Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Getting creative with losses

Over the course of this season-high three-game losing streak, the Habs have found three different ways to lose.

Against Tampa last Thursday, the Canadiens simply decided to take the night off.

Against the Capitals on Saturday, the power play was "non-existent" as Montreal couldn't take advantage of five straight Washington penalties, and finished the night 0-for-8.

Finally, in the 3-2 loss Tuesday night in Carolina, the Canadiens lost all sense of discipline, taking stupid penalty after stupid penalty until, by the end of the second period, they had taken 11 in a row.

Think about that a second, 11 penalties in a row. I'm pretty sure I've never seen that before, and if I have, I've never seen it where almost every infraction was so obvious that the referees had no choice but to call it.

I know Guy Carbonneau and the rest of his team are seething at the tandem zebra crew of Fréderick L'Écuyer and Brad Meier, and in a sense they have a right to feel wronged. Because while most of the Canadiens penalties were deserved, I find it hard to believe the Hurricanes did nothing to deserve a trip to the box until 5:33 of the third period.

But that would be taking the focus away from the fact a great majority of those 11 minors in 40 minutes were not only deserved, but blatantly obvious. I just hope Carbonneau, when he watches the tape on the team's charter back to Montreal, can see that his troops were brain dead for much of the night.

Carbonneau said after the game he thought it was one of the better games the Habs had played in a while, but he declined to comment on the 11-1 disparity in power play opportunities when asked.

"It’s amazing to me that, despite the fact they scored three power play goals, we were in the game," Carbonneau said. "I thought we played better than them, we were all over them and they had nothing going unless they were on a power play."

That's great, except the 'Canes were on the power play for 18:10, nearly a full period, and they even had four chances to play 5-on-3. So to say you dominated 5-on-5 when that represented only two thirds of the game is a bit of an empty accomplishment. And when you're consistently taking obvious penalties during those rare even-strength situations, it generally means one team is moving its feet and the other one isn't. That's what the Canadiens did to other teams last year, but the roles were reversed Tuesday night.

The Canadiens cried afterwards that they don't know what is and isn't a penalty anymore, but among the 11 they took, I would say only three were questionable, the Alex Tanguay trip in the first and the two penalties on Guillaume Latendresse in the second.

"One game gets called one way, the next game gets called another way," Alex Kovalev said afterwards. "So you kind of get lost. Today we felt like we couldn’t really touch them."

So if you felt that way, why did you continue doing it? Why tempt fate by giving guys that little tug with the stick? Or that tap on the glove? Shouldn't you adjust after taking four, five, six penalties in a row?

Kovalev snapping his 19-game goal drought, matching the worst of his career, is a positive sign, but once again he had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the dying seconds of regulation and failed to deliver the goods. The chance he had in the slot in the final minute was one he buried with regularity last year, but Cam Ward barely had to move to make the save this time. It was the second game in a row Kovalev blew a chance to tie it late, and those are goals you need from a guy who is supposed to be the team's offensive leader.

But let's try and look on the bright side here, and that side of the story begins with Jaroslav Halak. Once again he played a game he deserved to win, having no chance on any of the goals he allowed except maybe the long slapper by Joe Corvo, and even there he was screened by Eric Staal.

Halak is proving to be more than a capable backup, he's showing that he should be a starting goalie somewhere. Perhaps this little stretch of four games he's played, where's he's allowed nine goals but has stopped 91.7 per cent of the shots he's faced, will entice another GM out there to make a pitch for him and offer up that No.4 defenceman the team needs.

I also felt Tomas Plekanec played one of his better games in a while, and he was rewarded in the third by getting a few shifts with Andrei Kostitsyn and Matt D'Agostini. I would love to see that line used Thursday against the Flyers just to see what it can do and to help Plekanec get his season started.

That's going to be a tough test for the Canadiens on Thursday, and they're going to have to bring everything and leave Tuesday's lack of discipline behind them in North Carolina if they want to avoid their first four-game losing streak since Feb 27 to March 8, 2007.


Anonymous said...

What about the other side of the officiating? Some of those penalties were deserevd but the count was 11-0 after two periods. Are you saying Carolina didn't deserve a single penalty over the first two periods? I have watched hockey for many years and I have never seen such one sided officiating.

Anonymous said...

Technically not 11 in a row. Let's not forget how Latender got his goal.

Arpon Basu said...

No, I'm not saying Carolina didn't deserve any penalties, that's what I meant when I wrote this:

"Because while most of the Canadiens penalties were deserved, I find it hard to believe the Hurricanes did nothing to deserve a trip to the box until 5:33 of the third period."

All I'm saying is that it was clearly evident to anyone who was watching this game how it was being officiated, yet the Habs didn't adjust.

And yes, good point Anonymous #2, there was indeed a penalty shot awarded in the midst of those 11 penalties, what I should have written was 11 power plays in a row.

Sliver24 said...

Arp, you argue that "only" three of the 11 consecutive penalties the Habs took last night were questionable. That means that by your standards it's okay for referees to be wrong more than 25% of the time. You apparently don't feel that refs should be held to a higher standard than that in what is supposed to be the best league in the world.

No wonder we've never seen eye-to-eye on the issue of officiating in the NHL. Personally, my feeling is if you can't even manage to be right three quarters of the time you have no business reffing in the NHL.

The worst part of the mess they made last night, however, wasn't even the calls against the Canadiens. What drove me up the wall was the penalties they missed in the other direction, especially late in the game after they'd stopped calling it like an elementary school soccer match.

With about four minutes left in the third, with the Habs playing with some momentum, Maxime Lapierre was hit in the face with a high stick behind his own net. Despite the fact that he was right beside the ref there was no call. Pierre and Benoit evidently missed it too, because they failed to mention it, but it was bad enough that Lapierre skated directly to the bench, mid-shift, holding his face.

As bad as that missed call was I do think that both refs simply didn't see it, which does happen. What I'd really love for someone at the NHL to explain to me, though, is why it's okay for Tim Gleason to punch Matt D'Agostini three times in the face affter the whistle, with only a few minutes left in the game, while a referee looks on. You'd think that, especially in light of the ridiculous disparity in penalties and that the Canes scored three powerplay goals on marginal calls, the refs would be interested in at least appearing to be evenhanded. Unfortunately you'd be wrong.

Though it's been quite a bit better overall this season that it was last year I continue to feel that poor officiating is the biggest problem in the NHL today. What it boils down to is consistency.

Call it tight or let 'em play. Either way, I don't care... truly I don't. Just pick one standard and apply it across the board, in evey game, every night.

Arpon Basu said...

That play with D'Agostini really should have been a penalty, agreed. And I'm not saying it's ok for refs to only be right three quarters of the time, that is some good spin of what I wrote. What I'm saying is that if they only called the real penalties, the Canadiens still would have given up eight power play oportunities, which is way too many. It's easy to blame refs, not quite as easy to take some responsibility yourself. All I wanted to hear from a player was that they were undisciplined, even if they thought the refs did a horrible job. But when even your coach doesn't think so, there's no reason for a player to say that.