The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Sinking? No, friends…this ship be sunk.

While I can’t read Brendan’s mind as to why he came up with the title of this blog (The Knicks? The Nets? The Rangers? Boxing’s popularity? Arsenal earlier this season?), he inadvertently came up with the perfect way to describe this absolute shambles of a season for the Montreal Canadiens. While there will always be a level of volatility from one season to the next in terms of how a given team performs (unless you’re the Red Wings, who will of course be world-beaters until the end of time), I have never come across a club who so quickly went from Stanley Cup aspirations to…well…whatever this collection of jokers can call themselves now.

 

Of course, the latest attraction under the bleu, blanc et rouge big top is the story about the Kostitsyns and the Hammer hanging around a known gangster: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=3921050. We don’t know a lot right now, and I refuse to speculate as to what this actually means. However, who hangs around with mobsters to nosh on milk and cookies? I suppose it’s theoretically possible that HammerTits have collectively done nothing wrong, but I suppose it’s also theoretically possible that Scarlett Johanssen will give me a hummer in the next 48 hours.

 

If nothing else, the resulting media crush has taken an already-gaping hole in the battlements and rent it further asunder. In other words, this was the last thing our Habs needed right now to get out of the mire they’re in. What mire, you say? I’m glad you asked! How about a 3-11-1 record in their last 15 games? How about telling Alex Kovalev to stay home for the last leg of this current road trip? Oh, and there’s the three-game stretch where they Habs lost 5-2, 6-2 and then 7-2 to awful opponents. Don’t forget the franchise goalie of the future turning into a quivering mess overnight. Robert Lang (defensive issues aside), is out of the season. Well gee, when does the bad news start?

 

It’s gotten to the point where you can’t see Bob Gainey finding a way to stop the bleeding because there are multiple wounds here. On one hand, I admire the fact that he is standing behind his coach in times of crisis. Most GMs take the easy way out in these cases, even though I believe most coaches are largely fungible and outside of great ones like Scotty Bowman or crap ones like Mike Milbury, you’re not going to see too much difference between Guy A and Guy B. The Guy Carbonneau situation though is interesting. You have a team that is largely unchanged from last season (out: D-man to play the point on the PP.  in: Alex Tanguay) coached by the same guy who led them to the Eastern Conference championship last year. Sure, you can bitch about his constant line-juggling and his questionable decisions late in games. However, he did the same thing last season! Is it that the players just grew tired of him in record time? Did last season have nothing to do with Carbo after all? It’s hard to say.

 

What is easier to say though is that the Habs have not been the same team defensively and on special teams as they were last season. Through 59 games, they have scored 179 and conceded 181, which would put them on pace for 248-251. Last season, that ratio was 262-222…a 43-goal swing in the wrong direction. The lower goals-scored amount is easily traced to the fact that the power play has been dildos for most of the season – which in turn is traced to the departure of Mark Streit as a UFA last season.  It sucks, but it’s also defensible based on the inflated price that the Islanders opted to pay for his services.

 

The goals-against stat is far more worrying, though. As effective as Streit was on the PP, he wasn’t exactly Nick Lidstrom tracking back. However, you don’t have to be a tactical expert to see the problem if you watch enough of the Canadiens’ games this season. I’ve been bitching about it all year – guys get caught pinching, Hamrlik has spent the season impersonating a pylon, O’Byrne was probably called up too early (or he’s just not good enough, one of the two), coverages are blown at an alarming rate, and on it goes. It’s not just the D-men…the forwards have been lazy on the backcheck as well as the forecheck. Mike Boone has been asking over at Habs Inside/Out whether this team has a system, or if it’s just a matter of the players refusing to play it. It’s hard to tell, but it being the former would largely settle the question as to how much damage Carbo is doing to this team.

 

That domino has resulted (I believe) in the collapse of Carey Price’s confidence and form. He hasn’t been great when you take it in a vacuum, but you could put Terry Sawchuk or Patrick Roy behind this defense and they wouldn’t do appreciably better. Hell, leave a guy open in the slot or on the back post often enough, and Superman wouldn’t save it that often, either. I can see why Gainey figured that Cristobal Huet was expendable given his price tag relative to his comparatively modest abilities – and the decent play of Jaroslav Halak when called upon. That doesn’t change the fact that ideally, Price would still be playing about half the games in a 1A-1B situation with an experienced vet. Sorry, Marc Denis doesn’t cut it on that front. Further, given that they are building around a young goalie, I would rather that Gainey had passed on Lang and Tanguay in the offseason and instead concentrated on shoring up a shaky defense and perhaps adding size at the forward positions.

 

At the end of the day, the playoffs last year showed that even when they were playing up to the best of their abilities, an entire team of little quick dudes has a ceiling as to how far they can go…especially when matched up against a bunch of behemoths on skates. Seriously, the Philly-Montreal series was like the old NES version of Ice Hockey where a team of fat dudes annihilated a team of little skinny ones.  Whisper it, but maybe Gainey is going about it all wrong? I understand that Montreal demands a certain kind of hockey on the ice, but would it be that difficult to sell the natives on a more physical style of play when we’re not that far removed from the Patrick Traverse No-Stars? I am loath to even type these words, especially given how stoked I was about the team after last season. But, I look up at the Boston Bruins and I am FUCKING JEALOUS.

 

In short, the upshot of all of this is that there are a metric fuckton of questions with little-to-nothing in the way of answers. I almost wonder if a spectacular collapse will work out for the Habs in the long run. I’d rather finish 9th this season and see Kovalev and Lang and Hamrlik and the rest of the deadwood bounce rather than finish 6th and get skull-fucked by Philadelphia or Jersey for the umpteenth time. There is a wonderful core of players here in Pacioretty and D’Agostini and Komisarek and the rest (assuming they don’t pull a Kostitsyn on us, of course), so one year of being back in the playoff wilderness may be the best way of curing what ails this team.

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February 20, 2009 - Posted by | Montreal Canadiens

1 Comment »

  1. Sean, “The ship be sinking” refers to a famous Michael Ray Richardson quote.

    Comment by Duff Soviet Union | February 21, 2009 | Reply


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