Friday, December 15, 2006

12-14-06: Canadiens 4, Lightning 2

You know you like your team too much when you start to feel all warm and fuzzy about the worst parts of their game. Poor Tampa- they worked so hard, took so many shots, and they’re so freakin’ fast. In fact, they probably did everything they could to win, but... well, it wasn't enough, was it? The Habs played the style of game typical for them this season- their exciting, irritating, irrational, unstable, inconsistent game. I’ve complained about it a lot, but maybe I should stop, because they’ve gotten to the point where they make it work most of the time. More than that, I’m hooked on it, it’s kind of a fun, crazy, kinky game to watch, even though it’s full of holes and spends a lot of time tottering on the brink of losing. For the benefit of those who haven’t been paying attention, then, let me take this opportunity to run down the features of the 2006-7 Canadiens’ trademark game.

1. They take a lot of penalties. A lot of times these penalties are pretty much random, what with all the bizarre officiating going on these days, but one way or another, they’ll find a way to spend 10-20 minute on the PK per game. If you are the opposing team, you might think this is a good thing. That would be logical. It would also be wrong. The Habs have one of the best PKs in the League, and they score shorthanded. A lot. Twice in this game, in fact, and not flukey weird shorthanded goals either, but well set-up goals that look pretty embarrassing for the opposing goalie on the replay. Why can’t they do things like that when they have five players on the ice? This remains one of the great mysteries of the hockey universe. But honestly, if you need a strategy to beat the Habs, tell the refs not to call any penalties against them. You’ve always got a better chance 5 on 5.

2. They are outshot, for example, 43-20 last night. Again, hypothetical opposition, you might think this is an advantage. Again, you would be wrong, at least when Huet is in the net, because he always plays his best when the rest of the team is screwing up. By the third period of this game, I was thinking that I should call PETG (People for the Ethical Treatment of Goalies) because it is absolutely abusive how hard they make him work. Then I realized something: he loves it. Screw all this stuff about goaltenders becoming saner, Huet is definitely masochistic. As the game goes on, the more pucks hit him, the happier he gets, and the better he gets. The more you shoot at him, the less gets through. You can beat him in the first period, and you can beat him in a shootout, but other than that? Nope.

3. The Canadiens who score in any given game are not the ones you’d expect. The team’s coordination is improving by zero-gravity leaps and bounds- unlike half the teams in the NHL, they complete more passes than they blow. So go ahead, spend your time trying to block Souray’s vicious slap shots, and while you’re doing that, some other guy you hadn’t heard of or thought you could safely ignore is going to make you look stupid. Last night had first goals from Streit and Lapierre (who by the way is making the 4th line look like something to beware of). The Habs’ collective scoring isn’t particularly high, but it’s widely distributed throughout the team.

4. Koivu is better than you think- this was another two-goal game for him. I’m not going to rant too much here, but the Habs don’t get very much coverage in the larger hockey media, and when someone does a let’s-mention-something-about-every-team-in-the-NHL story, Koivu is at least 50% of the time the thing mentioned about the Canadiens. But, because of the cancer, he always gets talked about in this vaguely patronizing way, like he’s some sort of adorable three-legged puppy- so much heart, so inspirational, blah blah blah. I’m not denying that he’s got a ton of heart and is hella inspirational, but um, just to point out, he’s a freaking amazing hockey player. And he’s on a bit of a roll these days, on pace (insha’allah) for the best season of his career and starting to rack up a point total which is mildly impressive even on the scale of the NHL as a whole. But beyond the numbers, he’s fearless and creative, one of those guys who can and will do anything and, more often than not, make it look great. So yeah, maybe not the most splashy talent on the ice, but so so so much more than a Hallmark card to make everyone feel good about hockey.

The general take on this seems to be that it was yet another game that the Habs didn’t really deserve to win. Honestly, I feel a bit like that myself. But that attitude buys into hockey’s offense-fetish; as though the hard work that makes one deserving of a win, the thing that makes a victory earned, is purely a function of the number of shots taken and the amount of offensive pressure exhibited. The Habs won this game because of brilliant penalty-killing and even more brilliant goaltending, but why is that wrong? Why does that make the 2 points undeserved? Aren’t those legitimate parts of hockey as well? So I’m going to break with the mainstream analysis and call this a virtuous, if quirky, win. If ahbabi want to play crazy and can pull it off, who am I to criticize?


The Puck Stops Here said...

What happened to your Quiz: Guess What I Am Thinking post?

E said...

fear not, it's back. sorry!