Saturday, November 7, 2009

Patience has run out

It doesn't look good for Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre as both were benched for the third period of the Habs 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

They were on the ice at the end of the second period when Tampa scored a deflating insurance goal after the Habs had consistently pressed for the tying goal for the second half of the middle frame.

Jacques Martin didn't mince words afterwards on the decision to bench the pair, taking several backhanded jabs at the pair who have done nothing but disappoint all season.

"I just thought that when I shortened my bench we had to win some battles and get some production," Martin said. "I went with people who were willing to go to war."

When asked about the play of Ryan White, who joined Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec on the second line in only his second NHL game and did a hell of a job, Martin again took an opportunity to take a not-so-veiled shot at the players he benched in his favour.

"I thought Ryan gave us a pretty good game," Martin said. "With Plekanec going up against the Lecavalier line and with Malone on the left side, I wanted someone with size and strength."

The forward with the most size and strength on the team is Latendresse, and he was lined up directly opposite Malone, who was actually playing right wing.

It will be interesting to see what the fallout from this will be, but no one will be able to say Latendresse hasn't had his opportunities this season. He's played on the power play and gotten time as a top-six forward, yet hasn't performed like one. On one shift Saturday night there was a scramble with a puck loose in front of the Lightning goal. Plekanec was in there digging, as was Lapierre, and the player furthest from the net was Latendresse. In two periods of play he was credited with one hit, the third straight game he's had a single significant bodycheck.

On the bright side, there's White, who wanted to hide it but couldn't contain his excitement at playing such a significant role in the game. There was one shift in the second period where he won the puck on the forecheck, then lost it, almost created another turnover in the offensive zone, got back defensively to cover for a pinching defenceman, dug the puck out of his corner and was the lead man in on the dump and chase. In one shift, White showed more energy and will than Latendresse did the entire game.

"Playing with guys like that is a whole lot of fun, and that made my night a whole lot easier," White said afterwards. "I just want to go out there and get pucks to those two, work hard, get to the front of the net and hopefully we could get some opportunities.

"I didn't even know I was going out there, they just kind of threw me out there for the start of the second," he continued. "I kind of just ran with it. But I know what I have to do, and that's to work hard to help these guys out."

I don't want to pick on one guy, because Lapierre has not been delivering what was expected of him this season either, but with the tools Latendresse has it's a shame he doesn't use them to their top potential. Yes, he's slow, but he has everything else in his toolbox to become a player in this league, much like Ryan Malone is for the Lightning. Except, maybe, the heart. This will show us what he is truly made of.

So that loss drops the Habs record to 8-9-0 through 17 games, basically a third of the way through Andrei Markov's expected absence. Though I've been clear that I think under the circumstances this is a very respectable record, Mike Cammalleri obviously doesn't think so. As well he shouldn't.

"I like this team a whole lot more than our record shows right now," Cammalleri said. "But let's be honest, we're almost at the 20-game mark here, the season's not fresh anymore and we have to start thinking about positioning."

That positioning has the Habs in 10th place after Saturday night's games with 16 points, in the middle of a pack of five teams separated by a single point. If they can hang tough in that positioning for a few more months and weather this storm of injuries, the Habs should be well placed to go on a post-Olympic break surge toward the playoffs. But the key will be to maintain that position, which will be more and more difficult as players like Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek continue to log way more minutes than their bodies can handle.

Cammalleri said the way to do that is to get more consistency not only from game to to game, but from period to period.

"You can't play a perfect 60 minutes," he said. "But I'd like the gap between the good and the bad not to be so great as it was tonight between the first and the third."


MathMan said...

I dunno that Latendresse has a heart problem, so much as a confidence problem. He might be confused -- playing under Carbo probably didn't help, but he's been an effective player in the past and yet he's being asked to change his style. He may instinctively be wondering if that's really for the best (and so would I, to be honest, but I'm deferring to the coaches on this).

Clearly expectations on him are sky-high and he's being criticized more than any Canadiens player with the exception of Price, but that really masks the fact that he's the poster boy for a worrisome trend about the Habs: the inability of the coaching staff to get the young players going.

Now, I want to stress that it's much too early to draw big conclusions and that in general I like the coaching and I feel it has been tremendously improved from previous years. But I keep noticing this and it's something that worries me, what with the Habs being so dang young all over the roster, and will bear watching. To whit:

A. Kostitsyn: Fantastic in 2007-2008. A productive forward in 2008-2009, improved his ES goal-scoring despite problems. This year, so far, he's having the worst season of his career.

G. Latendresse: Showed physicality and energy, has been scoring since he broke into the league, rivals Andrei Kostitsyn for goal-scoring for all that he did it against weaker opposition. This year, so far, he's having the worst season of his career.

M. Lapierre: Energetic, effective defensive forward, been capable of chipping in 10-15 goals. This year, so far, he's having the worst season of his career.

C. Price: Broke into the league with elite goaltender numbers including a .920 save percentage in his first season. Started his second season strong, rushed back, had some well-documented troubles. Still... this year, so far, he's having the worst season of his career.

J. Halak: Proved to be very strong in relief, has very good numbers and has been winning games for the Habs when they've needed him to. This year, so far, he's having the worst season of his career.

Definitely there's a bad pattern in there. Obviously, the players in question have a great deal of individual responsibility in their lack of success, but for ALL of them to underperform? And it's not a matter of them all being not that good, because they've all been better in the past. At some point SOME of it has to be on the coaching staff, especially since the rookies haven't done any better. D'Agostini? Very quiet after a somewhat lucky 10-goal first season. Pacioretty? Barely starting to look like a NHL player. Stewart? "Amorphous" isn't a good quality of an energy player. Chipchura? Disastrous start, showed signs of progress, which promptly earned him press box time. The Habs are a young team and their kids are stagnating or regressing.

Martin has a reputation for being a good teacher and good with young players, and this is clearly a long-term project with lots of opportunity for setbacks, shall we say. But the consistency of this trend really has me perplexed, and concerned. Not something to be alarmed with, and I'm not calling for anyone's head or anything (again, IMHO the coaching is much better than what we had prior) but something that bears watching.

And I do mean the long-term bit. His handling of the young players has me a little confused, but he's shown himself to be completely willing to sacrifice short-term team success for long-term lessons, and I think we're seeing a lot of that right now. I'm hoping it will be successful in the future.

Paul said...

I think you're right about Martin's historic willingness to sacrifice short-term success for long-term gains but I'm not certain he will be allowed to pursue such a policy with the Habs.

pfhabs said...

perhaps Latendresse's problems over the last few games can be traced to the fact that he found out he's on the trading block and that the CH had a deal for him with a western club

-all that was reported by Marinaro/Team 990 2 days ago

-perhaps his comfort level has been crushed and he's looking over his shoulder..the benching in the Tampa game was a huge message