Saturday, April 3, 2010

Morning playoff check-up and game report

Jacques Martin has won a ton of hockey games, 1,136 to be exact. That’s about 1,136 more than I will ever win. But, even in my ignorance of how to coach an NHL hockey team, I wonder how Martin has ridden this formula to such great heights.

Last night in Philadelphia, the Canadiens were controlling the play through the first half of the game before, suddenly and inexplicably, taking their foot off the pedal. The result was that Philadelphia spent the final 25 to 30 minutes of the game in the Habs end, and if it weren’t for a brilliant performance by Jaroslav Halak, the Flyers would have won that pivotal game instead of losing 1-0.

If it were a one-time thing, I would have to give the Flyers credit for turning it on late to try to get the win. But the same thing happened to Montreal against Carolina. And New Jersey. And Buffalo. And countless other times this season. That, my friends, is called a pattern, and one has clearly developed with Martin. Get a lead and, no matter how small, sit on it. Brilliant.

I guess it has worked for him so far, so why change, right? In spite of the fact he said this would be an offensive, “puck possession” team. In spite of the fact he has all his key horses in uniform. In spite of the fact his team can look so dominant when it’s aggressive. In spite of the fact he’s burned by it so many times, Martin sticks to his guns.

Then you realize it.

I’ve been wondering all season how it could be that Martin was such a great regular season coach, yet still has a 38-47 record in the playoffs. And last night it dawned on me, because in the playoffs, the Canadiens probably lose that game. You can’t sit on a one-goal lead in the post-season. You can’t even sit on a two-goal lead in the playoffs. The consequences are too great, the desperation of the other team too high. You must go in for the kill when you have the opposition on its heels. But Martin seems to lack a sense of a game’s momentum, and how easily it can shift from one team to the other when you allow it to. When you mandate it.

There are four games left in the Canadiens regular season, and two wins should assure them of a playoff spot. Let’s hope Martin uses this time to fine-tune his late-game tactics, because what he’s doing ain’t working.

Montreal Canadiens – Sixth place, 38-32-8, 84 points
Last night – 1-0 win over Philadelphia
Next game: v Buffalo tonight
4 games remaining, 1 against teams in playoff spot
Home (2) – Buf April 3, Tor April 10
Road (2) – NYI April 6, Car April 8

Boston Bruins – Seventh place, 35-30-12, 82 points
Last night: Did not play
Next game: @ Toronto tonight
5 games remaining, 3 against teams in playoff spot
Home (2) – Buf April 8, Car April 10 
Road (3) – Tor April 3, Was April 5, Was April 11

Philadelphia Flyers – Eighth place, 38-34-6, 82 points
Last night: 1-0 loss to Montreal
Next game: v Detroit Monday
4 games remaining, 1 against teams in playoff spot
Home (2) – Det April 4, NYR April 11
Road (2) – Tor April 6, NYR April 9

New York Rangers – Ninth place, 35-32-10, 80 points
Last night: 5-0 win over Tampa Bay
Next game: @ Florida tonight
5 games remaining, 3 against teams in playoff spot
Home (2) – Tor April 7, Pha April 9
Road (3) – Fla April 3, Buf April 6, Pha April 11

Atlanta Thrashers – 10th place, 34-31-12, 80 points
Last night: Did not play
Next game: @ Pittsburgh Saturday
4 games remaining, 4 against teams in playoff spot
Home (2) – NJ April 6, Pgh April 10
Road (2) – Pgh April 3, Was April 9


V said...

Arpon, as usual a good article. Thanks. Technically, one more win probably gets them in and two more probably gets them sixth - just looking at the teams around them and their tougher schedules.

Tonights a big game because a win shifts the focus of the last three games from deperartely squeezing out points to trying to build momentum.

As for the defensive play once they get a lead, from my perspective I think Martin has proven it does work. His career record attests to it and with the injuries this year, that kitty-bar-the-door style probably saved our butt. And the ability to protect one goal leads in the playoffs is the difference between winners and losers.

Doesn't mean I like that style, but other than the fact it's tense and ugly, it's hard to knock. Not to mention that it's entirely human. Lot of experiments show we will resist the urge to get more of something if it means risking what we already have. Few teams play differently and those that do are seldom successful in the playoffs. If anything stops Washington this year, I bet it's their inability to stop risking goals in their pursuit of them. Just plain out-scoring the other team works in the regular season and seldom does in the playoffs.

V said...

Just noticed I used the word 'technically' in my previous post and the word 'realistically' was more appropriate.

Anonymous said...

It is not the Habs shutting down because they want to, it is the other teams being stronger as the game goes and because of the Habs wearing down. Like a racehorse opening up a 6 length lead coming out of the gate but down the stretch he tires and the others close in on him.

Anonymous said...

In fact in the Florida game up 2-0 Habs forwards got caught up the ice and Florida scored in the 3rd period then even got caught up the ice again while up 2-1.

LeMatheux said...

Still think this is just a good coach doing a bad job, Arpon?

I frankly believe this is the best he can do, or just about, and it's plainly not nearly good enough. His ultradefensive approach (which he might call 'safe' even though it's anything but) was probably more effective in pre-lockout hockey, but it's not suited to today's game and it's not suited to this team.

As for the puck possession style, I've long realized that that was just a buzzword for him. I don't think Martin ever had any intention of implementing a puck possession style in the way you or I might understand the term.

B B said...

It's very hard to be objective when the games become so emotional. I want Price to be the future, but games such as last night, make it tough. Is a weaker defence the problem?

Olivier said...

Well, MAB over spacek certainly makes it weaker by a few notches. But as LeMatheux said, Puck possession shmussession. It's a fact that they just dont drive hard for possession in the offensive zone. You watch a Detroit game, and they all, every single one of them, strive to put themselves between the defender and the puck on every single moment of the game. The habs more often than not are content of letting the defender take the high ground, especially in the offensive zone. You can pass back to the defender all you want, if you aren't willing to take a hit to keep the puck in the right place, you'll take a beating. And the players are still doing it today because the coaches accept it.

brandon said...

Want to know the secret to Jacques Martin's success?

It's that people think he's been successful, when he actually hasn't.

Entering the season, he was 9th all-time in wins — and 8th all-time in games coached. The embodiment of average, at least in the regular season. In the playoffs, of course, his teams usually choke.

But somehow, in the lobotomized world of sports journalism, we're repeatedly told of his outstanding pedigree. At the season's start, we were told how good he was at developing young players, despite his having failed to develop a single top-six player in Florida.

As for all his playoff miseries in Ottawa, somehow the players were blamed, not the coach. Poor Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat walked away with reputations as playoff losers, while Martin got off scot-free. Boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

I said it when the Habs finished 1st in the East which really was an aberration because they did so only because they had won ALL 12 games against Boston and Philadelphia that season - 2 teams that were equal to them who Habs then went 5-7 against in the playoffs. Habs that year could NOT win the 1-0, the 2-1 games that it takes to win in the playoffs - now they can at least they can when Halak is in top form.

Anonymous said...

Re: "Poor Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat walked away with reputations as playoff losers"

Which they still do despite playing on other great teams. Hossa for Pittsburgh then Hossa for Detroit- that's 3 excellent teams he lost on - 2 of them won it all without him. And Chicago has not proved anything yet either.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why Subban is playing in Hamilton, when Habs need him now here and for the playoffs if they get there. He is heads above Bergeron already. I know Hamilton is the the hunt for the AHL title but other teams call up their best prospects, he already is an AHL All-star. Plus he had looked excellent when he was up here earlier.

Anonymous said...

Arpon,clearly JM does not play to win but only not to lose.

Case in point this season is the many games the Canadiens have seemingly collapsed late in games but really have taken their foot off the gas and adopted the JM passive "defensive system".

Handling of players and total lack of in-game adjustment are also typical of JM.

Has this man ever heard of calling a time out late in a game?