Tuesday, February 13, 2007

2-13-07: Panthers 1, Canadiens 0

It’s hard to keep writing about a losing team. Surprisingly, though, the hardest thing about it is not so much the pain and anxiety of the losing itself. After enough losing, one starts to expect it, and a sort of protective numbness sets in. No, what’s hard is the monotony of it. Honestly, there is nothing new that can be said about the Habs’ current problems. It’s all been done, by me, by many others. There’s only so much you can write about mysteriously underperforming forwards, botched power plays, and consistently atrocious positioning. If you try to keep writing about that, eventually you’ll go mad and sink into a dark pit of delusion, becoming absolutely convinced that Gainey is about to pull off that big Niinimaa-for-Lecavalier trade. So I’d like to welcome you to the first of what is sure to be a long series of attempts to keep despair at bay by finding entertaining ways to write about depressing games. Today’s plan: find a metaphor and see how far I can possibly stretch it.

Being on a losing streak is more or less exactly like being lost in the desert. It’s terrible, because it tricks you while it kills you. In the beginning, you’re all full of resolve and purpose, you’re going to find your way out. After all, we were winning once, right? So all we’ve got to do is start doing exactly what we were doing then, and it’s all good! It’s not that hard, you tell yourself, I’ll just retrace my steps, and eventually I’ll get back to civilization. But the days pass, you start getting filthy and sunburned and dehydrated, you look around and all you see is the same bleak, bleached landscape in every direction, nothing but emptiness. You start chasing after mirages, the vague shaky hints of something improbable you think that maybe you can see in the distance- that next line combination that just might work, that crazy motivational technique that might finally awaken something. Days are passing, though, and eventually, you know you’re really lost, and you’re going to die.

It turns out, however, that the desert is not an entirely miserable place, once you’ve accepted that it's where you are and there ain't no getting out. Yeah, overall, it’s brutal, but it has its charms. Scarab beetles, for example, are incredibly entertaining little creatures, and cacti have lovely flowers, and there are some really gorgeous sunsets. You’re exhausted and suffering from heat stroke, and you know you’re not going to make it out alive. Might as well take a few minutes to appreciate the little things.

1. I loved the Koivu-Samsonov-Higgins line tonight, not so much because they created some good chances (although they did), but because they’re three guys who’ve really been working lately, and together they play with a bit of passion, some color, some style. They’re not going to score apart, and who knows, maybe they won’t score together either, but if there aren’t going to be any goals either way, there can at least be some enthusiastic efforts in the direction of the opposing net, and this trio seems to be able to do that. And they are, thank God, a truly fast line. If I could ask one favor of Carbonneau, it would be to leave this group together for a couple of games. At least then there’ll be something worth watching.

2. If this is a desert, Huet is a fennec fox. How can you not love those things? Anyway, he was back in form tonight, made some big saves, but mostly just impressed the way he always used to, by being solid in the face of high-pressure situations. Even in a(nother) loss, it’s reassuring to see him play confidently again. I hope that, at least, continues.

3. The Canadiens also did some genuinely good penalty-killing. Their power plays were terrible, so one can’t really say it was a good night for special teams, but the PK was good in a systematic, smart kind of way, not just in a lucky kind of way, which is nice.

4. Can somebody please explain to me how all the other teams beat the Panthers? Because really, Montreal can’t. It’s impossible for them- even before the slump, Florida would inevitably embarrass the Canadiens. The Panthers are fighting their way to the bottom of the standings; apparently plenty of teams can whoop them regularly. What the hell does everyone else know that the Habs don’t?

No matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. The Habs now get to move on from this game to spend Valentine’s Day wrapped in the tender, neutral-zone embrace of the New Jersey Devils. Jersey is Death Valley for the Canadiens, nothing but cracked alkali flats and the fiendish djinn that is Martin Brodeur. Here is my moment of brutal honesty: There is no way that the Habs can win this game. Even fully healthy and on their best streak of the season, I would not bet on them to beat the Devils, and given current conditions, it is as close to a pure impossibility as there is to be found in hockey. It will be, frankly, a major achievement if they can score one goal. Hell, if they score one goal, I’ll be ecstatic, that will be my patch of shade, that will be my purple-streaked sunset, that will be enough consolation, while we sit in this desert, waiting around to die.


Matthew Macaskill said...

Montreal hasn't figured out how to beat the trap yet it seems. The fact that we have to face Brodeur and the defensive Devils is just insult to injury.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this.
i also liked the way the Koivu line worked with Sammy. these guys are working, there's no doubt about it.

with Kovalev still out, Guy will hopefully not change the lines up again and go for some consistency. we hit a wall named Belfour last night. we weren't exceptional but we played well. the poor PP (and on-going 5-on-5) will work itself out once we get out of this slump mindset.