Monday, February 09, 2009

Canadiens Mood Swings

Backbreakers and Gamesavers

The Canadiens are beginning to look like a very enigmatic group to us. In many ways, that is an accurate take – there seem to have been lots of ups and downs. However, there have been some consistent traits for the Canadiens of late – namely starting from behind and the inability to blow the lid off opponents.

I took a look back a number of games. I started with the number 20 in mind, but extended it to 22. That number is most significant because it reaches back to about our last really solid win – the 5-2 victory over the Flyers. Coincidentally, it also corresponds to a tumultuous time when Koivu and Higgins were lost and Komisarek was brought back in.

Letting up the first goal
Allowing the first goal is a tough blow for a hockey team in turmoil, but not that bad for one with its strategy and confidence in order. Even so, repeatedly starting form behind must wear on anyone.

In the last 22 games:

– The Canadiens have allowed the first goal on 15 occasions
- Their record on those 15 occasions has been a pretty respectable 7 wins and 8 losses

– In 11 of the 15 games, the Habs have clawed back to 1-1
– In those games they have a winning record of 6-5

In the other 4 games, where they fell behind 0-2, the Habs posted 1 win and 3 losses

It hardly matters who is to blame on these occasions, it is not helpful as a team to look for a scapegoat. Encouragingly, this team seems to have a bit of doggedness in them to make sure they score the second goal of the game, even once coming back from 2 down to win.

Letting up the third goal
When a team battles back, as it did 11 out of 15 games; it can sometimes be deflating to fall behind again. Comebacks are built on momentum swings and sometimes it is a lot to ask for a game to swing back twice to your side, given it's only 60 minutes (and some of that time is frittered away with useless 4th line hockey).

– The Canadiens have let up the third goal in 6 of 11 of games they've come back to tie
– In those games, they have still managed to win 2, but predictably also lost 4

– The Habs have scored third in 5 of the contests where comebacks have been on
– In those games, they've won 4 and lost only once

Going down by two goals
In a game with as much parity as there is, it's not surprising that going down by 2 isn't a good tactic. Yet, the Habs (obviously despite their wishes and best efforts) have still been behind by 2 quite frequently in the last 22 games:

– The Canadiens have trailed by 2 goals on 10 occasions in the last 22 games
– They won a solitary game from those occasions, losing the other 9
– That one win is the only time they've even fought back to tie it up
– They only fought back to be within one goal on 3 occasions (once being the win)

So, as you can see, the Canadiens backs are broken at 2 goals down (pretty much) – making that save ever so critical. By the same token, if the defence and goalie can hold on to bring it back to 1-1, then the team has a winning record. Even down 1-2, the team has it in them to pull it back sometimes. If the 4th goal goes to the Habs after falling 1-2, then they have a 2-1 record.

So you can see that if a goal is not allowed, what would have been a backbreaking goal, is now a gamesaving save.

When we score first
Just as games aren't wrapped up at 0-1, nor are they sealed at 1-0. The thing is, though, they almost are.

– The Habs have scored first in 7 of the last 22 games
– Their record in those games is 5-2

When they score again, it's over. Admittedly the statistical relevance of the single 2-0 lead in the last 22 games is questionable. One certainly cannot question the momentum it gave the team to go on and crush the Leafs.

Amazingly, whether it's the team or the goaltenders, there has been some conspiracy for two months to never make the other team feel left out in the cold.

– 7 games where we took the lead have become 1-1 draws
- In 2 of the 6 we let the other team score again, losing both times
– In the other 4, we scored the third goal, winning them all

Here too, the backbreakers come into play. It's as if, the team says "There you go D, we got you the lead" and can manage if the D and G buckle down and limit the goals against. But should it be two straight for the opponents, that second is a "here we go again" backbreaker.

Is every loss lost this way
Quite frankly no. Some games I watch and think that if the game were cut at 50 minutes we would have won, or if it had been extended by an extra 20, we would have won as well.

Some losses are ebb and flow type stuff, where time runs out. These losses, as they say, are part of the game. The "back broken" losses are the hardest to take as an air of futility creeps into the whole affair. The crowd goes quite, the coach goes sour-faced, players are benched, others are sulking.Some continue to press, but by definition the backbone of the team (the majority of players) have been snapped and defeated.

The past 22 games has seen 10 losses in all. During the first month, the losses were (with the exception of that loss to the Devils) ebb and flow type stuff.

Lately (as in the past 9 games), it's been backbreakers all around.

Team morale
I've been on a lot of teams over the years. I know enough to know that momentum swings are hard to take. Going down 0-1 all the time is hard, compound that with the fact that most times a comeback is only answered by a 1-2 deficit. And on top of all that, when the team gets a lead, they just as often find the whole they put the other team in being patched over by their own mistakes.

It's draining this stuff. The drain is what you can see on the faces of players, in the skating of the forwards, in the body language on the bench.

The bottom line is that some people feel they have been holding up their end of the bargain (66 goals scored in 22 games); while they feel their contemporaries have not (73 goals against in 22 games).

It's great that Mike (accomplice in the futility) Komisarek is backing Carey Price, but his opinion matters little. Kovalev, Koivu, Plekanec, Kostitsyn wouldn't say it publicly, but they show it – they are tired of working hard for the goals when they are constantly being let down. What's more, they get the blame for missing their coverage, while others get off scott-free.

Don't believe me, watch them skate straight to the bench in disgust time after time in this clip (if you can bear it):

It's easy to blame the goalies as they say. But, I think it's equally easy and a heck of a lot more commonplace, not to.

Let's face it, over the past 9 games, the goaltending has been absurd in its hopelessness. Price did win the game puck once, but has seen the wrath of the bench in the dome an astounding and sickening 6 times. I should note that there is usually some argument when Tobalev goes so hard on the goalie. There was only argument once in these 6 disses. So, it's pretty safe to say he's been sub-sub-par.

It all starts with Halak fluffing 3 straight goals to Atlanta, but continues with the Shakespearian comedic turn of Carey Price who, uncharacteristically or not, has broken the spirit of the team in front of him.

Blame game
I'm loathe to blame a 21-year-old, so I won't. I'll blame the coach. Specifically, the pretty consistently pathetic Roland Melanson.

Oh sure, he's a good coach when everything is tickety-boo, but when goalies go into slumps and actually need some advice and counsel, he has an appalling record.

During his time here now he has overseen some promising projects in Montreal. It started with Thibault who was never coached well enough to stop playing 1/4 of the game on his stomach, then Theodore whose glove-side lethargy would never be cured, Aebischer who slid into a bad slump never to recover and now Price (for the second time in 50 odd games) losing all semblance of wherewithal in the net.

He has never dealt with relatively easy and obvious faults like stick-handling (i.e., telling the guys not too – Theodore, Huet, Price and Halak), nor has he ever really reversed a slump.

You can't ignore either that during this time, Dallas has pumped out Turco, Dan Ellis and Mike Smith; the Sharks Nabokov and Kirpusoff; Minnesota Roloson, Fernandez and Backstrom.

What's more, I think Melanson is wasting space on our team that should focus on not allowing shots on goalies who are great with angles but terrible shot stoppers (when shooters have time). What we need is a defensive coach to deal with AWOL projects like Komisarek and O'Byrne.

Fans are starting to get the same ideas as us here, and are beginning to question what Melanson actually does.

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