Thursday, February 4, 2010

Going to extremes

I was driving around this morning when news of the Ottawa Senators franchise-record 10th straight win was mentioned on the news, and it got me thinking.

Are the Senators that much better than the Habs? On paper, I would say no, and I think a lot of you might agree. You could argue that they are benefiting from better coaching than the Canadiens are, but can coaching alone lead a team to 10 straight wins? Sometimes, but somewhere along the way, your players have to suddenly click. They have to find that identity, that winning formula, and run with it.

The Canadiens have been looking for that identity all season. The winning formula thus far has been to ride hot goaltending as far as it will take you, which usually isn't very far. While Brian Elliot has been masterful for the Sens over this streak (.957 save percentage in eight starts), they have a lot more going for them right now than the guy between the pipes.

The Sens were 22-21-4 after they lost their last game, tied with the Habs for eighth in the standings. Now they're at 32-21-4, 11 points clear of eighth and 10 ahead of the Canadiens. The streak, sparked by the return of Daniel Alfredsson and, later, Jason Spezza, has not come at the expense of the league's cream-puff teams. Ottawa has defeated Chicago, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and, last night, Buffalo over the course of the last 10 games.

Could the eventual return of Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri lead the Canadiens to a similar run? Could the last win against Vancouver be a sign? Personally, I doubt it, but there's no reason to say it's impossible.

On the other side of the coin is tonight's opponent, the Boston Bruins, who are in a tailspin with eight straight losses and 11 in their last 12 games (with only two of those losses coming in extra time). They were 22-13-7 after beating Ottawa on Jan. 5, putting the Bruins solidly in fifth place in the conference, six points ahead of the eighth-place Habs. Now, they are 23-22-9, two points out of a playoff spot and sitting 12th in the conference standings.

The Bruins, like the Habs and the Sens, have been hit hard by injuries to key players and some underachievers, most notably Zdeno Chara. All is not lost for the Bruins, but with expectations sky high this season GM Peter Chiarelli appears to be looking for a way to spark the team into salvaging a playoff berth.

I mention the Bruins woes because as easy as it is to look at the Sens and wonder about the Habs ability to duplicate their tremendous run, it is just as easy to see the Bruins and say the Canadiens could find themselves in a similar predicament. What happens if Jaroslav Halak suddenly loses his game? Or Andrei Markov turns his little mini-slump into a major one? Or Benoit Pouliot stops scoring?

The way the Canadiens have had a roller coaster season, with five losing streaks of at least three games and three winning streaks of at least the same length, the team has avoided either extreme. Only once all season have the Habs been as many as three games away from the .500 mark, a pretty admirable performance in light of the important players they have had to do without.

Is that about to change, for better or for worse? We'll see. My point is that in spite of some people who still see potential in this team and others, like myself, who believe it would be better to pack it in and hope for a high draft choice, the possibilities are indeed limitless even though there's only 25 games left to go.


MathMan said...

Big win streaks are nifty to see and big losing streaks are soul-crushing but they need to be kept into perspective. A 10-game win streak isn't really all that different from any 10 wins grouping. Going LLWWWWWWWWWWLL is not really that different from WWWLWWLWWWLWWL or the like -- both are great stretches and will get you the same distance in the standings, but one with the 10-game streak will strike the imagination more.

After all it's a lot like throwing a coin 82 times in a row. You may get 10 heads or 10 tails in a row. It's rare, but it happens, and it doesn't really mean anything. Yes, it may mean your coin isn't weighed right, but no more than any lopsided distribution of heads or tails.

Still, there's no denying Ottawa is indeed in a great stretch. And yeah, I'd say coaching is a big, big factor. ;) But there's also the notion that Ottawa was underachieving previously and is just now getting to speed. Or maybe they've just been playing way over their heads. Sports performances are fickle and prone to lots of chance.

But yeah, anything is possible, and with a roster that's underachieving as much as these Canadiens, there's always the chance that they'll click onto something -- like a decent 5-on-5 game -- and go on a big run. But I don't really see that happening with Cammalleri out. I suspect we'll see them fade, maybe very quickly if Halak goes say from coach-saving-amazing-Vezina-quality to merely excellent.

I'm just worried that a big run would lead to an ill-advised personnel move, like going after a rental and/or trading away the first-round pick.

john deere said...

If Boston and NY Rangers get a few pieces at the trade deadline we are done anyways and we don't have the resources to compete with them (or at least I pray we don't).

To me keeping Gomez and Gionta is a luxury we just can't afford without giving up a lot of other players and one that doesn't make sense if we are keeping the Plekanec line. Gomez for Horcoff is probably the only deal we'll get but it makes more sense for a Martin coached team.

kyleroussel said...

Anything is possible, but given the way the Canadiens play, which is to sit back and get peppered with shots, it's highly improbable that the Canadiens could go on that kind of run.

John Deere makes a good point. If the Rangers and Bruins make big splashes in the coming would be even sillier for Gainey to follow suit. You would have to go with the spin that getting Cammalleri and Kostitsyn back are 2 deadline moves that don't cost you anything, and hope that they slide back in and produce.