Thursday, March 5, 2009

Timing is everything

And the Canadiens showed a horrible sense of timing Wednesday night.

On a day that GM Bob Gainey came out and said that the time for the team's struggling players to turn their season around was now, those players continued to struggle, and did it in spectacular fashion.

The power play that had been rejuvenated with the addition of Mathieu Schneider went to sleep at exactly the wrong moment, failing to cash in on three first period opportunities and one to start the second. Carey Price had a sufficient rest and more than sufficient reason to come out and try to steal a game, but he simply wasn't good enough, all but assuring Jaroslav Halak will get the start Friday in Atlanta. Mike Komisarek once again took a backbreaking penalty that led to Buffalo's third goal, and was also responsible for the turnover that led to the second goal.

The list could go on and on, and the result was a 5-1 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo.

It would be pretty easy to pile on this loss and Gainey's inaction at the deadline to write off the Canadiens as doomed. But that's simply not the case.

Following this three game road swing that takes the Habs to Atlanta and Dallas, they will have a nice little stretch of nine out of 10 at home against some teams they should beat. Montreal is still one of the best home teams in the league, so that run of games at the Bell Centre could give ths group the confidence it needs to move forward. Because even if the Canadiens won their four previous games, everyone knew they did so on the back of Jaroslav Halak and not because the team was playing particularly well.

If they can string some games together where they legitimately beat up on some teams, that confidence could return for real.

But in order for that to happen, the team must play better. And that, as Gainey pointed out Wednesday while delivering his vote of confidence, is a responsibility that falls on the coaching staff.

For the first time this season, I'm having my doubts about Guy Carbonneau because a lot of the team's problems are recurring, and they are in areas the coach has an impact on. One of them is the Habs tendency to get completely outplayed in second periods, which was again the case Wednesday.

"With the first period we had," Carbonneau told reporters after the game, "not to come out for the second period and play as well boggles my mind."

It shouldn't boggle your mind, coach, it should show you that your players come out for the second unprepared to play, and that kind of falls on you.

We'll see what happens Friday in Atlanta, but the effort shown by the Habs in Buffalo was supposed to be a neon sign to their GM showing him his confidence in them was not a complete mistake.

What wound up happeneing in Buffalo could have Gainey regretting sitting so still at the the deadline.


Yves said...

I was really hopeful after that first period... they looked strong... but then when the wheels came off in the second... I was anything but hopeful.

I'm sure Bob thought about it last night....

B B said...

I was disappointed in Price's showing. I truly expected him to respond to the Halak challenge.

I don't think making a deadline deal was that critical. If the deal was to be made, waiting until 4 March made no sense. And there can still be trades made. I may have on the blinders, but one game does not undo this team's work. The Habs will be almost 100% healthy next week!

Arjun said...

When it's about the players, they play well. When it's about the "team" they don't. Which leads me to believe the guys have stopped playing for Carbo.

Sliver24 said...

The meltdown continues and, based on last night's performance, there's no end in sight.

Can you blame the coach? Maybe. You could be critical of the style he's forcing his team to play or you can question his relationship with the players.

To me, though, the problem lies with the players themselves.

Where is the leadership on this team? Who is standing up in the room, getting in peoples' faces and challenging his teammates? Souray was the guy that did that two years ago. During last year's storybook season the need was never there. Right now the lack of leadership is killing the team.

It comes back to my comments earlier this season lamenting the Habs' lack of identity. Are the Habs a flashy offensive team? Are they shutdown specialists? Nobody, including the players, coaches and GM, seems to know.

On top of that there seem to be a bunch of players that just don't seem to care.

Andrei Kostitsyn? Come on! Where is this guy's drive for crying out loud? You're in a scoring slump? No problem, it happens to all players. But why the hell aren't you skating your ass off in both directions and hitting anything that comes near you in an opponent's jersey?

If I'm Carbo that guy's watching the next few games from press row.

Guys like Kostopoulos and Lapierre are important on any team, and both of those guys are playing their roles perfectly, but when the coach is putting them on the powerplay because his "top six" forwards can't string a pass together there's a real attitude problem in the room.

It's not hard to point to half a dozen guys on the Habs that have top-notch talent. You also wouldn't have too much trouble identifying a large group of players with unquestionable heart. The problem lies in the fact that there are few players, if any, with a larger than average helping of both.

That, right there, is the difference between The Montreal Canadiens and a true Stanley Cup contender.

pmk said...

I agree sliver - there is an attitude problem in the room - except the guy with the attitude problem wears a suit and tie.
Only way I see this turning around is if Bob takes over behind the bench...

Anonymous said...

zylb, i think we're destined to be on opposite sides of the fence. lol.

"It comes back to my comments earlier this season lamenting the Habs' lack of identity. Are the Habs a flashy offensive team? Are they shutdown specialists? Nobody, including the players, coaches and GM, seems to know."

gainey builds a team around flashy, creative forwards but hires a defensive minded coach. it's a mismatch to begin with but it's both the coach's and gm's responsibility to know how to make it work. if it doesn't - something has to change.

i'm not saying the players aren't at fault because they are but the bulk of this weight rests on the coach's shoulders simply because it's hard to pick out one or two players who aren't living up to their potential. very few are actually performing and if the team can't go...

if anyone, imho, should be sitting in the press box it's komisarek. he all but admitted to playing injured in the media and seeing him on the ice it's hard to dispute. he sits first.

i have my own theory about ak (of course i do) but i digress...


Yves said...

I agree too... problem in the room.

Kovalev was totally rocked in the first.. no one did a thing.

Price got run over (elbow in the head).... no one did a thing.

Carbo talked about his belief in the team playing tough together.... team toughness.... there was none last night.

I agree we need team toughness... but I'm not sure this group will play like that.

Is the coach?? It's possible.

@pmk Bob taking the bench might not be a bad idea.

Arpon Basu said...

I definitely believe that if Gainey were to take over behind the bench it would produce some immediate results, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to do that. Carbonneau is his guy, the one he wanted all along, and so admitting that he's not getting the job done is also an admission of Gainey's own misjudgment of him as a coach.
This is why I felt Gainey needed to do something at the deadline, because it would show that he did everything in his power to make the team better. Not adding another serviceable defenceman, like a Steve Montador for example, was a critical error because, as you point out Nissa, Komisarek needs a rest. But with the players at his disposal, Carbonneau can't afford to sit Komisarek because with all his faults, he remains a top-four defenceman on this team, and the dropoff to number five is quite steep.
I think Carbonneau is going to have to figure this out on his own, but Gainey might want to take one of those famous walks through Old Montreal with his coach pretty soon.