Thursday, January 29, 2009

Streak Three

Confused Fans Need To Remember The Aim

streak

noun 1 a long, thin mark of a different substance or colour from its surroundings. 2 an element of a specified kind in someone’s character: a ruthless streak. 3 a spell of specified success or luck: a winning streak.

verb 1 mark with streaks. 2 move very fast in a specified direction. 3 informal run naked in a public place so as to shock or amuse.

— DERIVATIVES streaker noun streaking noun.

— ORIGIN Old English, related to STRIKE.



The Canadiens are on a losing streak. It is worth remembering the definition from above.

It's a funny thing that in the past few years, I have come to associate Canadiens winning or losing with the word streaky.

In other parts of the world, there are many types of bacon. Back bacon is the most commonly sold and consumed. But you can also get streaky bacon. Streaky bacon is what we might call bacon in Canada. In fact, if you buy Canadian bacon, it is invariably the streaky kind. So allowing for the spelling variation of our French cousins (Canadien), even in the world of charcuterie, the Canadiens are synonymous with streakiness.

The Habs have fulfilled this affiliation recently (since the lockout really) with their play. There's no regular win-loss-win-loss-win. We can't depend on them beating any team no mater how lowly, nor can we depend on them losing to any team no matter how lofty.

But you know what? We aren't alone.

Remember those Flyers last year – the ones that looked contenders as they mauled us in round 2? They lost 10 games in a row midseason last year. Washington, though people hailed Boudreau as the greatest thing since sliced bread, streaked their way into the playoffs too; this year they are topping us thanks to a mssive streak. Buffalo, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Carolina, all our peers are as streaky as the rest.


Fans

As fans streaks are hard to take. Win or lose. But they are certainly integral to the experience. Streaks are what allow us to dream, to grumble, to hope, to despair.

The emotional ride is what watching and caring for the adopted team is all about. If I think about my mood after a loss, I can say it is as sour as my temperament after a win is bubbly. Streaks are borne as a fan, because the reward of the next win will be greater. Cup droughts can heighten the taste for that champagne once again.

One Canuck fan I read about today (at Dennis Kane's blog) has had enough with streaks. He has given up on the Canucks.

Now, far be it from me to criticise a man who is choosing to spend more time with his wife or child. I think it is a great call on his part.

But is being a fan all or nothing? Is there no option for weekends only? Highlights during the season, whole games in the playoffs? Watching when you feel like it?


The aim

I used to get tied up in every win and loss, just like that poor renounced Canuck fan. Every losing streak was painful to endure. But after years of watching the Habs rollercoaster and, more importantly, watching our rivals make finals and win Cups; I decided that we may be getting carried away with the wrong thing. I think I found a way to proof myself against streakitis.

My immunity: solidifying the expectations for the team into points they need to make the playoffs (in the case of this year – with a few games to spare), has shown the streaks for what they really are: spells of specified success, insufficiency or (of course) luck.

A loss is just a goal against in the game of the season, where a tie spread over all rivals is enough to get another period of hockey (particularly if you can lose in OT a lot). A 10 point lead in December is no safer than a 3-1 lead coming into the second intermission – 5 points clawed back and it's a jittery closing session.

Now when the Canadiens lose three in a row, I update my points left in the 98-o-meter and do a quick calculation. I revise the date and leave the phrase: Ahead of the pace in place. Even when it's not ahead of the pace, I can look at that pace, and as long as it's around 1.1 to 1.3; I'm breathing fine.

It's worth remembering these goals every once in a while too. We want a Stanley Cup not a President's trophy (enjoy that Sharks). We want wins, not Plekanec goals. We want to play our best hockey in May, not January.

Wisdom, as they say, comes from the mouths of babes (courtesy of the best Habs interview in an age – a coup considering the 100 some-odd scrum was scooped by a blog on this one):
"Interviewer: It's the centennial season for the Canadiens, and the team finished first in the conference last season. How do you handle the expectations from fans and media that your team should win the Stanley Cup this season?

Sergei K: Our main goal is to make the playoffs. And once we get there, everyone will try and play their best game..."


Timing

The Canadiens are currently in 5th place in the Eastern conference. As I mentioned, they are ahead of the 98-point pace. In fact, they're ahead of last year's pace. There's no need to panic, no need to do what Richard formerly a 7th man for the Canucks (number retired and all) and jump – his team is tied 7th, btw.

Streaks in the regular season, by and large reflect the general expenditure of energy and the turn of luck of a given period. If luck is what you make, then it all comes down to energy. (So you know I'm not getting a 22 on my jersey, by effort, I mean directed skill as a team – players making extra effort to control passes, protect possesion, create space, etc.).

A study of two consecutive seasons watching the Senators showed me that when you're expending more effort to get wins (and thus streak) is much more important than how much you streaked over a season (i.e., 105 points > 113 points, if done right):

- In 2005-06, the Sens got off to their usual blistering start with a 19-3-0 record going into December. They finished the year top of the division on the back of that achievement. A look at how they got their 52 wins shows that their streaks were ill-timed – 13 wins by Game 15; 26 wins by Game 35 (20 games); 39 wins by Game 58 (23 games); and 52 wins by Game 82 (24 games)

– 2006-07 (the year they made the finals), they seemed to have learned something. The only accumulated 48 wins, but they were more constant instead of slipping each quarter – 12 wins by Game 25; 24 wins by Game 45 (20 games); 36 wins by Game 62 (17 games); and 48 wins by Game 82 (20 games)

Consequently, Daniel Alfredsson, the man who would have won the Conn Smythe trophy, scored 87 points in 2006-07 compared to 103 the year before.


The relevance here to the Canadiens is the pacing. Last season, the Canadiens came into Game 68 with 36 wins. 15 games later, they had 47. It was admirable they gave their all to win the division, clinch home ice and beat the Penguins, but ultimately, their timed outburst of energy fooled none of those who'd been focusing on how the playoffs would go, rather than how the standings would look.

Carey Price blamed fatigue for his form. He was tired because he was used in all those nerve-wracking late season wins. He was tired because he had never played on a team that had so many meaningful games in a row. Kovalev burned energy in those last months too, as did Plekanec and Komisarek. It was rookie errors from a team that had no idea what winning in the regular season should feel like, much less what winning in the playoffs was all about.

This season, like the Senators of Cup year, the Habs have behaved like a team heading for 48 or so wins the whole way. They have put the experience of being good into confidently carrying themselves as a good (if not surprising) team: 12th win in Game 21 (one quarter mark); 24th win by 40th game (half-way mark).

Their lack of urgency is nothing to be alarmed with. Their lack of urgency is something to hope they can maintain as they clinch points and a berth.


On that note, let's not do a Richard the 7th and get all in a huff over 3 losses, 4 losses, whatever. Nor get over the moon like a fair-weather Bruins fan basking in Tim Thomas' string of wins. As we turn on the televisions for another game in Florida, banish the words "must-win", "costly defeat" and all the others and remember the game:

98 points, 4 wins, 4 wins, 4 wins, 4 wins...

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