Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Canadiens Model

Look around the headlines this time of year. The search for heroes is on. A good story has a hero right? One man who overcomes all adversity to vanquish his counterpart, the evil villain.

Montreal played Washington, the story going in was Ovechkin the hero vs. the pretenders. The story on completion was Halak conquering Ovie.

Similarly, the Pittsburgh series. Crosby vs. Halak.

For the media, it’s a winning formula. People have gobbled up tales of heroes since long before the Ancient Greeks committed their tales to paper. Hero stories capture minds and hearts and in this day and age, sell papers, turn on TV sets and drive web traffic.

It’s a model that amateur media like us bloggers often follow as well. Game after game, we try to pinpoint a moment, try to select a single most heroic player. We try to write a Greek myth. Last game, I wrote on the returning hero that was Jaroslav Spacek, his a tale of adversity and unlikely success. But as I prepare for tonight’s game I have decided rather than to single any one player out to revert to what I know in my heart – that these Montreal Canadiens don’t rely on a single hero, that they do what they do now as 20 men, as a team.

I think that that’s an important thing to remember as we wait out the hours until puck drop. That Pouliot has played in 7 playoff wins, just the same as Lapierre, that Kostitsyn is on a rampant scoring line, just like Cammalleri.

The trigger for me came at the end of Game 6. All series, all playoffs really, I had been waiting on Plekanec. All season, he had been the one player I knew I could rely on to deliver performance night after night. He could set up 4 goals one night to return the next as penalty killer extraordinaire, then solid support player. In the playoffs, I sought his scoring self, his dominant forecheck and his visionary passing. I was left wanting.

The other night, Sidney Crosby was driven to distraction at the end of the game, assessed a penalty that most will have missed during the euphoria. “Ah, it was just Plekanec” Sid said after the game. Just Plekanec, getting under his skin, making his life miserable.

Hearing this quote opened my eyes. Plekanec has been playing well. Intent that if he’s to play like a little girls, he’ll be that one who kicks your ankles and spits on your face in the playground. This series, Plekanec may not be a scoring machine, but he’s been doing his job, called to be a shadow each and every home game, bringing out the whine. In a series with 3 wins, he's been vital.

The same goes for Gomez, of course, who’s been given uphill assignments as well. Something that's easy to forget sometimes when we see that single goal on the score sheet.

But why stop there?

Heroes unsung abound. We know about the praise for Gill, Gorges, Subban and Spacek. The other Ds have been integral too. Markov contributed hugely when he was around. O’Byrne and Hamrlik have been valuable components in wins. Bergeron has played quite a role too. Consider for a minute he’s playing longer than 80% of NHLers who were signed before he was last summer.

The forwards? Gionta and Cammalleri are scoring. Plekanec's contributions have been uncovered some more. Kostitsyn has been on more than off, especially in wins. Gomez has been the rallyer on the bench and the calming force on the ice. Pouliot is coming up blank, but is essentially a rookie in his first playoffs, he's been less than his January self, but still trustworthy. Pyatt is a rookie too, stunning his June 29th overlookers (namely Sather). Moore, Metropolit and Moen are pulling more than their weight. Lapierre has turned his season around. Darche does whatever is asked.

Halak has been great, of course. But don’t overlook what Price has been able to achieve. Apart from a questionable slip (his comment to Sergei), he has been the consummate cheerleader and a much more mature Carey Price from the bench.

If saying hockey is a team game is a cliché, it is only because it is a simple fact. Hockey is a team game. Slumping scorers, alternate defencemen and back-up goalies may not get all the headlines, but when it comes to beating a team like Pittsburgh, one with relative balance and quick strike power, it takes a whole team. A team can't afford massively weak links. That includes those guys.

I await tonight’s game with much anticipation knowing that our team, our Canadiens, seem to have learned these lessons well, and that in the learning they have gained what makes them a contender no matter what any fancy stats say.

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