Monday, November 01, 2010

The Picard Nonsense

If reports from Brossard are to believed, Jacques Martin is on the verge of making a mistake with his defensive pairings.

The return of Markov has gifted the Canadiens with its best defensive depth in months and the coach chooses to look the gift horse in the mouth. The coach is poised to remove Spacek from the lineup in favour of Alexandre Picard.

Normally, I don't take much issue with Brossard or the line changes that constitute the entirety of the news gathered by the full media coverage the practice arena gets. But on this occasion, I am riled.

I am riled because this is not only a case of the coach getting it wrong (that happens often enough), it is a case of the coach getting it wrong because he is bowing to media pressure.

When the date of Markov's return was made clear, there were a few articles about the returning Russian. To my surprise, those seemed to be outnumbered in the locales where I read by heartfelt cases made for Alexandre Picard's retention.

Picard, a player who was signed to fill the hole left by Markov when he departed earned his place on the NHL team in training camp because he had a cheaper contract than Yannick Weber. Since that time, he has done admirably, in that he is largely not as bad as we expected he might be. But let's not be fooled.

Picard's numbers look alright for a few good reasons.

First, he has been playing with PK Subban. Subban has had the kind of rookie debut we have not seen since the days of Gilbert Dionne. Flying out of the blocks, he has been a revelation on most nights. What's more he has made defense easy for his partner because he has carried the puck, he has kept it in the offensive zone and he has covered up mistakes.

Second, as Olivier so roundly pointed out (and I can't find where anymore), Picard has been facing lesser lights while Spacek has not. What's more, they have been lesser lights on what everyone seems to agree have been lesser teams.

If Spacek is an accident getting called out by the RDS fan club, then Picard is an accident waiting to happen. He plays hockey like a short order cook, planning is not his strong suit. He wants the puck on his stick like a knee in the groin and when he does pass, it's often to someone in coverage. He hasn't yet tripped at the blueline or been blown by for a scoring opportunity of great note, but the signs in his play tell me it wouln't be long before he did if you tried to play him against Malkin, Parise or Stamkos. Picard over Spacek is a nonsense that we don't need to indulge just because Benoit Brunet needs a new vendetta until Kostitsyn takes a mis-step.

Spacek is Hamrlik's regular partner (we're talking about hours and hours now) and they have only been on the ice for 6 goals against together in 9 games. All the while, the Canadiens have been winning.

Early season games aren't all about results, but they are all about building something for late in the season. If Martin truly believes that given these healthy D in April, he would prefer to start Picard over Jaro against Ovechkin again, then fine. If he can't answer that challenge in that way, then he's simply pandering to the loudest critics.

And panderin won't get this team anywhere today, tomorrow or in April. It's a mistake.

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