois didn't miss a shift because of the "injury," so it couldn't have been that bad.

The rest of the night went much the same way for Brisebois, and it's not really his fault because he's playing more minutes and more often than he's supposed to because of he injury to Komisarek. But it's funny how O'Byrne is slowly taking on the Brisebois role while Brisebois is on the team, often playing the same way he did when he was the target of the Bell Centre faithful.

Please don't take this as an appeal to start booing Brisebois again, because it's actually an appeal to stop booing O'Byrne. Fans may have to start accepting the fact that O'Byrne is the team's fourth defenceman, and booing him is certainly not going to help a guy who already has self-confidence problems.

Think of how O'Byrne's first two years have gone, with his first highlighted by a purse-snatching episode in Tampa Bay, and now this.

If he ever becomes another Komisarek, and Carbonneau says he may even wind up better (though I don't think he really believes that), then these two incidents will become quirky anecdotes, footnotes on his way to becoming a premier shutdown defenceman.

But having lived through this with Brisebois before, we also know what it can do to a player when he becomes the whipping boy of the Montreal faithful. There's no way O'Byrne will ever fulfill his potential if that happens, and those quirky anecdotes will become the reasons his career fizzled out before it ever got started.


pierre said...

Good blog Arpon... comme d'habitude.

Poor O'Byrne he never saw the reffs lifting his arm and also missed on the fact that the goal had been left vacant while he was busy defending.... his soft pass to Price to be redirected by him was correct.... even perfect..... but seen from above as it happened where everyone wathing it had take for granted that every players on the ice were aware that Price had left the ice, well for them and for me O'Byrne's play almost seemed as unexplainable as it was unexcusable.... hopefully people will have a chance to hear his explaination about it because I feel it make a significant difference and alleviate some of the the disapointement that the situation has created.

I think the Habs have been playing the game the way it should be played in their last two games which is not something I would have said about their first 18 games or so..... I dont know which of the coaches or the players were most to be blamed for our misstart this season but I believe it to be over despite the fact that we lost part of our last two home game..... I think things will eventually fall into its proper places now that our 5-on-5 game as regained the credibility it need to have and that our puck possession time is on the increase and so is the use of our speed.

Yves said...

I really felt for O'Byrne last night. A costly mistake... but, a mistake. It happens.

I think O'Byrne does have potential and I personally don't think the habs fans who boo their own team are doing themselves or "their" team any favours.

I think 2 guys have been put in a position of playing too many minutes.... Brisebois and O'Byrne being the 2.... I kind of thought about Weber too when Brisebois went to the bench "injured".... but there is another guy who comes to mind.

Shawn Belle. I'd give him a shot. He's not a super offensive D-man.. but at +15 right now with Hamilton he could bring some solid D. He's 6-1 and a rugged 235...

That's my 2 cents..

Great blog as always Arpon!

Arjun said...

Now I've seen everything. Why doesn't anyone say that if the PP was working and our PK was half as good as last year's we'd be winning all of these games? Carbo said it: our problem is the power play. I just wonder why he's been so patient with it. Last year, all these shootout games would have been regular time wins because we would have had at least one PP goal, maybe more. What's the math on the PP? And the PP/PK differential from last year? Oh, and Kovy. He's skating like he watched his video a bit too much last year.

Sliver24 said...

Wow. What more can I say.

I was squirming in my seat last night with about ten minutes left in the third. I was watching shift after shift of Habs domination while the Isles only response was to ice the puck every chance they got (thanks to the new rules that saved us a few commercial timeouts too).

Why was I squirming, you ask, when the Habs were controlling the play? Because they couldn't find the back of the net, that's why.

I don't know how many times I've seen it in the NHL. One team dominating the play in a close game, riding a seemingly unending wave of momentum, but missing their opportunities to score.

Invariably the other team will eventually chip the puck out, have it bounce off a stanchion or the linesman's head and land in the slot on the stick of a guy that hasn't scored a goal in seven seasons. That player will find his inner Ovechkin just long enough to bury the puck just inside the top corner.

The Habs did it often enough during the dark years between '95 and '04.

This time they were the victims of it.

But even in my most fearful moments I never suspected how ugly it could get. And wow, was it ever ugly.

But hopefully this will be the turning point in O'Byrne's rough start to the season. Let's face it folks he can't sink any lower. i hope that Carbo, Gainey or one of his teammates will help him see the underlying humour in the situation.

As bad as it may seem, the fact of the matter is that O'Byrne's bungle only cost his team a single point. While that point could conceivably affect the standings at the end of the season it's not like it will cost the team a playoff spot. If it does come to that it means there will have been a whole lot more ugly moments between now and April 11th.

As for O'Byrne, I'm betting that, during his first shift on Saturday night when the Habs play host to Buffalo, he'll receive a loud cheer of support from the more knowledgeable fans. I only wish they didn't have two road games between now and then, because if he and the team continue to struggle in those two games, the home crown may not be feeling as supportive about the whole situation.

In the meantime someone should email the following link to O'Byrne, and he can watch it over and over until he realizes how insignificant his gaffe truly was.

Anonymous said...

Does that count against Price's GAA?

K said...

I felt really bad for O'Byrne. I have trouble understanding how he failed to notice that Price wasn't there but I do understand that what I see on TV isn't the same thing that the players see on the ice... It was a mistake. It happens...

Sliver24 said...

I dunno. It looked to me that he was trying to put it over to his d-partner off the boards behind the net and just missed.

Any way you slice it these things do happen every once in a while, and this kid deserves a break.

pierre said...

He Arjun having a sharp and productive PP is not enough to even guaranty playoff qualification as it was proved by our very team 2 years ago despite having been the highest PP % team of the league that season.

In the end the crucial difference between our last two seasons was not the difference in quality of our 5 on 5 game which was average on both occasions but it was in our hability to draw penalties against us while 5 on 5 which made the whole difference between the seasons..... we had twice the amount of PP opportunities last year over what we had the previous year..... our offensive style of last season over our defensive style of the previous one didn't make our goal differencial any better at evenstrenth but it was a better fit in that it brought more penalties to be taken against our team.... we went from being a dysfonctional team to a fonctional one..... we went from a team using wastefull tactics to more appropriate ones.... we went from a coach having 0 year experience to one having one year experience and enjoyed the differences it made to our regular season.

The challenge for Gainey this summer was to take his team to the next level.... and one way to do it for him was to increase our chances of improving our 5-on-5 goals/differential ration over what we were able to mustered in the last two seasons... while keeping our PP superiority at what it was during that time...... by doing so a legetimate Cup Contending team will be born.

The potential to improved on our 5on5 average status was increased by replacing Ryder by Tanguay and Garbowski by Lang all the while while getting Laraque for good measure but lets face it the potential of some LOST to our PP superiority was increased with the substitution of Streit to our main unit as an integral pair he made( and Sourey before him) with Markov on the back end.

Our new balance of power suggest so far that our team might be in the end no worst or better than it was last season but that it will be different..... an improved 5on5 game on one hand.... a lesser productive PP game on the other.... in the end our strugling PP might well improve over the season but I like the fact that for now it is pushing everyone coaches included to focus on their 5on5 game which hasn't been the case in the early going of our season where everyone I thought has been guilty of being underprepared to do so.

Arpon Basu said...

The goal will not count against Carey Price, it was counted as an empty net goal, probably because the net was empty when it went in.

Arpon Basu said...

One more thing, O'Byrne clearly said after the game that he was trying to pass the puck to "Pricey", but that "Pricey wasn't there."