Thursday, March 19, 2009

Passing of the torch

Thursday night's 5-4 loss in Ottawa can be blamed on any number of guys in uniform, but I choose to blame the guy wearing the suit behind the bench.

Bob Gainey surely consulted his coaching staff, but the final decision to start Carey Price in goal came down to him. I didn't understand it then, and I definitely don't understand it now.

But if the loss was valuable for one thing, it was to make it abundantly clear that Jarsolav Halak has become the new number one goalie in Montreal. Anyone who doesn't see that simply doesn't want to face reality.

In my eyes, Price crumbling under the pressure of Tuesday's shootout was a clear sign that he not only lacked confidence, but he's lacking basic mechanics right now. Allowing four goals on 15 shots in Ottawa is pretty solid evidence of that.

Starting Price was one thing, but sending him back out to start the second period after allowing three goals in the first was simply inexcusable for Gainey. The goal Price allowed to Jarkko Ruutu after the Habs had cut the deficit to just one goal was deflating to a team that appears willing to wilt at the slightest sign of adversity.

The only reason they didn't do just that Thursday was because Halak came in and stopped Christoph Shubert on a breakaway and Daniel Alfredsson on a great chance in front within five minutes of entering the game. You could almost see the Habs confidence growing.

If Price starts again this season, even if Halak has a bad game, then it will be clear that Gainey is suffering from an acute case of denial.

He has to be thinking that his master plan to build around this stud of a young goalie is falling apart before his eyes, but I don't necessarily feel that's the case. There's no reason why Price couldn't come back next year and get a fresh start on becoming a potentially great goalie. But it's not happening this season. Gainey needs to realize that and try to ride Halak into the playoffs, master plan be damned.

Something else Gainey would have done well to realize Thursday in Ottawa was that his worst line included Alex Kovalev, who seemingly decided the game wasn't all that important and figured he'd take a mental health day.

At a time when his team needs him most, and a time of year where he usually picks up his game, Kovalev was a total non-factor and Andrei Kostitsyn followed his lead. Tomas Plekanec was showing the same hard work he's been putting out since returning from his suspension, but when you're the only one on your line breaking a sweat, you're not going to produce too many results.

On the positive side of the ledger was the play of Saku Koivu, who had his best game in weeks and finally looked like he was physically capable of keeping up. His play to beat Mike Fisher in a battle behind the net and set up Alex Tanguay's goal was vintage Koivu, something we've seen very little of lately. Gainey will have to hope that continues.

The play of Maxim Lapierre's line with Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos was reminscent of the chemistry those three had before the Golden Boy hurt his shoulder, producing three goals and consistently hemming the Senators in their end. It's incredible to think that Lapierre was actually sent to Hamilton out of training camp only last year, and now he's emerging as an elite third line checking centre.

But that's about it in terms of positives for the Habs. The power play went 0-for-4, including a 33-second 5-on-3 in the second where they looked downright aloof, despite being only a goal down in a game they absolutely needed to win. The power play is now 3-for-34 over their last eight games. Ugly.

The Canadiens also allowed 39 shots, making it the fourth straight game they've given up at least that many, but they did top the 30-shot mark themselves for the first time in seven games. That's 15 times in 16 games the Habs have been outshot, in case you're losing count.

All the signs are pointing to this team being an abject disaster, including the ugly second-half standings provided by the venerable Pierre LeBrun that show the Habs are the third-worst team in the NHL over the past couple of months. But despite all their warts, I refuse to believe there is absolutely no way the Habs could surprise a very beatable Eastern Conference in the playoffs.

Except that idea is becoming harder and harder to defend rationally with each passing loss.


pierre said...

I dont know Arps how you can picture us in the playoffs.... arent we the worst team in the last 3-4 weeks?

Our PP resurected when Schneider got here but even that is now gone, out of service..... how can we possibly win enouph games from our 5-on-5 alone when our most dangerous line as Lapierre centering it and when our goaltending remains a question mark even though Halak is doing great.

Kovalev was definitly in a fog tonight but A.Kostsitsyn seems almost like a lost cause for the remaining of this season..... scary.

Things are grim looking, so much that the fact that we only took two penaties tonight was I thought cause for celebration.

Most team seems to be playing their best hochey of the season and I think that most of them for some reason get an extra boost at the thought of beating us down...... I know that Avery when asked lately in a popular canadian TV show were he was invited of which team he felt better winning against he mentioned Montreal... I dont know but if many players hapenned to share his feeling when they play against us it certainly not gona make it any easier on us to rise up which we must.

So many things went wrong and I cant help but to suffer when I think about next year.... even our futur.

Topham said...

It;s refreshing to see someone come out so candidly on Price. We have been getting bashed for being too hard when we've said Halak is better. I guess it takes longer for some to see than others.

Our bad second half may have been remedied had the coach or GM or whoever was pushing Carey into starts would have just admitted he was Halak's equal at best some time round the end of January. To be generous to Carey, I'd say he cost us about 6 points.

B B said...

Barring an unforeseen and miraculous turn around, the Montreal Canadiens will have turned a season of great promise and a bright future into a situation as bleak as a wet November day. A team with 10 UFA's at the beginning of the season is apparently focused only on cashing out and seeking bigger bucks elsewhere. A team poised to win a Cup in the 100th season (99 because there was was that strike thing), is now a team playing out the string and headed for a 9th or 10th place finish in hockey's weakest division.

Team chemistry and spark that lead last season's team to the Eastern Conference top spot has dissipated. There is minimal leadership on this team and none of this limited commodity is coming from a player wearing the captain's "C," or holding back the onslaught in net. A fiery coach, unwilling to accept anything less than 110%, is not to be found roaming behind Les Habitants; only a GM/coach looking like someone focused on the long ago past.

On the ice, the Canadiens franchise is plagued by a defensive corp slow afoot, unable to prevent any opponent on any given night from taking upward of 35 shots on goal, but more than capable of taking moronic, immature, and lazy penalties for delay of game, carrying a puck in a closed hand, or a grabbing of the stick. Only Gregory Stewart is willing to stand toe-to-toe with an aggressor and defend the bleu, blanc, et rouge sweater.

Offensively, late cross-ice passes, a lack of screening, and fear of taking any chances at centre ice dominate this non-scoring machine. The Montreal Canadiens, though ten games above .500, have been out scored this season. No Montreal team with post-season success can lay claim to this dubious deficit.

In net, the promise of Carey Price has become the reality of Carey Price, a very immature young man, unable to make even a simple life style choice such as smoking, a habit only the Russians skaters still have. Price routinely gives up soft goals, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding on puck handling and when to stay in net on long clearing passes into the Habs defensive zone. Compared to two native sons of the city, Brodeur and Luongo, Price pales. From a possible spot on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team to a spot in 2010 backing up in Hamilton seems Carey's ambition.

All these disasters plus the inability land a single non-Quebecois free agent, a team loaded with potential free agent players now skating not be hurt, a lack of clear leadership on or off the ice, a pitiful defence, an anemic offense, and a goal tender with openings a big as an old Rue Ste-Catherine whore can only be blamed on the general manager. A general manager who fired a popular coach who was winning in spite of these short-comings. A general manager who inherited a 5th place team with a very winnable playoff stretch and has pulled three points out of eight since taking over. A general manger who needs to go.

With Gillette using his interest in his Liverpool soccer club and NASCAR teams to cover his upcoming $72M (USD) loan against the value of the Canadiens franchise, the ownership is stable. The Sunday morning after this team fails to make the playoff, Mr. Gillette must add Bob Gainey to the list of former Canadien greats who failed in restoring glory to the franchise. Gillette must hire a GM with a passion for hockey and the greatness that is the best franchise in the NHL and probably North American sports. Hire a GM who will handle the contract issues in a timely manner. Hire a GM who will bring a coach who will win. Hire a management staff that was have FA's dying to play in Montreal, not run as is the current situation.

Damned skippy Montrealers are a tough crowd to skate before. Damned straight Montreals will turn on the team in a heartbeat. But equally damed sure, no team has fans, worldwide, who worship their boys and the interlocking "CH" on that glorious sweater. Go Habs Go!

Arjun said...

Gainey's delusion is only one step removed from your optimism. My emotional divorce is complete. What we saw last night was two teams going in opposite directions. Add to this: the Senators have a goalie next year in Leclair. Elliott will be a fine back up and will push Leclair. Their first line is still full of studs who play hard. And us? What is our first line exactly? Am I the only one who thinks Koivu - while all heart - has lost a crazy amount of skill the last 18 months? We have a fantastic third line. We have two kids in D'Agostini and Pax who will be good third liners in their day. We have an ok defense. Instead of looking at this year as the fluke, perhaps we should consider that maybe, just maybe, it was last year that was the fluke. It would at least help in a proper assessment of the talent on the ice as we enter the long off season.

SRS said...

a golden bird that flies away, a candle's fickle flame.
to think i held you yesterday, your love was just a game.
- Beck