Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Experts Share More Wisdom

We all know how the experts told us the Habs would do this season. Even the most generous among them was only willing to give in to battling for 8th – which, incidentally, is the biggest cop out of all time if you are making predictions.

Today, I came across this lovely article
, in which revered Habs expert Pat Hickey tells us, in his expert analysis, why the Habs are better this season.

If I can recapitulate his answer for the Habs for you, it would be: "Well, everything."

Here are his 10, without the explanation:

1. Kovalev
2. Gainey
3. Experience
4. Depth
5. Health
6. Play on the road
7. PP
8. Top 3 defensemen
9. The kids (those 25 or younger)
10. The coach

So, let me get this straight, we have the coach, the GM, Kovalev, all players under 25, the top 3 defensemen, the PP, depth and experience.

What's left Pat? Oh, a few people I suppose: Pierre Boivin, forwards over 25, Bouillon and Brisebois. Not much.

I'm glad he left out his prediction for the playoffs which would probably be about as committal as the Habs winning between 0 and 4 rounds, with a max of 16 wins.

Excuse my bitterness, but I do get tired of reading articles that promise to explain something and instead just list everything under the sun. I do agree with all his points, but abhor the catch-alls like youth, experience and depth that allow him to defer any decisions on completing the list.

I'm sure Pat Hickey has ideas for why the Habs have succeeded that pinpoint things a little better. I'll court controversy a little bit closer and try to give some specific reasons for the improved points haul this year.

1. Alex Kovalev – like Pat, I'll put him first. I don't believe his play on the ice has improved as markedly as some of you, but I have noted that his attitude following games has turned around completely. From finger-pointer to mature leader, that was a very important change for this team.

2. Andrei Markov – I'll be as bold as to put him on his own. If we were talking about defense alone, it might be apt to group him with Komisarek and Hamrlik, but Markov makes that PP go, so he deserves recognition all his own.

3. The promotion of Sergei Kostitsynas I wrote yesterday, that move marked a philosophical shift and also unlocked Andrei for some reason.

4. Man rotation – players have been rotated in and out of the lineup as it suits the team, and not merely for punishment or reward. If playing a game where some muscle is needed, Kostopoulos will dress, if not he may sit. The system, which perplexed experts when Begin was benched after a good effort in October has paid dividends as players learned that they could be benched without taking it as an affront (like Rivet) and get some deserved rest.

5. Souray out – Souray was the man on the camera, the man taking the shots, the man we called the real leader. In hindsight, it looks like he was taking up too much space for a player of his (limited) ability. If nothing else, Kovalev has been uncuffed on the PP, allowed to do something more than passing to 44.

6. Cristobal Huet – forgotten. Huet gave us January. Have a look. January is the difference between 1st and 8th. January is also an important month for momentum and positioning coming into that useless trade deadline. It's a shame Pat Hickey decided to omit Huet, a real shame. To say the Canadiens have improved because he left is over the top – ask Washington.

7. The schedule – it hasn't been that it was lopsided or anything, but it seemed every time we got on a bit of a skid, we could look up and see Boston or Philadelphia waiting. We are built to dismantle ineffective defenses like those and those games seemed to relaunch us every time. In addition, having the western road trip at then end of the schedule meant the Canadiens would be more focused (even in California) and any losses would not (and did not) derail the whole campaign. You might remember that last year, not only did the team get flu, but the schedule at that time was absolutely packed. When most players were ailing there were 3 games in 4 nights. Given one point was the difference, you can see how scheduling can be a help over 7 months of hockey.

8. Mark Streit – he has at times erased question marks at forward and defense. Without him, the depth would not look so good. Carbonneau must surely appreciate having a PP ace who can play any position on the ice.

9. Saku Koivu – usually not one to be confronted with an underrated tag when it comes to Montrealers, he has quietly done a great job this year. Even with his usual wingers demoted when struggling, he found ways to get the replacements scoring, whether it was Sergei, Guillaume, Mark or even Mathieu. I also hold that he was big in the bigger games this year, and that his knack for an extra gear will continue to bee a key for our success.

10. Claude Julien and the Boston Bruins – their inability to adapt to a team they played 8 times until the final minutes of the series was ineptitude of the highest degree.

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