Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This one stings

If you'd told me before Tuesday night's game with the New York Rangers that the Canadiens would manage a point while losing in a shootout, I would say that's a pretty good result.

Considering just how poorly the Habs had played against the Devils and Islanders in their two previous games, finishing the New York trifecta by adding a point in the standings would seem alright, especially considering Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist's dominance in shootout situations.

But you know what? The Canadiens should have won that game Tuesday night, and they should have been able to do it in regulation. I'm glad that was Bob Gainey's reaction as well, because the Canadiens did a lot of things well Tuesday and it would have been easy to allow those positives to cloud the ultimate negative of a loss against a playoff rival in March.

If the Canadiens were "participants" on Saturday night against the Devils, they were spectators in the third period against the Rangers and Gainey's concern over his team's inability to take over a tie game in the third period at home is very well placed, though he shoulders a good portion of the blame for that as well.

No, not his bench management, because Gainey essentially went with three lies up front throughout the third, particularly after the Rangers scored to make it 3-2. And it wasn't the team's system that was lacking because Gainey did not trap the Rangers nearly as much as he did against the Devils on Saturday, and that was encouraging.

But really, how his team comes out of the locker room following the second intermission falls on the coach, no? Does the coach not have an impact on the players "emotional engagement" to a situation? I think so, and I believe Gainey does as well or else it would have been Guy Carbonneau behind the bench Tuesday and not him.

But even without looking at how the Canadiens should have been able to take over the game in the third instead of being outshot 16-5, if you would have told me the Habs scored twice on Lundqvist in the shootout with Carey Price in nets, I would have bet heavily on Montreal's chances of winning.

Except Price looked like the situation of having the team's playoff fortunes riding on his shoulders was too much for him in the shootout. Markus Naslund's goal was a pretty nice move (one made with extreme speed, which I wish more players would do in the shootout). But Price looked downright scared against both Nik Antropov and Chris Drury, and that should be scary to Canadiens fans.

If I'm Gainey, I start Jaroslav Halak in Ottawa on Thursday, not because Price played poorly against the Rangers, but because he looked like the situation got too big for him. A strange turn of events for a kid that won that epic shootout against the Americans in the 2007 world juniors. Price was great in regulation, turning aside 39 of 42 shots, but he wilted in crunch time and that is supposed to be one of his strengths.

Speaking of the shots on goal, the Canadiens were dead even with the Rangers until the third period, but anticipating another 40-shot barrage I decided I would try to count scoring chances. I've never done this during a game and now realize just how subjective it can be. For one thing, a scoring chance may not necessarily result in a shot on goal, and a goal may come out of a play that's not necessarily a scoring chance. In fact, both Nikolai Zherdev's and Andrei Markov's equalizer did not register as scoring chances in my book.

Anyhow, at the end of overtime I had the scoring chances even at 14 apiece, and I had it at 4-2 Rangers in the third period. But what the exercise taught me is that when coaches talk about how shots are less important than scoring chances in determining a team's play, it's not entirely true.

The Rangers weren't generating a lot of quality scoring opportunities in that third period, but what they were doing - and it's clearly demonstrated in the 16-5 shot margin -was keeping the play in the offensive end, which is exactly what Gainey wanted his team to be doing.

Despite that, and thanks to the largesse of Lundqvist, the Canadiens had a chance to grab a very big two points in the shootout and didn't because Price wasn't up to the task. The result is that the Habs will wake up Wednesday in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, three points clear of the ninth-place Florida Panthers.

But at the beginning of the week, I said the Habs needed four points this week to stay in the right mental frame of mind to make a run at a playoff spot, and getting one against the Rangers means they are a quarter of the way there.

All the Habs have to do now is not get too hung up on the point that got away.


B B said...

Our guys were LUCKY to get a point. The Rangers were superior in every area. Last night was very sobering. I see how bad this team plays. I am now questioning if Gainey can right this situation during the off season. He must target impact players. He can not be left empty handed when it comes to FA signings. Our goaltending issue must re-addressed, AGAIN. There are so many areas where this team does not measure up.

Anonymous said...

Disagree to a point unless you are referring to the 3rd period only. The game was quite even after two.

Price's performance in the SO really concerns me, especially after watching give up 2 goals on two shots in Washington about 2 weeks ago. Go with Halak in the enxt 2 games which will be difficult because Ottawa & Toronto have nothing to play for.

Sliver24 said...

Unbelievable. That slashing call on Komisarek was such a load of crap. It's no wonder he lost it on the camera. It's nice to see a little emotion from someone in the Sainte Flanelle. Now if that could just ttanslate into a few monster hits like the old Komisarek...

I didn't see the game so I don't have much to say, but I do have a few thoughts on the Leafs Bolts game I attended in Tampa last night.

Let me start by saying this: I lost a lot of respect for Vinny Lecavalier last night. It has nothing to do with his on-ice performance or his overall skills as a hockey player.

It has to do with the fact that he's choosing to spend his career in relative obscurity in a market where hockey is little more than a sideshow instead of in his hometown, the Mecca of hockey, Montreal.

Tamps is simply not a hockey city. I don't know that it ever could be, no matter how many Snow Birds move sown here.

For starters there were probably four or five thousand empty seats in the place last night. Considering three quarters of the people there were from Ontario it makes you wonder who the hell would have been warming the seats if it wasn't for the Leafs fans. I'd hate to see what it's like on a night they play Atlanta or Florida or some other division rival.

Secondly, most of the locals that were in attendance had no more
than a rudimentary knowledge of hockey. There were several incidents that made that abundantly clear, but none was more obvious than this: During the overtime period the Leafs put the puck in the net on what was an absolutely blatant (if accidental) hand pass. The referee waved the goal off without hesitation and there was little more than a brief bout of excitement among Leafs Nation. They didn't go upstairs for a review or anything. The locals, oblivious to what was happening on the ice, headed for the exits en masse, many of them making it it before the PA announcer could explain to them that the game wasn't over.

A similar exodus occurred when overtime ended, the locals not realizing that the NHL implemented a shootout some years back.

Throughout the guy sitting behind me was trying to explain hockey to his girlfriend and not doing a very good job. I managed to bite my tongue through most of it but when he was claiming victory for Ryan Craig in a fight with Jamal Mayers because Craig ended the fight on top I had to interject.

I explained to him that when one player is holding his bleeding face in the penalty box while the other is rubbing his knuckles, there's not much doubt about who was the victor. I don't think I bought it until I explained that I was rooting for Tampa too.

Anyways, the point to all this was to explain my loss of respect for Vinny. He had the chance to be remembered with the likes of Lafleur, Beliveau, Lemaire, even Roy if he came to Montreal and took les Glorieux to the promised land. I'm not saying that would necessarily happen, but at least the opportunity would be there.

In Tampa, the best he can do is be another Marcel Dionne to Quebec hockey fans. Sure, he was a great Quebecois player, but when the hell do you ever hear about him?

A few other observations:

- If you think the PA system is loud in Montreal you've got to hear the one in Tampa. It's absolutely obnoxious.

- The TV-timeout entertainment is horrible. I kept imagining what it would be like to hear all these giveaways and inter-section cheering contests in a nearly empty stadium. Cheezy to say the least.

- I got carded for beer. I thought that was ridiculous. Then my dad got carded for beer. He's 61. That's downright insane.

- There's one thing that the Lightning do that maybe the Habs should consider. It may in fact be the reason Vinny is choosing to stay in Tampa... http://lightning.nhl.com/team/app/?id=18837&page=NHLPage&service=page

Arjun said...

The game was discouraging on so many levels. I'm tired of moral victories. Because this team is tired and is not getting out of the first round. My emotional divorce to this bunch has started. A few months ago, I was worried we might be the new Ottawa Senators - sinking without anyone realizing it and then suddenly its too late. Happened to Ottawa last year. I'm still worried.