Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Canadiens loss is good news

Two games down. A win and a loss.

With the first loss, we all went from full analysis of every aspect of the game to it's only exhibition season in 48 hours. The media (which would now include bloggers read a lot more frequently than myself) is driving all Habs fans into frenzy with a headline and cherry-picked quote driven campaign.

Fair enough. Newspapers need to get more and more sensational to attract readers. They go way beyond the reporting of yesteryear and stretch for interesting twists and stories within the games that often just aren't there.

If we only look at the headlines, the cuts for the Canadiens camp would be simple. One group turned up, won the game and talked about intensity in every game, even in September. The other group, well they lost a "meaningless" game, but let's be honest, they could all just be cut right?

Canadiens fans, media and bloggers are bgetting a bit carried away this pre-season, I feel. I think Canadiens fans need to get their feet on the ground. Cup dreaming is one thing in late May and June, quite another after a single game in September.

There's no question players should approach every game with intensity and designs as to how they will win. But the wonderful thing about sports is that, on most occasions, both teams do this every night - giving us the spectacle of the game. A team that looks outplayed may well (dare I say) have played to the best of their abilities with full 100% (no 110% here) effort. Sometimes, our beloved Habs may lose to a better team.

By most assessments, and a recently-completed 82-game season, the Penguins are a better team. Beating them anywhere close to 50% of the time is an anomaly, and a great success. I'm not suggesting the players approach games with this inferiority on their minds; I am, however, suggesting that fans keep it in mind in undertaking their analyses. As fans, these exhibition games offer a chance to see what we're in for this season and prepare for some winning and some losing.

So losing is OK?

I, for one, happen to think that loss last night was a very good thing. And, not because it made decisions for cuts any easier. But, because some important lessons would have been learned by the coaches and players.

Don't try to lose... there's nothing to learn from that.

Change centremen and wingers around - find the best combinations.
Try new things on the PP - learn that they don't work.
Start the playoff goalie when he's tired - find out how much he can take.
Resist making a trade to fill a hole - see if the others step in.

The perspective I try to take is that the game the Canadiens are in is the Stanley Cup game, and only one team wins every year. There are five big stages in the game, with many little points to be won along the way.

Looking at past seasons, and excluding a league-wide OT loss conspiracy, a team should be looking at 95-100 points to assure comfortable qualification for the playoffs (stage 1). So, basically we are looking for 45 odd wins, and hanging on for a few OT losses. Let's assume (45 wins and 5 OT losses) – that leaves 32 losses (the horror).

Getting past stage 1 is relatively easy with a bit of concentration – win a few more than half your games, and steal a few points along the way. Winning the next four stages is hard. Better get the lessons in while you can (i.e., now!).

We all need to learn that not every game is do or die. Win when winning is there for the taking, and learn from the losses. Most games (i.e., more than 60 I'd say) are winnable up to the last 10 minutes. To win a Cup, the Canadiens need to build a resilient and adaptable group of players who read from the same page. This is how an unbeatable force gets built, not through trades, not through free agency.

If you want to boil it down, how about this (as stolen from the 2004 Flames): Let's never get beaten two games in a row.

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