Sunday, April 5, 2009

What will they be chanting now?

I can't imagine we'll be hearing too many "Carbo, Carbo" chants when the Habs take to the ice Monday night against the Senators. Not that Bob Gainey has necessarily done a masterful coaching job to right the ship, but no one can deny that his decision to create the current top line has been the catalyst to some of the best hockey this team has played this year.

Once again in Toronto on Saturday night, the line was humming, led by a rejuvenated Alex Kovalev who has been better than any trade deadline acquisition could ever have been.

But where has Gainey's impact been felt the most? Line combinations are one thing, but I'm thinking back to that 5-2 loss to the Leafs on March 21. Gainey said he would be holding meetings with certain players he felt wasn't delivering the goods the Sunday after the massacre, and I can't help but wonder who was called into his office for a chat.

Mike Komisarek perhaps? Because he has been a completely different player over the past couple of weeks. Maybe he was worried about his contract situation and Gainey gave some assurance there would be a competitive offer forthcoming in early June. Or maybe that offer was tabled right then and there. Whatever was said, it appears to have worked.

Was Roman Hamrlik also called in to talk? His play has been significantly improved during this little stretch of success, and that is a vital cog in the Canadiens machine because of the stability he provides in his own end for 22 minutes a night while Andrei Markov rests up on the bench.

How about Christopher Higgins, or Kovalev, or Saku Koivu, or Alex Tanguay, or any number of players who have elevated their games when things were at their most critical?

Whoever was called in for a meeting that Sunday, and whatever was said, it's hard to argue with the results since then: 5-0-1 record, 27 goals for, 12 goals against, 193 shots on goal for, 173 shots on goal against, 13-for-35 on the power play, 21-for-23 on the penalty kill.

If indeed it was a series of individual player meetings with Gainey that triggered this dramatic turnaround, then I don't think anyone could doubt that firing Guy Carbonneau was a necessary move. I'm not sure I understand why multi-million dollar athletes would need a meeting with the coach in late March to perform, but that is definitely something the old coach would not have reverted to.

Carbonneau may have called for another bag skate that Sunday, or a trip to the movies, anything but a series of man-to-man discussions with individual players. We're actually not even sure that is what happened with Gainey, but that's what he said he would do that day, and it might very well have saved the season.

Which leads us to the obvious next question, whether Gainey will be back behind the bench next year, if indeed he's still employed by the Canadiens at that point? Can he still withstand the rigours of the daily grind of coaching for an entire season? Does he want to? Is he even a first class coach?

It will be impossible to know those answers based on his body of work since March 9 because the sample size is too small, but I find it hard to imagine a better (bilingual) candidate emerging over the summer. Gainey, with all his faults, may indeed be the best man for the job.

And he's proving it with each successive victory.


pierre said...

Hiring Carbonneau was a big error made by Gainey and not signing Streit at reduced price was a huge mistake with terrible consequences on our season but I will credit him for at least two things in this season... the firing of Carbo and creating such a fabuleus line as the AlexKoivuAlex line before this dreadfull season was over.

Of course he did much more with the team than creating a superb top line...... he instructed each players about their role and his expectations towards them..... he urged his top line to lead the way by playing as best a two-way game as they ever will...... its been like a new season ever since.... but a truer test is coming starting tomorow and I cant wait to watched that.

Is Gainey a top notch coach ? right now he looks brilliant... I also like all the little things he does so far..... time will tell.

Anonymous said...

I am always surprised when people question the need for 'multi-milliion dollar atheletes' to have one on one conversations with a coach. Would it make you feel better to think that the only players he met with - if he met with any - were those without multi-million dollar contracts?.

More likely, he met with most or all of the players and clarified role and expectations... as a professional coach, I understand it to be a task that has to be periodically undertaken with most people - atheletes, business people, etc. It is easy for players to get side-tracked on goals and roles, especially in light of Carbo's firing. A new coach should clearly state new roles and expectations if they have changed or restate them if they haven't.

pierre said...

I concour with you ANONYMOUS that he met with most-all players and that those meetings took place in and around its first week as a coach.

As I read in an article yesterday the love affair between the Washington's players and their coach is because Boudreau never leaves them in the dark as to what their roles are and his expectations towards them.

You need the right plan first then you need to get everyone on board..... Gainey provided both and the turnaround was obvious.

We know Carbo didn't have the second aspect under control but there are some like me who doubts that he ever had a correct plan to start with.