Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A headline would be nice

Wow, you spend a few days away from the blog, and suddenly I forget the two most important things a game report should include: a headline and the score.

I'll get the hang of this reporting thing one of these years.

Anyhow, Guy Carbonneau delivered the bad news after the Habs 4-1 win over the Flames on Tuesday that Christopher Higgins would be going for an MRI on whatever it is he hurt (looked to be a shoulder) on Wednesday morning, while Mathieu Dandenault has a broken arm and is gone "for a while."

How many people remember that play when Patrice Brisebois looked like he'd broken his arm and slowly skated all the way to the bench while the New York Islanders went on a free power play for about 30 seconds? Brisebois didn't miss a shift.

Dandenault didn't leave the ice after breaking that arm of his, he stayed and tried to defend the front of the net, taking an extra cross-check for his effort from the guy that broke his arm in the first place, Dustin Boyd. He will likely miss a few months.


Carbonneau says no call ups are imminent from Hamilton to replace Dandenault on defence, and that Ryan O'Byrne will be making his re-entrance into the top-six Thursday night against Tampa.

"That's why we have Ryan O'Byrne," he said. "His chance is there and I'm sure he'll come back and play well."

I was interested to hear Mike Keenan's assessment of things from the Flames perspective, and he hit it right on the head when he credited the Canadiens "trap" for creating chances off counter-attacks. I asked him if, like me, he's surprised to see a team loaded with talented guys like the Habs use the trap, and Keenan said something I hadn't thought of before.

"They have a lot of European hockey players on their hockey team, and that's how European hockey players play," Keenan said. "They play the trap and live off the counter."

OK, so maybe Carbonneau is actually adapting to his players by instituting this no forecheck system, one that apparently suits "European players." Could it be that using a trap system is evidence of Carbonneau's growth as a coach? I don't know, but it's hard to argue with that 5-1-1 record ever since he decided to go with no forecheckers in Detroit.

"The way we're playing defensively right now, I think we can beat anybody," Carbonneau said. "It's easier to sell these things to your players when you have results."

It's also easier to sell it to skeptical bloggers as well, though I'm not completely on board. Yet.

Carbonneau also deserves some credit for not only throwing Alex Tanguay with Robert Lang and Alex Kovalev, a line that combined for seven points, but also recognizing how effective they were early on and sending them over the boards often.

Kovalev played 21:36, most among Habs forwards, while Tanguay was second-highest with 19:36. And Tanguay had trouble hiding his satisfaction with shoving this performance down Keenan's throat after the game.

"Hamrlik and I put enough money on the board that it'll buy a nice dinner," Tanguay said, referring to the tradition of guys putting up some loot as incentive to beat their former team.

Keenan, however, wasn't nearly as chatty about watching his former whipping boy light it up against him. When asked what he thought of Tanguay and Kovalev's line, Keenan responded curtly, "not much," and walked away from reporters.

That reaction says way more on that line's performance, in my opinion, than anything Carbonneau or Tanguay or Lang or Kovalev could say about their own games. If the line starts to click, and Matt D'Agostini and Andrei Kostitsyn continue to shine next to Saku Koivu, that gives Carbonneau two very solid scoring lines to work around.

That third line is the one that could have an opening Thursday night with Higgins seemingly needing at least that long to recover. Sergei Kostitsyn inherited that spot after Higgins went down, and Carbonneau gave him a passing grade for his return after a three-game stint in the doghouse.

"We just want effort," Carbonneau said. "Obviously we're looking for results down the line, but what I want is effort every game. Hopefully the lesson of not playing the last couple of games will pay off for us."

In terms of effort and results, I thought Sergei was pretty below average considering he'd been a healthy scratch for three nights. But I also hate this trap thing the Habs have been using, the same system that has produced a 5-1-1 record in seven games. So what do I know.


pierre said...

Great to have your blog back.....

I'm glad you mentioned Dandy's toughness and dedication..... his play on D will be missed as i though his game made the CH better in all three zones and was in part responsable for some of our team's improved performances of late.

I like your questions to Keenen.... coaches are certainly the best sources to get great comments about the game of hockey but are rarely asked questions conductive to share their insights about the game.... I whished it happened more often.

I dont believe that the CH are playing a '' trap '' system which can no longuer be effective in the newNHL and I dont see them playing a '' no forechecking '' system neither as watching Lapierre and Begin can make that clear for all to see.

As I see it our team is asked to be agressif and to challenged the adversaries in the neutral zone in the hope that turnovers will occur or that the dump-ins being made by our opponents will be picked-up by Price for our puck possession to be re-gained sooner rather than later.... I like this approach because it is based on skating and on being pro-active as a 5 men unit.

Those aspects in the neutral zone doesn't affect our offensive game as we play it when we are in control of the puck and the players are asked to forecheck hard in the offensive zone to regain control once the puck has been lost..... of course they are being asked to use their jugement on those occasions, specially the third forward who will bare most of the responsability when odd men rush occurs.

I have no complain for now but I am keeping an eye on our shots differential stats as we proceed..... if our average is less than our opponents' own than I will start to worry.

What an electrifying rush was that by d' Agostini last night...... this guy is good news !

Anonymous said...

I agree with Pierre. I don't think it is really I no forechecker system at all. I think we forecheck quite hard when the chance of a turnover is there but when its not the fowards are asked to recognise this and fall back into the neutral zone. Sort of a "pick your battles" system...

It really is a shame for dandy. I thought he was playing great. What bone in his arm did he break? Forearm? Upper arm? Is this the end of his season? A real shame if this ends his career as a hab.

Arpon Basu said...

You're both right in saying that the Canadiens do indeed forecheck from time to time, but the emphasis is clearly to drift back into the neutral zone once the puck is lost. If there's a grey area, I think the Habs are erring on the side of caution more often than not and making sure they get back. It's true for everyone, even Lapierre and Begin, who I've seen betray their instincts and drop back on several occasions.
As Carbo said, it's easier to sell such a system when you're winning. I'm just wondering what will happen if the Canadiens hit another collective scoring slump. Will those same players be as willing to abandon an offensive zone possession, or will they opt for the forecheck when the system calls for them to head back outside the blue line? The system's working, but I think the Habs have the speed to send two guys into the offensive zone on the forecheck to create turnovers there, instead of creating them in the neutral zone.