Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"They are who we thought they were"

No, I'm not referring to the famous rant by former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green to describe the Atlanta Thrashers, who waltzed into the Bell Centre Tuesday night without their best player and came away with a 5-4 win. I'm using that delicious quote in reference to your Montreal Canadiens.

A lot of you may be upset with how poorly the Habs played in this loss, how they left their goalie Carey Price to his own devices (again), how they couldn't put together two passes for much of the night, how basic defensive assignments were blown and led to easy goals. That's your right, because as fans you should expect your team give a top effort every night both physically and mentally. That game was one long brain fart for the Habs.

But I'm looking at a bigger picture here, and 15 games into the season the Habs are 7-8-0, one game below .500. Why is that significant? Because it more or less represents the quarter-pole of Montreal's own little mini-season, the one the Canadiens are playing without Andrei Markov on board. Without their own best player, their own version of Ilya Kovalchuk.

With all the changes made to this team and with the very few minutes that team has actually had its best player this season, I think it's easy to forget just how important Markov is to Montreal's chances for success. We've seen it in the past, and we're seeing it now.

For the Canadiens to be sitting with seven wins after 15 games is nothing to be proud of, but it is easily explained, at least. Using injuries as an excuse is the lamest of the lame, but this is not just any injury. How far would the Capitals go without Alex Ovechkin for four months? You might laugh at the comparison, but it's not so laughable because it's clear Markov is the most irreplaceable part the Canadiens have.

So, while we wait for his return, we will have to tolerate horrendous efforts like the one Tuesday night. If it weren't for the Thrashers gift-wrapping two goals for the Canadiens it would have looked a lot worse than it did.

Jacques Martin and Perry Pearn were forced to overtax their defence due to the absence of Hal Gill, whose sudden leg injury that looks like it will cost him weeks may show the fans that have begun booing him at the Bell Centre what his value to the team actually is. Because like it or not, in Markov's absence, Gill is a top-four defenceman on this team, and the Habs could not afford to lose anyone else on the blueline right now.

Among the forwards, the usually effective Glen Metropolit line was pretty quiet against Atlanta, meaning the only unit that actually worked was once again the top line of Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, combining for three goals on 12 shots. The second unit centred by Tomas Plekanec had its moments, but I feel Maxim Lapierre is not nearly as effective as a winger as he was last year at centre. Guillaume Latendresse had a decent up front, generating a handful of chances, but he finished the game with one hit. One. That can't happen for him on any night, because even if the puck isn't going in, laying the body is something he can and should generate every single game.

I don't blame Martin for keeping the stacked top line together simply becayse it's the only thing working on a consistent basis, but if I might make a suggestion, I would split up Gomez from his wingers and give them to Plekanec. I feel the guy deserves it because he's been Montreal's best centre in terms of consistency and effort. How else do you explain him being tied for the team lead in scoring despite having a revolving door of ineffective wingers playing around him? Don't any of you wonder what he might do with Gionta and Cammalleri playing alongside him? I do. Then I would flank Gomez with Latendresse and Andrei Kostitsyn, who responded to the challenge thrown at him by Martin by showing more of the "intensity and determination" the coach is looking for from him, as evidenced by his four hits on the night. Keep the Metro line intact and throw Lapierre back at centre on the fourth line by moving Kyle Chipchura to the wing.

This is a combination that hasn't really gotten a shot all season and I still feel like the top two lines represent scoring threats under this scenario, assuming Kostitsyn and Latendresse bring it on a regular basis. I also feel Gomez would be a beneficial partner for the youngsters because of his playmaking abilities.

Just a suggestion. What do you think?

Plus, in case any of you don't know what I'm talking about with the headline, here's the reference:


Anvilcloud said...

While you are right with the "big picture," I am wondering what happened to the tight system that I saw in most games prior to the Pittsburgh game. In my view, it's fallen apart since then.

Phoff said...

"Using injuries as an excuse is the lamest of the lame..."

I'll never understand why so-called "hockey people" always refuse to blame a team's performance on injuries.

Injuries to key players have an enormous impact on a team and it's ridiculous to expect that they won't affect performance on a long-term basis.

What happened to the Pens when Gonchar went down last season? They were mediocre, at best. What happened when he returned? The Pens PP was rejuvenated and they raced up the standings.

Losing Markov, Gill and O'Byrne is significant. You can't replace these players with non-NHLers like Bergeron and Carle. They're simply not NHL-caliber players.

Using injuries to explain a team's performance is perfectly fine. In fact, it's good hockey analysis.

MathMan said...

I have to agree about the lameness of dismissing injuries as an excuse. Maybe it's not something that we want coaches and players to do, but external analysis needs to be completely honest and I've rarely encountered a good hockey team that wasn't also healthy. Dismissing "excuses" such as injuries really does a disservice when trying to analyze games, and it really looks like the end result of all this elimination of everything that could be viewed as an excuse leads to everything being reduced down to "effort" and "work ethic" -- which is really quite silly.

nk said...

i like your line changes and would do it. without secondary scoring we'll be lucky to hit .500 hockey.

i would also split the carle-bergeron pairing as bergeron clearly needs a more responsible player at his side.

what happened to the puck possession game that had me so excited early on? the turnovers and giveaways are brutal right now.

Arpon Basu said...

I'm not sure if I need to make this clear, but I am obviously using an injury as an excuse for the Habs middling performance to date. In fact, that injury needs to completely frame this entire season. I do, however, consider it quite lame when an injury to a supporting player is used as an excuse for a team losing. Good teams should have enough depth to overcome those, but no team has three or four players competing for the right to be called the best on their squad. In fact, I can only think of two teams that have as many as two players competing for that spot.

MathMan said...

I get you, Arpon, I'm just going the same way as you are and framing my comment in a more general sense. There seems to be an unwillingness among certain segments of the media to use explanations that would be seen as 'excuses' when used by players.

Also to be noted is that once you lose the #1 guy, the impact of losing anyone else is signficantly magnified. If the Habs still had Markov, losing Gill would probably not be nearly as big of a deal.

Arjun said...

Bergeron is such a dud he's laughable. Carle I wouldn't mind seeing more of. But what's with the call up of Pyatt and...crap, i don't even know the other guy's name. White? Two centres. What's with that? Who sits?