The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Halfway home: Can the Canadiens legitimately compete for the Cup?

My apologies, but things have been crazy again lately. So, while I was unlucky enough to find time to watch the New Jersey game right before the All-Star break, I couldn’t bring myself to make another snarky “3 Stars of the game: Not anyone on the Canadiens” kind of post. I had recorded the Tampa Bay game from last night and intended to watch it upon coming home from work tonight, but I was lucky enough to stumble upon the result (and thus save myself the unneeded stress considering this week has sucked out loud at work).

The upshot is that our Habs have now lost three straight games – two of them against dregs of the league in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. While some of the more optimistic posters over at Habs Inside/Out have a point when they say that many are overreacting to this stretch of bad games, it also isn’t that far out of order to wonder aloud whether this lot have any chance of winning the Stanley Cup at all.

Personally, I think the answer changes depending on what Bob Gainey can pull off at the trading deadline (or before). As currently constituted, these guys would do well to replicate the result of last year’s postseason.

Before getting to the team as an overall whole, I first wanted to take a look at the goalies, defense and forwards as individual groups to assess where we are at this point of the season.

GOALIES:

As of this moment, the Canadiens are 7th in the league with a team GAA of 2.66, and 11th in the league with a .909 save percentage. In a bit of a surprising stat, the Canadiens are 18th in number of saves made – in other words, 17 more clubs have had more rubber fired on their netminders (I feared it was much worse than that). So, what does this tell us?

Well, for one thing, let’s keep in mind that Carey Price’s long-term injury meant that Jaroslav Halak has already played one less game this season (21) than he had in the two seasons before it combined. He’s been OK (11-8-1, 2.89, .904), but his issues with rebound control and conceding backbreaking softies has been well-documented. There had been some chatter before the season, and also at the beginning of Halak’s run of games describing our situation as “two # 1 goalies”. Well, that myth’s been well and truly busted for now. At just 23, he has plenty of time to grow and mature into an established top-level NHL goalie. Right now though, he is league-average at best and probably should not be expected to win a playoff series against opposition with a pulse.

On the other hand, Price was excellent before going down to injury, and his numbers are pretty good despite rust in the last three games (16-6-5, 2.44, .915). Astute readers will note that those are mediocre when compared one-to-one vs. Tim Thomas and several others. However, you can’t compare numbers without taking the defenses in front of them into account. The Bruins’ defense has been tenacious all season, while the Habs…well…I’ll get to our blueliners in a bit.

Anyway, it’s fairly obvious based on Halak’s play (over a significant sample size) that any further injury to Price will just about do it for the Canadiens’ title ambitions.

DEFENSEMEN:

I’ll put this succinctly: If Gainey doesn’t trade for a defenseman who can get through 18-20 minutes a night without blowing defensive coverages, scoring own-goals or getting caught pinching too far up ice three or four times a game, we will not get out of the first round of the playoffs. Period, end of story.

Offensively, the Canadiens haven’t been nearly as prolific as they were last season. So, while they could get away with blown coverages here and there last season (when Kovy and the Flying Kostitsyns were scoring for fun), those mistakes take on greater significance this season. When an opposing forward is left alone in the slot and the inevitable happens, we’re not getting it back nearly as often.

Rooting for this defense is like popping in a horror movie and fervently hoping that all of the kids survive this time.

While I don’t like plus/minus as a be-all/end-all stat, it can lead to some basic conclusions. Roman Hamrlik, Frankie Bouillon and Patrice Brisebois are both +1, and lucky to have even that. Mike Komisarek and Josh Gorges are better, at +7 and +9 respectively. Andrei Markov is at +11, which makes sense as he has been our best blueliner all year. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned Ryan O’Byrne. This is for the same reason that I don’t mention the color of the sky.

Going beyond plus/minus though, what mainly fuels my pessimism for this team’s chances is the fact that the same stupid mistakes are being made by these guys over and over and over again. Look, I know even Nick Lidstrom misses a coverage sometimes. I know Brian Campbell gets caught pinching. I know that many clubs don’t get stellar play from their 5th and 6th defensemen. It almost wouldn’t be fair to expect much from Breeze and O’Byrne…in the playoffs, they just wouldn’t play as much. But, Hamrlik in particular has been our worst player this season relative to normal performance (and more importantly, to salary earned). As Mike Boone mentioned at Habs Inside/Out in the Tampa Bay liveblog, Hammer makes $5.5 million  to not score and not hit. What he forgot to add is that he also doesn’t play much defense – the number of key blocks or interceptions or checks made is far outweighed this season by the number of brain-dead gaffes that he’s committed. If you go back through the game reports I’ve done at this blog, you’ll want a dollar for every time I bemoaned a goal where Hammer was directly at fault.

From a depth perspective, a top-4 defenseman is needed for several reasons. First off, we need one more physical defenseman to go with Komisarek. More importantly, O’Byrne is simply not good enough for the NHL at this stage…and at this rate, Hammer is not good enough for anything other than 3rd-pair status. I am perfectly fine with Komi/Markov and Gorges/Player TBD as the top 2, with Frankie, Hammer and Breeze fighting for the last two spots. If a D-man goes down with an injury, would you really want Yanick Webber staring down the Devils or Bruins or Capitals?

FORWARDS:

As mentioned, the Canadiens haven’t been scoring at anywhere near the same rate that they did last season. Through 47 games, no one on the team is even close to point-per-game status…in fact, our leading scorer has a 7-31-38 line. That player, by the way, is Andrei Markov. Our top forward is Robert Lang, whose 16-20-36 is mostly counterbalanced by his abysmal defensive play (hint: scoring 20 points and directly being responsible for 5 is more valuable than scoring 36 and being responsible for, what? 25? 30?).

Once you get past Alex Kovalev in 3rd with 13-21-34, no one else on the club even has 30 points? For a team that was supposed to largely be the same run-and-gun free-scoring outfit from last season, that is DISGRACEFUL. In fact, it’s one less than the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mull that over in your mind for a little bit. Even the offensively-challenged New York Rangers have four players with more than 30 points, and one with 40 on the dot (Nikolai Zherdev). With all of the talent on this team that should be feeding passes to one another, how is this possible?

Honestly, I feel like our whole game plan was sussed out by the Flyers in the playoffs last season…and also by the Bruins in the first round to a lesser extent. If we played the Bruins in the opening round this year, we’d be out in 5 games. We’re not sneaking up on anyone anymore…I fear that a lot of our success last season can be attributed to the fact that some pundits had us finishing dead-ass last…as in, worse than the Islanders! This year, we’re the defending Conference champions and everyone comes to play against us. Our forwards don’t get the time and space that they did last year, and the games of Kovy, the Kostitsyns, Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins have suffered.

Here’s the good news – the kids (Matt D’Agostini and Max Pacioretty) have been far better than they had any right to be. The energy guys – Steve Begin, Tom Kostopolous, Maxim Lapierre, even Guillaume Latendresse, have played out of their skins…far beyond their limited skill sets. But, you need the skill players to complement that…and other than the fantastic play of Alex Tanguay, we haven’t gotten enough of that without the price of horrid defensive play to go with it.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

We’re mediocre on the penalty kill. We blow goats on the  power play. You already knew this.

 

Don’t get me wrong. The Habs are a good team…a very good team. They will win more than they lose, sometimes significantly so in a given 7-8 game stretch. But, the fundamental weaknesses of this club in defense and on special teams, along with the regression of the forward unit as a whole means that any decent team will eat us alive in the playoffs. It’s a sobering thought for those of us that got caught up in the preseason centennial hype.

You know what to do, Mr. Gainey…over to you.

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Montreal Canadiens | Leave a comment

Shane Comes Back

I have never in my entire life been as wrong about a fight as I was about Margarito/Mosley. The closest I can come up with is Trinidad/Hopkins, which this fight eerily resembled. I need to stop underestimating old black dudes occasionally trained by Nasim Richardson who discover illegal handwrapping techniques used by their opponents prior to fights where they are major underdogs, and who I am rooting for even as I suspect they’ll lose. If my neighbors are reading this, sorry for all the screaming.

I’ll probably have more to write about this one whenever I sober up, but wow was that shocking. Shane absolutely beat the shit out of him- this wasn’t the Cotto gameplan of trying to win with 12 rounds of backing up with jabs and counterpunching, running out the clock; and while Shane was the better boxer he was also the rougher tougher customer in there. He slew the dragon, knocked him out. What can you say? From a gameplan standpoint he did an awesome job of controlling distance, tying Margarito up on the inside and darting in and out, but he was darting in and out with huge powerful shots and crushing Margarito with them round after round to the point where I had him winning a shutout even before the KO. He was utterly dominant, controlling the ring and landing the harder and more frequent shots. No 37 year old should look so young, no one going through a divorce with the mother of his children should be so focused. Again, what can you say? Old time something come back again, and Shane Mosley is the legitimate welterweight champion of the world regardless of what the Ring has to say.

Margarito seemed to indicate after this that he wanted to fight Cotto again. Good, let him, as a #1 contender’s match; me, I want Mosley against the winner of Pacquiao/Hatton. MANY BUYS.

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Boxing | , | Leave a comment

Fighting Stuff

– So I’m on the record, I like Margarito over Mosley 117-112, and Fedor over Arlovski  by grounded strikes in the second. Let it be noted that while everyone is a dog against Fedor, Arlovski is as live of one as they come. Shane has a chance in his fight but didn’t look like quite the same fighter against Ricardo HitMeMorega and apparently has a great deal of home-life trouble on him entering this one. To win he has to be perfect in executing the Cotto gameplan for 12 rounds without fading, and the odds of that aren’t high. 5 or 10 years ago, I think he wins.

– Speaking of Arlovski, there have been two goofy reports about him circulating: that he’s boxing evenly with JC Gomez in training, and that he wants to box Nikolai Valuev if he beats Fedor. First, perhaps this is my ignorance speaking, but I’m not entirely clear why he’s boxing a boxer while training for MMA- it’s really not the same kind of striking, and last time I saw JC Gomez he was not anything like Fedor stylistically. Second, JC Gomez sucks (slapping! Running! Weight issues! JC Gomez!), so this is less impressive than it sounds- I’m a firm believer that the one division where MMA guys could turn to boxing and be successful to the point of possibly being champions is heavyweight. Third, preceding from that, if Arlovski does fight Valuev I’d pick Arlovski on grounds that one guy is good and one guy is…tall.

– Apparently Floyd Mayweather has tax issues, but I think his speed and footwork will let him outpoint Mike Rotunda.

– Barrera/Khan apparently has US TV as per Dan Rafael- a pay per view set at $25, to which my response is a simple fuck you. It’s a good fight but not a great one at about the level of an HBO opening bout, with a slim undercard (Nicky Cook/Roman Martinez, Enzo Maccarinelli vs. Some Guy), and you’re pricing it at that level in this economic climate? It would be rational to not charge for this on Versus or some such as a loss leader to boost interest in these fighters and the sport as a whole; it would be rational to save on costs and just not have US TV; it is not rational to go to the bother of US TV only to price your show at about 2.5 times what it should be, killing off some of your buys and creating resentment and a feeling of being exploited in those who do go for it. I can only assume this is another of those incredibly short-sighted let’s-soak-the-Hispanic-market decisions which have also produced the execrable PPV career of JC Chavez Jr. The day is going to come, especially if UFC gets serious about the Mexican and Mexican-American markets, where boxing is going to have real competition in that area and that day is only going to be brought forward every time another of these shitty overpriced shows is thrown out there. Each one erodes the store of goodwill the sport has left with the public.

– RIP Chegui.
– Weigh ins. I don’t get it. Before a big fight on MMA boards and boxing websites people throw up a big fuss about wanting to see the weigh in as though it’s a major event- which I suppose it is, given the interest, though god knows why. If you’re gay, I get it, it’s ripped shirtless athletes doing muscle poses. For others, though- it’s two guys who look almost exactly the same as they did the last time you saw them standing on a scale for 30 seconds, making a fighting gesture for 30 seconds for pictures, and then fucking off back to their rooms ASAP to chug water and eat pasta. What do you learn? What ever happens at these things except the occasional pro-wrestling grade fake tussles designed to sell a few more PPVs?

– Roy Jones Very Junior is apparently taking on Omar Sheika upcoming, which is tragic on so many levels. Sheika is a million years old and his recent record includes a 2 year layoff between fights in the midst of going 4-6 in his last 10. He’s lost every major fight he’s had bar an inexplicable 2000 win over Glen Johnson, which matters more in hindsight than it did at the time- and he still might win this! Roy is done. Utterly, irrevocably, totally done. He’s walking right up to the line of being a shot fighter, and at 40 he doesn’t have the reflexes to get out of the way of punches or the chin to take them anymore. I can’t imagine he needs the money or that there’s much money in a Sheika fight anyway, so I couldn’t tell you why he’s doing this; I just hope people who love him tell him to quit soon, because this could get ugly. Even if he beats Sheika, what then? Who’s left to fight, and for what?

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | Leave a comment

…Fuckry.

The NY Times screams in fear of MMA. Let’s examine the stupidity contained within.

– Tendentious language: “blood-soaked”, “vicious” etc. This goes along with its friend, lack of actual description. Together they’re pretty much the hallmarks of an evidence-free screed.

– A positive reference to pro wrestling in the article. Pro wrestling, I would bet $1000, has the highest serious injury and mortality rate for ex-participants below the age of 60 of any sport or pseudo-sport in the world. Referencing that hideous mess of an industry as though it were a positive and MMA a worse danger is pretty clear evidence of the authors’ lack of interest in facts as opposed to preconceptions.

– The title itself. “Disturbing” to who, exactly? Using passive language of this kind in an unsigned editorial is about as dodgy as it gets.

“What they don’t tell you is what is allowed,” Mr. Reilly points out. “Kicking in the head, kneeing in the head, hitting in the head.” Ultimate fighters do not wear helmets or shoes or full, padded boxing gloves.”

Yep, the rules are hidden and impossible to find. I couldn’t find info of that kind anywhere.

Also, let’s unpack this. Kicking in the head is allowed in kickboxing, which is legal in New York. Knees to the head are legal in Muay Thai, which I believe is also legal. “Hitting in the head” is the definition of boxing, which has been legal since forever. Helmets aren’t worn in any of the professional classes of the currently legal fighting disciplines; I have no idea what his point is about shoes- wearing them would seem less barbaric? It’s the sort of random thing seized on by someone with little understanding or willingness to learn about grappling or the practicalities of mixed fighting- ignorant and superficial.

The gloves bit is more interesting. MMA gloves are small and jointed, as they have to be for grappling purposes. I don’t know of relevant studies as to whether this leads to a higher KO rate per punch, but I would bet money that it does. The question is, is this bad (or even all that meaningful)? I would argue no: almost every major boxing tragedy over the years, from Benny Paret to Duk Koo Kim to Levander Johnson, occurred as a result of an extended many-rounds-long beating in the ring, coming after several similar beatings in the recent history of their career. Small gloves will probably result in a higher KO rate per punch, but the shorter length of MMA fights (max 25 mins. vs. max 48 mins. for boxing) plus the smaller gloves and less sustained striking style enforced by the addition of takedowns and grappling, plus the greater chance for an MMA bout to end early without the cause being a strike to the head, result in fighters taking fewer blows per minute and per fight. In MMA some of those strikes are focused elsewhere in the form of the (dreaded shoeless) leg kicks and such as well, which further reduces the amount of brain trauma. MMA isn’t easy for the participants of course, but it seems to be clearly safer overall especially as regards blows to the head in comparison to the currently-legal boxing. But don’t let that from stopping you.

“Ultimate fighting’s supporters also argue that at a time when funds are hard to come by, the state would earn a percentage of the big money from these spectacles, which can cost $200 to almost $400 a ticket.”

None of whom are named of course. Personally, I’d argue that it’s something that consenting adults desire to participate in and which millions of their peers are interested in paying for the privilege of seeing, and to overrule that at the legislative level you had better have something much better to argue with than “this is new and looks scary”. I’m not interested in my already insanely paternalistic state and local government protecting me from my own interests, thank you. Incidentally, I don’t see anyone from the Times trying to ban football after what happened to Willis McGahee last week- should I just assume the same reason, new things are scary? It’s the Times, so the answer is probably yes. I’m almost shocked they even have an online edition, sometimes. The paper of William Kristol and David Brooks, ladies and germs.

– They conclude with the obligitory bit about brain injuries, which fails utterly to distinguish between boxing and MMA in relative risk and reveals the real aim of so many of these articles: smuggling in a ban on all fighting sports through the back door without taking time to evaluate whether the fears they have about those sports are A) justified, B) not better exemplified by other sports, and C) of such crucial importance that they should override the personal choices of participants.

Let’s be honest: this is one of those most insanely stupid articles you’ll read all year, utterly uninformed about the most basic of facts which it took me 10 minutes to dig up with Google, and droolingly ignorant about the history of the topics on which it aspires to opine. If MMA were legal in this state it would be beneath contempt and I’d ignore it, but for now it’s fools like the authors of this who are dictating policy in this state. Personally, I intend to answer this by finally getting off my ass and writing to my representatives, and if you’re in my state, please help out and do so as well. For all the hand-wringing of this piece what it actually exemplifies isn’t concern for its subject, but a particularly ugly form of arrogance and contempt for it in taking the position that participants and fans of MMA somehow need to be saved from their own interest in a sport which the authors can’t even be bothered to understand the most basic rules of, let alone the history and context in which it has developed. I find nothing to respect in that; despite the dangers, I find everything to respect in the dedication and work ethic of competitors in MMA and the respect which their fan base offers them. If the Times editorial staff only sees bloodlust in that, it says a lot more about them than it does about MMA.

Assholes.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | , | Leave a comment

Gary Bettman, Ladies and Gentlemen

Shorter Bettman: my players are work-shy liars who must be forced by edict to show up for the all-star game.

That’s advertising, baby.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Other NHL | Leave a comment

Can I Really Be….

…The only person who doesn’t give a honk about the All Star Game in the NBA? Skills competitions are fun because they’re something different, and the one on one tournament idea that gets kicked around would be one of the best things all year (though it will NEVER happen; too many egos), but the game itself and the preceding hoopla- blah. Once in a million years you get something interesting like the year AI led the rebel alliance into making the game almost serious for a while, or the year Kobe faced Jordan back when people with mental function above the brain stem thought Kobe might be as good as MJ; but for the most part it’s a bunch of guys with a 70% chance per man of actually deserving to be there ambling about at half speed and trying for reverse ally-oops on every play, shooting southpaw 3 pointers and trying to make court-length Hollywood passes which would put Steven Gerrard to shame. The standard of defense played usually resembles two drunks near closing time debating the meaning of life, each waiting for the other to finish so he can start. No buys.

Every year this spectacle gets vastly more talk than it deserves or can stand up to. If a player isn’t selected and his numbers are within screaming distance of decent you can guarantee a minimum of 5 “OMG TEHY SNUIBBED YOU!!!1!!!!11” columns written  in his “support”, whether or not he’d rather be on the beach in Negril or wherever instead of at the game. Every year of late the Chinese try and rig the vote like they’re Habs fans or something, and we all wonder what to do if they ever actually manage to get Yi in as a starter- laugh? Cry? Order pizza for the game in protest? Every year there’s at least one and often more comically unsuited players in the starting lineups; I see you, husk of the corpse of the remains of AI. Every year deserving players will miss out when a guy with 80% of their ability and better teammates gets picked for the game devoted to individual excllence because the next man over bails him out more frequently. Every year guys who actually deserve to be there at the game which celebrates Stardom will begin agitating for their little buddies to make it “because they do so much for the team”; this is conceptual fail, and LeBron’s doing it with Mo Williams is about the only thing he’s done wrong all year. Every year the extremely limited participating of WNBA players for cross-promotional purposes will be met with howls from a dedicated minority of “fans”, who will resort to witticisms of the “she can palm my balls anytime” type and make the rest of us want to kill them. Every year the game trails a 6 month long wake of bad articles of the form: player X wants to prove the haters/doubters/media/team management wrong by making the all star game next year/winning this year without having made the all star team. All of these articles suck and convey almost no information. Also no buys.

The worst part of all this for my money is that despite how silly the whole exercise is, despite the highly-visible sausage-making of the roster selection process and the vagaries of insane fan voting, people still take this stuff seriously for hall of fame/historical rankings debates as though somehow the current year’s team which they are most likely complaining about is the first one to have baffling and questionable selections in it.

I will leave you with the information that according to wikipedia, New Kids On The Block are performing the national anthem at this year’s game. You may draw the obvious inferances at your leisure.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Other NBA | Leave a comment

Ricockulous

Arseblog: HES SIGNED LOL!!!11

Gunnerblog: NO U HES NOWT LOL!!!11

At this point I’m not even sure there really is an Andrei Arshavin; maybe this is all some sort of elaborate rib or performance art vehicle.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Hmm

Remember when Kolo handed in that transfer request, was denied, then suddenly Gallas and Silvestre were injured and he was starting? Gallas is back, earlier than expected.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

Atlanta 4-2 Montreal

I sat down at 11:30 last night to watch this on the DVR.

Two clown-shoes goals allowed by Halak later, I asked Brendan the score and then FFed through the rest of the game up to 3-2.

Life is just too short sometimes. Sorry.

Three Stars of the Game:

1. Not someone on Montreal
2. Not someone on Montreal
3. Not someone on Montreal

34298743298492th star of the game: Jaroslav Halak. Welcome back, Carey.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Haha

I hadn’t seen this when I wrote that last post, but the Guardian today had a “Big Debate” feature over the proposition that football transfer fees are a moral issue. And who did they get to argue in the affirmative? GEORGE GALLOWAY. That just about speaks for itself.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Other Soccer | Leave a comment