Sunday, December 21, 2008

All things considered...

...that was a pretty good result, because the cards were definitely stacked against the Canadiens on Sunday night.

First and foremost is the fact the Hurricanes own the Habs, and it's getting a bit ridiculous. Here's the rundown of the 16 regular season games these two teams have played since the lockout: Carolina is 12-2-2, 7-0-1 at the Bell Centre.

Like I said, ridiculous.

Another factor favouring the 'Canes on Sunday was what happened on Saturday. Both teams played, but Caroline became the latest team to have their asses handed to them by the Boston Bruins, while the Habs had an emotionally draining win over the Buffalo Sabres. In terms of motivation and jump, that's like a perfect storm for Carolina, and it showed in that first period as Montreal barely touched the puck.

But I've saved the best for last, and that's the officiating. I hate writing about referees, because I find they are a very lame excuse for any result and when they are bad, they are usually equally bad for both teams. The last time these two clubs played, most Habs fans thought the refereeing was atrocious as Carolina wound up with 11 power plays and the Habs only had one. But I had seen far worse officiating than I saw in that game, and what happened Sunday night was yet another example.

It appears that three of the four zebras were emergency replacements because of the snowstorm, but I don't think that's an excuse for work that was this shoddy.

The Canadiens had two goals that actually went in the net denied because of extremely quick whistles. One you can understand, but two?

Guy Carbonneau said afterwards that the quick whistles were the only problems he had with the officials, but they just looked uninterested in the game in the third period. Credit the Hurricanes for taking notice, because suddenly they started hooking and tugging everything in a red sweater.

So, to get a point under these circumstances was very good for the Habs, and that wasn't the only positive I found in this game.

I was really on Robert Lang's case earlier this season for his penchant for losing big faceoffs, particularly on the power play and penalty kill, but he had a dominant weekend in that area. After winning 11 of 15 on Sunday night, Lang won 26 out of 36 faceoffs in the weekend's two games, and a lot of those were on special teams. It should be noted he wasn't matched up against Rod Brind'Amour very often Sunday (that honour was bestowed on to Tomas Plekanec, who lost six of 15 against the league's best).

Winning faceoffs is a vital component of Lang's effectiveness, not only because that was the main reason he was brought in, but also because he doesn't play that well without the puck. If he loses a faceoff, he's forced to check, and that's not his strength.

His line with Alex Tanguay and Matt D'Agostini appears to be gelling a little bit and they had another good effort Sunday.

Another major league positive is the emergence of Maxim Lapierre's line with Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos. For a second straight game, they were the only trio who were ready from the opening faceoff. While their teammates slept through the first period of both games, these guys were crashing and banging, creating chances and pinning the opposition in their end. That line had nine hits Saturday night, and Latendresse alone was credited with eight on Sunday to go with three shots on goal.

For the Golden Boy, it was a second straight game with 16 minutes of ice time, and his coach says he can expect that to continue if he keeps showing that kind of work ethic on the ice.

"Every time he’s on the ice he moves his feet, he gets involved physically, he goes to the net and stays around the net," Carbonneau said. "Every game he plays well and plays with that passion, I’ll have more confidence in him and he’ll get more ice time"

We can only hope they keep it up, and if they happen to have a bad period the line isn't broken up. The Canadiens need an energy line like this, if only to soften up the opposing defenders to make life easier for the other lines. And Latendresse looks like a new player since being paired with Lapierre, who also appears to make any line he's playing on very effective with his speed, forechecking and incredibly improved faceoff skills.

So the Canadiens end this odyssey of 10 of 11 games at home with a 6-2-2 record at the Bell Centre, including five out of the last six points available before the Christmas break. They are 18-9-6 for 43 points after 34 games, which puts them on pace for about 104 points this season.

And the crazy thing is the Habs haven't even hit their stride, which is what Carbonneau would like to see when they come back from some relaxing with the family over the holidays.

"We have to come back with an attitude that will allow us to be the team we were last year," Carbonneau said.

And on that note, I too will take a few days off from the blog, but I'll be back before the Pittsburgh game on Saturday, when we can expect to see Andrei Kostitsyn and maybe even Saku Koivu back in the lineup. If that happens, then Ben Maxwell will obviously be sent down, but who else sits and what kind of line combinations can we expect? Let's hear some suggestions.
Happy holidays everyone!


Jeremy said...

A.Tanguay, S.Koivu, A.Kostitsyn
S.Kostitsyn, T.Plekanec, A.Kovalev
G.Latendress, R.Lang, M.D'Agostini
S.Begin, M.Lapierre, T.Kostopoulos

BGL can sub in as needed.

Great blog Arpon!

Anonymous said...

those are some sweet lines.

Sliver24 said...

I have an offer for Bob Gainey. For $1 million per season I will solemnly swear to stop attending Habs games. As an added bonus, I promise to watch every single game on TV.

I have a 1-1-3 record in the games I've attended this year, leaving me with a 17-8-3 record while sitting on the couch. It seems to me that the money will be better spent on me than it has been on Plekanec thus far this season.

If nothing else the $1 million will at least cover a good chunk of the money I've spent on beer at the Bell Centre so far this year.

As for the officiating, wow, did they ever mess the bed last night. I can't remember booing like was heard when they called back the goal that would have tied it at two halfway through the third.

A timely TV timeout allowed us the luxury of 2:30 of uninterrupted braying at the zebras.

The Habs managed to convert on the power play that the original goal would have negated, and once the cheering was done more boos followed.

You can imagine what was going on during the break between the 3rd and OT.

The night ended with fans throwing everything that wasn't nailed down onto the ice. Too bad I sit behind the netting.

Here are my lines:
Tanguay, Koivu, D'Agostini
Andrei, Lang, Kovalev
Sergei, Plekanec, Latendresse
Begin/Laraque, Lapierre, Kostopoulos

pierre said...

Nice wrap-up Arpon and have a good holyday season.

CAR despite changed of coach and players havent changed anything to their style and to their game.... they have remained commited to the agressive puck pursuit game that earned them the Cup in the first year of the new NHL..... their style is sound and their work ethic has been superior to ours during our confrontations.... thats why they were the better team in our contests this season.

The pre-christmas part of the season now behind us..... all I can say is that I hope it stays there.

Our style/system and our work ethic as left me wanting on most occasions..... in the end what we had is a team that had problems in maintaining offensive pressure on one hand and were defensivelly innefficient on the other..... since our PP game has been dead all along one has to wonder about how was it possible for our team to be where they are points wise..... I guess Price and Halak were the ones who bailed us out on most occasions.

In the end my feeling is that our team was not as good as our roster is.... for me its a clear sign of incompetence from our coaches part.... I want to see a team that is better than the sum of its part.... I dont see that here..... we will never be special this year or any other year unless this is taking place.

When I look at our roster as lined-up by SLIVER24 this team should be a great team..... anything less is innaceptable to me..... anything less will be a sign to me that this team remained under-prepared and under-conditioned and should be better performers than what we have seen so far this year...... Carbo's goal as stated is to get us back to were we were last season.....cmon Carbo dont we want to be better than last season ?
We know that we have to be.... what we dont know is if he can get us there..... I doubt that he can.

Sliver24 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sliver24 said...

Folks, I just realized that it's worse than I thought. While the Habs' record while I'm not in attendance is indeed 17-8-3, that stat includes road games.

I'm more cursed than I initially suspected! The Habs' home record when I am not there is 10-3-1 for a .750 winning percentage.

Whaddya think... should I raise the asking price?

YourHabs said...

I have no problem saying that the referees in the National Hockey League are ridiculous, and I don't just mean for Montreal, it's a league wide epidemic and it's escalating.