Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympic Implications

Seeing Nabokov yet again fall short in an important game brought back memories for me. Imagine what the directors of the San Jose Sharks must be thinking.

Coming up to the trade deadline, the Sharks are yet again flirting with the NHL lead, but yet again carry team members who prefer the December walks to the May slugfests. Between Joe Thronton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley the Sharks have a lot wrapped up in their current edition, and in a salary cap world, one can't expect that to continue forever.

Do you think that Doug Wilson shrugs off a Nabokov loss in a critical test, or will he now be hoping to bolster his back line of defence as he sets for a run with this set of big contracts before they walk?

I tend to think he'll stick – more out of necessity than choice. However, there's no telling how scarred he is from seeing Nabokov underperform (or simply never overperform) when the time is asking.

Roenick thinks Chicago has a dilemma, I wonder what he thinks of his former mates in SJ.

Canada Finds Their True Strategy

Forget goaltending. When you have multiple all-star forwards and front-line performers for all their teams, you go for it.

That's the strategy Canada reverted to in the first period of last night's QF, and it worked a treat. It's a strategy they should stick with (obviously). Anytime you can get the best player in the NHL to say this about how he felt to play you, the better:
"How we start the game; it's like small kids and big kids play against each other and big kids dominate," Ovechkin told NHL.com. "They got the puck deep, used their power and they scored goals."


From the Canadian forwards point of view, it seemed like they decided that they wanted to win this game without having to rely on Luongo. It was probably the right decision. In starting so quickly, they also deflated Russia's own trust in Nabokov and drew them into an open affair early.

This lesson must be remembered as Canada faces down Jaroslav Halak, who uses early saves to build confidence in those around him as his M.O. Get Slovakia down early, and open the game.

The lesson that Russia learned 4 years ago must also be kept in mind. A huge win over a powerful rival means nothing if you end up 4th. Russia had just as rousing a victory as Canada when they defeated the Red Maple Leafs in Turin, only to sag and get shutout in the next elimination game. Slovakia may not be Finland, but they too have beaten Russia and can add a Swedish scalp to their list. Canada must be wary.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Canada V. Russia

18 years ago, Sidney Crosby was probably just getting washed up for another day at nursery school – it was the eve of the Canada:Russia (CIS) Olympic Hockey final in Albertville, France.

At the other end of the scale, Sergei Fedorov was parlaying an excellent rookie campaign into an 86-point season with a resurgent Wings team. Alex Kovalev, important figure last time around, he was on the ice in France. Fresh off a WJC gold medal in the same year, the young phenom played all 8 games and chipped in a goal as Russia beat Lindros' (and Juneau's) Canada.

The last time they faced each other on Olympic ice, the scene was Torino, Italy. Kovalev sealed Canada's fate this time, with a PP marker in a tight 2-0 victory in the QF.


Experience in one-game knockouts key

You just cannot buy this experience, and no amount of Ovechkins, Duncan Keiths, or Mike Richards can change that.

As we will another Crosby:Ovechkin showdown for the TV producers, it may well be that this game turns on what some of the more seasoned veterans do. Niedermayer and Pronger have been facing Kovalev and Fedorov since before lockout was a dirty word.

Many seem to be quick to dismiss the old guard after a result went the wrong way for Canada – as Brodeur, Pronger and Niedermayer must make way for Luongo, Doughty and Keith in the minds of the columnists. But I wonder. Calling on those gold medal memories, whether they be from 1992 or 2002, may just be the deciding factor in the end.

Fedorov is one of the granfathers of one-game knockout experience in this tournament. This is his 3rd Olympics, he has played for Russia more than 10 times (and may have played more often if called upon). While he's not the game-changer he once was, Fedorov may just have a trick or two left up his sleeve for tonight's spectacle. Canada would be silly to forget that. They'd do well to remember their own grisled vets.


Canada and Russia beware

A final lesson is this. In 2006, the round robin set the stage for a Canada:Russia early showdown for supremacy. In 2006, it was met with the same hoopla and hype. Neither Canadians, nor Russians need reminding that in 2006 it was Sweden and Finland who contested the Gold and neither team wore any medals on the planes home.

While this game is interesting and exciting, it is no more than a playoff clincher, an April game. There are no spoils other than a further game from here, there are no guarantees. And as the two great rivals prepare to battle to the death, I can tell you there are a few Finns, Swedes and Americans thinking just the same.


Here are some trips down memory lane for those who don't remember last time:

BBC: Russia see off champions Canada

Canadiens Recall Robert Mayer

RDS and others are reporting that the Habs have called up Swiss/Czech goaltender Robert Mayer to stand in for Jaroslav Halak in Canadiens practices this week.


It's not really Canadiens news as such, as Mayer is firmly 5th choice for the big team – as if they ever let it get to that point without trading. However, for the young man, it must be quite an exciting time.

Let's face it, though, this is the biggest Habs news of the past while. And it is more interesting given we haven't spoken about or glanced in Mayer's direction in months.


Who is Mayer?

Mayer is what he is – a depth prospect. He came to the organization as a signing rather than a draft pick following a fairly strong 2007-08 during which he played a decent back-up role on a strong Saint John SeaDogs team and backstopped Switzerland at the World Juniors. One has to think that he really got on Timmins and co.'s radar at the U18 Worlds in 2007, though, where he excelled in posting the top save percentage of his year for the tournament.

His stats don't scream elite prospect, but he did do enough to make the CHL top prospects game ahead of the 2008 draft where he ended up going unselected.

Hockey's future has Mayer as prospect #17 for the Habs, which is either a compliment to Mayer or an indictment of the depth the organization pretends to have. The good news is the reviewer for the site, despite panning Mayer generally, still has something to like in a glove hand and positioning (a rare combination?):
With solid positioning and a great glove hand, Mayer has the potential to be much better then what he has shown so far.

In any case, this is what it's reported to be, and not some prelude to Halak/Price being shipped. The Hamilton Bulldogs are winning and need their goalies, and the Montreal re-Habs need someone else to shoot on.

Robert Mayer, good luck and enjoy yourself...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Canadiens Week Ahead

Remember when we all said it would be great if the Canadiens got a two week break to recharge and get some of their wounded back. Well, there's more than a week down now, and the team must be readying for next Tuesday in Boston. And from tomorrow, the team starts practicing again.

I have been thinking it will be interesting to see how the team comes back, how the guys who had a break will compare to those who played at the Olympics, how the guys who slacked off will compare to those who worked out.


Most will have rested

If interviews tell us anything, it's that most NHL players see these two weeks as a big rest, rather than a time to catch up on skills practice or fitness work.

Mike Cammalleri was thinking of Florida:
Cammalleri’s plan was to take a few days off in Florida, then fly in his personal trainer for five days of two-a-day workouts, but that hit a snag when he injured a knee on Jan. 30 that will put him out of action for six weeks.
Hal Gill thought of rest as well:
“The way the season is during Olympic years, you need that long break,” he said. “It’s a crazy season, a lot of games on top of each other, so you have to use the break. Go on vacation. Spend time with your family. Try to get away from the game for a bit.”

I agree with Hal that the rest will do lots of good, but I also worry about those who don't come back mentally from the vacation until the end of next week (Matt D'Agostini).


Slackers must be spotted and benched quick

It's one thing to have a holiday, it's another to have spent the 10 days putting on weight while smoking and drinking the nights away. It's hard to guess who will come back to Montreal in bad shape, but you can bet (knowing hockey players) that a couple or more will.

Given the tight schedule from here, I don't think there's any more time to drag a player like the out of shape D'Agostinis or Latendresses of October through any games. Martin must be quick and firm to assess how his players have adhered to his program and whether they take this season seriously. At least Grabovski was traded ages ago...


Success trumps rest

There will be some worry that some of the Canadiens most important players (Halak, Markov, Plekanec) will be more tired than they could have been, having missed the opportunity to rest.

I've always thought, though, that success trumps rest in any scenario. Should one of those guys win the gold, there'll be a great charge from it. For Czechs and Slovaks, any medal at all will have them flying home on a great high. The way things have gone so far for all three, I'd suggest that no one is going to be starting worse than a player who slacked off all break.


Word on injuries


The other thing that we may find tomorrow is that there could be updates on the status of injured players.

Clearly Markov has given his status during the Russian games, and looks healthy enough right now to suit up for NHL action. But the critical updates will be the trifecta of trigger men. I await with anticipation the announcement on Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot and Mike Cammalleri. If any one of the three is back in Boston, it's a boon. If it could be more than one, we might even find two scoring lines.


Trade rumblings

Finally, trades. The Olympics have been a bit of respite from Eklund's usual ramblings – I guess his internal voices, er, I mean sources, are busy with the Games. But it will be minutes after the Olympics, rather than hours that trades become the number one topic again.

The Habs are still in precarious cap land, but remarkably aren't worst off among teams. Gauthier clearly want to be involved in any good trades (as any half decent GM would be), but may lose bargaining power if the Nashvilles of the world use cap space as bargaining.

The season long rumour about a goalie trade is not going away, so we can expect more of that. Roenick thinks Halak would be good for Chicago, but I think it's far more important to know what his old rival Joe Niewendyk thinks than the Yankee loudmouth. As always, no player should be untouchable, so a Halak trade would get my blessing with the right return. Equally a Price trade.

Really though, the Canadiens are much more likely to be in on draft pick swaps and minor rentals than big direction changing trades at a deadline. Players that could come in are guys like Kozlov and Ott.


Should be an interesting week. I'll enjoy the rest of the amazing winter sport (looking forward to some slalom skiing) and hockey and gear up again for the frantic relaunch. Hope to see you all there...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Doing It The Hard Way

An exciting day of hockey yesterday, as all important positions were determined in an afternoon/evening.

Canada lost, of course, but are still very much alive. They merely set themselves a place at the adult table when they could be sitting with the children where the US are now.

Losing to the US was always possible, but it was their clumsy win vs. a Swiss team that needed OT to scrape by Norway that cost us biggest. Had the Canadians won that game, they would now be lying 4th, with a US rematch in the QFs and a tricky, yet winnable QF vs. Finland. Instead, by being under-prepared and over-relaxed (as usual) they have put themselves in a hole. It'll be a playoff vs. Germany, which should be a foregone conclusion (but, hey, you never know), then a QF vs. powerhouse Russia and a need to face Olympic champion Sweden (in all likelihood) for the right to even play for the Gold.

Even if Canada had beaten the US, they'd still face Russian ahead of the final, and they'd have had a tough QF game (though Slovakia is not Sweden), so don't fret about yesterday too much.


Scoreboard watching

Really, it's Sweden who quite uncharacteristically chose the harder road on Sunday.

The organizers truly underestimate the players ability to shape their efforts to shape outcomes. You'd never see staggered group games in a World Cup – they'd all be simultaneous. If European soccer players were gifted these staggered starts, you'd see some crazy own goals and all kinds of other bloopers. I guess not all hockey countries are so Machiavellian in approach. Sweden, though – ask Italian football fans – are.

By the time Sweden and Finland played, the teams knew that losing meant a bye with a QF vs. Czech, but a semi with the US or the Swiss. The winner gets the far less attractive Slovak QF with SF of Russia or Canada. I didn't watch the game, but looking at Finland's shot totals, their final score and knowing that they have the very savvy Saku Koivu at the helm, it seems like they might have played for position in their game. Last Olympics, Sweden tanked to draw the cheaper run and it worked as they were rested to win a Gold. This time, it seems like Finland may have just pipped their rivals in the strategic losing department.


Gold medal favourite

Any team can win from here, and I find it hard to make a prediction.

But I have to say, Canada doesn't look favourite for me anymore. They lie 6th, but of the top 7 teams, they are the only one who has not beaten a worthy opponent.

I have to think that the team on the top side of the draw will now have the slight edge coming into the final, given their finals opponents are likely to have had a few trying games. I still don't like the USA, and don't rate Finnish goaltending or defence anymore, so I have to think the Czechs have a great shot. From the other side, Canada/Sweden/Russia all look set for a photo finish in the next few days. If Canada finds better goaltending, they'll get the ankle transponder over the line first, I think.

Canada vs. Czech in the final could be great. But will a Canada who can't rise to beat the Swiss in regulation or a US team that carries actual 4th line talent really beat Russia, Sweden and Czech in sequence.

Well, if it's dreams of gold in your head, you'd better start believing they can.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why The Swiss Game Matters

It's incredible in this day and age, with all the hype surrounding this hockey tournament in Canada, that all the sites where one can follow this thing on the web (at least the ones immediately obvious to most) are so poor.

TSN, RDS and Sportsnet, who usually have decent web pages have been funneled into CTV's site, who I would kindly say have muffed the Olympic hockey portion of the site. The official site of the Games is best of the lot, but given the standard of websites in 2010 isn't exactly taking advantage of all the best new practices.

Among the issues that spring from this is the confusion over the format of the Olympic hockey tournament. While sites do present the standings, few present them in the most useful way.

You see this Olympics, the IIHF has tweaked the format of the tournament so that group play is essentially a team sorting mechanism. Each team will play 3 games against the pre-selected opponents in their groups to sort out the rankings of all teams from 1 to 12.

From these rankings, the top four teams get a bye to the quarterfinals and teams 5 to 12 (all of them, none are eliminated) will face off in 4 playoff games to fight for a quarterfinal berth.

Thanks to a difficult to find page at NHL.com (not an Olympic site) we know that the deciding factors are:

1) Group position
2) Points gained
3) Goal difference
4) Goals for
5) IIHF ranking (2009)

This means that all three group winners proceed to the QFs, no matter what. The 4th team in the QFs will be the top second place finisher. Thanks to OTW and OTL, this will probably be sorted via points.

Teams 5 and 6 will be the other two second place finishers; teams 7-9 will be the third ranked teams; and teams 10-12 will be Norway, Latvia and Germany (or, if you prefer, the three last placed teams).

I think that given the inevitability of this happening, it might be more useful for everyone if we display the standings from 1 to 12, so as to remove any illusion that anything else is important:


Team Position GP W OTW OTL L Pts GF GA Diff
USA A1 2
2
0
0
0
6
9
2
+7
Russia B1
2
1
0
1
0
4
9
4
+5
Finland C1
1
1
0 0 0 3
5
1
+4
Canada A2 2 1 1 0 0 5 11 2 +9
Czech Republic B2 1
1 0 0 0 3 3 1 +2
Sweden C2 1 1 0 0 0 3 2 0 +2
Slovakia B3 2 0 1 0 1 2 3 4 -1
Switzerland A3 2 0 0 1 1 1 3 6 -3
Germany C3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 -2
Belarus C4 1 0 0 0 1 0 1
5 -4
Latvia B4 1
0 0 0 1 0
2 8 -6
Norway A4 2 0 0 0 2 0 1 14 -13


Why that OTW might hurt later

As Canadians bask in the glory of beating the Swiss team, it is perhaps a good idea to consider for minute what coming up short by a point means for the tournament.

As it goes, Canada is now guaranteed first or second in the group. Surely good news. And, if they beat the US, there's no doubt of a bye – also good news. But here are some scenarios:

Canada beats USA

If Canada beats the US in regulation, they'll be sitting pretty with 8 points. That will be enough to clear Russia. However, Czech, Finland and Sweden could all go clean in the group (and one probably will) meaning that Canada won't get the first seed.

You may not think this matters, but consider the semi-finals. if Sweden goes clean they should draw USA or Finland in the semis, barring upsets. Canada will be faced with the possibility of the Czech Republic or Russia. Not the better side of the draw really.

What's more, though they don't like the Swiss, Canada would be foolhardy not to be hoping to face Switzerland in the quarters should no upsets occur. This is because, though they are a top 8 team, the top 7 teams have a certain mystique about them that makes them surpass workmanlike Switzerland.

Canada in the two seed could draw Slovakia. this team used to be easy pickings, but thanks to Halak, they now have a credible goaltender. They also have Hossa and some other interesting forwards up front and the Norris trophy Chara at the back. They're not a joke. And teams that take them lightly (Russia, ahem) do so at their peril.


Canada loses to USA

Stranger things have happened. If this occurs, Canada will have 5 points. No offense to Germany and Belarus, but I think Finland and Sweden will be on 6, or more both. Group B will toss up at least one 5-point second place teams (Slovakia) and quite possibly a 6-point one as well as Group C.

Either way, Canada would likely miss the top second which they would have clinched by beating Switzerland and their goal difference. It would at least mean an extra game, extra chance of injury, etc.

5th or 6th means little difference in the playoff (Norway or Latvia), but Canada would again be in the #2/3 semi rather than getting a crack at the 4th place team to make a final.


Koivu understands

I know it's all just quotes, but Koivu seems to clearly understand what his team needs to do:
"Obviously, finishing first in your group is the first goal for every team - and trying to avoid that extra game before the quarters," said Koivu. "I think that's going to be a huge advantage - for those teams and for the top second-place team. I've never liked tournaments that are about goal differential - or if someone benefits from scoring two more goals against a weaker team."
Koivu is the type of player whose gamesmanship goes well beyond the rink, as he gets totally embroiled in what needs to be done. It should come as no surprise then that he threatens to overtake the Olympic assists lead and tie the record for ice hockey medals at the Olympics.

Others seem to take results as they come. This may be something they reflect upon later while the medal places are being decided:
"I didn't even try to understand it. I didn't get past the point where we cross over (in the quarter-finals). I just know we open(ed) against Switzerland." – Ryan Miller

I think Team Canada showed with their clumsy win yesterday that they are among the latter group – seeing what happens.

It's all well and good to stumble through to the medal round. it often works (see World Cup, Italy), but it's playing with fire in some ways. Especially for a team that's got a bit of a reputation for not doing well with the fire handling at these big tournaments.

Halak First Star Of The Night

It seems Allan Walsh (oops, I mean Mike Boone) needs to update his calculations:
"Halak allowed three goals on 24 shots. Including his last three NHL starts, Jaro has stoped 75 of 89 shots, an 84.3 save percentage that is well off his performances in 40-shot games."

Last night Jaro was the star of the Olympic hockey. It wasn't bad considering this was Russia, and Halak won the shootout against some pretty formidable shootout talent after stopping 36 of 37 shots in gameplay.

You don't think Markov spiked his teammates drinks to make this happen do you?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Canadiens As Non-Canadians

Olympic Hockey History

While Canada has been shunning what the Montreal Canadiens players have to offer, that certainly doesn't mean the Habs haven't been at the Olympics. In fact by the end of this tournament, 10 Canadiens will have participated in the last three Olympics.


As a complement to the look at the Habs on Team Canada, it's only fair to balance that with the Habs that have represented other countries at the Games. In all there would have been 48, but with Andrei Kostitsyn's scratch the total is 47 Olympic alums for the Habs family.

USA: 13

Current Habs: None
Habs Prospects: Chris Chelios (1984), Jim Campbell (1992)
One-time Habs: Chris Chelios (1998, 2002, 2006), Matt Schneider (1998, 2006), John Leclair (1998, 2002), Craig Conroy (2006)
Future Habs: Alphonse Lacroix (1924), Bill Baker (1980), Larry Pleau (1968), Eric Weinrich (1988), Scott Lachance (1992), Barry Richter (1994), Scott Gomez & Brian Gionta (2006)


Russia: 8

Current Habs: Alexei Kovalev (2006), Andrei Markov (2006, 2010)
Habs Prospects: Konstantin Korneev (2010)
One-time Habs: Valeri Bure (1998, 2002), Andrei Kovalenko (1998), Vladimir Malakhov (2002), Alexei Kovalev (2010)
Future Habs: Alexei Kovalev, Andrei Kovalenko & Vladimir Malakhov (1992), Sergei Samsonov (2002)


Czech Republic: 8

Current Habs: Martin Rucinsky (1998, 2002), Jan Bulis (2006), Tomas Plekanec (2010)
Habs Prospects: None
One-time Habs: Petr Svoboda (1998), Tomas Vokoun (2006, 2010)
Future Habs: Robert Lang (1992, 1998, 2002, 2006), Jaroslav Spacek (1998, 2002, 2006), Roman Hamrlik (1998, 2002)


Sweden: 6

Current Habs: None
Habs Prospects: Mats Naslund (1980), Thomas Rundqvist (1984), Patrik Carnback & Patric Kjellberg (1992)
One-time Habs: Mats Naslund (1992, 1994), Patric Kjellberg (1994, 1998)
Future Habs: Thomas Rundqvist (1988), Andreas Dackell (1994), Niklas Sundstrom (1998, 2002)


Finland: 3

Current Habs: Saku Koivu (1998, 2006)
Habs Prospects: Jyrki Lumme (1988), Saku Koivu (1994)
One-time Habs: Jyrki Lumme (1998, 2002), Saku Koivu (2010)
Future Habs: Janne Niinimaa (1998, 2002)


Slovakia: 3

Current Habs: Richard Zednik (2006), Jaroslav Halak (2010)
Habs Prospects: None
One-time Habs: Marcel Hossa (2006, 2010), Richard Zednik (2010)
Future Habs: None


Switzerland: 3

Current Habs: Mark Streit (2006)
Habs Prospects: Yannick Weber (2010)
One-time Habs: Mark Streit (2010)
Future Habs: David Aebischer (2002, 2006)


Belarus: 2/3

Current Habs: Sergei Kostitsyn (2010), (Andrei Kostitsyn (2010 – injured))
Habs Prospects: None
One-time Habs: Mikhail Grabovski (2010)
Future Habs: None


France: 1

Current Habs: None
Habs Prospects: None
One-time Habs: None
Future Habs: Cristobal Huet (1998, 2002)



Not only have the players been, but they've conquered too. 34 medals in all with 12 Gold. If you want to get picky, only one Gold wa won by a current Canadiens player (Rucinsky) and one by a prospect (Miracle on Ice, Bill Baker), but that goes with two silvers for Habs players and prospects and four bronze. Not such a poor tally.


Olympic Medals by Canadiens on other teams

Gold: 12
Bill Baker (USA, 1980)
Alexei Kovalev, Andrei Kovalenko & Vladimir Malakhov (CIS, 1992)
Mats Naslund, Andreas Dackell & Patric Kjellberg (SWE, 1994)
Martin Rucinsky, Petr Svoboda, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek & Robert Lang (CZE, 1998)

Silver: 7
Alphonse Lacroix (USA, 1924)
Jyrki Lumme (FIN, 1988)
Valeri Bure, Andrei Kovalenko (RUS, 1998)
Chris Chelios, John Leclair (USA, 2002)
Saku Koivu (FIN, 2006)

Bronze: 15
Thomas Rundqvist (SWE, 1984)
Thomas Rundqvist (SWE, 1988)
Robert Lang (CZE, 1992)
Saku Koivu (FIN, 1994)
Saku Koivu, Jyrki Lumme & Janne Niinimaa (FIN, 1998)
Alexei Kovalev, Vladimir Malakhov, Valeri Bure & Sergei Samsonov (2002)
Jan Bulis, Jaroslav Spacek, Robert Lang & Tomas Voloun (CZE, 2006)

Canadiens As Canadians

Olympic Hockey History

When Steve Yzerman chose to take Patrice Bergeron over Mike Cammalleri, the Canadiens missed a chance to send a player to the Olympics for Canada for the third straight time. There's not even a single former Habs player on the team either, though I'd layoff Ribeiro and Robidas too.

It hasn't always been this way. Thought the Canadiens representation on Team Canada over the years hasn't been vast, there have still been 21 players associated withe the organization to don the Maple Leaf under the Olympic rings. I've found some of them for you:


2010, 2006, 2002

Current Habs: None
One-time Habs: None
Future Habs: None


1998

Current Habs: Mark Recchi, Shayne Corson
One-time Habs: Eric Desjardins, Patrick Roy
Future Habs: Trevor Linden


For Olympics 1994 and earlier, only amateur players were eligible, therefore current Habs were not eligible to compete.


1994

Habs Prospects: Brian Savage
Future Habs: None


1992

One-time Habs: (Patrick Lebeau*)
Habs Prospects: Patrick Lebeau*
Future Habs: Joe Juneau, (Jason Woolley – training camp only)

* Had played 2 games for the Canadiens in 1990-91, but was seen as a prospect.


1988

Habs Prospects: None
Future Habs: Zarley Zalapski, Andy Moog


1984

Habs Prospects: None
Future Habs: Russ Courtnall, Kirk Muller, JJ Daigneault


1980

Habs Prospects: None
Future Habs: None


1976, 1972

Canadian Boycott


1968

Habs Prospects: Fran Huck
Future Habs: None


1964

Habs Prospects: None
Future Habs: None


1960

Habs Prospects: Bobby Rousseau, (Harry Sinden – never signed pro)
Future Habs: Cliff Pennington


1956, 1952, 1948

Habs Prospects: None
Future Habs: None


1936

Future Habs: James (Jim) Haggarty


1932, 1928

Future Habs: None


1924

Future Habs: Duncan (Dunc) Munro, Bert McCaffrey



Canadiens Canada Hockey Medals

Gold: 2
Duncan (Dunc) Munro & Bert McCaffrey (1924)

Silver: 6
James (Jim) Haggarty (1936), Bobby Rousseau & Cliff Pennington (1960), Patrick Lebeau & Joe Juneau (1992); Brian Savage (1994)

Bronze: 1
Fran Huck (1968)


[Check out Eyes On The Prize for a good look at some artefacts from the Chamonix Winter Olympics – the inaugural winter games]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Who Are You Supporting?

The assumption is often made that supporter of a Canadian NHL team equates to supporter of Canadian National Team.

But the Canadiens are supported around the world, and it's entirely possible that Habs fans in Switzerland don't like Joe Thornton either.

Before the games tonight, I want to know who all of you are supporting. If Canada's your first, then who's your second?

Let's hope the tournament starts with a bang and this really is the best hockey the marketers have been insisting it will be.

The F Stands For Fairweather Fans

Any of you who run a website will know that there's much pleasure amd grief to be had by following your own statistics on Google Analytics. The site tracks readers as numbers, by minutes on the site, pages read and location. It's a fun insight and a source of encouragement when numbers trend upwards. By the same token, it shows dips in readers and leads one to question what has changed. Like a 6-0 victory against the Rangers, one can't take Google Analytics to heart.

Earlier this year I was having a bit of fun with my Google Analytics data and trying to do some retrospective analysis of reader numbers as they relate to Canadiens winning and losing. Winning means more readers and losing means less.

Being that this is the Olympic break and we're in the midst of a Canadiens losing streak in a middling season, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that anyone reading this particular piece is in the hardcore. If there's one thing hardcore fans lie to do, it's complain about the softcore – those who wear a Bruins shirt under their Habs sweater – you know, just in case.

For you then, hardcore fans, I wanted share my examination of the Canadiens bandwagon, how big it is, how it reacts to wins, losses and stretches with little change


Bandwagon size

I start my assessment of the bandwagon with an assumption. The assumption is that anyone reading a relatively obscure hockey blog during a losing streak is a big fan – not a fan hopping on and off depending on the latest result. As such, I use reader numbers during a losing stretch as the non-bandwagon baseline.

From that point, I can control for number of days after wins, days of the week, exciting events (like trades) and such and come to estimates as to how many extra people follow the team closely when it's fashionable to do so. These are the numbers I see on this site:

Day after game: Loss (1.0); Win (1.30)
Two days after game: Loss (1.0); Win (1.45)
Three days after game: Loss (1.0); Win (0.97)

Here you can see that people flock to read about the team after a win (30% more readers), with peak bandwagon happening on Day 2 (45% more readers). The dip at Day 3 may be real, but it is hard to assess as there have been so few 3 day breaks in between games this year – usually Day 3 after a win is Day 1 after a W or a L.

To look a bit deeper, I compared what happens in a streak. So the day after the first win in a winning streak is W1. If on Day 3, the team wins again that would be W3, and W4 the next day and so on. One might speculate that the bandwagon would grow over time as excitement about the team winning increases. Maybe that happens at more mainstream sites, but here's how it goes down at LIW:

Day 1 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.19)
Day 2 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.30)
Day 3 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.29)
Day 4 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.16)
Day 5 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.33)

Again, the winning leads to a bump, but rather than accumulating over time, as one might expect, there seems to be a leveling off followed by what I might call streak fatigue from Day 4, with a more marked drop at Day 6 of a streak

It seems that not only are the fairweather fans in our midst quick to become scarce at the earliest sign that they might be supporting a losing team, but they also suffer from attention deficit, such that winning for too long isn't very interesting.


So what?

Good question. Well, as I said, it doesn't really matter. I was only sharing this because I did it for a bit of fun and thought one or two of you might get a laugh out of it.

But might it matter to the team as well?

I'd say that some of the people in the marketing and sales departments might be quite interested in this information. Filling the building is one of the concerns, of course. If there are 60,000 fans trying to get tickets to each game, then something like this wouldn't matter. But let's say there are only 25,000 fans wanting to see the Phoenix Coyotes in November, even in a winning run. Well, if the bandwagon drops out by 25% (1.0/1.3), then the team is suddenly looking at having to get creative to fill 3,000 or so seats.

I might also think that too big a bandwagon gets a bit unwieldy. I've always thought the pressure of the playoffs, for example, where everyone to the man or woman in the city is talking about the team and attaching themselves in some way to the team might be a lot to handle.


What of the total bandwagon?

This little snapshot only shows how our blog fluctuates in winning and losing. If you think about the profile of people who read a blog written by fans then I think you'd agree it's not your typical bandwagon. It's not the guy at the office who suddenly starts wearing Habs gear everyday in April as the Habs turn up on the verge of eliminating the Bruins. If anything, I'd say the real bandwagon is much much bigger in percentage terms. And, I'd guess that it fluctuates even more dramatically.

I also think that bandwagon fans can be the most demanding of all, and the most unreasonable. Coming in as they do with their craving for instant gratification, they sometimes don't understand what has come before, why things are being done a certain way. The fans that buy a ticket for a single game at the end of a winning streak to see a win are the ones who boo Halak loudest for letting in 5 goals after 3 months of excellence, the ones who scream shoot 10 seconds into every PP, the ones who rant about firing the coach every losing streak, and firing the GM every January.

In short, I don't relate to them that well. Still, as a subject of study and observation, the bandwagoneer is a fascinating animal.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Game #63

Canadiens Receive Reminder On How To Spend Olympic "Break"

Details


Date: 13/02/10
Opponent: Flyers
Location: Montreal

Loss: 2-6

Habs Goalie: Halak (L), Price
Opposition Goalie: Leighton (W)

Habs goalscorers: Gionta, Gomez
Opposition goalscorers: Briere (3 – incl Pen Shot), Richards, Carter, Betts



Play of the game


If the guy who controls the Bell Centre siren had sounded it early, that would have been the play of the game. Such was the sorry state of this affair. There was a brief period of light, though, for Habs fans from the PP on which Gionta scored to the PP on which Hamrlik and Halak conspired to end the game early. During that stint, Gomez was briefly on fire. After Gionta had scored, he won a faceoff and retreated into the Habs zone to support the rush. There he took a short pass and set to work. Picking up speed, he skated at the forecheck. Once the forward committed he deftly sidestepped and catapulted into empty space, continuing right through until he was at the Flyers faceoff circles. His individual play continued as he put in a testing shot (one of very few in the game) and pursued a rebound on which he almost scored. That would have been 3-2, that would have been nice.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Scott Gomez
8 shots, a goal and some of the best chances that didn't go in. Gomez and his linemate knew they were alone out there in this game and put in a valiant effort. Since December, Gomez has done enough to earn the #1b centre tag, and were it not for a couple of million too much, his money too.

Brian Gionta – Game Puck
7 shots on target, 11 attempts on net and a goal for him as well. Against a team built on the philosophy that the only thing better than being big is being a big prick, the little Gionta did well to make space and show life. Apart from his goal, he drew the penalty that kick-started the period of hope and I think I even caught him ramming Coburn's head into his knee at one point. A gritty effort from a great player.

Tomas Plekanec
This really is a case of injuries catching up with the team. Tomas didn't look good, but by simply being NHL-level mediocre on the night, he exceeded the multiple AHL mediocre players. As a passer, one has to think that playing on lines with borderline NHLers who are having off nights would reflect on him badly. I give him a bit of a pass then for pushing through this unlucky personnel situation without complaint. His hit on a hulking Dman into Leighton was dirty, but hardly dangerous like the prudes in the RDS booth were claiming. It was a rare and welcome sign that someone cared about this game.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
The defence was also victim of untenable promotions and unsustainable solutions. Markov lost, and Hamrlik visibly struggling to make this finish line, Gorges was the #1 for the night. He carried himself well through this, as he's always done in the past. On for 2 against, but only 1 at ES, I couldn't fault him for Halak's largesse. Hopefully by the time we start back up in March, injured will have rehabbed and fatigued will have rested so Gorges can return to being the very excellent #4.

PK Subban
This was nothing like Game #1 for PP. That said, he still easily surpassed his vastly overpaid and overplayed partner, the frustratingly slow-footed and slow thinking Ryan O'Byrne and the cruising Czech brothers. His highlights were again rushes, but once Philly knew to expect them, their effect was somewhat muted. Even so, having a defender who can actually live up to the tag that a fast team gets for skating fast is gold dust when you play the suicide pass game.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I've been keeping an eye on scoring chances and how many shots the goalies face before letting in goalies. I was all prepared to write a glowing review for Halak. He must have got wind, because he turned in one of the most atrocious performances that any Habs goalie has had since the season began. He let in goals on shots 4, 6, 10 and 12. If you consider good shots only (or scoring chances), it was scoring chances 1, 2, 3 and 5. That means his save percentage on key chances, real chances for the first half of the game was about 0.200. Carey's dome appearance was made right there. As it happens, Price ended up playing and doing alright. The dome was his to lose in the 3rd (the game was not at issue) and he did a fine job of playing the reliable of the pair.

Comments


Can you tell this game left me out of sorts? I can accept the loss, it's just what 0.500 teams do, after all. But with the Olympics starting, it was horribly disappointing when each commercial break ended to go from athletes competing with heart and soul to this mess. Thankfully, the NHL has limited the overlap to a night.

In a strange way, I think this loss may actually be a good tonic for the Canadiens. For a month or more, the Habs have been scraping results through either goaltending or comeback heroics, with very very few wins for the system. Now a win is a win, but the reason coaches have systems is that it has been shown that systematically playing a certain way can cut scoring chances against and provide counter-attack windows. By suffering a bad loss, the players will have a sour taste for these two weeks, rather than perpetuating the illusion from Philly the night before that comebacks are a viable strategy. If it means that 10 of the 20 players train more seriously, that'll be a good thing. And combined with some lucky news from the clinic, it may mean the team comes back rejuvenated and with something to prove. That's probably best, because we've all seen what they do when given a full-on beach break.

Enjoy the Olympics, enjoy the hockey, skiing, skating, curling, sledding and general sight of athletes who bring it all together at one critical time. And come and visit as we catch up on things we've been wanting to say about this team but for games getting in the way.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Game #62

Flyers Interfere With Canadiens Winning Plans


Details


Date: 12/02/10
Opponent: Flyers
Location: Philadelphia

Loss: 2-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Leighton (W)

Habs goalscorers: Metropolit, Moore
Opposition goalscorers: Carter (2), Carle



Play of the game


This was indeed a strange game. Our new players added some zest to the lineup as some of the incumbents struggled to adjust. After watching and re-watching the goals, I can't really say that either was worthy of play of the game (save perhaps the instigating Subban rush). For me the play of the game was a composite. The Habs had just turned the puck over and a race developed between a slightly flat-footed O'Byrne and a speedier Flyer. The Flyer with a burst easily sped past Ryan and was closing on a half-breakaway. However, given the close scoreline, Ryan never gave up the race and in maintaining proximity was able to risk a dive and sweep to prevent a shot. In the end, he timed it to perfection and the puck was sent to the corner. The player, however was sent right into the net. Price, with a win in grasp and a an obstacle in the way leapt over the Flyers player (who not surprisingly decided getting up during his fall would be a better way to obstruct). The net result was a defence back in the game and a goalie on his feet -- the play being diffused by a good gamble and perserverance to the cause.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Scott Gomez
Benoit Brunet is an annoying character. I can't count the times he singled out Gomez as the problem man on the Habs. With each comment I hollered at the screen, "Well who else Ben?" In my opinion, Gomez was by head and shoulders the best Canadiens forward on the night. He gained the zone, passed with that second sense he has and charged into danger areas. Yes he had some giveaways, but show me someone who contributed at the other end and didn't. In fact, had Pouliot been there, Gomez might have come away with 2 or 3 assists. And you know what else? Even if that hadn't happened all night, the simple fact he jumped and then pummeled Kimmo Timonen (with a punching display BGL hasn't seen in his own highlights for near 6 years) was enough for a dome on this night.

Dominic Moore
Moore was plenty maligned before the contest by fans who are bigger dreamers than they are analysts. I think a game in the bank showed us two things. First, he is a pro player both in the way he came completely prepared to play and in the way he instantly eclipsed the Bulldogs forwards. Second, we've been missing someone who can protect the puck with determination that Moore does, as Max Lapierre and several others are still searching for their way.

Travis Moen
Moen rarely gets the chance to make a dome. That's largely because the way he plays, with consistency, is good, but perhaps not enough to surpass people who bring something more special to the table. This game was one of those games where the consistent effort of one player surpassed the many because the many all took a dip at once. Still, Moen deserves the praise when he finds himself here. Against the Flyers he made room for himself, outwitted their D and even got an assist on an ugly goal. He led the team in shots, led forwards in blocked shots and kept the game close by being a steady penalty killer again. You know what you're getting with Travis, and that's good.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
Is it just me? Or has Roman Hamrlik grown into quite a player these past 3 years? I would never mean to suggest he's eliminated mistakes from his game -- he makes enough -- but on a team of panicky D playing hot potato, he's the beacon of calm. This game, Roman played that same style. Though he was on the ice for two goals (one real one), he diffused many more scoring situations by simply waiting, by carrying the puck instead of dumping backhand to the blueline, etc. And, once again, he chipped in up front with many rushes and a critical assist during a rare Habs barrage.

PK Subban - Game Puck
Could I be more impressed? A rookie, playing in his first NHL game, on defence, against the Flyers, in Philadelphia... We'd have been happy if he made himself scarce, played the puck safely and played to get through. But PK (I can say that this one time, he played on a PK, albeit reluctantly) took charge after mere minutes. It took him minutes to discover Gill would be content to simply pass the puck to the Flyer in the neutral zone and get off on a change, and he didn't like it. Instead, he played hockey the way he'd always done and didn't seem to think that was a very strange thing to do. One highlight of his game was a spinorama that sent RDS into a tizzy, but it was an intelligent play as the Flyer had no stick. Another was a rush that ended in goal #1. At game end, the rookie D had 3 shots, 6 attempts on goal and quite nearly a fight with a goalie. Am I raving too much? He deserves the plaudits as player of the game.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey had a very unusual game, even by his standards. You see, in his usual way he got thrown by misfortune (a shocking ref's call with no review) and lost the plot for a period. During that time, he was brazenly handling the puck, even at times playing it away from his D -- it looked the classic sulk. But in what may be the first bout of veteran composure from the 3-season player yet, he completely banished that Carey. Whereas Carey (Katie) Price would conspire to lose the game, Carey (Carey) Price was determined to win, and gave his team the chance to pull out points right to the final whistle. After he regained himself, the saves were both straighforward and spectacular, the stuff of a true top goalie. He rescued a dome from the clutches of a bench, and for that I applaud him.

Comments


What can one really say about this game? The Flyers came out hard, and then harder. Each shift they tested the limit of the refs and their fellow black, white and orange felt the brotherhood. The stand-out example of the interference allowed to pass was that goal -- which I thought Carey had every right to throw a fit about. However, the rule-bending happened all game long. While Canadiens were called while Critiano Ronaldo (oh, sorry, Mike Richards) did what an Olympian vying for a synchronized diving medal does best, the Flyers were subsequently allowed to block non-puck carriers. The refs had a shocker if your standard is a rulebook.

Now, I could go on for days like a first-year Caps fan (is there any other sort?) about the refs, but really I'm done. I'm more annoyed with the Canadiens. When you see your opponent getting away with blue murder, this isn't a signal to put tail between the legs and accept the fate being handed down, it is a signpost to go and play to the same standard. The Habs had many opportunities to obstruct, hold Flyers on the boards, and, yes (horror of horrors) dive. When the Canadiens take to the ice against the Flyers again, I hope they get a better and quicker read on the refs and find the South American in them, before the Flyers parlay another fashion coincidence into more prolonged 9-on-5 situations.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Bulldog And Bulldog Hater

Thoughts On Today's Moves

With two games and a few hours to go before a rare two week break in play, Pierre Gauthier has stepped up to provide some management.


When I used to race in the swimming pool, one of the constant corrections given to me and my teammates was to swim through the walls. What the coach meant was that we should resist the temptation to see the wall and coast in, even for a metre. That's what I like about these moves. While the Habs were a metre or two out from a long break, and with all the goings on could be forgiven for coasting and hoping, these moves indicate our GM isn't willing to coast through any stretch of games, and that he's willing to do the bit of effort it took to move personnel and rejig. Maybe I should reserve my praise until the paperwork is cleared, however.


PK Subban

PK? I prefer to think of him as PP Subban.

This move is a well-timed pinch by the GM. IN a single move, he rewards Subban for his play and effort in Hamilton, while also bringing in a potential PP piece for two games that project to have their share of penalties.

The move is all the more brilliant in its timing. If the season to this point has revealed anything about the development plans of the Habs, it's that PP Subban is being ripened in Hamilton. There were several occasions when his call-up was more pressing than yesterday, yet he remained a Bulldog. His promotion for these two games are bordered by the Olympic break, which means his re-demotion is a certainty, and won't be clouded by any play, goal or rush.


Maxwell

Maxwell's second stint in the big leagues told us much. Firstly, it was no different than his first stint, which tells me his progression isn't as impressive as Hockey's Future seems to paint it. Secondly, having watched him for several games, I don't see him somehow metamorphosing into a second line centre. Not next season. Perhaps never.

We should neer right any one off completely, but Maxwell has some searching to during this stint in Hamilton. He knows his deficiencies now vs. NHL competition. It is up to him to get to work on them.


Dominic Moore

The Bulldog-hater here is former Harvard man Dominic Moore, who must be grateful the Canadiens unloaded that freeloading Yale Bulldog, Higgins, in the summer of discontent.


In the land of "No one can ever just be pleased", this trade has already been hailed as many things. I've seen people question Moore without really doing more than linking to career stats. I've seen others talk about too high a pick going the other way.

I have to say, I am quite positive about this move.

In one sense, I am pleased for Dominic's fans – I happen to be very good friends with some of his biggest fans (family). They will finally be able to wash the blue out of their clothes and burn those horrible Leafs sweaters.

But for our hockey team, I am doubly pleased. Gauthier has chosen a player that, if I know anything about hockey, should be a complement to our team. He is fast, he is intelligent and he is disciplined.

It is interesting to look at his career and find average numbers, but a mere season ago, Dominic was spearheading the Leafs attack on many nights. The fact that he managed 41 points in 63 games may not herald a breakout, but it promises that given a wide open mandate, he can be in the right place enough times to contribute significantly.

I've always had this impression as I watched his career (with interest). He doesn't have the Kostitsyn wrist shot or the Pouliot sneakiness, but he knows how to position himself in two zones.

I look at Dominic therefore as our Toronto Mathieu Darche – a solid contributor, who with a bit of timing and the right linemates can easily surprise his doubters (who will no doubt remember telling this blogger Darche was not an answer, before he had a hand in 10 goals in 11 games).

The other very very positive thing about this trade is that it was Florida who made it. Florida is a team supposedly in pitched battle with the Canadiens for a playoff spot this spring. Their team is not exactly blessed with scorers, nor with forwards any team would covet. Moore is not the devastating blow that will debilitate the team for the next months, but it seems like a pretty good signal that Randy Sexton has seen what the future may hold and decided to find draft picks instead.

It seems we might be able to add Florida to the list that includes the quitting Thrashers and the hopeless Leafs as teams that are booking concerts in their stadia and golf games in their iphones.


In sum, these moves are not major moves. Nevertheless, this is the kind of active management I have been waiting to see. Subban up against an opponent that fits and Moore to fill a hole, no matter how temporary.

The Habs seem to be committing to trying to win games this weekend and for the rest of the season. Perhaps we won't look like Cup favourites on the cusp of playoff time vs. NJ or Ottawa (!?!), but as any self-respecting Senators, Sabres, Hurricanes or Bruins fan will tell you, there's no amount of planning or analysis that can ever really tell what might happen with your team in this new NHL.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Game #61

Habs Put An Unlikely End To Caps' Streak

Details


Date: 10/02/10
Opponent: Capitals
Location: Montreal

Win: 6-5 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Neuvirth, Theodore (L)

Habs goalscorers: Gomez, Pyatt, Metropolit, Lapierre, Plekanec (2)
Opposition goalscorers: Laich (3), Backstrom, Green



Play of the game


I had a few choices for this play, but, I am happy to say, that I kept being surprised by each new goal. The play that takes the cake for me, though, has to be the OT goal. I bet everyone in the world (except Habs fans of course) thought that, once they went to OT, Washington would be a lock. Our winner, however, proved a lot of things and showed me that we can beat any team, on any night. The play itself started with more hard work up the boards by Sergei; as he had done most of the night. He then made a great move and an even better pass to Pleks in front of the net. Tom had no trouble tapping the perfect feed past a well out-of-positioned Theodore.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Sergei Kostitsyn - Game Puck
Cammalleri, Andrei and Pouliot gone, who will step up? How about Sergei, how about the boy who had so much promise 2 years ago? Well, if tonight was any indication, he is certainly up to the task. To play such an important role (3 great assists on goals 4, 5, 6) on 3 such big goals meant that we were able to knock off a team that no one thought would fall tonight.

Scott Gomez
I could have given this spot to Pyatt, Gomez's winger, but settled on Scott as I felt it was his goal, within the first minute of the game, that set the tone that we needed to overcome this team. He followed up on that goal with more hard work at the start of the next period by assisting on Pyatt's first career goal. Aside from the 2 points he led the team in face-offs at 59% and logged over 25 minutes of ice.

Tomas Plekanec
Wow! 8 shots and 2 goals from a player who is very interested in being considered elite in this league. There is, therefore, no better stage than against the league's best to show that you belong. Tonight he worked so well with Sergei which is very encouraging as both of those players, right now, are critical to our success. Scoring that goal in OT, his 17th, blew the roof off the building and has Habs fans everywhere thinking more than just playoffs.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
It was horrible to see Gorges go down with what looked like a potentially devastating shot to the head. He was having a good game till then and had even been working with Andrei in various situations (including when he got hit). It was, however, up to players like Markov to pick up the slack in Josh's absence and I felt that Marky, in particular, answered the call. He played over 30 minutes tonight (including almost 10 minutes of special teams) and ended at +2. Surprisingly he was held off the scoresheet, but I am happy that he focused more on his own end once Gorges went down.

Roman Hamrlik
Hammer, again, jumped up into the attack tonight with quite a bit of effectiveness. He managed a single assist, but I felt that it was his transition play that was key to the attack. Like Markov he played an obscene amount of minutes (28+); exactly what you need from your top 2 in a time of need. A special mention has to go to Hal Gill who, I thought, played a great game, especially on the PK. 11 blocked-shots and an assist meant that this was a very, very tough choice to make.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I can't ask for more than beating the best team in the league. I don't care how many goals he let in, how they went in (let's face it though, most were great as that team is ridiculously talented) or what he really looked like. What I am looking for in a game that should have been a loss is some fight. He showed all this by never putting us behind in the game and by giving us that chance to win. Sure it would have been nice to hold onto the 5-2 lead and see some dominance down the stretch, but, for once, dominance wasn't needed, and that is fine by me.


Comments


The Habs started well, but so did Washington. This game really could have gone either way in the end as both teams got very creative and exciting offence and non-dominant goaltending. The good news for the Habs has to be, though, that we even were in this game in the first place. After the game on Sunday most people thought that a loss tonight was a certainty. People, more interested in being right than supporting their team, were writing the Habs off and predicting 2 points, max, from this week. I can't, however, stress it enough how the Habs are the type of team that can do this. They can lose to the worst and can beat the best. I have preached this time and time again and this is one of the reasons I will always love this team - so I am not that surprised. When you break down the Caps you see stunning offence, average D and below-average goaltending. When you make a game-plan against a team like that you must exploit those weaknesses - and that is what the Habs did. They found the chink in the armour and exploited it very well. What the Canadiens realized is that you can't really stop the Caps' offence. You can get up by 3, but you can't stop them. You can have Brodeur in nets, but they will not cease. So, the only way to beat a team like that is to open up and to try and out-score them. Kudos then to the Habs who went for it, right away. They opened this game up and showed how talented they can be. We have 2 more games before the break and 2 points would be great. I think that we have a large group of players that, despite the results, have worked hard and deserve a break. Let's have a great weekend and then we can all cheer for Halak, Pleks, Markov, Weber and the brothers.

Habs At The Sixty Game Mark

Details


Date: 10/02/10
Position in standings: 7th in East, 19th in NHL
Prognosis: Uncertain

Winning record: 9-8-3

Habs on scoring leaders (top 30): Plekanec (18)
Habs among statistical leaders (top 30, major category): Cammalleri (T9, G); Plekanec (7, A); Halak (15, GAA), Price (26, GAA); Halak (5, SV%), Price (20, SV%)




Defining play of the 20 games


It was period of ups and downs, a period where the team was twice, if not three times, written off, and hailed as contenders at least as often. The defining play of the 20 games then for me was the most unexpected of goals in the most unexpected of games:
"The game was 1-1 when this play happened and I think it was the play that paved the way to our victory. It also, conveniently enough, was the best goal of the night. The Habs had just killed their third of three penalties and things were looking good, but we needed a goal to have something to show for it. This play started with a great pad save from Halak which he sent, in rebound form, out to Hamrlik. Roman then had the good sense to throw a backhand pass to the wide-open Gionta on the left side. Brian then was in alone on Fleury and made a great move to score his first of the night."
It also happens to be just about the prettiest goal of the season.



21-40 Dome


Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Fewer points, but more goals. Though Tomas lived a mini-scoring slump, he still came back with 13 domes and a game puck. It's actually amazing to watch Plekanec of 2009-10 pull this kind of thing off. Last 20 game stretch witnessed him tear through scoring rivals with multi-point nights, but that was with regular linemates. This latest 20 games he has done whatever has een asked of him, has made new linemates better and helped his team to 10 wins and 23 points from 40.

Scott Gomez
Gomez came alive a bit before the 40 game mark, but this dome place reflects the fact he headed the number one line for most nights over the last 6 weeks. He answered the responsibility with a team high 16 points as well, and by carrying the PP work of Kostitsyn. In addition, he abetted the arrival of new scoring hero Benoit Pouliot with an instant gelling between youngster and vet not seen since Savard-Dionne. 2 game pucks and 10 domes make him the second forward of the 20 games.

Brian Gionta – 20-game puck
Game 41 arrived just as some players started to return to the lineup. As we marveled at the instant impact of Andrei Markov, the diminutive forward we weren't very familiar with was just steady. Over the last 20 games though, Gionta has put together a tour de force. 14 domes for a forward is virtually flawless, and 6 game pucks on top of that, well that's just amazing. Brian also had 16 points over the 20 games, 8 of which were goals. He's easily stemmed the loss of Kostitsyn. it will be nice to see them play on the same team one day (fingers crossed).


Defencemen

Andrei Markov
The other returnee did just as expected, by slotting himself into the lineup and picking right up as the top defenceman. His impact on offense has been top-notch since his return, as demonstrated by his 12 points and the PP's continued excellence. And while there was certainly a period of defensive re-adjustment, his 7 domes in the last 10 games suggest he's finding his feet. All told it was a tidy 11 domes and 2 player of the game nods.

Roman Hamrlik
Roman Hamrlik may well just be the most underrated player never to appear on a list of underrated players. The first overall pick from the early 1990s shows his pedigree every night. It's been in large part to his calm, and his fledgling partnership with Jaroslav Spacek that the Habs have been able to avoid barrage every single time out. Another 10 domes, with Markov around, testifies to his steadiness. His game puck shows he can still call upon that 1st overall flair from time to time, as well. While I was dumbfounded at first to hear the Czechs pass on Hammer, I am now quite relieved. A 2 week break for recharge will be a big boon for March – if he even approaches October/November form again, our team might yet have a new look from the back.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Games 41 to 50 were just another in the jostle for position between Jaro and Carey. But around the 50 game mark, Jaro finally recovered a Price fumble and held onto it himself. As Carey let in goals on scoring chances one and two in his second consecutive game, Jaro answered by stunning the Devils and shutting out the Rangers. Since that time, he's logged 9 of 10 domes (one in question) and gathered a fair share of points. Over the 20 games it was 13 domes in all and an impressive 5 game pucks (none under question). Between Jaro and a new line one, the team has been able to keep pace in the race. With all these wins, saves and statistical runs in his favour, it only remains for him to convince those who open every thought about him with "he doesn't make it look pretty, but..." to find something else to say.



All domes

Scroll through using the arrows below the slides. Click on the Game # to link to the report.




Player standings



Name Game pucks Domes LIW Pts First star Second star Third star 3 Star Pts
Brian Gionta 6


14 128


2


0

0

10


Jaroslav Halak 5

13 86

4

2

1 27
Scott Gomez 2

10

64

0

0

1

1

Tomas Plekanec 1 13

64

0

0 2

2
Andrei Markov 2 11 57

1 0 1

6

Benoit Pouliot 1

8

44

0 2

3

9

Roman Hamrlik 1

10

42

0 0

0 0

Mike Cammalleri 1

7

40

1 0 0 5
Carey Price 1 7

26 1 0

0

5

Jaroslav Spacek 0

8

24 0 0

1

1

Josh Gorges 0

7

21

0 0 0 0
Sergei Kostitsyn 0 3

12

0 1 0 3
Hal Gill

0 3

9

0 0

0

0



Mathieu Darche 0



1

4



0 2 0

6
Andrei Kostitsyn 0



1

4



0 0 0 0
Matt D'Agostini 0



1



4



0 0 0 0
Maxim Lapierre 0



1



4



0 0 0 0
Glen Metropolit 0 1



4

0 0 0 0
Ryan O'Byrne 0



1



3

0 0 0 0

Comments

Another 20 games, so I tally up the wins and the points and find that we've accrued another 10 wins, another 23 points. Without the help of the standings, would anyone polled come to that conclusion? This is actually the second 20 game set where this has happened, the second 20 game set where we've gained on our rivals.

As I've said elsewhere, it really is the first 10 games that remain the dark cloud over this season so far. The hole that was dug back then is still weighing on the win-loss balance, on the GF-GA ratio. I think as we went through that, everyone expected this team, built to win, would erase that start with one long sustained streak. It hasn't happened. Instead, the team battles along, making every point a fight and fighting in most games.

But you know what, it's starting to settle in that this team, pulling out one win over the 50-50 mark is the team we've got. The team of the rough start is no more our team than the team we all hope will win 12 in a row. And perhaps that's not such a bad thing. 

Other than that revelation, this 20 games has proven to be another frustrating period of injury and replacement, much like the beginning of the season. I hope, like me, you are all properly thankful that this spat of misfortune has happened in an Olympic year (perhaps our very last chance to take advantage of this). The next 20 game stretch will start on the same track. I hope that come game 64 this team will pick up their nightly battle with a whole bevy of familiar reinforcements.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

PP Problems?

How Much Will Bergeron Be Missed?

It appears that we can add Marc-Andre Bergeron to the list of walking wounded on this Canadiens team.

With the cannon shot from the point being withdrawn from the lineup, thoughts naturally veer to doom and gloom scenarios for the PP. When I saw Arpon Basu's tweet earlier today literally tying this injury announcement to a forecast of PP demise, something didn't compute. I decided to have a closer look.


Bergeron's contribution

Before getting to the impact that the loss of MAB will have to the lineup, I thought it first important to recognise what the guy did for the team in its hour of need.

Perhaps it's hard to remember now, but October was a horrible month for the Habs. So horrible in fact, that it has been a cloud over the whole season since, in the standings, in the GF column, in the GA column, in the goalie stats – everywhere. Back then the PP was not a bright light on a middling team, it was just another dysfunctional element with no upside in sight. That was, however, until MAB started to turn things around.

Marc-Andre had a couple of goals in game 2 and then went quiet for a bit. But when he re-awoke, he ignited the PP and Andrei Kostitsyn with it. From the Phoenix game in Novemeber to the end of December, MAB was a machine, and he can probably take credit for at least a 5-point share of what the team gathered over that month and a half. Furthermore, he made taking penalties against this small team a bad thing – something that was and always will be critical to success.


Goals created

As I have done a few times in the past, when I start looking to offensive generation in the past, I look to the record that the collaborators at LIW have gathered this season. Goals created tells us not only how many times MAB got an assist or a goal, but how important we all thought that assist or goal was. And, since Goals Created is a proportion of Goals, we can also easily derive what portion of the offense MAB (and all other players) were directly responsible for creating.

When it came time to look at Bergeron's importance over time, it seemed to me that there were a few clear junctures this season where things changed. First, of course, is the addition of Bergeron to the lineup. Second, the point where he was removed from the lineup. And to split the time in two: the date Markov returned.

Looking at it this way, there are two chunks: Pre-Markov and Post-Markov. It's interesting how things break down.

Pre-Markov
Player GC PPGC % PPGC
Marc-Andre Bergeron 6.21 3.96 23%
Tomas Plekanec 9.54 3.54 21%
Mike Cammalleri 13.46 2.38 14%
Roman Hamrlik 3.29 1.50 9%
Andrei Kostitsyn 7.29 1.17 7%

Post-Markov
Player GC PPGC % PPGC
Andrei Markov 6.63 4.25 18%
Scott Gomez 8.75 3.54 15%
Tomas Plekanec 9.38 3.50 15%
Marc-Andre Bergeron 3.21 2.54 11%
Glen Metropolit 2.29 2.29 10%


There are a few things to note here:

– First, MAB was fabricating nearly a quarter of PP goals before Markov came back. With Plekanec, the two were near 50% of the output. Since #79 is back, the point of attack has changed

– Since Markov has returned, the PP is better (as seen by Plekanec's identical absolute production as 21% then 15%). As such, a loss like MAB's 11% can be more easily absorbed

– Since Markov has come back the attack is more evenly spread. I would suggest this is because Markov thinks more on the fly, whereas the PP success before relied on a shot from #47


All of this shows that MAB will be missed, but perhaps not as much as he would have been had Markov recovered from his Achilles injury at the speed of a normal human. As it stands, it is entirely conceivable that the PP sans MAB will just slot in Spacek or Hamrlik (previous impact) and keep going at a similar rate.


The past 17 games

Even that split doesn't really tell us exactly what to expect. However, there is another interesting split that I found in the data. As important as MAB has been, in terms of GC, he has not really made a massive contribution to a PP goal, or any goal since Game #43 (17 games ago).

From this, I suggest that the Canadiens have adapted their play following a brief Bergeron/Markov honeymoon (an unsustainable 11/24 on the PP).

It will be of some comfort to everyone to know that Bergeron's 17 game stretch with about 1.2 GC was not exactly one of trouble for the PP. During that time, different players again picked up the slack (and the supply from Gomez, Pleks and Markov. The PP since Game #43 has performed nicely at a 13/54 pace – or just under 25%.


So, will Bergeron be missed?

Of course, he'll be missed a bit. However, if the stats above show one thing, its' that the Canadiens PP has diversified since Bergie had to jump start it in October. I think the PP will be fine.

What's more, MAB's decline over the past 17 games or so has meant that the team has been carrying a 4th line winger who isn't adapting well, and not even putting out in his specialist trade. Overall, the trade off in losing MAB at this time might mean more effect from the 4th line proper at ES and a welcome rest for Bergeron in preparation for the playoff drive when an extra weapon in the arsenal will be most welcome.


Conclude what you want from the numbers. After taking a look, my forecast for the PP is far less gloomy than those before me.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Bob Gainey To Step Down:

Highs And Lows

All the rumblings about today's 4 pm presser are about Bob Gainey stepping down from his post as GM of the Canadiens.

Depending on whether you use Bob Gainey's calendar, or the one passed down from Roman times, he has managing the team for near 6 or 7 years now. The year he joined the team, the Canadiens were a non-playoff team only a year removed from the rousing efforts of 2002 (trophies, Bruins ousting and all). He leaves the team in much the same way – though the Canadiens made the playoffs last season, they may as well not have, and just like 2003, they are only a season removed from lofty achievements.

Ultimately, I feel this plays very much into Gainey's decision (and the gentle suggestions from his bosses). We may like to think there's some big conspiracy, or a controversy waiting to break. But with a 7-year record like this staring us all in the face, I don't think conspirators needed get off their seats.

AS I've said elsewhere, there would have been a time when an announcement like this one would have been a difficult pill to swallow. This time has passed, perhaps long ago. As we await the press conference to bid farewell to our beloved alum and GM, I ponder the highs and lows that Gainey's tenure has brought us:

Low: Saku Koivu not asked to return
The day after this happened was the first day in my life that I questioned my allegiance to this team. Though time has healed the wound, it remains a low point for the team over this 7-year period.

High: Centennial game
Having organized a centennial this year myself, I'm aware of how difficult it is to get one right. All involved should be proud of the festivities they dreamt up and followed through on.

Low: Trading Cristobal Huet
Never mind whether he played a single minute the following year, the Canadiens were poised to make the playoffs in good position for the first time in 15 years. Gainey preferred to put a rookie forward, in hope that he would gain experience. "Look a gift horse in the mouth" comes to mind.

High: 2005 Draft lottery
The beginning of the end of the lockout for real. The Habs looked to the Forum ghosts to bring them Crosby. In the end, they walked away with a high pick without the pain of losing.

Low: February 2009
Controversies and locker room schisms abounded as the Canadiens slid from a steady start into the nothingness of a playoff sweep. Gainey needed to do more sooner if as many as 11 players and a coach were truly problems.

High: Guy Boucher hired
Despite the inevitable let down of May, the management wins a major race for the brightest young coach in all hockey.

Low: Brisebois re-signed
I hope Patrice appreciated his long final bow. In a 5-year plan to rebuild a contender, there probably isn't so much room for favours and favourites.

High: Kovalev trade
Gainey's first major move showed what he can do when he is aggressive. The addition was a brilliant addition to a lacklustre squad, even without considering it was a complete steal.

Low: Game 82, 2007, Toronto
A nightmare scenario as the Canadiens miss the playoffs at the hands of a glorious Leafs comeback. One of those things, to be sure. As the sting lasted a summer, it's a low.

High: 2006 Playoff run
Making the playoffs on a full-on hot streak, only a freak accident stopped the Habs and cleared the path for the soon-to-be champs.

Low: Offering $10 million to Daniel Briere
Cracks in Gainey's veneer begin to show as he nearly gives away the farm to a very good (not great) one-time 80+ point man.

High: Markov contract
The coup of the contract season that year. Markov identified as the key (check). Markov signed for significant years (check).


I'm sure there are many more. These are just quick ones that come to mind. Please, i'd like to hear what you all think of as some highs and lows from over the last 7 years...