Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Guess who's back?

No, it's not me, and I must apologize for my extended hiatus from the blog.

But the man who looks to be back in control of things is Carey Price, who backed up his team record-tying 53-save performance of Saturday night by stopping 30 of 32 shots and all six shooters in the shootout in Tuesday's much-needed 3-2 Habs win over the hapless Carolina Hurricanes.

The two Carolina goals left little chance for Price, who saved his best for last with seven saves in overtime and another six in the skills competition. His save on Erik Cole with about 20 ticks left in overtime was particularly dazzling, and Price was a visibly relieved man afterwards that he grabbed a victory after being robbed of one in Music City.

“It feels good to get a win," Price said. "We did it again in overtime or a shootout, but I’ll take it. We work really hard preparing for games, and it’s finally starting to get rewarding a little bit.”

Price admitted that during his month-long, six-start losing streak - over which he allowed 26 goals in 19 periods of action - he started to have some doubts whether his technique was ever going to start working.

“Oh definitely, when I was going through a hard streak I didn’t know what to do," Price said. "When you’re going through a tough patch it’s really tough, especially when you’re putting in the work and you don’t know what’s wrong. I had a feeling like I had to change something but I didn’t, I just stuck to it.”

He also had a good chat with his dad, whom he said "brought things down to reality."

Over his last five starts, Price has allowed only 10 goals on 171 shots, good for a save percentage of .942 and a goals against average of 1.94. That's more like the franchise goalie everyone expected Price to be, even though five starts is nowhere near enough of a sample size to say he is completely out of the woods.

Still, it's a giant leap in the right direction.

“It’s been a work in progress," Price said. "I’ve been putting the same work in for the last month and I’m finally starting to see results now.”

As encouraging as Price's work has been, his teammates are still showing little sign of life. The Habs were 2:46 away from losing to a Hurricanes team missing Eric Staal, Joni Pitkanen, Cam Ward and Scott Walker, one that snapped a 14-game winless slide Sunday with a 5-4 shootout win where it blew a 4-1 lead midway through the game.

The first 58 minutes was a real cure for insomnia, with broken plays, sloppy passing and neutral zone muck-ups being the most common characteristics. Even Andrei Kostitsyn's tying goal at 17:14 of the third couldn't be considered a real scoring chance, though he deserves credit for sticking with the play and making something out of nothing.

Just imagine, if you will, what would have happened had Kostitsyn not been able to pull that goal out of a hat. The Habs would have lost to the worst team in the NHL one game after hanging their goalie out to dry in Nashville. I asked Jacques Martin afterwards what effect a loss would have had on his team's psyche, which was a question meant to emphasize just how important the win actually was.

I don't think he took it the way I meant it.

"I don't waste any time dealing with what-ifs," Martin said, with an assist to CTV's Brian Wilde for the "what-ifs" part because the coach was looking for the right word. "If I stopped to think about that, I wouldn't sleep. I stay in reality. We won the game."

Yes, coach, that's correct. You won the game. Woohoo. But the fact remains that your team has produced a grand total of eight goals in six games, and the only reason you've managed to win three of them has been the play of your goalie. As impressive as Price has been, it's unreasonable to expect him to maintain this level of play for ever. Same goes for Jaroslav Halak.

At some point, coach, your team will have to start scoring goals.

"I don't want to go back on this, but we're missing our best defenceman and one of our top forwards, that's part of it," Martin said, when questioned a second time by the same reporter as to why his team can't score goals. "But you have to find a way to win hockey games."

Tomas Plekanec, who extended his team scoring lead with two assists to give him 19 points in 21 games, has a better theory than his coach, though the injuries to Andrei Markov and Brian Gionta are factors that can't be ignored.

"I think we've got to do a better job of going to the net and battling hard around the net," he said. "When we're doing that we're fine. Sometimes you also need a little bit of luck, but I think we can do this kind of thing a little better and we can score some more goals like that."

The lack of "this kind of thing" was blatantly evident without Gionta in the lineup, who scores most of his goals "like that." And what was made even more evident by Gionta's absence was the lack of effectiveness being shown by Scott Gomez, who is now pointless in four straight games. Could it be that Gomez is only good when he plays with Gionta? Is that a good player to be building your team around? Is Gomez even a good player?

While I'm being all negative and everything, I'll leave you with this. I'm not sure if the TV cameras picked this up, but I definitely saw Roman Hamrlik hobbling off the ice in overtime, and the look on his face was one of sheer pain. I have no idea if the injury is severe or not, but the way things have been going around here, would it surprise anyone to find out he'll be missing the next game, if not more?

If that's the case, if Hamrlik is out for any extended period, then you can simply pack it in for this season. Without Hamrlik, I doubt this team would even have four wins at this point, and if he's lost then whatever's not working for the Canadiens right now will only get worse, I'm sad to say.


Habsolute said...

Hi Arpon, Nice to read your blog again. It's always very interesting.

Quick comment: You say without Hamrlik, you estimate the Habs would possibly have only 4 wins instead of 10. Which means he would have been the difference maker for an extra 6 wins. I think it's a lot, but let's assume you're right ! It begs the question then: "how many more wins would we have had with Markov the line-up ?"... let's be more conservative than with Hamrlik and say 4. That would give us a record of 14-7-0....exact same as Pittsburh....

It's just to emphasize that althought injury can be a lame excuse, the fact remain that losing you star defensemen is like going to a car race with one flat tire. Markov wouldn't do everything by himself, but he makes everyone else better. The ripple effects are great on the other defensemen, the goalies, the Power play, and the psychic in general of the team. Hamrlik wouldn't be so exhausted, same for Spacek, MAB wouldn't play so much, etc....you get the idea

I haven't given up on this team. They are NOT as bad as they seem to be lately.

PS: excuse the english, it's my 2nd language. Keep up the good work.

TK said...

The loss of Markov can't be understated, true- but this team needs to learn how to win without him or their season will end in mid-April.
If Markov comes back after the Olympic break, that leaves only 19 games for the Habs to right the ship. A .500 record going into the break will probably not be enough unless they win around 16 or 17 of those 19 games (figuring something around 94 points gets you a spot in the playoffs). Does that scare any of you?

Take a look at the Habs schedule for the remainder of this month:
Detroit, 2 vs Washington, Pittsburgh, and one against Columbus.

If they get out of November around .500 that would be a cause for celebration. Then they can begin winning consecutive games.

nk said...

arp, please don't start calling injuries before they happen. they ruin my day (ie gionta with a broken foot that no one's announced other than ckac...)

tbh, i don't think pleks is that accurate in his assessment. i see guys in the paint missing chances. i'm not worried about that as much as i am the lack of any set play or system to get them in the offensive zone in the first place. the last two games have been the most disorganized hockey i've seen in years. it's torture to watch. where. is. the. system?!

i'd like to see ak with gomez. i think they're playmaking skills would suit each other. thoughts?

Habsolute said...

TK: I know they have to find a way to win without Markov, BUT not at the expense of trading everyone for immediate help for the next 3 months. Markov will eventually be back and if it's too late, then it's too late. We try again next year. This is just badluck. WE can't judge this team without Markov.

NK: AK ? Playmaking skill ? I will have to disagree with you. Snyper skills, yes, but playmaking skills ?

V said...

This team is getting blasted by naysayers and doomsday theorists. I love these people... they boldly proclaim 'you can't use injuries as an excuse' and wonder if they apply that lofty proposition to their own efforts.

The team is doing its best to hold their own under trying circumstances and I admire that. Once they start getting some of these injured players back, we'll see a much better team. I think they have done very well under the circumstances.

Nothing will stop the naysayers and doomsday theorists. Even wins. Their agenda is to justify their theories and they will never be happy.

John said...

negativity sucks on so many levels.

we are a team that is in trouble and trying to tread water - I'll take any win any way we can get it.

yes there are lots of problems, yes things look bleak, yes it is easy to point and blame ...but things can turn around just as quickly as they have gone sour.

Injuries are no excuse (your Roman Hamrlikless picture of doom is a bit dramatic don't you think). If the players think that way and sulk about it, maybe. But if they play as a team and they play hard they (like any other team in the leaque) can beat any team on any night - it just takes a desire to win and a willingness to pay for it.

I'm not buying the "all is lost" crap that is coming out of the Montreal media. This team needs a lot more than 20 games to become a real team ...even without the injuries. Eventually they will come together and the talent will be exposed. I have faith because if I don't ...why am i even watching?


TK said...

Hey there,
I never said anything about making a trade, and I don`t consider my above post evidence of any doomsday prophecy.
I am just pointing out that if this team believes itself to be playoff material then they must learn to win without their best player or risk not making the playoffs.
The rest of November will be difficult, and I am hoping they emerge from this month hovering around .500. On a positive note, the schedule looks a little better going in December and January. They got their western road trips out of the way- an annual rite of passage that usually brings with it a string of losses.

All is not lost, I don`t think anyone has claimed it is.

jkr said...

Mathieu Carle was returned to Hamilton according to Habs InsideOut. They probably would not have done that if Hamrlik was injured. Fingers crossed. :)

Arpon Basu said...

Yes, Hamrlik was on the ice in Brossard today, so that's a bullet dodged. Anyone who's been reading the blog since the beginning of the season knows my stance on the Markov injury, that hovering somewhere around .500 at his return should be considered a huge victory.
But, and this is a big but, that may be a pretty lofty goal if Gionta is out for a while, because the talent up front is pretty thin. The team needs Kostitsyn and one of Latendresse, Lapierre or Pacioretty to start scoring some goals, and soon. But that's going to be tough when the team can't break out of its own end, which is due largely to the fact that a certain #79 is MIA.

nk said...

Habsolute: fair enough. i wouldn't argue that he can set up the perfect play but imo he reads playmakers very well and is able to get open when he needs to (sniper skills, yes) so play him with our best playmaker, gomez.

pmk said...

Gionta out indefintely. They aren't calling up sergi so I'd like to see them give Desharnais a look.
He's even smaller than gionta (!) but he has 2 goals and 4 points in 3 games since coming back from injury. Plus i remember he had a great camp.