Monday, October 31, 2011

Price First Star

Carey Price was named the first star of the week, beating out Nikolai Khabibulin and Jaromir Jagr.

Please note the press release clearly contains a typo. It reads October 31st, 2011 when it should state 2001. Silly to think an editor missed this, Jagr would be 39 in 2011 and Nikolai would nearly be 39 too. They'd both be on Tobalev's hockey pool team...


Diaz to share accolade


Carey will surely acknowledge his whole team in discussing the honour, but special thought to Raphael Diaz with whom he switched positions for a few minutes in the game before last.


Plekanec can stuff it



Plekanec, on the other hand may receive special extra mention as the faceoff "specialist" who seemed to be on Khabibulin's side in this race for late October honours.


Did the people who make these choices watch these games, by the way? Silly question, of course they didn't.

If they had, I would ask them if they'd ever had such hilarious highlights in a first star's video montage before...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Game #11

2 In A Row Against Boston; Fabulous

Details



Date: 29/10/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Montreal

Win: 4-2

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Rask (L), Thomas

Habs goalscorers: Gionta, Eller, Desharnais, Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Lucic, Seguin



Play of the game


I didn't like where this one was going at the end of the third. There had been missed opportunities for the Habs and late pressure from the Bruins. So, when Pleks intercepted a pass in his own zone and carried it out I got out of my seat. With speed and patience he made it all the way down the ice and put it into the open cage to seal the deal.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
Always involved, always looking dangerous in this one. He and Eller created quite the dynamic duo tonight and seemed to have the B's number. Between them they could have had two or three more goals, easily. Andrei's best play was a set-up for Eller which came right after one of the nicest dekes we'll see all season. Rask's save is the only thing that will keep Kostitsyn out of the season's top highlights.

Lars Eller - Game Puck
Just consider this; Eller is still the game puck recipient despite the missed open net, the cough-up on goal one and a penalty. So, if you didn't watch you can just imagine how good he was the rest of the time. To be fair, though, this was not his best game of the year, but he was the top Hab tonight. His goal was certainly the highlight of what was a very strong game, mostly in the offensive zone.

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks had a good week and capped it off with a very strong game tonight. He deliverred from the point on the PP in the first and picked up his second point with the empty-netter at the end. He was not only used more than any other forward, but was used more than any other Hab. A good Tomas Plekanec often means a good Habs team and good special teams; tonight couldn't have been a better example of that.

Defencemen

PK Subban
One of the things I like best about PK is how he doesn't get intimidated, he just doesn't seem to care about what the Bruins are saying and doing. That is a quality that is invaluable to this team. Boston think that if they cheat more than anyone and are dirtier than anyone they will get their way. Unfortunately, I suppose it worked for them once, but if more people act like Subban out there you can be certain that lightning won't strike twice. PK led the D tonight and played a good solid game, in every way possible.

Jaroslav Spacek
Spacek isn't the reason that we are winning, but you can't deny that he is one of the reasons. We are steadier with him in the line-up, especially when he plays as he has done this week. With Jaro in the line-up we are 4-2, without him we are 0-5. It helps having experience on the ice and on the bench and I am sure that his return this week has been a positive for the team. Tonight he led the team with 7 blocked shots and was our second best defender out there. I am happy for him after this week and am glad that he is getting a bit of recognition.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Price was great tonight and stopped a Bruin team that threw a lot of good stuff at him. There were again a few posts, but let's not forget that those don't count. He made some great saves and gave his team the type of performance that will win them many games. Carey has been better this week as the wins against Boston could have easily been losses without good goaltending.


Comments


The Canadiens avoided taking minor penalties until the third period, while the Bruins couldn't avoid being themselves tonight. That opened the door for Montreal to play a good, solid 5-on-5 game and not worry about killing penalties for quite a while. Scoring on a power-play of our own in the first was a bonus as it was only our 5th goal of the year with extra man (we added our 6th later in the game). A disciplined team who can score on the PP and who get good goaltending will do well in this league; if the Habs can accomplish those three things the playoffs will almost be a certainty. The second period, other than the goal against, was one of the best periods of the year, a period in which we dominated play and didn't really allow the Bruins to get anything of their own going. We played a pretty conservative 2-goal lead type third period and it almost didn't work. It was good defensive play and good (and at times, lucky) goaltending that ended up being the difference in that period. Boston's late goal could have had more of an implication had it not been for the smart play of the unit (led by Pleks) on the ice at the end.

82 games in 6 months, about 3 games a week till April and for some reason we get the next 6 days off. I hope that the Habs get the most that they can out of those days whether it is rest, easy workouts or intense practice. The schedule will certainly pick up as of next Friday and we must be ready. We showed this week that we won't be bowing out anytime soon and reminded people what we are capable of. With 71 games to go, however, there is certainly a lot of work to do. It has been an interesting first month, a month with downs and an up. 10 points, however, isn't horrible, but won't be enough in the end. Which are the real Habs? Tune in in a week's time to find out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Game #10

Habs Extend Championship Hangover For Bruins

Details



Date: 27/10/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Win: 2-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (L)

Habs goalscorers: Cole, Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: (Bergeron)



Play of the game


After what was meant to be an inspirational move by young Subban, the Canadiens end up shorthanded to end the second. This is the territory they have been losing games from. Sure enough a bad bounce and a Bruin receives the gift straight on the tape. As if from nowhere, in slide Rafael Diaz like a centreback in the six yard box to block the puck and save the tie. He's on for a lot of good saves thanks to his tendency to pinch, but this was the first and best of his own, I'd say.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole
Let's all thanks Jessica Rusnak, shall we? She inadvertently changed the course of the season. The chivalrous Erik Cole, since coming from nowhere to protect the honour of the young reporter was a week ago on his way to booking another trade home to Carolina. Since that time, he has been a fixture in the dome and has been creating chances nearly non-stop. I thought his goal was good, but yet again he had better chances (homemade ones) that were the product of better skill.

Tomas Plekanec
He should be the best player on the team, and in this game he was. The own goal was never his fault. The gamewinner was all his fault. Besides those two scoresheet items he played an all around game with the proficiency we took for granted but haven't really been seeing until this point of this season.

Mike Cammalleri
Who am I to take Mike Cammalleri out of the dome. He didn't score, but he was dangerous again as he paired well with Erik Cole. That breakaway would have been a goal against 9 out of 10 goalies in this league, and his empty scorecard didn't reflect his dangerous presence.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Back in camp I was simply amazed at the way Gorges came into the year. He seemed not to have lost an inch in his game. It's taken a few regular pace games for him to get here, but I could see that coming back this evening. Gorges contributed to the game winning goal with his 6th assist of the season already. It was a simple enough play, but if you didn't know better you'd have seen #79 as the originator of a pass like that. He was the workhorse tonight too and the minutes leader at ES by minutes.

Jaroslav Spacek
Spacek is slowly usurping Hal Gill's role as he shows the other 22 year-old Dman of the future the ropes. He took another important shot (last night too) and ended up kick starting the comeback. Most impressive to me was the sheer amount of shot blocking he did. He was sharp at being in lanes in this one, something that seemed to frustrate the B's and he ended with a scorer's 6 in that column.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
It's not easy to stop every shot the Bruins send at the net (but one, thanks Diaz). I thought he was especially superb late in the game when the Bruins were resorting to any tactic to get that tying goal. Carey stayed calm, eyed the pucks and importantly didn't cough a big rebound to a big scorer like Thomas did. A couple of breakaway saves again, and the team can again think about winning thanks to Carey's leadership.


Comments

Probably should have been watching the Winnipeg game (9-8!?!), but watching this team figure out how to win is fun in itself.

I didn't write that piece on comebacks so the guys could prove me wrong, but that's twice now that the team has done what I said they couldn't. Twice in three games. What else do you guys want me to write about? Gauthier could never trade for Crosby and Malkin? The Leafs are a sure-fire bet for the playoffs? Gomez was a terrible pick in the pool for me? (Oh, wait).

Anyway, the fact that these two wins have been comebacks mean so much more in my opinion. This win, against a goalie that was clearly hot and a good team (champions, remember?) who needed a win as much as the Canadiens was the better and more meaningful of the two.

It's to the team now to go for the high straight with a win in Montreal as the boos rain down on Zdeno. It won't be easy, especially as we witness the tactics the Bruins are willing to employ in the later stages of this one. However, the fans who were robbed of a key player by a vicious maneuver and were forced to watch the smirking brutes at parties all summer deserve as much. And wouldn't it be sweet if the talk about the first coach being fired this season could switch for a few minutes to Claude Julien.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Best Outcome Possible:

A Handshake

A game that people are drooling over for many of the wrong reasons. Not because of the chance to score more goals than the team that edged the Habs in OT of game #7 last April, but as some sort of revenge.

After the Chara hit on Pacioretty last season, two things happened rather quickly: Chara apologized and Pacioretty accepted.

In my experience forgiveness is a powerful thing, and even watching others demonstrate forgiveness has power beyond so many other aspects of life.

In my best case scenario, I look forward to seeing Chara go out of his way to find Max Pacioretty this evening and offer his hand and that apology reiterated. he did after all break his neck. I want Don Cherry to squirm as he prattles on about never showing weakness by apologizing or accepting them from your arch-rivals.

Of course, after the handshake I hope Pacioretty finds a great time to turn on the jets and beat Chara around the outside and end that play the way it should have ended the first time -- with another goal. And with a win that leads to a 3-month spiral for the Bruins. Then a series of trades that hobbles them for long enough to stop the nightmares of that horrible June night happening again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Game #9

Habs Stun Young Flyers For Price's 100th V

Details



Date: 26/10/2011
Opponent: Flyers
Location: Montreal

Win: 5-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Bryzgalov (L)

Habs goalscorers: Weber, Kostitsyn, Pacioretty (2), Cammalleri
Opposition goalscorers: Jagr



Play of the game


Sometimes a very simple play can have such profound effects that it eclipses a breakaway save or a raft of highlight goals for the play of the game. In this case, I thought Erik Cole's burst of speed to try and beat Lilja in the first period was such a play. Cole was looking for a time like the only player alive out there, the team was down and in familiar territory for Fall 2011.

Had they gone into the intermission behind, the locker room break might have taken this on a different tack. Instead, with a minute or so to go in the comeback attempt, Cole tried what he had already tried earlier and burst for the open space inside. Unlike so many Habs forwards, his speed made him look likely to win the foot race when he got rubbed out and a penalty was called. This penalty turned out to be key, the Habs scored and all at once came back in this game, gained some confidence in a PP and broke from the negative mentality they had been under. It was certainly the turning point of the game and to this point, a turning point of the season.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole
If you can't score the next best thing is creating opportunities. Tonight Cole did that by drawing two very important penalties, playing a massive part on Weber's PP ice breaker and Cammalleri's goal. This was excellent, and among the best games we've seen from any forward this season.

Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
It's a pleasure to watch a game where the Game Puck is being contested throughout. You've read how much I appreciated Cole this evening already. Well, Pacioretty had to do a lot to wrest this award away from Erik, but he did. He did it by being dangerous nearly all the time (after the first anyway). His first goal was goalscorer stuff and his second was the kind of goal it takes to if one wants to reach 30 in this league. A power performance as he easily outshone the highly touted JVR, picked 20 spots ahead of him.

Mike Cammalleri
Dome, goalscorer's edition. Cammalleri pips the other forwards to the post with his dangerous play again. His goal was classic poaching and he could have had a couple more like it. What's more, did anyone catch the instances when Mike was backchecking and making good plays in his own end. If the team is going to succeed it will need leaders, and one guy that I find gets overlooked many times in this regard is Cammalleri who seems to me to be both vocal and an example for those who follow.



Defencemen

Yannick Weber
Weber is growing. To be fair he's grown quite a bit. He isn't yet a bull by the horns player like Subban, nor does he have that defensive end grace, but he is getting slicker and on the PP he is providing that deadly and sly shot option. As I mentioned his goal was a turning point, but the gamewinner was also vital, and he by joining the rush played a large part in that one too. An honourable mention here to Spacek as his partner who is enabling this growth as Gill has done for others. You can see Jaro's summer regime in his stride.

PK Subban
PK was again the maestro from the back. It bears repeating that I think some of the tings he does are being taken for granted. His quick turns in the back end often save the puck, and these alone used to win him the dome. A season on, that's just PK. Tonight, I thought he was special at times in that regard (if not always at the other end) and I was often left admiring his body control and the way he somehow controlled incoming forwards too. This was key in a game that was still within reach for either team until the 44th minute.

Goaltender

Carey Price
The 100th regular season win was well deserved and Carey had to earn his part of it. I can't say that this was his best game, but it was certainly his best lately. As usual, he made his bids for play of the game, and his save on JVR on a breakaway was as integral to this win as any goal.


Comments


Last night, I attempted to write a piece for you three times. Each time I scrapped it because it added nothing to the conversation. All I felt like doing was echoing the negativity, but judged that I didn't need to fill the room with one more depressing sermon. Tobalev and I also spoke a few hours before game time about the merits of losing another game. I suggested a win would be better, but only because I didn't trust the dismantlers to get things right.

As it turns out, I was very excited to watch a win. I'm sure most of you were. I like how this team wins and the hockey they play when they grow confident. If last game report (Pittsburgh) for me was a chore, this one has been a pleasure. I relish deciding which good play was better, which good performance outdid another. The Habs tonight not only won, I thought they asserted their case to stay in this race despite injuries and suggested to us they would continue to do it their way when possible.

I'm not fully convinced of anything yet, however. I didn't think the Flyers were very good in this game and it is but one win to 6 straight losses.


I believe the team needs to parlay this into a win tomorrow to convince themselves that they can seriously contend for anything, let alone us fans. But the things to be positive about are better in the glow of victory. Eller being a strong third line presence matters more when Desharnais and Plekanec fill their mandates, similarly the wings and D.

Tomorrow is a great opportunity to show the Bruins that no one in Montreal cares about their rings or their summer pool parties anymore. A victory would be sweet, preferably with multiple goals cleanly past Tim Thomas.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Game #8

Would We Prefer No Effort, But A Win?

Details



Date: 24/10/2011
Opponent: Panthers
Location: Montreal

Loss: 1-2

Habs Goalie: Budaj (L)
Opposition Goalie: Markstrom (W)

Habs goalscorers: Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Fleischmann, Upshall



Play of the game


There was a sequence during which Markstrom had to make a few incredible saves, the best one being a robbery against Cammalleri who batted one out of the air. The save was amazing, the play that led to the chance was one of the Habs' best of the year and showed off the incredible skill that Camms has; surely goals will follow.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole
He scored a goal tonight, his first, but that wasn't what impressed me most (in fact I am not even sure that he knew he scored). What impressed me was his speed, willingness to go to net and strength on the puck. Presumably these are the qualities that we bought in July; let's hope that this is the first of many similar performances.

Lars Eller
Lars continued his good play tonight and his line was once again a strong unit. If we can take anything from these games it may be the learning that Eller is getting. He is our only player who is noticeably improving this year and that should come in handy when (if) the others get going.

Tomas Plekanec
I haven't been too impressed with Pleks this year. For some reason his sub-par play has been below the radar as people seem more focused on Gomez, Gionta and Cole. Tom, however, has also not lived up to the expectations that we have for him. Tonight, though, he showed some flashes of brilliance. Let's hope that in his case this slow start was ended by tonight's up-turn.

Defencemen

Yannick Weber
For those who remember Yan had a bad camp and maybe some bad scrimmages, but luckily he has been able to recognize when it is truly important to play well. He is slowly becoming a top defender on this team and tonight was the best. He was rewarded in this game with the most ice-time of anyone and did his very best to create chances in Florida's end. For a guy that many people wanted to be traded and saw as an 8th D-man/13th forward he has done very well. We couldn't be much worse off than we are now, but surely it would look worse if Weber weren't around.

Josh Gorges
This is not the Josh Gorges that we all remember, but tonight he was at least solid enough (in both ends I might add) to be a top-2 for us. The problem may be that we unsung his praises for a bit too long and all of a sudden expected more. There is a reason that he has been an unsung hero in the past, the reason is that we never expected much. The pressure is on him now, but when you look deep he is probably giving exactly what he should - decent 4th D-man minutes, with the occasional mistake and occasional flash of offensive power.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj - Game Puck
Budaj finally got a start tonight and did quite alright. He hasn't seen action in nearly a month and did decent enough considering that. He is certainly no Halak (you can rest easy, Price), but may be able to win us a few more than Auld did (although Auld did play exceptionally well as it turned out). He made some great saves, gave up some big rebounds and let in a couple of goals that 90% of goalies would have let in. He has certainly earned more starts, but I am actually more interested, at this point, in finding a goalie that can get us more wins.


Comments


The effort was there, but we hit a hot goalie at the wrong time. That, you see, is the problem with losing a lot; you will eventually lose games that you could have won. Eventually you have to be able to win games in which you played well and games in which you played badly. Right now we are doing neither. Let's face it though, this was the Florida Panthers, the goalie was Markstrom. Sure they played well, but a serious team, a team that wants to win 1 or 2 rounds in the playoffs finds ways to beat teams like this, even if they have a hot goalie. The chances were there as were the shots, but it was a lot of perimeter stuff. Sure a bounce or two our way and it is a different story, so I won't go on too much.

This could be a tough week, but could also be a week that shapes this team for the season. 2 games against Boston and one against Philly means that tonight was the easy one, the one we had to win, right? Yes and no. A win would have been nice, but at the end of the day we'll have to beat the Bostons and Phillys of this league. Wins in 2 or 3 of those games would be enough to convince me that we are fine, but more importantly should be enough to convince our players. If we have a good week the belief will grow and one would have to think that we'd be off, ready for the long haul. A losing week, however, would probably mean that change is to come. A bad 11 games to open the season is enough of an indication that something has to give. After this week we'll have 71 games to play, so if we only have 4 points in the bank we'll need to really get it going to hit that 95 (playoff safe) point plateau.

Fundamentally Flawed?

You know, usually I am one to preach more calm than panic. And, you know what, having a team you watch play a sport win or lose probably shouldn't elicit such violent reaction anyway. But 7 games into a season, I wanted to suggest that perhaps those that have been calling for the most drastic action after losses may in fact have a point.

I've heard keep calm and carry on many times over since that opening shutout. While I don't disagree (I still highly recommend having the results of contests you can't control occupy the right strata in your life), I am starting to find that throwaway line as naive as the "fire the coach" that comes out after a line is broken up.

You see, the problem with the "don't worry, it's early" approach to things is that it assumes that a) this is a beginning and b) that we haven't seen enough. Of course, we know this isn't true. The Canadiens didn't shoot up from the ground in September, nor did this edition of the team. The group is largely the same one that we watched a few months ago and most of the core elements are the same as the team that we have been watching now for 2+ years.

And while it's true that this team has been a winner (at least in the sense it's won more than it's lost), we also know that at critical times it has shown itself to be lacking.

So if your concern is solely rooted in whether this team will ever win a game again this season. Then by all means, please subscribe to the "keep calm" mantra. They will simply because every team encounters teams that play worse than them sometimes, not matter how flawed an approach.

But, if like me, your primary concern is whether the team actually has a chance to win the singularly important game that can only happen in June (and win enough in order to get there) then perhaps we should be more concerned with some of the demonstrable traits of past teams found lacking showing up in this one.

Let me explain.

I think the team has a pretty fundamental flaw relative to its rivals and I see it and feel it as I watch our opponents' approaches to games as they contrast with that of our Habs.

Some would say it's that the team can't score, but I don't think that's subtle enough. What I am starting to think it is, is that the team cannot devise a way to play when they are behind. It goes beyond scoring (though that's obviously the chief symptom), it goes to choosing where to attack knowing when to change, holding onto any momentum, even clearing a zone.

And let's not get into a silly argument about the word "cannot". I don't mean in absolute terms, I mean that relative to their rivals and especially relative to those teams we can recognise as true contenders, they fall well short.

I wrote about this last year (To Watch Beyond Goal 1?), but I've since beefed up the piece with some research with depth to it.

Take this set for example:

Record after trailing first



This is the combined record of the Habs since the true new beginning of the summer of 2009 when they got new personnel all over the ice and a new coach. This is not to say they were a good comeback team before that point (they weren't really), but just to identify a logical point where I can stop compiling.

27th in a 30 team league (CBJ is better if you look) and not exactly in the best company down there, though at least those teams got their draft picks. The telling thing really is the gap between the Canadiens and the better teams in the league over this time.

Washington over the same period actually achieved what most would consider a record above 0.500 from trailing first and several key teams got points from more than half of those contests (Detroit, San Jose, Pittsburgh). The other teams that we might consider elite from this span like Vancouver and Chicago are right near the top of this pile as well.

The Habs by contrast got points in only about a third of the contest in which they fell behind first to put themselves in the company of the lottery crew.

If you want some encouragement, you will notice that at least unlike the Bruins, the Habs have made a habit of scoring first more often than not over this two-plus year period. So perhaps their record when scoring first (setting the table themselves) makes up for their other shortcoming.


Record after scoring first




To this I'd say, the team has done well. It's good to score first more often than not, and it's very good to win more than 70% of those games in which you do that. But as we can see from the list, the team is not exactly setting NHL records with the early leads. They have been the 11thish best team over the span and in a group of teams around the same level.

We know from having had to eat a lot of fingernails in recent springs that the team hasn't offset one shortcoming with an enormous strength.


In wanting to create some composite of this, I landed on a simple quotient.

Difference in winning percentage Scoring and Trailing 1st




It's probably not that useful, but it does seem to highlight a few points.

For one thing, St. Louis is weird.

For another, 2 generally seems to be a number that you'd rather be under than over in this case. Boston and Vancouver hover at that level, but being well to one side of 2.00 like the Habs are seems to mean something entirely different from being on the other side if you take association to mean anything.


One way to win, lots of ways to lose


Last night marked the fourth time this season that the team has scored first. It was the third loss from ahead. If you combine this misfortune with what I think is amounting to a pretty hefty trend showing plenty of writer's block within the comeback thinktank then I do think there's proper reason for a sensible amount of concern.

Time will tell certainly, and when I wrote my piece last season, the team answered with "Nothing but comebacks" January.

Still, when I am looking for the evidence that come April I won't be rocking back and forth hoping for a goal I have a good feeling will never come to preserve a season, I would take comfort in getting a glimpse of that evidence this month.

I don't recommend you fans change anything about your routine or your belief in the team, but I do hope that those who do this for their living (any coach, ahem) has a little look into this phenomenon. If they can spare the time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Game #7

More Breakdowns Than On The Side Of The 401

Details



Date: 22/10/2011
Opponent: Maple Leafs
Location: Montreal

Loss: 4-5 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Reimer, Gustavsson (W)

Habs goalscorers: Moen (2), Kostitsyn, Cammalleri
Opposition goalscorers: Steckel, Kessel, Phaneuf, Grabovski (2)



Play of the game


I have to hand it to Travis Moen, because of all of the Habs he may be the one that is playing the most above his usual. He covered up another poor play by the team (an opening minutes penalty) with a spectacular effort to get open and score the first goal. On the PK, he an Eller were off. Lars was gone, but could Travis make it a 2-on-1? Yes, he did incredible work to get in front of his man and then did even better once he got the puck. He fought off the D very well and beat Reimer with a perfectly placed backhand shot.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Travis Moen - Game Puck
I didn't think that I would be saying this (and had actually hoped that I wouldn't have to), but Moen was our best player tonight. No offence to Travis, but there are a few players that should be ashamed of themselves because it isn't like Moen is playing like Crosby and that is why he is standing out, no, he is just playing good, solid hockey. Tonight it was 2 goals and a +3 - maybe not my first choice for top-6 winger minutes, but he is certainly earning that time now.

Lars Eller
He played a good game tonight and demonstrated that he is also capable of being a top-2 centre on this team. It may be unclear where he really stands when all are healthy, but if he keeps playing with the energy and passion that he did tonight then I think he'll keep getting his minutes. He had a 2-point night tonight, was very dangerous in the offensive zone and, like his linemate, was +3.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Kostitsyn should feel pretty good about the start that he has had. JM keeps moving people around to try and get others going (and appears to be demoting Kostitsyn each time he does that), but Andrei answers by continuing to be a main part of our best line, night in, night out. He picked up a very nice goal tonight and added an assist on Moen's second (the Gorges shot).

Defencemen

Yannick Weber
Yannick was on for no goals against, was +1 and played 22+ minutes. I didn't notice him much in our end which tonight, was a good thing. He is being used in all situations and is certainly making a case for himself to remain as a defenceman. He has probably been a top-3 D-man for us this year so it will be interesting to see what happens when Spacek, and later Markov, get back.

PK Subban
PK has to be better, he needs to. If he doesn't give us more than he has then this Habs team is a lot worse off than we all thought they would be. Right now he is playing one game as a top-2, one game as a solid depth player and another as a rookie. We, whether it was right to do so or not, have put a lot on this kid and I think our season will depend a lot on his progression. Tonight he was a top-2 for us, but that is mainly due to the mistakes of others and his decent puck control on the PP. There are still 75 games left, lets hope he gets it going, and I mean really going, before it is too late.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj
The one player that we need to be better than PK this year is Price. We were good last year, but it is no stretch to say that if we had this goaltending we would not have made the playoffs at all. He has to find ways to win despite the players in front of him because, for the most part it is the same group that he has won behind before. The team is certainly playing worse, no question, but we can't keep losing games in which we score 4+ goals. Expectations are high on this kid because at this point, he is really all we have going for us.


Comments


Just like the team I play on; too many penalties. It is an embarrassment that we got 2 too-many men on the ice penalties today...what is that? I can't stand that we continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the league despite the fact that we have no real dirty or rough players. I don't know how many times I have said this, but penalties must be JM's main concern. I reckon that if this keeps up he may be in his last 2 weeks in the NHL, so he had better find a way to win games and I strongly believe that taking less penalties is the best way to start. So, in my opinion, he must do whatever it takes to get his players to be scared, scared as hell of taking any sort of penalty. Perhaps always siding with your player and always disaggreeing with the ref after a call isn't the way to get your players to change their ways? Just a thought.

Now, penalties aside, we continue to play poorly in our own end and we play an awful lof of hockey in that 1/3 of the rink. We can't get it out with any sort of consistency and our inability to maintain prolonged attacks means that we simply get overwhelmed in our end. I hate this cliche, but I honestly think that we just have to keep things simple, we have to play the most basic and safest type of defensive hockey. It seems that we are able to score despite all of our problems throughout the line-up, so we must focus on defence, full team defence. That means a lot of work for Price and the D-men, but also a big focus on our defensive zone play from our forwards. Until we win I would actually exclusively work on this aspect of the game during practice.

We're probably a few losses away from major moves, so lets hope (unless we want major moves?), we turn it around fast. If we keep this play up for another month the season could be ruined, if we turn it around in the next few days it will simply look like a blip on our overall record.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Game #6

The Pen Is Mightier

Details


Date: 20/10/2011
Opponent: Penguins
Location: Pittsburgh

Loss: 1-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Fleury (W)

Habs goalscorers: Darche
Opposition goalscorers: Neal, Vitale, Asham



Play of the game


A game of that has not done wonders for my memory. Maybe I'm imagining that there was even a good play. But in my mind I am seeing a rush by Lars Eller where he protects the puck, storms behind the net and connects with his forward in front. Too bad the next part of the sequence was a return to futility with "goalscorer" Erik Cole putting a goalscorer's chance right into the goalie.



Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Lars Eller
The guy has yet to convince me that he'll ever score 10 NHL goals in a season, but he doesn't need to convince me that he's trying. That I can see. He stepped in and did a decent fill-in for Gomez, something that probably hurt the Habs more than it helped (see description of budding chemistry above).

Mike Cammalleri
He is what he is, but get this guy the puck can they? His shot from the tightest angle on the PP was the only thing that looked threatening on all the man advantages. If Mike can continue to get open and Jacques can just concentrate on getting him someone that can feed him then goals may come.

David Desharnais
Apart from one lucky shot and an Eller rush, the best offensive chances came when Desharnais got a view of an open winger. The report will say that he was minus 2 and had no shots, but in a game where the defenders are pressuring and it's not like it was in Winnipeg then I want to see a little bit of creativity. David showed me a couple of glimpses of that, something I didn't notice at all elsewhere tonight. That's a dome for me.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Remember last year when Subban was doing OK for a rookie? That's sort of what he looks like now. He's clearly got skills that we risk taking for granted every time we see him and he plays his heart out sometimes. The thing is, he's just misjudging situations far too often, taking shots when his teammates are open and vice versa. He's still the best defender for this team, even with the bad rushes and big wind ups. The fact we all now expect more doesn't change that.

Hal Gill - Game Puck
In an ideal world, with open hockey, no injuries and no salary cap you wouldn't have Hal Gill on your team. But the NHL is not that world. The Canadiens have to manage without Markov and Spacek, with Gorges looking ever more like he missed a season, with two D on learners' permits and two others in their second seasons. Gill doesn't do everything, but he does what he does and you can count on that much. I imagine that's why he reached his 1000th game this evening and was playing in an city where he once played for a champion. On another night, he'd also have had an assist on the score-opening goal, but Darche mauled that clear break.

Goaltender

Carey Price
This was borderline stuff from Carey. Yes, he did make 4 or 5 huge saves when the team needed him to, and yes, he didn't really have anything to be ashamed of on the goals that went in. But guess what? It's another 3 goals, more than 9% of shots went in, Aaron Asham scored on you. It wasn't exactly heroic. What made it so much more borderline for me, and probably the main cause of the frustration here, is that Carey was so cavalier with puck handling and in doing that gave up several good chances to Pittsburgh. He was on a level with his teammates this evening.


Comments


It's predictable that after a loss where the team pats itself on the back and puts its record to misfortune that they should come out and shoot blanks from every position on the ice.

This game was a chore to watch. Were it not for the need to write this report tonight, I think I'd have switched to the Toronto Boston affair, they were playing hockey. I have a sneaky feeling that Pittsburgh played really well and my Habs goggles prevented me from truly appreciating the extent of their dominance. But I don't really want to let our team off the hook so easily. I mean, honestly? How does a team back up their talk of contention if they end up smothered by Letestu, top line center?

What to do? Luckily the answer might be simple enough. Appeal to the pride and the basest desire in each of these players to be a winner, bred from the earliest age. Toronto at home is the perfect tonic for this. Light the fire tonight and let's see the fire on Saturday. Sure, it could be barnburning effort in a loss, but anything beats what we had to put ourselves through as fans this evening.

Meet The First Line

They've taken matters into their own hands. If the coaches won't put them on a "scoring line", they're determined to just be the scoring line.

Prior to the season, all the talk was about which of the forwards would miss out on the top 6. One of the top line was consensus out, and the two others were regular candidates in the discussions.

Well they've gone and turned all that on its head by simply playing better than those whose places were deemed to be certain. And because of that, the past two games, Pacioretty-Desharnais-Kostitsyn has been the number one unit called by the coaches at ES and overall. The Captain and his unit have been bumped to third line minutes.

Why has it turned out this way? A very small sample and viewing tells us the following:


Max Pacioretty

Max Pacioretty seems to have the most to prove of anyone this year. At least that's the way he's carrying himself. He's been desperate to create his own space and putting up big effort in the offensive zone. He already leads the team in shots by a country mile (27 to the nearest 19) and has done to the same in chances too (13 to 11).


David Desharnais

He'd never be your choice to shutdown Toews or Getzlaf, but it's hard to deny the guy has a vision for what he'd like to see happen in the offensive zone. He's shifty and importantly has been the center that so far has broken away most from that frustrating behind the net first approach to offence. It's been borne out in the number of chances he's been on the ice for (38). Thus far he's been the beneficiary of Pacioretty's finishing a little bit, but it would be selling him short to not at least acknowledge the fact he's potentiated that.


Andrei Kostitsyn

It's a minor miracle he found his way onto this line given his usage in the first couple of games. He's been a key part of the line the past two games, critical in setting up two of the more spectacular goals. Funny when you watch the goal celebration, being the big brother on the line seems to make Andrei happy.


Chemistry
The unheralded fourth member of the line is the chemistry and understanding these players already seem to have. A shared wavelength on how goals can be made, even with tight defences. A good spot to keep them together to experiment further with how this partnership might go.



These three guys are looking good because they are putting effort into the things that matter. They may not be the first line for very many more games. But recognition is deserved for three guys who have at least allayed the fears of those who wondered if there'd be any goals outside Winnipeg after three games.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

RDS Can't Count

"Les faits lui donnent raison. Depuis son congédiement, il y a 16 ans, les seuls Francophones repêchés par le Canadien qui ont patiné dans la Ligue nationale, Mike Ribeiro, François Beauchemin, Maxim Lapierre et Guillaume Latendresse, ont tous été envoyés ailleurs pour des miettes. Imaginez, quatre Québécois du calibre de la Ligue nationale seulement en 16 ans."

"Since Savard was fired, the only francophones drafted by the Habs to have skated in the NHL are Mike Ribeiro, Francois Beauchemin, Maxim Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse. Imagine, 4 NHL caliber Quebecois in 16 years."

What an indictment, and one no doubt aimed to inflame. Imagine.

But now imagine you were wondering how much money I had and I told you that I had $12 in change from the laundromat.

Sure, it's true, I only have $12 dollars in change from the laundromat (except that I actually have $22, oops forgot I changed some into bills) and I have more money in my other wallet that didn't come from the laundromat.

This is RDS's tactic. RDS implies by their statement that the Canadiens have ignored all Quebec players for 16 years because they have only drafted 4 NHL-caliber players.

For a start, they forgot to count Mathieu Garon who was drafted after Savard left. His career merits mention in the same breath of Lapierre, I'd think. And if they are going to throw around words like "qui ont patiné dans la Ligue nationale" they should probably also include the likes of Mathieu Carle, Jonathan Ferland, Eric Chouinard and Ben Guite who all skated in the NHL, much to the incovenience of the propagandists.

9 isn't a huge number of NHL players drafted from Quebec in 16 years, but it looks a heck of a lot bigger to the casual observer than 4. And, considering NHL stars aren't exactly pouring out of the province in the way they did in the 1950s, I'd wager it's not the worst tally in the league either. I'd even guess it's nearer the top.

Besides this, the Canadiens have also made conscious effort to make career opportunities for undrafted Quebeckers one of their post-lockout priorities. Yann Danis comes to mind, and who can forget Francis Bouillon and of course current top-liner David Desharnais. You could include others that were drafted then discarded, but then I suppose you'd have to say that Calgary wasn't responsible for Martin St. Louis. Who do I mean? Guys like Pierre Dagenais, Patrick Traverse, Steve Begin, Karl Dykhuis et al. Guys that got longer careers because Montreal gave them a chance when no one else would have.

Personally, I think that tack by the Canadiens has been sensible. They have been able to stockpile try-out players from the QMJHL from the leftovers of the draft. Considering the league is probably the probably most difficult in which to properly assess talent, this approach to minimize risk is great. It's already worked wonders with Desharnais and could yet pay with someone like Etienne Brodeur or a future scoring hotshot.



When will RDS be happy?

Well, in my humble opinion, probably never.

If the Habs had drafted only Quebecois over the past 16 years and had started 1-3-1, my bet is that they'd be complaining just as adamantly (and probably dishonestly) about something else.

I can't ask RDS to give up complaining, clearly they know it gets them the ratings. What I hope we can ask for is a little more honesty and integrity, and possibly better arithmetic. At least they provided the ammunition for the return volley in their half-baked attack, that's something, I suppose.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Game #5

Sabres Sheathe Montreal Power Play in Close Loss

Details


Date: 18/10/2011
Opponent: Sabers
Location: Montreal

Loss: 1-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Miller (W)

Habs goalscorers: Diaz
Opposition goalscorers: Leopold, Vanek, Ehrhoff



Play of the game


Sort of a no-brainer tonight, although Price's save on Ennis late in the third almost made the cut. I'm still going to go with a beautiful goal that starts with Kostitsyn skating out of his own end, and dropping the puck off to Pacioretty just before he crashes into a defenseman to open up some space. Pacioretty spots Diaz coming in alone on the other side and snaps a pass right onto Diaz's tape. Miller was far out of his net, and Diaz showed great speed and patience getting almost past him to slip one in easily from a bit of a hard angle.



Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
Once again, Max was everywhere all at once making slick passes and taking opportunistic shots. He led the most dangerous line again tonight, and I fully expected him to score—and if he hadn't been facing a goalie like Miller, I'm sure he would have. 9 shots and earning first-line minutes with a somewhat surprising trio for the Habs.

Scott Gomez
At one point towards the end of the second I said to myself "Gomez, you're a machine!" He was solid in his own end and frankly amazing in transition play tonight. He carried the puck well, mad smart passes, got into and won a lot of battles, had good forechecking, and even showed signs of offensive competence at times.

David Desharnais
Could just as easily been AK46, since this line really seems to work as a unit. I love the way Desharnais plays without the puck: he's always going to the net for a quick pass or to screen the goalie and pick up a rebound. I think this is something that's been missing from the Habs for quite some time and I hope to see it continue.

Defencemen

Raphael Diaz
Great game for the new guy. Saw him join the rush at some very opportune times and it was patience and a cool head that allowed him to beat Miller with such seeming ease. I really liked the way he took a wicked shot with Price out in the dying minutes of the third, and read the play well enough to be in perfect position to cover the net as Buffalo cleared the puck.

PK Subban
Wasn't that easy picking a second D tonight, as I felt most of the defensive crew played decently but there wasn't much that stood out. I liked Subban making a couple diving plays to break up shots from the side of the net, and using his legendary windup on the power play as a fake before snapping a quick-release one-timer right on Miller the next time the puck came his way.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Well, I don't think Price was really to blame for the goals tonight. The set play off the icing faceoff that earned Buffalo's second goal was a little disappointing, but it was well-executed and Vanek has one hell of a shot. Price had a wicked and timely save on a Taylor Ennis breakaway late in the third, and did some really smart things with the puck throughout the game. He's getting better, though at times I see him doing things fancier than they need to be done. Hopefully that means he's getting more confident with his puckhandling, and has reason to be...


Comments


Despite the loss, I saw a lot of things I liked this evening. We were excellent in transition play, with speed, chemistry and smart passing. We took a lot of shots from some decent places, created good traffic front of the net, and played some fast and aggressive offense. You have to give Buffalo credit for doing a good job of covering shooting and passing lanes and not letting us get too many extended chances despite our domination of the neutral zone.

The defense didn't really stand out tonight even though Buffalo had few opportunities for prolonged pressure. There were some changes I was unhappy with tonight: I didn't like us changing on an odd-man offensive rush in the first period while on our second power play, and it might have been an ill-advised change (or stupid attempt at one) that led to someone not getting on Leopold to make that goal at least difficult for him. Our power play was once again uncharacteristically pathetic, and we're now 2/21. The encouraging thing is that we've been great at even-strength, but clearly we have to find a way to make the man advantage work for us.

Overall, it was an encouraging game in many ways and I liked a lot of what I saw, but I didn't like like what I didn't see: some solid finishing. Still, if we can continue to play like that, I can see us with 3 dangerous lines for the first time in a long while, and we can hope that will translate to a few more goals—and a few more wins—this season.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Game #4

Goals-Galore On A Saturday Night In Montreal

Details



Date: 15/10/2011
Opponent: Avalanche
Location: Montreal

Loss: 5-6 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Varlamov (W)

Habs goalscorers: Pacioretty, Plekanec, Moen, Gionta, Desharnais
Opposition goalscorers: Kobasew, Jones (2), Stastny, Quincey (Hejduk - SO, Duchene - SO)



Play of the game


A line that I think could go somewhere hooked up for a very nice goal tonight. It was a goal that put us ahead after I was sure we were done for. The play started with a great stop by Kostitsyn on the boards and a quick pass to Patches. Max then could have shot, but instead sent a bullet pass to the side of the net. There, Desharnais deflected home with ease, up and over Varlomov; t was truly a thing of beauty.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
It could certainly be argued that Pacioretty is on the third line. I hope that no one tells him though, otherwise he may be in quite the mood. But wait, when your line is the 3rd line, but you are clearly the best line, again, does it really matter what RDS show you as one their chart? He was our best player tonight and his line was by far our best. His goal was fantastic, his pass on Desharnais' was superb. If he keeps playing like he has done over the past few games there won't be any reason for him to worry, for a long time, about not being one of our top-4 wingers.

Brian Gionta
I didn't think that Brian had one of his better games, but he did end up with a very impressive 3 points. The goal was a goalscorer's goal and his assist on Moen's goal was what we expect and need from the captain. It was his best game of the year, so let's hope he keeps it up. Let's also hope, for the club's sake, that Gomez follows his buddy's lead.

David Desharnais
David led the forwards in ice-time tonight with 23+ minutes, not bad for a 3rd line centre. I can't say this with certainty, but I am pretty sure that this is the first time in his career that that has happened. Well, he certainly didn't let down his coach with all of this playing time as he chipped in with a fantastic goal and managed to get hit in the back (while providing necessary traffic) on our first goal.

Defencemen

Yannick Weber
This was not an easy choice as I thought the D were pretty bad, all of them. Weber, however, did manage to end the game at +2. I also felt that he was our best offensive threat from the back tonight and that his shots were the most dangerous of our D-men.

Raphael Diaz
At the end of the day Diaz, by the stats, impressed me. He wasn't on for any goals-against (our only D to do that), picked up an assist (his first NHL point) and played for 22 minutes. I didn't like his penalty, but am starting to think that we may be on to something with this 'kid'.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj
The Avalanche could have won in regulation with better goaltending and so could have we. For the second straight game Price looked downright weak at times. Of the five goals I would say that 3 are ones we expect (and need) him to stop. He was also pretty bad, especially early, at handling the puck. Then there was the shoot-out which couldn't have gone much worse. He made little attempt to stop the first shot and the second was a nice play, but a shot that an elite goalie stops with regularity. The Price from last year took this week off, let's hope that he is back next week, because without him we aren't that good of a team, we are the type of team that loses more than it wins.


Comments


We had 43 shots on net and managed to score goals when we needed them, so that wasn't the problem. In fact, that was a welcome surprise as we got varied production as we seem to be gelling more and more offensively. The big problem was a 19-player problem - our defence. We take too many unnecessary chances, we don't get the puck out when we need to and often times there are multiple defensive-zone breakdowns on the same play. We hung Price out to dry and, unlike most of last year, he didn't bail us out. We can't always just rely on spectacular goaltending, though. We have to be better than that, we have to limit the amount of quality chances that go Price's way. With solid (not even great, just solid) defence we could have won this game 5-2. Instead, we let a quick, offensive-minded squad (at least tonight they were) take advantage of mistakes too many times.

At this point it all comes down to coaching as I believe that we have enough of the right pieces in place to be a good team. The coaches can start by working out the play in our end and, if they have any time left, can start seeing if they could get the players, if they don't mind, to take less penalties, or better yet, less stupid penalties. Then, if we can fit it in (and I know 3 games a week makes it hard to do all of this), maybe we could start working on a strategy for the power-play, who knows maybe one from the past 5 years could work?

Speed Kills

You know the saying: "Speed Kills"

In hockey it's as true as anywhere else. Essentially hockey is a series of races to find open space so the man with a little black disc can get 2 free seconds to do what he has practiced doing 65,000 times in his parents' basement and score a goal.

Without speed, there will be no space -- even big men need quick turns and quick hands to make something of their barging around. Without space there are no goals (well few) and few wins as well.

All this is making it increasingly frustrating to watch the Canadiens so far this season. The team has speed in certain places (notably up front and in Carey Prices agile lateral sweeps) and is certainly presented to us as a lightning fast team that can kill another with the slightest whiff of open space.

What has been frustrating me as I watch them try to score when they actually need to is that many times the team is actually guilty of using speed to kill its own movements. Let me explain.

The other night against Calgary there were a few rushes I noticed where the forwards would have done better to cool there jets rather than turn again to the after-burners, to use a dangle and a missed stride to confuse the defence rather than to walk into their open arms.

One 3-on-2, I watched Desharnais dart in between the two defenders while the RW carried the puck for a shot. So quick that he was behind the net before the winger had chance to even think shot. DD had created the Canadiens most typical play again, the "make sure you're there to get the puck behind the net" play because odds are that a forward will miss to the short side. It's a very effective way to win the puck for a few more seconds before the other team dumps it after your outfit comes away without a shot.

Other times (and this is common) I see the forwards pouring on the speed as they cross the blueline right until they have closed the gap between themselves and the defenders. Now call me foolish, but isn't that gap a valuable asset to the forward? Isn't that gap what one needs if one wants to cut to the middle where the best shots comes from? It's the defence's job to close the gap, so doing the job for them doesn't seem like a good strategy to me. A little pedal off the metal and the defender would have to choose, and would likely have to either stop or slow down, or even come forwards, creating that change in momentum that could really be exploited by quick feet.

And the Canadiens unfailing confidence in their own speed must surely also be why each forward nearly always opts to try and beat a defender around the boards to execute the play from above.

The Canadiens have speed. But their unsophisticated use of it is becoming very predictable. Speed is a deadly weapon when used right in this game, it's such a shame to be using it to hurt your own cause. Let's hope the Habs recognize how speed can kill before they kill anymore opportunities to take easy points.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Game #3

Not The Bell Centre Start That Was Envisioned

Details



Date: 13/10/2011
Opponent: Flames
Location: Montreal

Loss: 1-4

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Kiprusoff (W)

Habs goalscorers: Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Bourque (2), Hagman, Moss



Play of the game


We had some good chances throughout the game, but all lacked conviction, save one. That was our first real chance, the one that gave us our only lead of the night. A 2-on-1 shaped up with Pacioretty on the left and Kostitsyn on the right. Max waited, faked the pass and then shot. He missed the net to Kipper's right and it came right out to Andrei who essentially had an easy shot to make (although it took incedibly fast reflexes to pull it off). At first I thought that it was an accident that Max missed the net, but after watching the whole game I need some positive reinforcement, so, of course, he meant to do that.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec - Game Puck
I liked how Tom tried very hard during the whole game. He was at the centre of a lot of our chances and he could have easily picked up a point or two. He has been our best forward so far and I think that he'll be required to keep it up so long as Cole, Gionta and Gomez remain quiet and Camms is on the shelf.

Lars Eller
I didn't know what to expect from Lars after such a long lay-off, but must say that I was pleasantly surprised. He started the game on the 4th line, but quickly proved that he has a place on the top 3. He was creative with the puck and showed an offensive flare that was was starting to be displayed towards the end of last year.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Kostitsyn started the game well with a goal and kept up the good play for most of the night. He was used with a few different people tonight as Martin looked for something. I am not sure where he will settle, but if half of the top-6 is absent (literally or figuratively) over the next little while there will be a serious opportunity, as there is every year, for some big minutes and big assignments.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
It seems that we can't count on too much steady play from our D this year, but if there is one player who seems like a sure bet back there it is Josh. Tonight he was the best of the group and managed to stay out of any real trouble. There were a couple of goals on the PK while he was on, but those can't really be attributed to him. No, instead I'll remember the 5 blocked-shots and solid even-strength play.

Alexei Emelin
Weber, Gill and Subban made this an easy choice, a choice between Diaz and Emelin. I liked Alexei better on this night because I felt that he was getting involved more and seemed more comfortable than in Winnipeg. I think of the two he will be the better player and tonight he was. He joined rushes, made good breakout passes and used his body as we all knew he could.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj
The first slip of Carey's season happened on a night that the team in front of him let him down anyway. Price didn't cost us this game, the whole team did, but he certainly wasn't at his best. He did look pretty ordinary on most of the goals, though, as usually he saves 2, maybe 3 of those. Also, his stick-handling was casual and at times dangerous/bad. This is a game to forget for the kid because no one doubts that he can be better, almost all of the time.


Comments


A big win in Winnipeg and an early goal tonight had me really thinking that we were ready to go places this season. The loss hasn't completely dispelled those thoughts, but I am left wondering a few things that I had been taking for granted since Sunday. First and foremost, our passing was bad, bad enough that good chances were flat-out lost because of it. Secondly our defensive zone coverage was pretty poor. From our wingers to our D we had too many break-downs, too many give-aways. Lastly, why so many penalties? Why do we have to be that team again? Taking penalties with the frequency that we have been taking them is one of the dumbest things you can do in this league. We know this, the coaches and players know this, yet it continues. These are three basic issues that should be worked out in September, but now must be worked out, in a hurry. We have the skill and talent to beat a team like Calgary, but as long as we play a sloppy, careless game we will be beaten by pretty much all of the teams.

Help is not on the way, this is our squad. It isn't ideal, but it is what we have to work with. The coaches should be working overtime to make sure that we are using the right combination, the right personnel on special-units and the right tactics. Tonight, we did not look great and you won't win many games when that is the case. Colorado isn't a bad team, but they aren't a great team either. Let's see what we can change by Saturday and hope that the Habs will be more responsible and careful in all aspects of play starting in 48 hours.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Importance of Context

Hockey blogging and stats dredging were born around the same time. Since that time, there has been an expanding following for "advanced" statistics. From the Oilogosphere, the adoption of Corsi, Fenwick, scoring chances and other new ways of twisting the NHL stats record have popped up.

I like to think I was a relatively early adopter of these things. I was excited about the possibilities of Corsi before Toronto missed the playoffs for the 2nd season in a row. I was liking where the future of player analysis was going.

What I've noticed lately, however, is that I am increasingly jaded with the whole lot of them. I still track the numbers and keep a record. I still think there is value to the data. I suppose what I am finding is that I am finding many people to stretch interpretation beyond its bounds. Sometimes simple numbers like shots (on net or off net) are given far too much importance and stretched too thin.

What prompted me to write this piece was a simple segue link from Habs Eyes on the Prize:

In Winnipeg, it was a bit different. The Canadiens scored on their second shot of the game off a steal in the neutral zone. It was a killer play, but in the world of trying to find enough stats in order to create a meaningful sample, it was only a single shot on net, a single positive point towards Corsi. In the context of the game, however, it caused Winnipeg to change gameplan -- something which opened them up to further breakthrough passes.


Remember limitations
You can see the importance of context here. We all watch the Canadiens a fair bit and know that when they get a lead they are not a team that risks much to press for a bigger lead. Their preference is to guard 1-0 or 2-1 than to find breathing room at the risk of leaving that tying goalscoring chance to the opponent.

We may or may not agree with the strategy (my nerves don't agree), but the time for that discussion is later. The point here is that we don't need to leave that observation out of our interpretations of things.

Did Montreal play better against Toronto than they did against Winnipeg? Well, no. If the goal is to win by scoring, the Toronto game for all the defensive poise and nice breakouts did not produce a single seam cutting pass like the Moen PK effort. There was not a rush with a wide open goalscorer getting a clear shot like Pacioretty's goal. There were only shots in volume hoping to go in.

If every win and loss this season follow the pattern of the first two games (unlikely, but bear with me), then let's please not extol the virtues of the positive Fenwick/Corsi man too much. Rather we might need to consider a better way to evaluate a team that buttons up when it's winning and only pours on shots when it's not. Remembering of course that winning is better than not winning.


I still encourage everyone to read up on these stats. I encourage everyone to get their fill of Olivier and Chris Boucher's efforts (and they're big efforts). But if you can be left feeling that the stats do not gibe with what you have just seen, question the statistics as well as observer bias.

The answer to everything has not yet been found. And it's only questioning that will get us there.
"Chris Boucher's analysis shows the Habs played better against the Toronto Maple Leafs than the Winnipeg Jets."

To be completely fair to Boucher, his piece is not one of the pieces I am talking about. He approaches his data like a scientist in a discussion section of a published paper. It's all questions and few presumptions. Sorry Chris that it was your piece that set me off then.

Apology aside now. Let's look simply at the Canadiens first two games.


Stats without context

In the first game the Habs lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs yet outshot them and pretty widely outstretched the Leafs in Fenwick and Corsi. If you only looked at that one element of the game then the Habs were the better team. If the Habs played like this all season, we'd hear how good they were and how they were incredibly unlucky not to score.

In their second game, the Habs were widely outshot, their Fenwick was overall worse than the Jets and so was their Corsi. it was the reverse in terms of these statistics of the Toronto game. The Habs should have lost and if they played like this all season we'd be hearing (like we did in the playoffs of 2010) how lucky the team was and how they didn't deserve anything they were getting.


A dash of context

OK, now how about some context.

In the Toronto game, I would take that above analysis for the first period. The Habs did outplay Toronto and were unlucky (somewhat) not to be winning. They'd have been quite unlucky to be losing. They were a bit unlucky to be losing 33 seconds into the second period, in fact, when they allowed a short-handed goal. But after that, the game changed to the observer. The Leafs seemed to find a new gear and the Canadiens mustered almost nothing of threat for 30 minutes or more. For more than half the game, the Canadiens were in fact the far worse team despite the average Corsi. The NHL record says they had 4 shots to the Leafs 8 in the second period. Olivier recorded chances though as 0 to 12.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Game #2

Habs Spoil Winnipeg Homecoming, Get Ovation For Doing It

Details



Date: 9/10/2011
Opponent: Jets
Location: Winnipeg

Win: 5-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Pavelec (L)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri, Plekanec, Weber, Moen, Pacioretty
Opposition goalscorers: Antropov



Play of the game


All the goals could have stood up in this spot tonight. I have to alight though on the Plekanec goal as the play of the game. The play started simply with a fine pass from Travis Moen off the boards on the penalty kill (when the pass took place). That pass cut out 3/4 of the work Pleks would have to do, including the temptation to pass to 5% Gomez. From there though, he put on a show and scored what could well be the goal of the year in the rounds of April voting. It was quick, it was skillful, and had a clinical finish.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
His goal was fantastic. His pass on the 4-on-3 to Weber was perfect. His play on the PK was to his usual standard. I'm not going to lie, I'd been a bit worried about Pleks slumping for a bit perhaps the start this season. Not very worried anymore.

Max Pacioretty
The Gomez line all did OK in this game. But Pacioretty stood out because he's the one that made it stick. I called his goal when he was coming down the wing, because I thought Pavelec is struggling, the player is clear and the player (Pacs) has a great shot. He scored precisely because he had a great shot. I hope he continues to use it, because frankly the Habs need a precocious goalscoring type who shoots before thinking too much.

Travis Moen – Game Puck
No player played above his own standards more in this game than Moen did. Yes, he's good on the PK and he always delivers there, but that pass he delivered tonight was a serious step up. And then what does he go and do? Only score a goalscorer's goal on a half break where he boxed out a defender and stayed composed enough to make Pavelec the fool.

Defencemen

PK Subban
I agree with the coaches. With Markov out, others lost and a lead to hold, I'd play Subban most too. It's sad to think that we're probably already taking a lot of what he does for. His patient defence and slick skates and stick in the defensive end made the 1/2 game with a mere 1-goal lead an easier spectacle for Habs fans than it used to be. Its says he took two penalties, but I'm with RDS, his roughing call after that hit on Gionta was trumped up.

Yannick Weber
Yes he has his weaknesses. Weakness funnily enough seemingly one of them. Yet who scores on the PP from a slap shot? Who had to play his defensive minutes largely with two rookies and still came out looking respectable? He doesn't make it look easy, but somehow he did things right tonight. On the ice for 3 goals for (one from a SH breakout) and 2 points. I'd leave him back there.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I think in the tweeting preview I said he'd be reliable. That's all he was in this game. He didn't let in a bad shot or even an average shot. He didn't look like he ever would. This kind of reliability is where greatness comes from.


Comments


An impressive opening for the Winnipeg Jets. I have to applaud their fans. They clearly deserve a team and are enthusiastic enough not to notice the quality on the ice for a while. I think they have some good days ahead. I like Burmistrov a lot for a 19-year-old and Schiefele didn't look like he made the team for hype.

The Habs for their part were at their opportunistic best in this one. Scoring on their 2nd shot, 3 breakaways, bullets dodged with penalties taken. The score was 5-1, but 22 shots won't always do the job. Not every team used to be the Thrashers.

Cause for concern on the Habs starts with the injuries they keep sustaining. Spacek was not a killer loss, but the team is better with him than without him, especially with their personnel right now. The loss of Cammalleri, however, could be devastating. His goal showed what talent he has and what other coaches can't ignore. For a team that may still have trouble scoring at times (we haven't forgotten Game #1 or the playoffs yet), losing a pure sniper and coverage conundrum is a big setback. Fortunately, TSN is reporting that Camms has a laceration but is expected to return within 2 weeks. This could be the goalpost luck of skate injuries if true, as we all remember how Markov's severed Achilles tendon set the team back 2 seasons ago.

Next up is a bit of a break. The NHL seems to have trouble seeing itself scheduled against baseball games or something. It's a home opener on Thursday vs. the Calgary Flames. I happened to watch the Flames last night vs. the Pens and I was slightly impressed. The Habs will have their hands full with Mark Giordano and Tanguay looks sharp to start too. Lets hope the energy of home will stir another quick start so the team can replicate their exciting gameplan, not their futile one from the comeback position a few days ago.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Game #1

Leafs Can Only Go Down, Habs Only Up...Bring on the Next 81

Details



Date: 6/10/2011
Opponent: Maple Leafs
Location: Boston

Loss: 0-2

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Reimer (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Lombardi, Phaneuf



Play of the game


I don't know why on earth we waited till the last two minutes to prove that we indeed have offensive talent, but sure enough it was there for all to see. In the dying moments of the game Montreal overwhelmed Toronto, but they couldn't get one in; another classic case of too little too late. Weber stood out, for me, in those moments as someone who could have (and will) make a difference with that shot of his.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
He was -2 and was not at his best, but still was one of our better ones tonight. I suppose that happens when your coach relies so heavily on you and uses you in all situations. The expectations are high for Tom this year, and even though I know he can handle it, I do think other people have to step up and overshadow him from time to time.

Max Pacioretty
I was just happy to see Max back on the ice. Tonight he played like his old self and, from what I could tell, with no real fear. The chemistry with G + G is certainly there, but their timing needs some serious work. He should be a good player for us this year and I'm excited to see him play the whole time. Let's hope that his linemates can help him become the player that we all hope he can be.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Who had 2 periods? Well, if you did, you won that bet. That was how long Andrei lasted on a top-2 line before his chance was up. He'll be back up there soon, I am sure, but I am not sure that benching, then demoting one of your top forwards after a penalty is the way to go. Early on, when he was playing, I saw a lot of good stuff from Kostitsyn (including a post) and think that he'll bounce back next game. Whether he will have learned his lesson to not be the 1 out of 10 to get called for hooking is another story.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
It was very good to see Josh back as it was a reminder of just how calm and reliable a defenceman we have in him. He did a good job tonight and could easily be counted on for more than his 19 minutes.

Raphael Diaz
I was pleasantly surprised with Diaz's play tonight. He looked better than Gill (but who doesn't in October?) and did just as well as anyone else out there. I didn't go with PK tonight because I felt that he was, at times, careless and that his -2 rating was not a good way to start the season. Spacek was fine, Weber was fine and Campoli did alright till he got hurt, but I did think Raphael was the one of those that I enjoyed watching the most.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
Well, at least one of the squad was ready for the season. Carey was the only player to play to his true form tonight and it was almost enough for us to get a result. With him in nets it won't matter some nights what team is in front of him. If we want him to last till June this year (and in many years to come), however, then I really hope that his teammates start making it a little easier for him.


Comments


The positive: It is a long season and you can't win them all, you are going to lose between 25-40 games. We know we have a good team and we know we are better than Toronto, so what is one game?

The negative: How can we play a game, a real-live, regular season game like that? What is the excuse? Toronto are not a good team and won't be this year, but after watching that I am not 100% sure that we are a good team either. If that is the best this team has to offer we will be in some serious trouble in a few weeks.

Now, for the realistic approach. We were good in the first and totally dominated a poor version on the Maple Leafs. It was a good example of how we didn't capitalize on our chances, though as being the 'better' team means absolutely nothing at the end of the day. After that our special-teams let us down (which includes the taking of 4 penalties) and we never found any rhythm whatsoever. We turned it up in the last few minutes, but goals cannot just be summoned and, thus, it ended up being far too little at that point to matter.

We'll have to wait 5-10 games to see what type of team we really have here, but I will certainly watch a little closer over the next week or so to make sure that tonight's game (I hope) was the anomaly.