Monday, February 16, 2009

Game #57

Outnumbered Habs Come Up Short Again

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Friday February 15th, 2009
Opponent: Vancouver Canucks
Venue: General Motors Place, Vancouver, BC

Team Stripes

Score: 2 - 4 Loss

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (L), Carey Price
Opposition starting goalie: Roberto Luongo (W)

Habs goalscorers: Saku Koivu, Andrei Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Daniel Sedin, Alexander Edler, Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler


Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The game was not an encouraging end to our worries. But a couple of plays midway through the second allayed some fears about goalies having the guts to keep their eyes open when people shoot from close in. The play of the game was Jaroslav Halak's save on Mats Sundin to keep the game 2-1. Just minutes after a beautiful pad save on the hot Burrows, Halak outdid himself here by squaring to Sundin's high shot and absolutely robbing a goal with a rapier quick glove hand. Unfortunately, the third odd-man break in as many minutes buried us 50 seconds later.


Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Christopher Higgins
This game was a visible turning point for a few of the players, and most notably among them for me was Chris Higgins. To be fair to Chris, he has been much better since returning from injury than he was in October and November - and the unfortunate results from the team should not obscure that. Tonight he was the fastest Hab on probably the most threatening line (OK duo, ADD coach Carbo only kept his original brilliant combo together for 6 minutes or so). Chris out-skates, out-muscles and out-thinks defenders. It's a shame that the in-game switches didn't include a) adding him to the top line or b) providing him another NHL-calibre winger.


Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Saku Koivu
Great goal from Saku to start with. And it goes without saying that he worked harder than anyone. His defensive game was also markedly improved tonight as he was one of the better forwards in tracking back. However, that and the fact he had to deal with the disjointed play of Kovalev and Kostopoulos - who like to skate in the same track - made the play in the offensive zone more laborious than it needed to be. Carbonneau is guilty of wasting Saku as an asset - which is perhaps becoming his most persistent crime.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Benoit Brunet can cry all he wants about consistency from Andrei. However, for all his expertise in areas of battles along the boards and sitting on the bench when games are on the line - Brunet knows little if anything about creating goals from nothing without reliance on luck. While they asked Andrei to be more consistent yet again - scored for the second game in a row. In addition, he was the only player who beat a Vancouver defender one-on-one all night. He gets in the dome because he is simply the most difficult forward to defend against from our group and perhaps the only one at the moment that would have me thinking twice as an opposition coach.

Christopher Higgins
He really does deserve that A back, you know. If Komisarek is the poster boy for personal gain (looking to translate hits into contract dollars), Higgins is playing himself into a million dollar deal by obeying the coaches and doing everything for the team first. His talent is being squandered by Carbonneau as well, but Chris makes the best of what he's given, even when it's Dandenault. I think Plekanec makes a natural partner with Chris, and we should see how that can develop for the two of them.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Markov was -3, but you see I picked the dome based on what I saw, not based on what the stats said. There'd be an argument for taking him out if he the odd-man rushes that were scored while he was on were the only ones the Canadiens allowed all game, but alas they were not. I thought the first goal was well-defended given the outnumbered situation, and even Gorges was unlucky there. The second goal was a quick PP for Vancouver for a phantom penalty that the refs will never have to account for. And the third goal against was simply brilliant stuff from the Sedins. The rest of the game, you see, Markov was the best defender. More calm, less stupid passes. He missed a lot of breakaway makers, but at least he was trying.

Josh Gorges
Call this an indictment of the rest. Hamrlik did not impress me. It pretty much comes to that. Josh played OK. He like Markov was a pretty big minus, but you couldn't fault the way he played the odd-man rushes. The real reason he makes it is because, despite his and Hamrlik's mediocrity, the three others were poor. How Komisarek and Bouillon could be paired together (ever) is a mystery, but those two massive saves came when they were on the ice. Those were two of the worst defensive plays of the entire game. Brisebois for his part is only doing what he can. He simply cannot compete consistently with attackers and sooner or later every game he gets burned. Of course, the Breezer had his moments and a classic assist, but he matched with some shockingly weak physical battles that I just don't want in a dome, thank you.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
He made several spectacular saves to keep the game alive far longer than it should have been for the Habs. He played like an NHL goalie behind an AHL team with ECHL tactical development and deployment. To put Carey Price in nets may have been nice for the fans of Vancouver; but it was another massive slap in the face for Halak (how many more can he take). The anointed one had a brilliant 8 minutes after Vancouver stopped caring, making 1 save on 1 shot. Any bets on which would have moved faster on Sundin's shot: Jaroslav's glove or Carey's head to look behind him?



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

I made many notes for this portion tonight. Odd-man rushes, goaltending, sabotaging your own lines, etc. I landed on referees as the topic of choice with the spinny wheel.

When it comes to referees, this section could just have easily have been named: eye closers. Are you going to tell me that the Vancouver Canucks did not commit a single infraction this game? Are you going to tell me that Bob Gainey and his NHL rules revamp was a success?

This game was a farce. The refereeing was such a drastic departure from most of our games that it looked like a different sport. Then to justify their salaries they did make a few calls, all of which must have happened 50 or 60 other times in the game. I suppose they just wanted to make sure they were inconsistent within the context of the game, as well as the context of the season.

I know this is going to upset some of you, but I'll say it anyway. Given this game was nothing new and refereeing is a shambles pretty much night in, night out, shouldn't the coaches get some kind of strategy together to determine how much our team can cheat? We are being out-cheated so consistently, it is laughable. And, as you know, if you're not cheating: you're not trying hard enough.

I'm not asking for the Habs to do anything dangerous, or even unsportsmanlike. But someone has to teach these rookies to hold like veterans, dive like Jarome Iginla, obstruct like Zdeno Chara. The alternatives from the Canadiens are blatant infractions or cleaner than thou - both of which are loser's games. We need subtle infractions, a little less all-out effort to stay on our feet, more skating into peoples' paths. In games like this one, we were wholly outplayed in this regard by the Canucks who got a better read on the refs early. In other games we get penalised ten times before we understand the reffing standard has changed from the night before.

Intelligent cheating, it's all I ask for. Carbonneau should know how, he was among the best.


Overall Comments

It's hard to read this loss. Was it a loss in a new win-loss-win-loss-loss-win-win pattern? Or was it the beginning of a new losing streak?

We let in another 4 goals, but this time was decidedly different - the goalie actually played well. We played shoddy D, but we know how to overcome that - we've only had 4 guys playing well at any point all season.

I think there's something of a turning point in this one. For one thing, the odd-man rushes, while frustrating can be fixed. Even a peewee coach can tell a group of three forwards not to over-commit like they did all night. For another thing, there were some good signs. The forwards in the dome, for example, all played well up front. The team didn't give up when down by 2. Plekanec is coming back, and for all his faults is miles better than the guy who steps in for him - plus he makes two strong offensive lines possible (not to mention defensive recoveries with his speed). Halak played amazingly well, which should reassure the team, and strangely I think Price will draw from that and his yawn-inducing 8 minutes to at least make a few stops next time.

The progress for me is that the problems, while still present are the ones our simple-minded coaching staff should be able to deal with. Things like players coasting to the bench, taking the route behind the net after the puck is lost, passes to the middle by the third forward when all three are committed. There was no way to coach out of bad goaltending, giving up when the lead has been widened.

I think get us back to the East where referees, for the most part, call penalties; where defences play like our own; and 4 teams are trying to win Tavares, not the Presdient's trophy, and we should find a way out of the hole.

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