Tuesday, November 04, 2008

To Be Lucky

Down, Out And Coming Back

On the eve of a very important night of map colouring, I consider the topic of comebacks. John McCain thinks he has what it takes to mount a comeback today. Maybe he does. I was wondering what you thought it took to be capable of coming back from down and out situations.

Here is what I think:

1. You have to be lucky to be good
This weekend the Canadiens treated us all to a wonderful comeback victory to warm the cockles of our hearts (documented in fine fashion by Tobalev). Though I wholeheartedly agree that the Habs should be happy with their comeback (why not, indeed?), I also wanted to highlight the turn in fortunes they experienced and the part it played in making that win happen.

The Canadiens were lucky DiPietro was injured allowing them to face Yann Danis. They were lucky the Islanders management weren't the Flyers management, otherwise they'd have been facing Khabibulin. They were lucky the team on the island has neglected to develop a defenceman in the past 10 years. They were lucky to be facing a rookie coach who flapped and flailed at every testing moment. Basically, the Habs were lucky that they were facing the Islanders, as Kovalev pointed out.

But even within the game, they were lucky that the breakdown happened when it did. 8 minutes is enough to recover from a 2-goal deficit. Is 6 enough in a team's mind? Danis had been good over 50 minutes, and suddenly let in 4 goals on not many more shots. Timing was fortuitous there.

Luck has been a common theme for the early run of the Canadiens. They played a dangerous game of penalty kill get another penalty in Minnesota – lucky not to be facing their main goal threat. They have been outplayed to win on several occasions.

As the common wisdom goes, you have to be lucky to be good. Especially when good will be judged some time next year (as it was this spring) by how many points the team has in the standings, how many points a player has on the stats sheet. No one will care that the Canadiens fluked out 4 victories in October, come April. No one will question those 8 points. It'll be all they "found ways to win" all season and the like.

My advice if you want to comeback from 4-1 down in the last 8 minutes – be lucky...

2. You have to good to be lucky
The much more useful (and sage) side of the advice goes that you have to be good to be lucky. It is more pertinent to know this, because if you think there is nothing you can do to change luck, you're wrong – get better.

The second comeback of the weekend inspired one to think about being good to be lucky. With the evil forces of Ferrari teetering ever so close to a driver's championship on Sunday, it was young Brit Lewis Hamilton who played the comeback role here.

Going into the final laps of the race, it looked like all Lewis would have to do would be to keep his car on the racetrack. The weather gods had other ideas. With rain, came the critical decision to change from dry tires to intermediate tires for grip. The decision was a risk, because Hamilton and his crew did not know whether a) the rain would be strong enough to warrant the tires and b) whether the drivers behind them (those they were actually racing) would also pit.

On the day, there was a final piece of good work to enable their luck later, McLaren had a clean and quick pit stop. Hamilton, critically, got back on the track ahead of the danger car of Jarno Trulli (then in 7th) and the car directly behind him in the pits, Vettel (in 6th).

What came later was an overtake from Vettel (to put Hamilton into 6th – one place too low to win the title) and a very last minute pass of Timo Glock who never put on the intermediate tires n the rain. Lewis benefited from a slew of luck in those moments (no matter what the strategists say). It came right down to the intensity of the precipitation!

But although Lewis Hamilton came 5th and not 6th in Sunday's GP because of luck (of that there's little doubt), he was in a position to win the driver's championship on the back of a great season – he was good. (That being said, there was another good driver in this story, who had he won, would have deserved his luck just as much – Felipe Massa). It would be a mistake to think that either won or lost because of luck alone.

Likewise the Canadiens of the previous night, with good passes, good shots and good control, made it possible for themselves to take advantage of a suddenly shaky Isles defence and third-stringer.

My advice to anyone who thinks they need more lucky bounces – get to work...

How do you separate good from lucky?
With difficulty. But it's not even necessary.

If you trust in the wisdom, you will know that every good team is lucky and every lucky team is good. Games are 60 minutes long, playoff series best-of-seven, and seasons 82 games to take care of that.

If think the Canadiens of the past were unlucky to lose games after losing Patrick Roy (like I used to), consider that they were not well-managed enough to have a plan B in place. If you think the 1993 Canadiens were lucky to be Cup winners against LA (I never thought that!), consider it was also because they were good enough to beat the red-hot Nordiques in the first round.

The 8-1-1 Canadiens are a good team because they put themselves in positions to take advantage of lucky situations when they come along. They have plan Bs. They have flexibility. They are now a lucky team put together by lots of hard work – one that is now in a position to take advantage of many lucky scenarios if ever and whenever they arise.

I've been waiting for this luck for a long time. Arranged shirts and memorabilia in precise ways. Turned on the TV at the right times, off at the right times. Not spoken a wrong word during games for years. Finally, I'm starting to get the feeling that I can relax, that luck will take care of itself, that the team will take care of some of that for me, that Gainey already has.

It's a long way to go yet, but I have to say I'm really enjoying the luck right now.

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