Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is it time to panic yet?

Um, yeah, I would say so. In fact, I would bet more than a dollar that we're going to see some panicky roster moves from Guy Carbonneau this Saturday at the Bell Centre after his team got embarrassed 5-1 in South Florida on Thursday night.

Well, actually, the Habs were embarrassed all over the Sunshine State this week, losing by a combined score of 10-4 to the lowly Lightning and the surging Panthers.

A 5-1 score is usually a pretty good indication of how the game went, but not in this case, I'm afraid, because the Habs were far worse than that.

A few moments that stick out in my mind that showed things just aren't right with this team right now:

Saku Koivu has an open net yet gets stopped by a sliding Keith Ballard who bails out Tomas Vokoun...Mike Komisarek goes to erase someone in his own end with a big hit and misses completely, arriving a half second late and taking himself completely out of the play, just like he did when he was a rookie...Alex Kovalev picking up a puck at his blue line with nothing but open ice in front of him and behind him, yet being caught from behind by a Panthers backchecker before he even hit the offensive zone...Richard Zednik waltzing around both Josh Gorges and Carey Price to score a highlight reel goal...

I could go on for ever, but the list of positives on the Canadiens side would take all of two seconds to type out: the game is over. That's the only thing they can take from this game and this whole road trip they finished up with four straight losses, two of them to the Thrashers and Lightning.

Price has given up 14 goals in three starts since returning from injury, and though his teammates didn't help him at all Thursday night, he wasn't all that sharp either. And when Carbonneau starts throwing his goalie under the bus, it means something is not right in Dodge.

"Abandoned? Yes and no," Carbonneau said when asked whether he thought the Habs hung his goalie out to dry in the third period, when odd-man rushes and breakaways were the norm for the quicker, more energetic Panthers. "When you're not playing well you sometimes need a goalie to stand on his head, to win you a game. We can’t blame him for every loss, but we talked to him about this. We’re not going to win when we’re giving up four or five goals a game."

Fine, that's a fair point. But how do you explain the lack of purpose from the skaters, the sense that teams from two different leagues were playing on the same ice surface? Carbonneau chalked it up to a willingness to empty the tank on every shift when you're playing desperate hockey, which the Canadiens clearly aren't doing right now.

So now, for probably the first time in his head coaching career, Guy Carbonneau is faced with some extremely tough decisions with very dire consequences. He hinted prior to Thursday's game that a veteran would be the next to sit. Everyone, myself included, assumed that meant Tomas Plekanec, but he actually responded to the threat Thursday by centring Montreal's best line between Sergei Kostitsyn and Steve B├ęgin.

So who sits? Robert Lang because he still can't win an important faceoff to save his life, yet is the team's leading goal scorer? Kovalev, because he's completely dogged it the past four games, except in the all-star game? Andrei Kostitsyn, who hasn't been a threat since his goal streak ended? Can you really sit Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins so soon after they came back from injuries?

Who will be made an example of? Carbonneau better choose wisely, because he doesn't want to trigger a revolt the way he did when he benched Craig Rivet a couple of years back, yet he wants the player to be enough of a name to get the team's attention.

This is a huge weekend for this team, and continuing the same disinterested play the Habs have shown in their past five periods of hockey could very easily lead to two more losses, which would make the streak six games.

At that point, what was a given only last week that the Habs will make the playoffs will quickly start creeping toward the realm of doubt. And once that doubt enters the Bell Centre, it can snowball.

This team needs to cut that potential avalanche off at the pass and get a win Saturday afternoon. Anything less could lead to a disaster.


pmk said...

wow. glad i missed this one. well I'm offically scared - carbo always says that your best players have to be your best players... makes sense. but what if your best players just aren't that good?

Arjun said...

More than Carbo, it's Gainey that's going to start thinking. All those UFA's and so many aren't playing. Imagine who he could get by dumping a few big names between now and the trading deadline. Kovy is driving me nuts. The whole front end is driving me nuts except for The Hardest Working Line in Hockey. And I still can't see what the coaching staff sees in Breezer. For every smart, veteran play he makes, there are at least if not three Breeze-by plays. No team with Breezer on defence is going to win anything. I thought we hit rock bottom in Tampa. I was wrong. We hit it last night.

TK said...

I hope this is rock bottom, because I know things can get much worse (see Vancouver). Visions of winter '07 keep dancing through my head.
Kovalev is driving me crazy as well. If he wants to be a leader on this team he has to work hard. He can't be aimlessly stickhandling through the neutral zone while backcheckers are bearing down on him. I wonder if Carbo will have the chutzpah to make an example of him- either in the press box, or in a fourth line role?
I know nothing about coaching hockey. I know even less about the difficult task of manipulating the delicate egos of professional athletes. I sure hope Carbo does.

TK said...

Maybe chutzpah is the wrong word... I know Carbo has it in him to make a decision like this. I guess I am wondering whether or not benching Kovalev would be a wise move.

Kovalev's lack of effort is not the only problem with this team. I was just giving my two cents on who Carbo could target if he was to make an example of a veteran.

pmk said...

whats wrong with this my humble opinion, is that the players have no roles. 3rd period - down a goal - what line do you put on? 3rd period - up a goal - what line do you put on? what are peoples jobs? what are they expected to do? yes i agree tk - kovy is driving me crazy - the whole team is and work ethic is definitely a problem. Yet i really think this "lack of roles" has something to do with it...

pmk said...

gotta love the brotherly love...