Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Canadiens Need A Rethink

The other night was a mess for the Canadiens. But of the many ways to lose, 6-0 is not the worst. In fact, Don Cherry joined many a fan in thinking that a drubbing may be just the medicine for the Canadiens to open this series. A call as to what they need to expect and how far they have yet to go.

It’s a theory I have heartily bought all my years. When rivals of equal measure meet, the lopsided defeat is often the sounding of the turnaround alarm. An OT defeat, as Cherry points out gives too much optimism, sometimes warranted, often not.

It is the binding hope of all Habs fans today that Pronger, Leighton, Carle and Gagne will be so sure of their plans and abilities that they’ll forget the Canadiens are allowed to play better. It is the hope fed by that win that Carcillo and Hartnell will be unleashed, listening no more to their coach (and restrainer) as they try to get in on the act, while taking their eye off the prize.

Not minutes after a rare meeting of minds between Cherry and me did Elliotte (still dying for someone to answer a question) Friedman chat with Daniel Briere in the hallway of the Wachovia underbelly.

It was there the spanner in the works. It was there I realized that the Canadiens must beware not Briere’s shot, but his realism. For, while he succeeded in pointing a screened effort into the top corner in the second, most shots do not go in. But realism in the face of what should be bald-faced optimism by all Flyers is disturbing.

Briere would not take the bait from Elliotte on Halak, though he did admit they had looked at tape. Briere instead chose to invoke luck and timing rather than take the heaps of credit 6-0 victors usually reserve for their celebrations. It was fortune that felled Halak and fortune that prevented an answer from the bleu, blanc, rouge.

Not taking credit is nothing new. Players often credit their teammates, their goalie or their coach for what has clearly been successful exploits of their own. Players too often thank their luck.

The problem here is, rarely do I believe them.

In Briere’s case, there was too much matter-of-fact to sense it was rehearsed. He believed what he said, or so I thought.

The hockey playoffs are a race to the finish line. Each series a heat where a competitor must outrun another to succeed to the next.

As a racer, I learned a lot about psychological advantage, mind games. Most competitors have a breaking point, the point at which a lead cannot be covered, a comeback unattainable. Most competitors also have the inverse, a comfort zone from which they can drive the whole affair. The games come in with the strategy; sometimes a racer will allow his rival to lead to exploit the comfort that the lead induces, conserving energy for the strike that takes the tape away.

We’ve seen already that both these teams are plucky. Neither will roll over and die if there is a shred to hang onto. If the Canadiens, like their fans and Don Cherry, hoped that lulling the Flyers into a sleepy series was their key, I think they’d better think again. If these Flyers look to Daniel Briere in the least, they are a focused bunch.

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