Friday, October 16, 2009

No excuses

It's been only one regular season loss where I've actually witnessed the aftermath first hand, but I can already tell you that the culture in this room is different from years past.

First, let me tell you that it's not easy to walk into a losing team's locker room and figure out what questions to ask. Sometimes, you just want to say, "Why did you guys suck tonight?" But that will never get you the answer you seek, and it won't make players very receptive to your questions in the future.

The trick is to figure out a way to sugarcoat that very same question, and often times that entails embedding excuses for that suckiness in the question itself. A telltale sign of a winning or losing team is whether or not players take that ready made excuse and run with it, or if they reject and take responsibility for the loss themselves.
Last year, I found a lot of players were ready to take the bait from the media and run with the excuse. But when Mike Cammalleri was offered many opportunities to take the excuse tonight, he didn't.

Was that loss a case of bad luck?

"You'll never hear me blame a loss on luck," he said. "You make your own bounces."

How about the referreeing? Didn't that play against you, especially on the winning goal?

Didn't bite.

No, Cammalleri called it like it is, despite having every reason to take one of those excuses and embrace it as his own.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough to win games," he said. "Maybe we could have won tonight, but you don’t want to leave things to chance. You don’t want to win because you could have won, you want to win because you definitely should have won.”

Yes, the Habs had two goals go in off their defencemen's skates. Yes, there could have been a penalty on the apparent head shot Scott Gomez absorbed just before the winning goal. Yes, a whole bunch of things could have gone differently to give the Habs a cherished win their home opener.

But they didn't. And as Cammalleri pointed out, the Habs have no one to blame but themselves. When they had three power plays in the opening period, dominated much of the play and had the Avs on their heels, the Canadiens didn't bury them. I had a feeling at the first intermission that would cost them, and ultimately, it did

Still, there were several positive signs in this game despite the negative result, starting with the continued strong play of Tomas Plekanec and the awakening of Andrei Kostitsyn. Jacques Martin called them his two best forwards on the night, and he was bang on with that assessment. Kostitsyn's first shift of the game was his best of the year, and he made it immediately clear that he got the message from that benching in Edmonton on Saturday night. His move on Kyle Quincey and pass to Plekanec on the second goal, even though it came after the puck hit the netting, showed just what kind of talent Kostitsyn has.

The impact of Kostitsyn finding his game should not be undermined here, because if ever he's able to form a productive duo with Plekanec on the second line, it would allow Martin to load up the top line the way he has in the third period of each of the last two games when he needed a goal.

Every time Cammalleri, Gomez and Brian Gionta have been placed together, they've produced consistent pressure, except it's only come in 20-minute stretches thus far. If Kostitsyn and Plekanec can consistently be as dangerous as they were tonight, it could become 60 minutes worth of offensive power punching from that Gomez line.

Another positive was Carey Price, who was outstanding and couldn't do anything about any of the three goals he allowed. The Habs penalty kill was perfect and the power play produced a goal, so that's two more positives. The defence was actually pretty good for the first time since Andrei Markov went down, despite the fact Shawn Belle - who I thought has a pretty good Habs debut overall - made a very poor decision that led to the winning goal.

Speaking of the defence, I couldn't help but notice that Cam Barker played 10:17 of the Blackhawks 3-1 win over Nashville, with no special teams time at all. In an unrelated bit of news, I can report the Blackhawks had two scouts at the Habs game, including director of player personnel Marc Bergevin. Though the two teams will meet Oct 30 in Chicago, two scouts at a regular season game is not a regular occurrence. Just saying.


jkr said...

I saw a lot of positives too & although I am ticked at the non call on the winning goal I must admit the refereeing was bad for both sides. Plekanec's goal should not have counted. Also, it sure looked like the Habs had 7 skaters on the ice during the final minute. The first 2 Avs goals may have been flukey but they happened because guys were going hard to the net.
I'm not panicking yet but it's getting pretty close. :)

rei said...

The thing about the bad reffing is it really went both ways; this pic ture sums it up

Arpon Basu said...

Yeah, I couldn't believe the highlights to the game when I got home. They, must have had seven on the ice for at least 20 or 30 seconds. Just imagine the Habs would have scored? I don't know how four officials missed that one, or the puck hitting the net on the Pleks goal either. A very poor night for the refs overall.

MathMan said...

IMHO... the losing streak is getting misleading.

Final results aside, the Habs seem to be improving in all the right areas. The PP got a goal, the PK is improving... but most importantly they are doing well at evens lately, which is something they haven't done a whole lot of over the last couple of years and that's pretty much the #1 thing they needed to do to become a better team.

Getting the percentages to fall right enough that they turn that advantage into wins really is a matter that involves a lot of chance, even if that's a taboo word, but by keeping the odds tilted their way, the Habs should wins should come barring any persistent centennial curses.

I like Cammalleri's quote about not leaving things to chance though -- I want to see them committed to improving even more, and ideally become an elite team at evens. Even play, though it'd be a big improvement over the last few years, won't cut it. Relying on special teams like they have in the past is not a good way to get consistent good results.

Overall, early in the season, I'd rather outplay and lose off fluke goals, than win after getting comprehensively outplayed like we saw in the first couple of games that the Habs won. It tends to be a sign of better things to come -- it was how the 07-08 season started. Even though the Habs are losing now, I think they're moving in the right direction.

But then again, this is Montreal. If the Habs get outplayed and win, they were lucky and their goalie stole one. If they outplay the other guys and lose, then it's them that are at fault and need to do better.

John said...

I agree with most of your comments except when you say that Price was outstanding. He was good ...but he should have had the first goal (I'm not saying it was an easy save but no stick covering the five hole while moving across is a mistake and it cost them in the end). This was a game that he COULD have won for the team (that would have been outstanding) but he let the opportunity slip past him. He did look more confident doing it though :). A sub .900 save percentage is never outstanding.

pmk said...

you said it mathman - can't wait till this 100yr 'celebration' is over. Dec.4 cannot come soon enough.

Thought lats played well. Pac too. I thought belle had a pretty solid game overall. He makes mistakes but he has size and good wheels to make up for them.

Not sure about this mara fella - gill gets alot of blame but mara has been pretty disappointing for me so far - but I'll try to reserve my judgement on him (and the rest of the team) till dec.

pmk said...

Arp - who do you think chicago could be scouting?

Arpon Basu said...

I'm not sure who Chicago would be scouting, to be honest, but it would probably be guys on the low end of the salary scale. Last night, that would be Matt D'Agostini, Kyle Chipchura, Shawn Belle, guys like that. Again, I'm not even saying they were necessarily there on a trade scouting mission because the Habs do play the Hawks in a couple of weeks. And, to be fair, Bergevin is from Mtl and was possibly just in town so he decided to come to the game. You never know. I just think with the way the 'Hawks need to shed salary, how the Habs need a defenceman and how Barker is barely playing while earning $3 mil a year, all the elements are there for a deal to happen.