Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Communication, communication, communication

It's been a pretty big buzz word around these parts recently. It was a lack of communication skills that seemingly cost Guy Carbonneau his job, and now it appears there are a couple of Habs players being sent some very direct messages by Jacques Martin.

The first is Andrei Kostitsyn, who watched the second half of Saturday's game in Edmonton from the bench after his lazy, cross-ice pass in the defensive zone was picked off and wound up in the Habs net.

Kostitsyn faced reporters at practice on Wednesday, and he obviously wasn't very chatty. That's understandable, because his English is still very limited, and I think he's just a timid guy in general. When asked what he thought the message was in that benching the other night, Kostitsyn summed it up in four simple, yet powerful, words: "Not work hard enough."

OK, message received, I guess.

But there has been some question as to whether or not Kostitsyn is able to properly communicate with both his teammates and the coaching staff, considering his limited grasp of the language.

His centre the past two years Tomas Plekanec was asked how open the lines of communication are between he and Kostitsyn, because at times the winger seems isolated. Plekanec's initial response? He broke out laughing. He couldn't help himself. Then he went about answering the question using the appropriate words when discussing a teammate.

"Maybe it doesn't look like it," Plekanec said, "but he talks."

To me, the initial reaction to the question said more than the answer itself.

Later, Plekanec was asked what language he uses to communicate with Kostitsyn on the ice.

"Czech, Slovak, Russian, English, we're trying everything right now," he said jokingly, though I wonder how much truth was actually behind that answer.

Even if there are communication issues with Kostitsyn, it shouldn't be that huge of a hindrance to his performance. Evgeni Malkin couldn't string together two words of English when he arrived with the Penguins, yet he had immediate success (before you all start freaking out that I'm comparing Malkin to Kostitsyn, I'm not. They are different players living through similar linguistic challenges, that's where the similarity ends.)

The language of hockey has always superseded everything else, and for Kostitsyn to succeed he needs to simplify his game and take what's given to him. Both Plekanec and Martin agree on that point.

"The problem with him is that sometimes he doesn't want to shoot the puck, he tries to pass too much," Plekanec said. "He has one of the best wristers in the league...so he just needs to shoot the puck."

Martin said the same thing, noting Kostitsyn's shot is his strength and that he needs to use it, but he also wants to see some more passion in his game.

"I want to see an improvement in his involvement, his intensity," Martin says.

Meanwhile, I had a chance to chat with Guillaume Latendresse about the subject of my blog post yesterday, namely the lost opportunity to play alongside Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Latendresse said that if you asked any guy in the Habs room, they would all say they'd want that spot. But he says he feels comfortable on his line with Maxim Lapierre and he'll make the most of his chance to play on the second wave of the power play.

Not to beat a dead horse, but here's what Latendresse said of his role on the power play.

"My job is really in front of the net," he said Wednesday. "To leave that spot there's really going to have to be a loose puck or something, because I plan on planting my feet there and not moving."

We shall see if he actually does that, but he's been saying those things for two years now. It's time to actually do it on the ice.

Martin was also asked about his decision to pass on Latendresse and use Travis Moen on the Gomez line.

"I tried that for one game in the pre-season and felt that's not the place where he could best help our team," Martin said. "He still has to battle to find where he fits best."

I might be reading too much into things, but to me that's a coach communicating directly to a player that if he wants to top-six role, he hasn't earned it yet.

9 comments:

kyleroussel said...

I really hope that Martin can get through to AK46. He seems so disinterested most of the time. It's like Kovy's nihilism has rubbed off on him!

As for the Guimauve the Tenderness, it's about time he puts up or shuts up. You're right - for 2 years he's been flapping his lips about being in front of the net banging in loose pucks. He does it for extremely short bursts, then fades to the periphery again. He needs to watch some Dino Ciccarelli and Dave Andreychuk clips to see what standing in front of the net is all about.

MathMan said...

I'm still not entirely convinced Latendresse's "plant his feet in front of the net and set up shop" leitmotiv is the right approach for him. Well, maybe it'll work on the power play where he hasn't been productive, I can see that as it's a much more stationary set-up.

But five on five?

The problem I have with all of it is this: what he's been doing has been working, and working very well to boot, as far as generating offensive production goes. Latendresse has put up plenty of goals for a guy who gets his limited icetime, to the point where he consistently shows up near the top of the goal list on the Habs at evens. If he has a tendency to go back to the slot and playing sniper, rather than crease garbage man, it just might be because it's worked before and he's been scoring goals from there. How many of his goals were snipes from the slot?

This isn't to say that he might not be more productive if he did the "pitch tent in front of the net" thing, but given his scoring rates so far, that would be a tall order.

I just hope we're not so obsessed with the kind of player we want the kid to be that we're scrapping the kind of player we could become. There'd be nothing wrong with developping a big, physical sniper who can put up 20-25 goals at evens plus whatever extra he gets on the PP -- quite the opposite, in fact, the Habs have been a weak 5-on-5 team and could certainly use that guy.

Arpon Basu said...

Hey MathMan,
First of all, welcome to the site. I don't recognize the name, so I'm guessing you're a new reader. Hope you stick around.
You're points on Latendresse the past two days have been valid, he has been one of the most efficient Habs when it comes to even strength goals per 60 minutes. But that stat, like all stats, has a hidden element to it. In his case, we don't know how Latendresse would perform with increased minutes. Would he be able to play the same style effectively if he was suddenly logging 20 minutes a night? We won't know until he's put in that situation, which is kind of my point. The spot on the left side of Gomez has been his for the taking since camp began, but he hasn't seized it, and to be honest I'm not so sure he's that worried about it. If I were him, and I saw Moen on the top line, I would take it as a big kick in the ass. We'll have to wait and see if that is indeed how he reacts.
Also, there's nothing wrong with crashing the net and creating traffic, it doesn't necessarily pigeon-hole you into a specific type of player. Latendresse could do that, while picking his spots to get open for his shot, which as you correctly point out is above average. The problem is that he does that almost all the time, which means he's almost never posted in front of the net. He needs to do both.

pierre said...

testing...

MathMan said...

Yeah, I am a newcomer to posting on this particular blog, although I've read it on and off in the past. Long-time listener, first-time caller, as it were. ;)

Your question on whether Latendresse can produce with more minutes is a good one, and you could have added "tougher" minutes as well. But he hasn't precisely embarrassed himself when he's been used as an injury filler for Higgins in the past.

The problem is, how are we to find out? Normally we'd ask a young player to show that he can produce in more limited minutes before giving him more responsibility, but he's already done that. So what does he need to do? I haven't met him like you have so I can't really tell for sure, but I'd suspect this is a question he must be asking himself.


I would have thought it would have made sense to experiment with him in the LW-2 spot, ahead of a rookie Max Pacioretty who has yet to show the same level of NHL readiness, and even more now that MaxPac hasn't worked out. It's fine for him to learn his trade at the NHL level, but the organization seems to be trying to fast-track him and put him on an early pedestal even more than they've been accused of doing with Latendresse. I like MaxPac's potential as much as the next guy, but right now it seems like he's being slotted as if the potential were reality, as if he were, right now, the player he'll be in three or four years. My question is, if Lats hasn't deserved a top-six tryout in a real game, what has MaxPac done to do so that Lats hasn't?

The best explanation I've heard as to why Lats isn't given a top-six shot, besides the fairly plausible idea that the Lapierre line will be crippled without him, is "he doesn't crash the net enough". That strikes me as pretty secondary compared to the criticism that can be levelled at the other options ("hasn't produced much offense at the NHL level" comes to mind). Plus, crashing the net is not something he can demonstrate quite as readily when he is the best puckhandler and shooter on his line. Driving to the net only makes sense when your linemates have the puck, after all.

But from the Edmonton game, Martin seems willing to hurt the team in the short term if he feels that he needs to teach something that will benefit it in the long term. Maybe this is what he's doing here, because otherwise I'm not sure I get the logic. Latendresse may not be perfect, at his age it would be rare for a player to be, but it still seems to me like he's more suitable than any of the other options. I would have thought that with his previous productivity, he would have been the first one to be tried, but honestly it doesn't really seem to me like he was ever seriously considered for the role.

As a fanbase we seem to be very demanding of Latendresse, to an extent I'm not sure I agree with. It seems there's a huge amount of dissatisfaction with him, and I don't really get why. We tend to forget it because he's been with the Habs almost as long as anyone, but Latendresse was in the same draft class as Carey Price, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Matt d'Agostini. At his age, players such as Higgins were beginning their rookie seasons. I'm also not sure people realize exactly how much he's accomplished at the NHL level already.

RDS does him no favors by pimping him up so much, I know they're starved for local stars, but that only serves to create a backlash against him. In the end, though, Lats has done quite well by any reasonable standard for a player his age.

I guess I just don't understand why Lats is one of the most-criticized players on the Habs, or why what he's done well never seems to be in the balance and it's always about what he should be doing.

Patarnak said...

I say Amen to Mathman! No one could express that like you did, you speak my mind better than me!

pierre said...

With a Marcovless season ahead of us players will be asked to be at their best collectivelly and to growth up individually to the limit of their own potential as players.

Working hard and working well collectivelly wont be good enough to get us through though..... but were you to bring top shell PP and PK special units along for the ride.... the overall results would probably be good enough to qualified.

For any of that to happen a couple of players will need to be conclusive about what they are all about...... A.Kostitsyn will need to shine NOW while Lats will need to deliver his marchandise in whichever forms he might cares NOW...... this season is their final statement as players.

We are going to need S.Kostitsyn as well..... you cant expect Dagostini and Pacioretti in delivering the type of performances that our team is in need of this season to succeed..... they might be able one day to deliver such but it wont be happening during their first full season in the NHL.

Arpon Basu said...

MathMan,
Your defence of Latendresse is justified in a lot of ways, most importantly in his age/experience ratio. Very few players his age have accomplished what he has, that is true. I remember last year, after Jordan Staal signed his contract extension, I did a comparison of the two players and found they weren't that far off statistically. I think the big knock on Latendresse is that he adjusts his game to his linemates. The way he plays with Lapierre is the way the team wants him to play with everyone, and in the past when given a top line shot, he changed into a player that was less physical, less driven. I think he will eventually get a shot to play with Gomez, but he has to show off his best qualities in the role he's in now, which he's not doing.

subdoxastic said...

Posting this again on this thread seems to apply:

Arpon:

You articles are always a genuinely enjoyable read.

Commentors:

After reading this post and the comments regarding it and I had an argument with myself. The following is the result.

BEGINNING: Is it possible that Latendresse is both : "a third liner," and that "he is an effective goal scorer at even strength" (as the, stats, I'm told, suggest)?

Trying to reconcile these two camps means acknowledging both aspects of measurement.

Those who flippantly denigrate Latendresse's contribution to the team are refusing to acknowledge the production his play has generated for the team.But equally at fault are those who would ignore qualitative observations.

We must acknowledge both viewpoints help to inform our (hypothetical) opinion on a player's tactical worth to the team. I say hypothetical because we are not in control of the experiment and, as such, do not have to contend with the level of nuance expected of professional coaches in a professional league. I have to think that means when looking at a coach's line-up it has to be accorded a little respect. As has already been noted, Martin does have him on the 2nd wave of the Power Play.

I realize this argument will do little to entice itself to the quantitative camp, while the "third liner” camp may be slightly mollified. Despite this, I am willing to contend that we have a third line player with good goal production at even strength.

Anticipating that this will not be enough for the more extreme of either camp, I propose that further discussion be postponed until we consult the data that shows Latendresse's goal production at even strength with different combinations of line-mates and the quality of opposition he faced-- both this season and last.
END

The article was well written and the comments were insightful and well though out. Minus more stats or a different experience of Latendresse's play, I'm comfortable in my understanding of Latendresse's performance so far. He's failed to impress at the elite level, but has fared very well (particularly this past season) in producing points at a rate commensurate with his current role.

This may change. I for one would love for Latendresse to start changing things tonight at the home opener.