Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yes, I'm a party pooper

The mood was light in the Canadiens dressing room Tuesday night after snapping a five-game slide with a 2-1 shootout win over the red-hot Atlanta Thrashers.

Scott Gomez in particular, who had by far his best game in a Habs uniform, held court with reporters and elicited a lot of laughs, which you will no doubt be reading about in the papers.

Yes, winning feels good, and no one in that room should be focusing on the negative side of the game because there's been way too many negatives to focus on of late.

So I'll do it for them.

Despite thoroughly outplaying Atlanta, despite spending probably two thirds of the game in their zone, despite attempting 74 shots and having 35 of those hit the target, the Habs still scored one goal. One measly goal.

For those who are counting (and I obviously am), that's 10 goals in the last six games. Pas fort, as my French brethren would say. Not for a team with this kind of offensive talent, at least on the top two lines.

Yes, the team created a ton of chances, especially that line of Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, a combination that accounted for 15 shots on goal, had another nine blocked and missed the net another five times. When you have 29 attempted shots as a unit, that means you're spending most of your time in the offensive end with the puck. And that's most definitely a good thing.

It's just the production that's lacking.

“We had a lot of great chances, and I think that’s a good measure of how you’re playing," Gionta said. "If you’re getting those chances then you’re doing something right, so it’s a matter of sticking with it and trying to be patient. In the past five games we had flurries like that where we had momentum, but we let it slip a little bit because we got frustrated.”

If that line plays another 10 games like the one they played Tuesday, they'll probably rack up 15 or 20 goals. But so far we've seen a lot of great chances, but very few goals. Still, the alternative is far worse, so the fact the Canadiens are indeed spending a lot of time with the puck in the offensive zone is definitely a good thing.

Just one more negative before I get to Gomez's little comedy session with the media, and that would be the continued disappointing play of Maxim Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse. The pair were credited with three hits combined Tuesday night, and that's from stat guys who are usually pretty generous with the homegrown products. That's not nearly enough.

I don't know what's wrong with Lapierre, but he's just not forechecking like he used to, and if he's not doing that his value to the team is greatly diminished. As for Latendresse, he's showing flashes of what he can do, but it varies so much from shift to shift. He needs to do it consistently.

Finally, I'm wondering if the Habs would be willing to call Sergei Kostitsyn back up to the team, because Max Pacioretty is simply not ready to play a second line role on the team. Jacques Martin sat him for much of the second period Tuesday night, and he's having trouble finding a delicate balance between intensity and trying too hard.

In my eyes, the Black Sheep Kostitsyn deserves a shot at filling that role on this team, particularly since his brother appears to thrive when he's on the opposite wing. Sergei's been held off the scoresheet his last two games with Hamilton, but he had four points in his previous three games. Am I alone in thinking the left wing role on the second line is best suited for him, considering the personnel on hand?

OK, to end things on a lighter note, Gomez was in fine form with the media following the game. He said he had just played his best game as a member of the Canadiens, and when asked why he thought that, Gomez credited his wardrobe.

“I wore a nice suit today," he said. "My mom and dad are here, and they commented on it. It was a Canali suit, even my neighbour commented on it. So if that’s the case, maybe I’ll go with it again. I'll try and attribute it to that.”

When asked if he'll have to wear that suit to every game the rest of the year he said, “Then I’ll start looking like some of you guys and dressing the same way every night. I don’t want to go there.”

Admittedly, I have a sport coat I often wear to games, and since I was the one asking him that question, I guess Gomez has noticed. Maybe it's time for me to go shopping.

On his parents being around to witness his best game as a Hab: “They’ve been here all week. It’s the Mexican way, they’ll probably be here all year. It was almost time for them to leave, we’ve lost so much since they’ve been here. They can stay a little longer now, but they were getting a little nervous too.”

Finally, on his shootout goal off a beautiful wrister to the top corner: “It’s not a good feeling when you come back to the bench and your teammates are surprised that you have a shot like that. It kind of hurts your feelings a little bit. I got a little lucky, I don’t know if I could do that again, but I’ll take it.”


Beeg said...

Agreed re: Lapierre, Latendresse and Sergei. That said, the Habs hit the post about five or six times. If half of those shots move an inch in, it's not quite a blowout, but the score more accurately reflects the effort (and is more in line with the rest of the stats).

Not that it's all good news. Hal Gill continues to suck, pure and simple. I counted one decent takeaway against at least half a dozen plays where he was lazy, out of position, passive or unable to move the puck quickly. For a team that will live and die on the rush, there's no room for a giant defenceman who doesn't hit (and yes, yes, Markov, O'Byrne, etc.). Further, Marc-Andre Bergeron was terrible from his first shift on. I assume he will get better, but the sight of him and Gill watching as the Thrashers crawled back into the game was incredibly dispiriting.

Cam Barker, eh?

MathMan said...

Still snakebit, but they eke out a win this time.

Just as Atlanta wasn't going to keep scoring 4 goals a game and winning while giving up 10 shots more than they took every game, the Habs aren't going to keep outplaying the other team, holding on to the puck, and generating so many chances without some of them going in -- from sheer luck and volume if nothing else. At some point there'll be a mini-explosion offensively and lots of ink will be used trying to explain what the Habs did differently, when really it'll just have been a return to normal. 10-to-1 it gets attributed to confidence though. ;)

Anvilcloud said...

On the bright side, they are holding other teams to few goals and almost always giving themselves a chance.

Could it be that Laps, Lats and some holdovers are having more trouble adapting to the new system than the newer guys? Perhaps the concept of a system is foreign to them?

Sliver24 said...

Party pooper indeed.

The Habs dominated most of the game, out-shot their opponents by a large margin, out-chanced them by an even larger margin and kept one of the league's most prolific scorers completely at bay. Both the PP and the PK looked good (even of the PP didn't actually pay dividends).

If the Habs keep playing like they did last night they'll be filling the net all year long. True, they haven't been getting the bounces, but as anyone that's ever heard a quote from a slumping forward knows, you only need to worry if you're not getting chances. ;)

Why not focus on the fact that the New Habs are now the aggressive, forechecking team you spent most of last season pining for (remember the ol' 0FC we loved so much)?

How about the fact that our best players are our best players, night in and night out (granted, with varying results)? The "Wee Three" (you heard that here first!) show up every night and give it their all, and they don't spend their days off giving later-to-be-denied interviews to Sovietsky Sport.

Overall, although I was starting to worry a little when the losing streak hit five games, I'm feeling pretty good about the new Habs.

Anonymous said...

My concern is that the lack of goals on so many shots reflects the...well, wee-ness of the top three. Other teams will put a lot of shots on net and depend on someone battling in front to tuck in the odd rebound. This is especially necessary when facing a hot goalie. The Habs simply don't have a forward willing (Latendresse) or able (Gionta, for all his spunk, isn't the guy) to do this. The Wee Three generate a lot of buzz in the offensive zone, its true, but I still feel they need some size to break up the middle. A lot of the Habs' shots are being blocked; if we had a forward hunkering down in front of their goalie, the opposition would have something else to worry about than following the puck for an easy block.

pmk said...

sign shannahan. bring up sergi. or trade sergi and andrei for frolov- he was healthy scratch the other night.

Anonymous said...

i'd like to believe that if they master this puck-possession game than it won't be about the unlucky bounces or posts. those chances will go in because, as gionta said, they won't be getting frustrated when they don't.

solid effort last night. something to build on.


TK said...

Anyone know who can be credited with shutting down Kovalchuk for much of the game. I barely noticed him most of the time. Was there a defensive pairing or a forward line that was used against him all night, or was it more of a team effort?

MathMan said...

Credit Gomez for Kovalchuk's silence.

What makes Gomez a true first-line center is that he can go out against top opposition and still drive puck possession and positive results, even if points do not happen. Tonight was a perfect illustration: not only did Gomez and company buzz in the Thrasher's zone all night and create numerous chances that should have generated more than one goal... but Martin matched Gomez's line against Kovalchuk's all night so that when the Habs' top line were pinning Atlanta in their own zone, they also rendered Kovalchuk ineffectual by forcing him to cover the point man all night rather than being an offensive threat.

That's Gomez's schtick, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of it. He's a puck possession ace, plain and simple, and puck possession has not only offensive virtues but also defensive benefits (ie. Kovalchuk is no threat when he doesn't have the puck). In a game where the checking line is almost extinct and coaches play strength against strength, having a guy like Gomez is a bigger benefit than his point totals might indicate.

V said...

Mathman - really enjoying your perspective and comments. Keep them coming please.

Partypooper - pretty light poop if you ask me. Sounds like a weary, ink-stained wretch (in a bad jacket) with a little optimist inside just dying to burst out in kid-like exuberance and support.

Just a thought on why the carry-overs, i.e. Lats, Laps, et al from the purge may be struggling more than the new people. The new people are more familiar with the Martin system than the encumbents. When you look at the difference in one year in shots on goal (for and against and the quality of the shots) there has been a sea-change in our system. Once the incumbents get more familiar with it and their new team mates, they should be fine.

Arpon Basu said...

Party pooper, but also a bit of a realist. Montreal was catching Atlanta in the final game of a five-game road trip. Yes, the Habs did some good things and that top line's chemistry is starting to show, but without secondary scoring, or scoring period, work remains to be done. That's all I'm saying.
Also, MathMan is bang on as to why Kovalchuk was a total non-factor. He barely ever had the puck because Gomez had it on his stick all night. One thing that really impressed me from that line was night was its ability to force turnovers off the forecheck and snuff out breakouts. Not allowing Kovalchuk to play off the rush takes away his greatest asset.

MathMan said...

Well, let's not pretend Atlanta was some sort of world-beater because of a 4-1 record. All signs point to a mediocre-to-bad team on a hot streak. They were allowing an average of 10 shots more than they took even before landing in Montreal, and were getting by solely on unreal shooting percentage, incredible power play efficiency, and improbable goaltending... sort of like the reverse of the Canadiens of this season.

Unfortunately for the Thrashers, that tends to catch up to teams, as we know from previous Habs teams. Just like the Habs' shooting problems, that trend should even out over time. I don't foresee Atlanta being a factor in the playoff race despite their hot start, unless their overall play improves.

Montreal had been outplaying better teams than Atlanta and I would have been very disappointed if Montreal was outplayed last night. Winning was a different matter given the discrepancy in percentages between the teams, but I expected Montreal to be the better team on the ice, and they very much were.

I remain convinced that Montreal does not have a real problem generating offense. The puck possession and the chances are there; all that remains is a matter of finish, and from what I saw it's only a matter of puck luck, not anything they could really do differently. All those chances and shots Montreal are creating will eventually turn into goals, through luck if not through sheer volume. It is not normal that a guy like Cammalleri has only one goal on over 30 shots and as the season progresses, this kind of thing will get much closer to a reasonable average. Really, what can Martin tell the Habs to work on to fix this? "Score more"? "Shoot straighter"? "Miss the post" -- what was it, four, five last night?

The power play can probably use some new tactics and practice, and some mobility. But the 5-on-5 offense is looking quite good.

Keep playing like they have, even improving game-to-game, and good things will come. A Habs team that doesn't get constantly owned at evens is a welcome change of pace, too.