Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That break is very far away

The Canadiens were given a glorious opportunity Tuesday night, one they didn't deserve, and one they ultimately wasted.

The opportunity was to walk into a playoff rival's building, play horrible hockey for 40 minutes and still come out with an important victory. One of those wins you get when you're a good team, when the opponent is left shaking their heads as to how exactly they let you walk out of their house with the two points they so rightfully deserved.

But, as we've gone over before, the Habs are not terribly good. They're not terribly terrible either, just not that good. I guess that's why they came out for the third period ahead 1-0 despite being outshot 20-10 and figured they could coast to victory. Figured they could simply protect that lead because their goalie is playing so well behind them. Figured they could make careless passes in the offensive zone, or make misguided back door pinches, depending on who you are.

No, a good team would have come out for the third period in Sunrise tonight thanking the hockey gods and a certain Jaroslav Halak that they were in the position they were in, and show their gratitude by skating their pants off for the final 20 minutes. Not in the hopes of squeaking out a 1-0 win, maybe 2-0 if you get an empty-netter, but rather in an effort to bury the opposition. Instead, the Habs did everything in their power to lose the game, getting thoroughly outworked after being rewarded for a tremendous weekend with a day off in the sun in Miami.

But this 2-1 loss to Florida on two goals by Shawn Matthias, of all people, is not the end of the world for the Canadiens. Not even close. However that team had better look a whole lot more determined Wednesday night in Tampa Bay and come out with a win there, because the path leading toward that Olympic-sized break on the horizon is littered with pitfalls.

The Habs are in Ottawa on Saturday and host Vancouver on Tuesday. Both those teams have won seven of their past 10 games. After that they're in Boston, where the Bruins are reeling, then home to Pittsburgh and Boston on Super Bowl weekend. Them Penguins, in case you haven't heard, are a good team. That's followed by a visit from the Capitals, nine wins in 10 games for them, and the final two games are a home-and-home with the Flyers, winners of seven of 10.

By all rights, the Canadiens will be lucky to come out of that treacherous docket of eight games with three wins, but it's entirely possible they only win one, or none for that matter if they continue playing the way they did in Florida. Of course, if Montreal plays the way it did against the Rangers on Saturday, then maybe they have a chance for four wins. But does anyone believe this team can play that well for eight games in a row (not to mention the four-game road swing coming out of the break to Boston, San Jose, L.A and Anaheim)?

In fact, the only chance the Habs have of gathering points in the standings during that eight-game stretch could very well be by starting Halak in each of those games. Which is why I feel Carey Price should get the start Wednesday in Tampa Bay. I know everyone is going to say that Halak never gets a chance to comeback after a loss and redeem himself, but what exactly does he have to redeem himself for after tonight's performance?

No, I would start Price in Tampa and then ride Halak through to the break, no matter what happens. Maybe play Price on Super Bowl Sunday against Boston, simply because back-to-back matinees can screw with a goalie, but my point is Halak needs to be given the vast majority of these upcoming games.

Because judging by how quickly the standings change in the mediocre Eastern Conference, should the Canadiens go 2-4-2 over that eight-game stretch that begins in Ottawa, they could find themselves stewing for two weeks sitting in 13th place.

And the one guy that has the biggest chance of making sure that doesn't happen is Halak.


LeMatheux said...

What are the odds that Martin uses the Olympic break to change that strategic approach?

The system is still leaving the Habs as one of the worst 5-on-5 teams in the league, with no transition to speak of, and you know, it suddenly occured to me what the cause of his team's sometimes-Jekyll, usually-Hyde persona is: lack of preparation. How else to explain an effort like tonight's? This team is not well-coached.

Until that's fixed, all miraculous goaltending will do is keep them around .500, like it has so far -- really, all it's doing is hurting them, as it masks the deficiencies and prevents them from getting a better draft pick because they're not making the playoffs with that approach. Debating the goalies is frankly pointless until the guy behind the Habs actually play a system suited to their (or any team's) skills.

I know you said Martin is a good coach doing a bad job, Arpon, but I want to start seeing some improvement, soon. It's quickly getting past the point where it's "still too soon to call for the coach's head".

Arpon Basu said...

While I'll agree to disagree on whether the Habs should fire Martin, I will agree that he was thoroughly out-coached last night. Still, playoffs or no playoffs, I think this team will be better off in the long run with some stability behind the bench.

Habs Laughs said...

The back to back against Philly will be the key point of the season.

Winning both of those games would be HUGE for les habs!

Anonymous said...

Better coaching would help I think, but aside from that, I think this team needs a captain. Someone to call these lazy players out for not performing up to par. Last nights game should have been an easy game for the boys to get up for, yet this is the effort we get, something is not right. Name a captain and watch the ship right itself.

Anvilcloud said...

Whether it's the coaching or the players, this team still hasn't found itself. When they play with speed, all else seems to fall into place. When their speed drop, other things seem to unravel too.

Super-Youppi said...

Agreed that the Florida game was a missed opportunity. The Habs are consistently inconsistent.

Arpon - not sure I agree that "the only chance the Habs have of gathering points...could very well be by starting Halak in each of those games". Goaltending is mostly irrelevant if the rest of the team doesn't show up.

I predict a big night for Price (and les boys).

LeMatheux said...

Arpon: I really don't expect the Habs to fire Martin anytime soon, if only because of the contract issue and the problem of looking for a replacement, but I do believe he's part of the problem (and a big part at that) and he needs to become part of the solution. By my estimation his job is not going to be in any danger for at least two years, so I'm thinking he has at least that long to turn things around, which IMHO has to involve completely revamping the team's strategic approach. To be honest, given that I feel the team is regressing more than it is progressing, that does not make me hopeful of the Habs accomplishing much over that span, but the reality is that he's going to be around that long.

OTOH, I don't think we need to be quiet about what we perceive to be coaching issues just because the coach is unlikely to be fired.

Ultimately, though, the Habs were a .500 team without Markov and they're a .500 team with Markov. That excuse is gone (with the caveat that Markov probably isn't quite 100%, but still) and the Habs are extremely lucky to play in such a weak conference that they still have a shot at the playoffs. I really want to see some kind of improvement from the team, but it really seems to me that they're headed in the opposite direction.