Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And what did you expect?

I don't know about you, but I got tired just watching the Habs try to stay with the Pens in Pittsburgh tonight. If all the injuries weren't enough, with Andrei Kostitsyn the latest to go down, the team had to deal with playing a back-to-back against a team who was home resting and waiting.

It was a mission impossible situation, so losing 3-1, to me, is almost like a victory.

I liked a few things, starting with Sergei Kostitsyn's game after he looked to be a game time decision with an ankle sprain, He got a lot more ice time than a night earlier, nearly double in fact, and he made the most of it. I thought Glen Metropolit was extremely effective as well, and Paul Mara and Josh Gorges continue quietly piling up minutes without making glaring errors. Under the circumstances, that's worth mentioning.

Carey Price showed he is human, and also why goalies generally shouldn't play on consecutive nights, especially when there's travel involved. But I understand Jacques Martin's reasoning, that if Price could extend his magic one more game, they might actually win. Price actually played pretty well, but he still should have had two of the three goals he allowed. I would start him again Saturday night, when hopefully Scott Gomez, Jaroslav Spacek and Benoit Pouliot will be in the lineup.

If anything, that would at least give some relief to poor Guy Boucher in Hamilton, who is having his whole team poached by the mother ship.

But anyway, I didn't want to focus so much on tonight's game as I did yesterday's jam-packed day in Habs land, more specifically Bob Gainey's 20-minute podium session with the media. It's so rare that we get to hear Gainey say anything about anything, it generally takes me some time to properly digest it.

Now that I have, the Guillaume Latendresse trade proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how much pull Martin really has in the organization. Let us backtrack a little bit to the last time the GM and his head coach may have had a difference of opinion (actually, I'm sure there were several in between, but this was the last public one). That would be the decision to keep Price in Montreal his rookie year rather than send him down to Hamilton.

That was purely Gainey's call, and he overruled his coach who would have preferred seeing Price start full time in Hamilton rather than get spot duty in Montreal. Price stayed, and then to drive the point home Gainey traded away Cristobal Huet at the deadline.

Now, I'm not sure how exactly Gainey felt about Latendresse, and I'm sure he wasn't exactly enthralled with his attitude or performance. But I think one of the secondary purposes of this trade was to show his prized coach that he had his back. That if he wanted to play Latendresse five minutes a game, Gainey would not only support him, but he would act in consequence.

Following Latendresse's sour grapes cry-baby act on his way out of town, blaming everyone but himself for this tragic turn of events, Martin was asked to defend his treatment of the Golden Boy. While Martin said at least four times that he liked Latendresse, he also pointed out that this was no rookie, and that he failed to do the two things Martin asked of him: to win puck battles on the wall and to drive the net.

Having a fourth-liner who can't kill penalties just wasn't a tenable situation, and Gainey got someone else who - if he can't crack the top six - is essentially useless. But let's see what Benoit Pouliot can do before we prosecute him, because he wasn't picked fourth overall for nothing (just like Patrik Stefan wasn't picked first overall for nothing, but I digress).

A major highlight that sticks out for me from Gainey's little chat was his answer to a question regarding trading away another young Quebec native. He deftly pointed out that Latendresse was very popular and that he was not only from this province, but from this city, before quickly noting that the player coming in also French and that he "hopes you give him a chance to establish himself here."

That comment was addressed not to fans, but to the reporters sitting in the room, some of whom were still steaming that the folk hero they helped build had been traded by the Anglo from Peterborough standing at the podium. Because the media fervour about Latendresse has to share some of the responsibility for his ultimate failure. That helped build expectations that were always way too high for a player that had his limits.

I should say that I actually like Guillaume Latendresse, despite my repeated Golden Boy references. I wrote about him when he was a 14-year-old in Midget playing with his brother for College Charles-Lemoyne in his native Ste-Catherine, and when he made the NHL, he became the first athlete I ever wrote about as a kid to make it big. And frankly, I thought he dealt with the media free-for-all that surrounded his ascension to the league with extreme grace, all things considered.

But on the ice, he is a maddening player. It was almost as if he wanted to prove that the same style that worked for him in Midget and Junior would work for him in the NHL, and that's simply not the case. I wish him well in Minnesota, but if he wants to know the success there, he better get used to the idea that he's not the flashy player he thinks he is.


Conor McKenna said...

great perspective Arpon, always a good read. said...

I always read your take with great pleasure and get upset when you disappear for long periods.

Everybody always seems to come back to the media and although I agree that lots of things can be ascribed to its door, I think we are all guilty of buying into it all.
me first as I spend a lot of time trawling through the internet to read about the Habs.

As fans we get too caught up in the history of the Habs and we are all guilty of toomuch expectations based on that history. and as a consequence, we can be hell on our players, our coaches and our GM.

CivilizedWorm said...

First of all, I really enjoy your blog and follow it closely.

As far as the golden boy trade goes, it makes me so mad to hear part of the french media cry over this trade. And to have some hold against Pouliot the fact that he isn't a quebec native is outright shameful.

At best, golden boy is an excellent third liner -- that's it. But somehow, because he's quebecois he is owed second line minutes? I liked golden boy, but he simply wasn't doing the job this year. He refused to do what was asked of him. I fear that he will face a harsh reality in Minnesota. He won't be given any favours. He will have to work to log minutes which he was unwilling to do here.

The habs are the only team to have to deal with this xenophobic bullshit. Make no mistake about it, that's what it is xenophobia. Blaming the Habs shortcomings on the lack of quebec natives in the team is ridiculous and makes me wonder how some of these guys got their jobs.