Sunday, February 7, 2010

To be expected

Jacques Martin was not a happy man after watching his team lose 3-0 to the Boston Bruins on Sunday, only a day after looking so thoroughly dominant in a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps asking for a weekend sweep or the team's third four-game win streak of the season was too much to ask?

Not in the eyes of the head coach, who had trouble understanding how his team could play so poorly in the first period and so well in the second and third.

"What’s disappointing is the way we came out, we lost the game in the first period," Martin said. "If we’d played in the first the way we played in the second and third, we still might have lost the game but at least we would have given it our best. Certain individuals needed to give us more.”

Obviously, Martin would not get into specifics about which individuals he was referring to, preferring to say that would be handled internally. It was yet another reminder of part of the reason Martin was hired, because he was never going to manage or motivate his players through the media.

That's fine, every coach has his own way of handling players, and this has always been Martin's style. But I think it's clear that he meant his top two lines could have given him some goals, or just a goal, for that matter. He wasn't talking about his Bulldog line, because even though there was a huge dropoff from their energizing performance a day earlier, it would be unfair to expect them to do that every night. Martin said as much. I also have my doubts he was talking about the line of Maxim Lapierre, Glen Metropolit and Ben Maxwell, because they got a considerable amount of ice time, far more than they've been accustomed to on most nights.

So that leaves the top two lines, the ones that will have to score in the absence of Mike Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot. From the looks of it, Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez had a pretty good night, combining for 16 shots on goal and going a respectable 17-16 in the faceoff circle between the two of them. Plekanec in particular was extremely dangerous, with three grade-A scoring chances in the second period thwarted by a very sharp Tuuka Rask in the Boston goal.

In fact, it could be argued that Rask stole a win for the Bruins, that the Canadiens once again outshot their opponent and generated a number of scoring chances, but just ran into a hot goalie. If there's one team in the league that can't really complain about that happening to them, it is indeed your Montreal Canadiens, because that has been their formula for winning on too many nights this season.

But, to get back to Martin's point, I think he would have liked to see his scoring lines score a goal or two despite those shot totals, and I think it has a little something to do with the fact those shots don't reflect an accurate picture of how those top two lines played.

The excellent blog En Attendant les Nordiques calculates scoring chances for and against in each Canadiens game, and does the same specifically for each player when they are on the ice. According to the blog's author Olivier, who sometimes comments here, Plekanec and Gomez came out even in the scoring chance department with 11 for and 11 against between the two of them.

Against a team that has so much trouble generating offensive chances, let alone scoring goals, that wasn't good enough in Martin's books. I feel he's probably being a little harsh, but his point is clear. He can't rely on any of his bottom six forwards to score goals or generate chances, so if the top two lines don't do it, they are cooked. Plain and simple.

Still, I think that after two good night's sleep, Martin will head back to practice on Tuesday and realize that what his team accomplished over the previous week was way better than anyone could have possibly expected. Wins over Vancouver and Pittsburgh are essentially four bonus points in the standings, two of which were given back after Sunday's loss.

But with three of the team's top four finishers around the net out of action, a shutout like Sunday's was bound to happen.

So I didn't feel much sympathy for the players. I did, however, feel some for Jaroslav Halak who had no one to blame but lady luck on all three goals he allowed. To have two shots tipped in by teammates and a third come off a perfect bounce on a blocked shot is disheartening. I heard a lot of people talk about how he looked tired, and I have to admit he did, but that's not why he allowed any of those goals or lost the game.

A lot of people were throwing out the stat after that Vancouver win that Halak is 7-0-0 this season when facing 40 or more shots. But you know what's weird? His winning percentage dips drastically as he faces fewer shots. When it's between 30 and 39, his record is 6-3-1, and when it's between 20 and 29 - as it was the last two games - his record falls to 4-6-1. Maybe there was something to that joke Martin made after the game in Boston on Thursday that the secret might well be to give up a ton of shots. I doubt it, but it's a strange stat.

But, despite the possible perception that Halak is tired - which I don't believe to be the case, at least not physically - I would still come back with against Washington on Wednesday. First of all, you can be sure Halak will see a lot of shots in that game. But most importantly, would Carey Price have any chance of halting Washington's 14-game win streak when he will have two weeks without a start? I would have to say no, so Halak should stay in.

The loss to Boston left the Canadiens with 62 points after 60 games, essentially the three-quarter pole in the schedule. With the loss to Boston, the Habs are on pace to finish the season with about 84 points. Even in a weak Eastern Conference, I'm not so sure that's going to cut it, especially with the start of a potential - some would even say likely - losing streak on its way.

The Habs close the pre-Olympic schedule with Alex Ovechkin's Capitals and a home and home with Philadelphia. When the break is over, the Canadiens travel to Boston, San Jose, L.A. and Anaheim, with the NHL trade deadline hitting in the midst of those games, which means Bob Gainey will be far from the local media hounds when he either does nothing or makes some sort of foolhardy splash on the trade market.

P.S. If you're interested, you can see what I wrote on today's game here. And I'm really happy the Saints won. My brother's been a fan since the "Aint's" era, and that must have been quite a moment for him. 

1 comment:

Olivier said...

Now, just to reinforce your point: Pleks was on the for 6 of MTL's chances as you noted. Of those, 4 were actually commited by Darche, playing in Cammalleri's spot.

As for Gomez and Gionta, that's when you realize Pouliot really has a knack for finding seams; big 57's had a few 5+ scoring chances games since he's been around. I love Moen and like the fact he plays there, but he's an absolute sinkhole chance-wise, which leaves all of the seam-searching to Gionta.

Maybe Jacques gives Maxwell another try? He seems to find more and more open ice each and every game.

As an aside: I catched your post early on my rss feed reader and it was incomplete (stopping before the part where you mention my blog); I forgot it and only came back for your blurb on Gainey. And tonight I see that weird uptick in traffic and there's the daily hab-it... Thanks for the mention!