Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Canadiens Loss Analysed

What Do The Non-Plumbers Think?

I am so frustrated.

Of course there's the frustration with the Habs loss – which I didn't think was nearly as bad as the media has since made out. But my main frustration is with the commentary at large, and particularly the one-track minds of Benoit Brunet and his RDS colleagues.

I liked Brunet as a player, I admired his work ethic and courage. I even thought he was pretty talented in his prime. I do not like him so much as a guy to insert comments above the play-by-play. He is a broken record, a guy with a dam in his mind where "forecheck, skate, forecheck" would normally proceed to "create a goal".

I think Benoit Brunet would be happy enough if every line played exactly like the Canadiens 4th line. A line that surely looks great in terms of battles won along the boards and possession won in the offensive zone. The problem for me is that the 4th line, for their valiant efforts, are incapable of winning us games. The chances they create are child's play for the goalie and defence of the other team. I unlike him, would not be.

Two things specifically bothered me during his coverage last night, things that prompted me to take note and get up to write this review:

1) On the first Carolina goal, Benoit Brunet instantly said, one can not blame the goalie or the defencemen on the play. The Kostitsyns and Lang had been on for a minute, and had blown their coverage. He went on to say that they should have done the sensible thing: skated hard, dunped the puck into the corner and gone off on a line change (what else?).

The line had just won the puck back and created a 3 on 2 against the Hurricanes. A line change? The score was 1-0. Too risky to try and score? Kostitsyn's pass was picked off, nothing more, nothing less – it happens 100 times a game. Anyway, you can watch the play yourself.

What I see was a fumbled chance, a recovery by the Hurricanes who went up ice with an innocuous rush. The forward did backcheck to make it 3-on-3 (Brunet mustn't have seen that) and the defence created a hole by committing to the right wing, then going for the blocked shot. I'm not saying Hamrlik, O'Byrne or Price must take the blame. The Hurricanes had a goal coming, I guess. I merely want to point out how ludicrous it is to suggest that creativity and attempting to score by means other than the "Brunet-advocated 4-man push in" are to blame here.

2) Unbelievably, Brunet revisits his earlier rant when he says something about how the Kostitsyns and Lang had put us behind in the game.

Huh? Even if you accept the first analysis, this is stretching things too far.

Andrei Kostitsyn was one of the best players on the ice all night. Sergei looked good too, though I wish he would shoot once in a while too. Lang, of course, scored the only goal on a nicely set up powerplay. How they cost us the game is beyond me. His issue was with their overly creative and "out-of-the-box"(we might as well call it "out-of-the-capability-of-Brunet") play.

(The second goal was a powerplay goal where the Hurricanes worked the puck quite well. Whitney – the uncovered man because we employ the simplistic passive box – simply claimed a rebound and shot it home. The Kostitsyns and Lang were not on the ice. If you want to blame people for this one, you have Hamrlik, Bouillon, Dandenault, Begin, Price and O'Byrne. Of course you could blame Carbonneau for employing the 4 he did too. I prefer to accept that penalty-killing is an 80% successful endeavour...)

What his issue is with offensive hockey, I have yet to understand. His fixation on hitting the net with shots warms him to players like Tanguay who were constantly trying ill-advised shots on the PP, but cools him on players like Kovalev and Kostitsyn who might have other methods up their sleeves. I would have thought there was evidence enough for Brunet on the powerplay where constant shooting (Tanguay from the point) lead to turnovers, whereas patient puck management (Kovalev) led to a goal.

With another loss for the Habs, I can't say I'll be watching the pre-game on Thursday for any of the former wisdom spewed over and over again.

Others not off the hook

My frustration does not end with Brunet and his up-down method on hockey that would leave the Detroit Red Wings salivating. There's the 4th line worship too.

Take RDS:
Le meilleur trio a été celui de Guillaume Latendresse, Steve Bégin et Mathieu Dandenault.

"C'est toujours ce qui arrive lorsqu'on traverse une période difficile. On oublie les détails, a expliqué Bégin. On le répète à chaque année. Mais c'est ce qui nous fait perdre. On se promène de gauche à droite sur la glace."

The best line was Guillaume Latendresse, Steve Begin and Mathieu Dandenault.

"The same thing always happens during a slump. We forget the details, explained Begin. It's the same every year. It's what causes us to lose. We skate from left to right on the ice."

Ce quatrième trio a souvent donné le ton au match.

"Notre jeu est simple. On sait ce qu'on doit faire pour rester sur la glace, a-t-il dit. On doit être fort le long des bandes et y aller d'un deuxième et d'un troisième effort. Mathieu est vraiment rapide tandis que Guillaume a joué un fort match. Il s'est impliqué physiquement."

This line frequently set the tempo of the game.

"Our game is simple (you don't say??). We know what we have to do to stay on the ice, he said. We have to stay strong on the boards and give a second and a third effort. Mathieu is very fast and Guillaume payed a good game. He got involved physically.

RDS buys what Begin had to say, but didn't they notice he just gave an explanation of exactly how not to score?

If I am a defence coach (remember those?). My plan is to usher the opponents to the boards, create battles and negate cross-ice movement. Play against this line and they do it for you.

The clue is really in what Begin says: "We know what we have to do to stay on the ice...". Their goal is not to be benched the next game, nothing more, nothing less. These guys are told to go and not do any damage. if they do, they pay with a game off. if they succeed, well not much.

I don't care whether Begin plays or not, but why do we have a line on the ice for more time than Plekanec and Higgins that has absolutely no interest in scoring? This is a coaching error.

(I should be fair here, Latendresse did play a good game, he was great at points, and did have an interest in scoring. But Steve "the robot" Begin is clearly programmed to do one thing now: not get benched.)

I am frustrated with RDS for perpetuating the myth that the 4th line holds the key to our resurgence. They do not. It is their mantra after every loss. I really wish it would cease.

I can't pretend that effort like that shown by Begin, Latendresse and Dandenault would be good to see from everyone. But in order to score, we need to let the players do what comes to them instinctually – that is why we drafted, signed and traded for these specific players.

And guess what RDS commentators, hockey is not simple. If it were simple, Florida and Columbus might have made the playoffs in living memory. Hockey goes beyond hard work (maybe take another look at Detroit guys). Goals occasionally bounce in, but very often they are the result of a conceived play. Hard working 4th liners are necessary because there isn't enough talent to spread around 30 teams – not because they are integral to successful hockey.

Different views
It's time for them.

What's good about the Habs bloggers on the internet is their different views. Agree or not, you can be sure there will be someone saying something original. RDS and the general coverage is the complete opposite. I really long for a shift in that. It's getting to the point that inane commentary can become my focus sometimes.

I want to know what a non-plumber thinks of the situations. I want to see a colour commentary from someone who was creative enough to set up plays like our powerplay goal, not guys who were the pylons defence that watched them happen.

RDS, please call Denis Savard.

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