Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A change in philosophy

In retrospect, there are a couple of pretty big philosophical changes I noticed in Bob Gainey's first game behind the bench, and the main one was puck possession.

The top two lines hardly ever played a dump and chase game, choosing to carry or pass the puck across the blue line, and that resulted in some entire shifts of sustained pressure in the offensive end. The problem with Guy Carbonneau's insistence of "getting the puck behind the defence," which is just coach-speak for a boring dump-in, was that the Canadiens don't have enough strong puck retrieval players.

Tom Kostopoulos, Christopher Higgins and Maxim Lapierre are pretty good at it, but Andrei Kostitsyn, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay are horrible. The reason why they're horrible is because they'd rather be handling the puck, so that's what Gainey had them do. For the two plumber lines who would be less comfortable trying to beat a defender one-on-one at the blue line, they dumped it in instead. It made a pretty big difference.

Big thanks to regular contributor Sliver for also pointing out the Habs forechecking Tuesday night. There was definitely more of a two-man forecheck and it was a welcome sight, especially since that strategy wipes out the 1-2-2 trap we had grown so accustomed to seeing on too many nights, even when the Habs were down a goal. Having two men pressuring the defence not only leads to steals in the offensive end instead of the neutral zone, it also creates more of a frenetic pace to the game which favours the Habs speed.

Gainey is about to step on the ice in Brossard for his first practice today, and based on his comments after Tuesday's game I think there's one tactical change we can expect to see, and we saw a little bit of it in that game.

Gainey said over and over again in his post-game press conference how he wanted to see better and more accurate passing, as well as better decision-making with the puck. I think a major change we are going to see soon is the Canadiens moving up the ice as a five-man unit instead of the defence trying to make a long breakout pass.

Alex Tanguay mentioned that as a problem when he came back from injury, and Gainey's deliberate emphasis on the passing game in his comments make me believe the Habs will be making more passes to their forwards inside their own blue line when breaking out of their end and relying on short, crisp passes to make their way up ice, much like the Red Wings do.

It's something we almost never saw under Carbonneau as forwards invariably leaked out into the neutral zone once it appeared a Canadiens defenceman was about to gain possession. Except those defencemen didn't have time to look up and find a man 75 feet away, so often times they would ring it off the glass in the hopes the puck would find a teammate's stick. More often than not, it didn't.

Finally, an announcement may not come today at practice, but I'd be stunned to see anyone other than Carey Price in nets Thursday night even though it's just the lowly Islanders coming to town. They stunned the Devils 7-3 on Saturday night and shouldn't be taken lightly in the least.

Trade deadline sellers are always dangerous in my book because the pressure and glare of the deadline run-up is lifted, and they often play better - far more so than trade deadline buyers do, at least in the short-term. I think Darryl Sutter and Mike Keenan could speak quite eloquently on that phenomenon right about now.

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