Monday, October 19, 2009

Habs Rough Start Was Expected

The Canadiens with their new defence, attack and coach are living up to all the predictions we ever made about adjustment periods. The start has been rough. They've lost 5, they could have lost 7 – mind you they've won 2 and might have won another 2.

To add insult to injury, though Tobalev's been up on the game reports, I've been having an extremely rough start to the season myself. I have to apologise for that. I have been very busy working on a side project about the history of swimming that turned out to be much more interesting and thus much more time-consuming than originally anticipated. Anyway, I'm done that now, so you needn't worry about 4 days between posts for the next while.

Next, how about the Habs get their acts together?

What's wrong anyway?

Markov being injured doesn't help at all. The balance of good goaltending to average shows in the standings. The PP has lost a QB and the main zone winning and coverage drawing element too.

Also, we mustn't forget that all those pundits who fretted about too many changes on the Canadiens (including the coaching staff) did so because they were drawing on the experience of other overhaul experiments. It takes more than two weeks to learn how a defence partner positions himself, more than a fortnight for a passer to find his wingers on instinct alone. The coaching change too was massive, meaning even the incumbent players are newbies on the rebranded Habs. It'll take time to unlearn Carbo's system from the past few years. Imagine players who've been playing so unfettered for their whole careers – for them the Martin system will be at least a year-long project.

And then, on top of it all, I think the players are having trouble adapting to their new physical training regime, which from the sounds of it preseason was a lot more intense than they have ever been used to. You can see the Habs come out flying, but flagging as the game rolls on – signs of early fatigue and conditioning issues.

Unfortunately for those of us watching the standings, the only remedy for all of these issues is patience. And a healthy dose.

I understand that patience is hard to find in the 7th year of the 5-year plan. I understand because I feel it too. My trick is to remember last year. Last season, the Canadiens came out extremely strongly – firing on many cylinders. By December they were solidly in 4th (and were it not for the Bruins amazing feats of shooting and save perfection of last fall) would have also been vying for the conference lead. The team had 3 legitimate all-star shouts, a scarily solid looking top 4 on defence and a strong offence without overly taxing Kovalev. Of course, we all remember how that ended.

Of course the teams that we don't watch mostly started slower than the Canadiens, yet at least 3 teams who lagged behind by the yuletide season outperformed our Habs in the balance of their games. That one of them was Pittsburgh must be of some comfort. Philly started last season's first 7 at 0-3-4. St. Louis made the playoffs from 14-22-2 in early January; Minnesota missed from a 6-0-1 start.

Every year has stories like these. Every year we are served with the lesson of patience, of waiting to see how things unfold. But just as blogs and papers need to be written daily, so too the fretting about every mis-step, every stray pass, every loss.

Take the positive

It might be highly optimistic to ignore all that's clearly wrong and focus instead only on the positive morsels we've been tossed. But really, why not? Sure the optimist will be the one who stands wrong at the close of the campaign if the Habs really do never score a PP goal again, or if Carey Price and Halak do let in two back-breaking goals per contest. I'd rather be wrong with some hope than right about hopelessness. And so, the reasons to see the end of the tunnel:

1) Tomas Plekanec: He's been producing shots, chances, goals and plays again. He's already reached more than 20% of his assists form last season. We keyed on him for success and he seems ready again to deliver.

2) Acquisitions at forward: Gionta is great. Gomez is good. Cammalleri is tricky. And Moen is better than expected. Gainey's brought in some quality at the front. Though Gomez will tick along at 6% shooting, Cammalleri probably won't sick on 3.8%.

3) Even without Markov, the top three have been a top three: Thanks to Josh Gorges re-upping the ante, we do have a legitimate three to turn to. For their faults, Hamrlik, Spacek and Gorges have showed promise. If Markov comes back, Martin could go all Anaheim and play 5 and 6 for fewer minutes than Georges Laraque in a playoff game.

4) Sergei Kostitsyn has pride: It seems he does after all. Though he took some time to find it, Sergei might well respond the way Jacques probably hoped he would after a slap in the face. His 2-goal starring effort in the Bulldogs last win indicates he may post numbers that finally push the "great entitled" of the third and fourth lines to do something once in a while.

5) Curtis Sanford: The Cedrick Desjardins buffer has re-found his Moose form, which should he continue will press Gainey to do something about our current pair sporting early 1980s statistics.

6) The New York Islanders: Last season when their first (incredibly lacklustre) team all went down with injury, the Islanders iced an ECHL line and pairing nightly and still cranked out 61 points by season's end. The lesson for me is that every team should be getting 26 wins a year, it's the new floor.

There's more too. I'm sure you can all add. So patience all. When we said we'd give Martin time to establish his print, I for one meant it.

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