Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lesson learned?

Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau tried to sugar coat Tuesday's 5-4 "win" over the Atlanta Thrashers and look at the positives of the game.

That should tell you everything you need to know about the state of his team, because under similar circumstances last year Carbonneau would have blown his lid after watching the Thrashers score three goals in a franchise-record 59 seconds to erase a 3-0 third period deficit.

He wouldn't have cared that Andrei Kostitsyn scored the go-ahead goal at 14:49, completing a three-point night, or that the Habs have now won two in a row and three of four. When given the opportunity, he would have bashed that 59 seconds far worse that simply calling it a "brain cramp."

When I asked if that lapse took away any of the momentum the team may have built in playing so well - albeit against a horrific team - for two periods, Carbonneau didn't bite. I was stunned.

"We did some really good things," Carbonneau answered. "There was a minute there, a minute out of 60. We scored a power play goal, which was good. We scored more than two goals, which is another good thing. For the first 40 minutes I think we only gave them two or three scoring chances. So we did some good things and we just need to keep building on it."

All that is true, and I think Carbonneau was being just a little sarcastic, but if his crew was running on all cylinders he would have ripped them a new one there. Especially considering it was Georges Laraque simply not going on the ice on a line change that led to the first goal for the Thrashers, and Ron Hainsey's point shot came from the exact spot Laraque would have been covering were it not for the fact he was sitting on the bench doing God knows what.

Thankfully, not everyone in the Habs entourage drinks the same Kool-Aid as Carbonneau, and Tomas Plekanec was able to at least acknowledge that sometimes, two points isn't simply two points.

"It's definitely unfortunate what happened in that third period," he said. "If we played solid the way we did in the first two periods for 60 minutes it would definitely be a better feeling for everybody in this room. Everybody's obviously happy about the two points, but the way we got it, it's not pretty."

So the Canadiens are now 2-0 on this seven-game homestand and have won three of their last four, but can anyone really say this team is streaking? That it's playing to its potential? That it's hot? I certainly can't, and I would imagine there aren't too many of the guys wearing red Tuesday night who can either.

The Thrashers dressed guys named Nathan Oystrick, Joseph Crabb and Boris Valabik, they had Ilya Kovalchuk playing on a line with pluggers Marty Reasoner and Chirs Thorburn, they had a goalie who came into the game with a 3.88 GAA and an .880 save percentage. Yet the Canadiens managed to escape by the skin of their teeth with a win.

But, if we must, let's look at the positives, and the number one bright spot was the possible awakening of Andrei Kostitsyn. His goal and two assists gives him five points in two games, nearly matching his seven-point output from his first 20 games.

Kostitsyn mentioned how he's felt more comfortable the past two games, but Carbonneau claimed some credit for this mini-revival.

"I would like to think the reason goes back two games ago when I put him on the fourth line and he didn't play much," Carbonneau said. "The last two games he's playing like the player we want to see every game. He's involved, he's skating, he's getting pucks on net. I think if you ask him which player he wants to be, it's the one we just saw."

Kostitsyn's line with Saku Koivu and Matt D'Agostini was easily the best of the night, but Carbonneau is going to wait an see how long it lasts before falling in love with it.

"Every time we've tried to light a fire under guys it’s worked, but only for a short period of time," Carbonneau said. "The line with Saku, Andrei and Matt D’Agostini played well the whole game, they were involved defensively and offensively. Tomas' line played well and so did Robert's, we just hope it keeps going."

But in order for it to keep going, Carbonneau has to show some patience and give the lines that produce some leeway if they have a bad period or two.

"It’s a surprise for everybody," Kostitsyn said of the constant line shifting. "You come to practice and you don’t know what line you are playing on. Coach puts the lines (out), you can't say I don't want to play with this player."

What will happen now with Sergei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse? Do they sit out another game? If they come back against the Rangers on Thursday, where will they be slotted? It's questions like these the Habs players must be asking, and Carbonneau says that's just how he likes it.

"(The lines) will stabilize if we keep winning," Carbonneau said. "If they come to the rink and they have to think a little bit more, maybe that's a good thing. You can't get bored."

One thing's for sure, the Habs definitely kept things interesting against a Thrashers team that had no business being in the game. If they pull the same stunt Thursday night, they'll be right back where they started.


Sliver24 said...

There's no doubt, what happened in the middle of the third period of last night’s game was ugly, but I do think that there were positives to be drawn from the situation. You and Carbo addressed most of those positives above, but there's one positive aspect that wasn't touched on that I think may be most important of all.

When it got ugly, when panic started rearing its ugly head after the Thrashers tied the game at three, the Habs managed to keep their composure, get the lead back and win the game.

Sure, they were playing the worst team in the league, but momentum is a huge part of any hockey game and the Thrashers had ALL of it at that point. But instead of panicking the Habs managed to regroup and get a go-ahead goal, in the end salvaging a regulation win.

That's exactly the type of thing the pundits mean when they talk about a team learning to win. This is an experience the players, especially the young ones, can bank and then draw upon the next time they're in a similar situation.

As for Carbo sugar-coating the game story, you couldn't be more right, Arp. Last year he would have ripped into the players. Softening his stance, though, is exactly what he needed to do to shield the fragile psyche of his team from too much criticism.

That shows me that Carbo is continuing to grow as a coach. He's always been a black-and-white type of guy but he's learned that you don't ALWAYS havs to say exactly what you feel. Sometimes coaching is all about the shades of grey.

Anonymous said...

How's everyone feeling about Dandenault at D? I haven't been nearly as nervous for the last two games. +2 last night, moved the puck pretty well, kept it simple. Is this a real solution though? Don't we need O'Byrne to get his icetime so that he can one day be another Komi?
I'm torn.

Anonymous said...

personally, i'd keep dandy on d and let o'byrne and breezer rotate. lang does the point job well on the pp, imho. at least he's moving his feet.

as for carbo, well, i think he's done his fair share of ripping into his team and players lately so glossing over a one minute collapse that i partially blame him for (men on the ice is his job and i doubt laraque got the tap and just didn't go) is about right. funny that he can take credit for andrei playing like he should but doesn't shoulder any of the blame for a line juggling act that has the players and fans more than a little confused.

i'm not calling for carbo's head but i think he's as much to blame for the team's woes as the players.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you brought up Breezer. It reminded me of how piss poor a game he had last night. He can't keep shit in at the line when it counts (pp) and he's now coughing it up like OB has been doing when active. I was there last night. There was a stretch where the crowd was starting to give him some familiar serenading. Fortunately this is the first game in a while where I've noticed him playing sub-par. Let's hope it's just a one game incident because with Big Mike replacing Jarvis and Dandy replacing OB we can ill afford another nervous ninny on the back end.

Be real.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous... Lang's shot is as menacing as a vanilla wafer, as ferocious as Kate Moss' appetite. It's heavier than a helium balloon I tell ya! I swear the one shot he took from the point on the PP last night bounced three times on the way to the net without being deflected. It was like a thin rock skipping over calm water. Gravity won out. That Titanic shot sunk before reaching her destination.
Fail with regards to Lang playing the point.

Sliver24 said...

You Anonymous guys should user a name. It's more fun to discuss things when there's a little continuity. Plus it's possible to address you directly. You don't even need to sign up - just use the Name/URL option and use the same name every time (the URL is not req'd). That way I'll know who I'm disagreeing with ;)

Anyway, it's hard to disagree with the comments about Breezer, but I was more concerned with Hamrlik's play last night. He absolutely stunk the joint out. He made several mistakes in one-on-one battles in his own end and made horrible decisions with the puck all night long. I can remember multiple horrible pass attempts in all three zones.

Breezer's role is that of PP specialist (?!?) and stop-gap on D. He's making a pittance. Hamrlik, on the other hand, is the #3 d-man and making more than anyone except for Markov.

Don't get me wrong. I like the guy and he usually does his job well. But last night he was horrible. Hopefully it was a one-game thing.

As for Lang's shot all I can say is this: It may not have been the hardest shot but it got through to the net and directly resulted in a goal. That's all that matters. There's no point having a Howitzer if you're just shooting it off the winger's shin pads, as our friend Komisarek is wont to do.

Anonymous said...

hard to tell who's who...

srs, i'm not saying lang has a bullet but his shot gets through traffic and reaches the net (because he finds a shooting lane) which is more than i can say for anyone else on the point who's one-timing it onto any shinpads/ankles they can aim at. if the guys can bury the rebound, as markov did last night, than i'd keep him there (or at least rotate him with andreik).

Anonymous said...

lol. sliver, you beat me to it : )

pierre said...

I agree with Dandy being a better piece out there but I wouldn't single-out Carbo for our team's woes as I think that not offering a contract extension to Streit was a mistake which we are still trying to recover from as a team who just lost the PP supremacy it had and the lethal core element around which our last season's 5on5 game was well adapted to work for and served it well.

I thought last summer that our next step as a team was to elevated our 5on5 game above the average value that it had on its own in the previous season and that by so doing our balance of power would have been more extented across and thus less vulnerable to the PP prowess of which most of our successes had been based upon.

Now I cant say that I saw clear evidences in our early going this season that a plan had been layed out by Carbo to alter significancly on the basics of our 5on5 game from what it was on our previous season...... it made me nervous but I wasn't all that surprised since I didn't expect Carbo to be ahead of the game so to speak.... I saw him going from old sckool and rigid on his first year to adaptable and modern on his second season but I didn't expect him to be a visionary and a fine strategist on the eve of his third season...... which is I think what our team needed in order to start the season better focused then they were about the necessity of being a 5on5 well oiled machine if last year's season was to be bettered.

I didn't see any signs that this team had been differently prepared by Carbo to take the next step..... the only sign I saw that made us different was the lost of our PP edge we had previously and the consequent step down effect it had on the team..... and I think that the players are still a bit shaked by it.... the path ahead seems more uncertain and less rosy then it once was.

Arpon Basu said...

I'm also liking Dandenault on defence, especially his being reunited with Bouillon. Those two had some good chemistry before, and I think it could be re-kindled. When Komisarek gets back, I think this could perhaps allow Gorges to play with Hamrlik and have Dandenault rotate with Briser and O'B. But before last night's game, when I found out O'B wasn;t playing again, I began to wonder if he's ever going to get to play. Carbo doesn't appear willing to live with his early-season mistakes, yet he is willing to live with Briser's. I find that somewhat odd, seeing as O'B has way more upside, even within this season itself. If he was allowed to learn from those mistakes now, he might stop making them by March. Briser, on the other hand, will always make those mistakes. It's his M.O. I have no idea how this is going to play out, but theaddition of Dandenault on defence makes a sticky situation even stickier.
As for Lang on the point, I don't believe it's a long-term solution there. It's true his point shot led to a goal, but a normal NHL goalie doesn't give up a rebound like that on a soft wrister. Between Lang and Tanguay up there, I would choose Tanguay. But I was disappointed the Andrei experiment was tried again.