Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The ugliest winning streak in team history

OK, that might be laying it on a little thick, but the Habs current three-game winning run has hardly been a work of art.

But who really cares? The NHL standings sure don't, because they reward two points to any team that wins, and the Habs did just that Tuesday night with a 4-1 victory over in Ottawa, beating the conference's top home team in its own barn.

If Friday night's 5-1 thumping of the Bruins could be attributed to emotion, and Monday night's snoozefest over the Flyers could be attributed to opportunism, Tuesday night's win came courtesy of Jacques Martin's two favourite factors for determining the outcome of hockey games: goaltending and special teams.

Martin loves to say that one of those two often decides who will win a game, and on Tuesday he had both of them going for him.

First the goaltending, and I'm so happy for Jaroslav Halak that he was able to steal a win with an outstanding 45-save performance. Watching Carey Price play the way he has the past month from the bench could not have been easy, and it was made only worse by an extremely weak showing in Buffalo. Halak has been a model citizen throughout his time with the team when he's had every reason to lash out and feel like he's been treated unfairly. When he didn't start Game 3 in last year's playoffs, I thought he would demand a trade out of town, but he didn't. I sincerely hope Bob Gainey is able to find somewhere for Halak to play this offseason, or even at this year's deadline, because the guy deserves it. I just wonder if Gainey will be able to get proper value for what looks to be a very promising goalie when that day comes.

Next comes the special teams, and the stars of the show over the past couple of weeks have been the penalty killers. It's no coincidence that the return of Hal Gill on Friday night helped produce a perfect 7-for-7 night. It was another perfect performance tonight, shutting the Sens out on seven chances, and Gill blocked a team-high three shots. His pairing with Josh Gorges has become a dominant one when short a man, and considering how often the Habs find themselves in that situation, it's pretty useful to have such a strong shutdown pairing.

For the fifth time this season, the power play produced a pair of goals, and both came as a direct result of Marc-Andre Bergeron. His point shots have been impressive all season, but now it's his poise with the puck and overall ability to settle the power play down with an astute decision that I'm finding quite surprising. On top of that, the first period injury to Jaroslav Spacek forced him into some penalty killing duty as well, and he didn't totally embarrass himself, which has to be considered a victory. But in all seriousness, Bergeron did not have the benefit of training camp, and I think his play in his own end is improving with every game. It will probably never reach a level where it could be considered good, or even decent, but right now I would say it's tolerable, and that's just fine when he does what he's doing on the power play. He's now tied for second among NHL defencemen with four power play goals, and his eight points with the man advantage has him 17th. When Andrei Markov comes back to start teeing him up for one-timers, I think Bergeron might just become a more important player than any of us ever imagined he would be.

The Habs will be shooting to match a season high with a fourth win in a row Thursday night at home against Pittsburgh, and they will have a lot of things going for them. A likely starting nod for a rested and still dominant Price, Mike Cammalleri riding a streak of of five goals over three games, Tomas Plekanec with six assists over the same span, and a team that just seems to have a bit of lucky mojo going right now. How else to explain outscoring their opponents 12-3 over the past three games while being outshot 89-69 over the same span? Or giving up 18 power plays in three games, yet leading 3-0 on the special teams scoreboard?

Simple, the Habs have hit a stretch of good luck, and after all the injuries so far this season, it's pretty well deserved. And well timed, because all of a sudden the Canadiens are alone in eighth place with 32 points, just three back of the division-leading Boston Bruins, and back on the good side of .500.

Just imagine what they'll be able to do when they actually start playing well.

13 comments:

B B said...

...all of a sudden the Canadiens are alone in eighth place with 32 points, just three back of the division-leading Boston Bruins, and back on the good side of .500.

Just imagine what they'll be able to do when they actually start playing well...

Indeed, imagine!!!

V said...

You never know how power play defensive pairings will actually work out, but Markov an MAB feel like they will be very, very good together. It will give Markov two of his favorite options - the pass to MAB for a one-timer or pass to the man down low when the defense overplays MAB. I can't wait to see it.

Anonymous said...

Arpon,

I disagree with you. Great goaltending and excellent special teams is not about luck. It is well deserved.

Losing Mara, Spacek...now that is bad luck....again

(what about MaxPac, SK ? are they ok ?)

Sliver24 said...

As long as MAB can be content playing on the 4th line he'll likely have a place in the Habs lineup for awhile. I guess he'll only have to think back to what he was doing when the rest of the league was playing their season openers to keep it in perspective. Hopefully he's more like Halak than Sergei when it comes to those things.

I must say, though, that I don't necessarily share your confidence for the future, when the Habs will start "playing well." The feeling I have is eerily similar to the one I had about 13 months ago, when the Habs were stealing game after game to start the season. I just get the sense that the whole thing is a house of cards just waiting for a breeze to blow it over.

Arpon Basu said...

Agreed anon, great special teams is indeed deserved and has nothing to do with luck. And great goaltending is earned, but only by the goaltender. A team who relies on that goaltender to be outstanding night after night will get burned eventually. When you allow your opponents to have 73 shot attempts and you only have 37, as was the case last night, you have to consider yourself a bit lucky to get a win.
Sliver, your skepticism is surprising, yet not without merit. But I think we've forgotten somewhat the impact that Andrei Markov has on this team. Going into the season, I think everyone would have agreed that the one person who can't get injured long term was him, then he goes ahead and gets hurt in game one. He's the team MVP and he's on his way back, so let's see how this team performs with him logging 25 minutes a night. This team is not good enough to withstand losing a key chip like him, but they've managed to tread water pretty darn well without him.

V said...

Arpon... agree with your response to the uncharacteristicaly low Sliver. I shared his sense this time last year that the whole thing was a bit shaky because they had a full team and still had to regularly pull wins out of their butt.

This year, the newness of the team and the injuries have forced them to really gut it out. Blend the skill and talent of key players (players who gut it out in their own right) into what they have developed and I think we are trending up as well.

V said...

One other point re the shots on goal... there was a point earlier in the season before the injuries (except Markov) where the Habs were regularly outshooting the other team, limiting them to under 30 shots in many games. I think they can get back to that once the injuries settle down.

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-before the parade or even the playoff parties are planned remember that there will come a time when the injuries and inconsistent play of all the other teams in the conference will also pass

-getting Markov and Gionta back doesn't equate to a playoff berth

-its just reality as there are a lot of good teams playing poorly w key players injured and somehow not sure how you can continue to win with a shot per period or 13 in total

-on a past thread just want to repeat that Gomez can be sent to Hamilton and the cap hit wiped away...it will cost Molson a pile of bucks but will allow a much stronger team going forward in terms of building that Cup contender...I'm sure Scott would waive any no-trade to avoid plying his trade in the 905

Arpon Basu said...

PF: You are right that Gomez can be hidden in the minors, but I don't think the Habs have reached that point with him yet, and I highly doubt they'be willing to piss away $7M for a full season. But, it's definitely a last resort, should it be needed.

john deere said...

With Gomez's contract it looks like he could end up being a minor leaguer/occasional pro for the last couple years of this contract.

Teams could bring him up or trade for him when their top line centre goes down like when Sedin or Toews were hurt earlier this year. When they are recovered from their injuries the teams could send him back to the minors or trade him to somewhere else to free up cap space.

Maybe make a new category for him like an injury-reserve specialist.

Ed Olcyk got into a similar vicious cycle during his career and it is hard to get out of. He became almost like a trading card, he wasn't part of the core of the team but he had a trading value that other teams could exchange for to get a player they really wanted or needed.

Sliver24 said...

It can't work that way John Deere. There are a whole bunch of waiver rules that prevent that from happening. I'm not sure of all the exact details but in a nutshell, it's like this:

If the Habs send Gomez to Hamilton he'll have to clear waivers. With his salary/cap hit he'd likely make it through unclaimed.

If the Habs subsequently want to bring him back to the NHL he'd again have to clear waivers, but that's where it gets sticky. If he's claimed on re-entry waivers, that Habs would be on the hook for HALF of his salary AND his cap hit for the duration of his existing contract.

Gomez at $3.7 million would be a pretty good steal, so there's not much doubt he'd be claimed in an instant.

In other words the Habs could, in a time of desperation, send Gomez to Hamilton but once there he'd be there for the rest of that season.

john deere said...

Thanks, that makes a lot more sense that there would be rules like that in place to prevent teams from abusing the waiver rules.

pfhabs said...

Sliver 24:

-exactement...that's why if sent to Hammy he'd be there for the duration and the pointe cruciale in Scott accepting a trade to almost anywhere