Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Pouliot Move:

Tactical Manoeuvre or Costly Experiment?

Pouliot hasn't been scoring at a goal every two games – just in case you haven't noticed. Even the Gomez line (the best for the past while) has been pretty quiet for about 6, maybe 12, periods of hockey. The solution is nothing new. Player is switched to a) jump start line or b) jump start player.

It's worth talking about simply because Pouliot happens to be (averaged over time) our most productive player. Since coming to the Canadiens 30 odd games ago, he has scored 14 goals, his average over 60 minutes of play is in the elite realm of 1.5 G/60. What's more, with 10 goals created, he's been clipping at just less than Cammalleri offensively.

The question then, why take Pouliot off the very line he jump started in the first place at the first sight of slump?

The answer begins with an objective look at things. Thankfully, the tireless Olivier has been looking into this for us and provided some numbers we can get our teeth into. Olivier's analysis looks at the effect that different centremen have had on the play of three wingers (Darche, Pyatt and Pouliot).

Pyatt, who we're not as interested in for today shows a predictable pattern of scoring chance distribution – putting up a positive balance with Metropolit, mainly fueled by the fact they hardly tried to score while they were on. With Plekanec, Pyatt's been on for more chances, but been caught more as well.

Darche has been better with different partners, probably because he has had to be. A good addition to nearly every line he's been on, he shows the experience he's had at moving teams by adapting quickly to new circumstances.

Pouliot has been an absolute star with Gomez. Olivier points out that he's not been as good with other centres. However, it must be said that because he and Scott have clicked so well, the reason to play with anyone else has been put on the backburner.

Olivier's scoring chance tabulations tell us a lot. They tell us who likes playing with whom and who can adapt/who can't. But they can't reveal everything. For example, they can't tell us what is the best combination for the team on average, and certainly not against a specific opponent. For that all stats leave us to the mercy of a bit of intuition and gut feel.

There are several reasons to mix the lines, stir the soup as they say on RDS:

1) Get the Gomez line back to where it was

If this is the aim, I think it is an unnecessary measure. Gomez and Gionta have been great since the Olympics and before. A few goalless games haven't changed that. It merely seems to be a case of a 30-goal and a 15-goal man playing to the level they play at (i.e., not scoring half the time).

2) Get Pouliot scoring at his previous pace

This is as off kilter as the first reason. Pouliot is essentially a rookie forward, still getting his feet in a new city. He exploded onto the scene, so we forget, but his adjustment is only natural.

3) Get Darche into a contributory role

I like Darche as much as the next guy, but it only takes a game or two in the audience to see the gulf between him and Pouliot in talent terms. The benefit of getting Darche firing at a better rate is probably less than getting Pouliot an extra 25% production.

4) Put Pouliot on alert that he needs to work harder

This is primitive coaching method. Taking an elite player off an elite line to serve a message is silly. It may be acceptable in Game 2 of the 82-game schedule, but not in a playoff race. I would be disappointed if this was all there was to it.

5) Get more out of Sergei Kostitsyn

There are seven substantially talented offensive forwards on this club. Sergei is the latest one to emerge. While he has been excellent with Dominic Moore and others of late, there may be inkling that he could reach loftier heights with a sniper who has one-touch capability. Pouliot may well be the player to unlock Sergei's potential, but I don't think Sergei is even ready for that yet.

I personally think (thought, now) that reasons 1, 3 and 4 were unworthy and only 2 and 5 made sense at this point in seeking offense (presumably the goal). I had more to say about Martin and the impact of the decision, but on a new day, I rewrote the ending...

Back to normal

After having come through all the scenarios, it seems Martin has reverted (in practice) to the established norm with Pouliot on the Gomez unit. I certainly agree with the move back.

I won't likely ever know why Martin moved the players yesterday, I can certainly guess. It seems he might have done so to accomplish a couple of goals: wake up Pouliot and see where Darche might fit if he is to return. I said above the Pouliot slight was primitive, and I stand by that, but restricted to practice the move carries no risk -- it seems a softer and more sophisticated warning. Furthermore, seeing where Darche might fit is critical as situations to force the hand may yet arise

Martin may get a bad name, and lots of unfair (and knee jerk) criticism, but he does a lot right. Keeping the lines together in this mini scoring slump is not the easiest course of action, and is not what less experienced predecessors would have chosen to do. He earns points from me for that. If Pouliot adds a bit of his original jump back due to a day of press hounding then it will be more points for Martin. As off days go, he may have accomplished a lot.

Thirst for stories

I left this article intact to demonstrate a point. What's a story one day is not a story at all the next. Bloggers after a season of digging for something to write about have jumped on this, many faster than me jumped twice: yesterday and again today. It does leave me chuckling at the end of it all. After all, on what other team do they fret about lines in practice (Martin can still change them by game time, after shift one, or in any situation). Where else would so many respond so fast as to need to retract the story on Day 2?

We Habs fans are a bit crazy. And this time of year, it seems, brings out the true fanaticism in all of us. Scott Gomez said "The city rocks". It certainly does, but it also racks -- racks its nerves unnecessarily over events that shouldn't even be news.

Until the next cause for uproar...

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