Sunday, September 26, 2010

Camp Is Slipping Away

Some Counted Out, Others Missing Their Chance

Last night, Tobalev and I were lucky enough to take in the exhibition game in Kanata from the bottom bowl. Decked in our Habs sweaters, we strolled with confidence into the Habs country home. Scotiabank Place doesn't have all the comforts of home, but traveling fans made sure to bring all the paraphernalia, chanting and booing that makes us so likeable as guests.

The game itself was an interesting enough affair. The final score as you know wasn't positive (at least not for the majority of fans in Scotiabank Place), but the game had its moments.

Once again, we approached this game in a completely different manner to a regular season or playoff game. The result was not the goal, and therefore not the most important part to report. Even the scoring summary, though it holds interest, wasn't the be all and end all.

I'll start with what I found to be positive in the game (leaving out Alfredsson, who I wish we had on our team, and other Sens assets).

Ben Maxwell
I find it hard to relate what I thought of Maxwell before. i think written off is the closest I can come to mirroring my thoughts on him. So, a couple of preseason watches later and I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised to say I was wrong about that. He's not been a full revelation, but amongst his peers (our prospects) he stands out clearly as one of the readiest. And where he was timid and mostly passive in the past, it's his initiative and ingenuity that now stands out most. His hallmark play now for me is his burst of speed through a seam with the puck. Last night, it won us possession on a few occasions and a penalty shot on another.

Yannick Weber
Don't get me wrong, he didn't have a stormer. But on second viewing this season, I thought Weber improved. He was once again a great option on the PP and though he didn't bolt down the back end, he at least didn't look worse than most of his teammates. Injuries at the back end seem more likely on this team than to forwards due to a combination of collective age and a system that asks for shot blocking every minute of the game. Knowing that there is someone behind O'Byrne that has something to offer other than cringe moments is positive.

Tomas Plekanec
The top from the veteran group and really the only vet that seems to be able to carry his play despite a rookie presence. His goal was a moment of brilliance, as he made beating the Sens D and Brian Elliott (what was the rest of the Habs made look an impossible task) look effortless. For those who overlook him as a leader, consider from the evidence that he is once again the readiest for the season to begin, reflecting what was probably a lot of hard work in the offseason.

Louis Leblanc

Tobalev and I spoke about many guys just not getting it, realizing, that is, that this represents their bast chance at cementing their place. Leblanc gets it. He won't get a place just yet as he still plays a level below the NHL skill, but his drive and at times his passing stand out as excellent.

Penalty drawing
It's probably nothing more than soft reffing and blind luck, but remember when the Habs couldn't draw a call to save their skins? In this game they drew a few. Maxwell did the best with the penalty shot, but there were a few other important instances where pens were drawn too.

First half
Until Ben Maxwell missed on a penalty shot, this game was going Montreal's way. That was 36:02 minutes that the shay last 23:58 has now eclipsed.

That's just about as much as I'd like to say about positives. On then to needs improvements. From our seats, these people and things stood out:

Bench management
Bad line changes and too many men penalties. I know its exhibition season, but this stuff is just basic. We joked the announcer should be calling "Penalty to the Montreal Canadiens, too many men on the ice... again"

Benoit Pouliot
Does he get it? We didn't think so. Last game I was very encouraged, now I'm disheartened. The score sheet papers over his game with an assist, but he was poor. He was slow all over the ice to react and exactly the opposite to what the top two lines need. He needs to improve both for the team and himself.

Travis Moen

Does it seem to anyone else like he just goes through the motions? He must be the only veteran on the team that never comes up in captain discussions and it shows on the ice. he's not invisible, but nearly every shift he played last night looked like an exercise in killing time. His job's not under threat, but setting an example to the youngsters might not go amiss. I guess I just expect more from the highest price tag grinder.

Jaroslav Spacek

Speaking of vets not helping youngsters. Look I know that it's the preseason and he'll be better with a real partner. And I know he wouldn't try half the things he did against a regular season team. But Spacek really should look to steadiness the way Moen looks to making some kind of mark. He's the veteran expert on a green corps on this night, there's no need for him to be "trying" new tricks, he's had two decades for that. Many egos could have been salvaged with a few more solid dump outs.

Jacques Martin
Again, just exhibition. Seriously, though, why dress Fortier if not to trial him? Why not give Pouliot a real chance to excel, not just see whether he can play the role of carrying a line, which you'd never ask him to do anyway? Why is Kostitsyn not with his linemates? Why the whole game for Carey? It's an uncomfortable amount of questions to ask about a vet coach. Maybe answers will become clearer to me at a later date.

Hal Gill injury?
We didn't notice Gill after the first. Turns out he played a few minutes in the second, but none in the third. Now there aren't any reports, and we didn't have the sense to watch the bench, but nearly 27 minutes for Weber? Nearly 5 on the PK for Weber? All signs point to Gill being injured. I pondered putting this in positive, but a little look at the alternatives over the past 3 exhibitions made me think again.

Carey Price
We can argue all day about the goals not being Carey's fault. I don't care to get into it. He needs to improve as well as the team.

I can identify two areas where I would advise Carey to focus his efforts:

1) Puck handling: Honestly, just stop. At the beginning of the third with the Habs down 4-2 and a chance to learn something about coming back, he came behind the net and passed right to a Senator with the net open. Most of his handling doesn't lead to clear chances. But nor does his contribution to the play justify even an occasional risk like this. Stay in the net for a while. Play it simply. It could save a lot of heartache for everyone.

2) Preparation: Coming into this season was always going to be hard, but with a lot to prove, we figured he'd worked hard and be ready. If he is, he doesn't convey it in his interviews or on the ice. He could gain a lot, I think from spending a summer training with Tomas Plekanec rather than his rodeo buddies. And before games? I'd love to see his 2nd period readiness in the first 10 minutes.

Still, it's not as negative as some would suggest. It's actually hard to tease apart how all the negatives above influence Price directly and indirectly. Doesn't help that the coach is in this column, in my opinion. But as I said the other day, all this brings his mind into sharper focus about what he needs to do to get ready for the real season. All these lessons need not be lost. What's more the lessons are given squarely to the team and coaches as well for their tough assignments on the year.

A fun night overall. A game in person really allows for a much broader view of goings on. And from where we were, we could see a lot of detail that's missed by cameras. Though I left it with the "needs improvement" section, I'm not too concerned. I still feel like half a team can't ever show me what the full team will be like. Cammalleri with Gomez instead of Palushaj is a different player, I spoke about Spacek. So, seeing as it's not all doom and gloom, I'll go back to the positive for the sake of aftertaste:

It's preseason!
Gotta be the number one positive. Nothing about this game needs to be remembered if the right people make the right decisions and adjustments.

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