When do you give up?
When do you shrug your shoulders, hang your head, and admit that its over, there’s no way this team- your team, my team- is going anywhere this season? Maybe they’ll scrape into the playoffs with a little luck, but that’s all it will be: luck.
The Habs don’t even look like the team they were at the beginning of the season. I remember when Koivu could turn a game around in one period, when Higgins racked up breakaways and short-handed goals with alarming regularity, and Komisarek could knock anyone out of the play without drawing a penalty. I remember when Huet had the best save % in the League, the PP had the precise angularity of well-played pinball, and the PK was virtually impenetrable. I know that these things were so, I can close my eyes and see them again. Yet there was no trace of any of that on the ice tonight. That’s not to say there was nothing to like, the Canadiens have some good and reliable players who do good and reliable things, but there was none of the crazy devious glory they used to have. Some, I suspect, will say that the Habs tonight lacked passion. I don’t know about that, I think it’s a little different- they lacked inspiration. It’s easy to forget, with all the talk about hard work and hunger and determination, but fun is an essential part of hockey. Sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, it’s the team that takes more joy in the game that wins. You can call it energy, or passion, or momentum, but really it's only the love of playing. We take it so seriously, but that’s what it is in the end: playing, the same verb that describes what children do in sandboxes and what musicians do on pianos.
The Sens outplayed the Habs tonight. It was kind of a nasty game all around, full of cross-checking and high-sticking and tripping and hooking, and no player on either side proved to be above using morally dubious actions in service of their cause. In some way, it makes one grateful for inconsistent officiating, for had all the penalty-worthy actions in this game actually been called, neither team would have had 5 guys on the ice for more than a minute at a stretch. But the Sens, somehow, through all the nastiness, managed to sparkle and maybe have a little fun, while the Habs seemed to bring nothing but a sort of dull, half-distracted anger. That’s not only not enough to win, it’s barely enough to make it worth showing up in the first place.
What happened to them? What happened to that shockingly strange, creative, colorful team that I am so certain my Canadiens once were? Is it just fatigue, the long grind of the season finally taking its pound of flesh? Were the Pens and the Sens, doing so badly in the beginning, merely conserving their effort for this final push? Is it the off-ice drama that encircles the Habs, the pressure and anxiety that emerged after their first two consecutive losses after Christmas and hasn’t abated since? Are they choking, gasping for air in the tightly crowded, claustrophobic room that is the Eastern Conference standings?
I have no answers. I have no comfort, consolation, no cause for optimism or gratitude to take from this loss. It’s impossible, as a fan, to separate oneself indefinitely from the state of the team. Given enough time, as much as you might resist it, you take on some of their coloring- you are inspired when they are inspired, and when they fade to grey, so do you.
I always come back to the same problem: there is nothing a fan can do that makes any difference in the outcome of a game or the fate of the team. Hockey is our passion, but it is not our job, we have no real function. Some fans comfortably role-play at having hockey jobs, but I can’t do that well. Buying and selling and swapping them is Gainey’s job, disciplining and shuffling and directing them is Carbonneau’s job. My job isn’t even remotely related to such things and I can’t pretend it is. What, then, do I do? What is my role in this game?
There’s a quotation that’s been bouncing around my head since this morning, I don’t know why:
When you can’t run you crawl, and when you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.
Yeah, that is in fact from Firefly, the short-run failed television series. What do you want? Not all of my cultural references can be profound, and this wasn’t exactly a game worthy of Tennyson. But whatever- the Habs definitely aren’t running anymore, having somehow lost the joy of the game. They’re maybe still crawling, but Lord knows how long that will last. There are still 27 games remaining that have to be played, no matter what happens, so there is no question of quitting. Ahbabi are going to 82 games one way or another, the only question is how they do it.
If the point comes when they can’t crawl anymore, we carry them, some of us happily and others resentfully. That’s what we do. We gather up the tatters of our affection, no matter how tarnished and dull and grey, and we stagger somehow to the end, as a community, as a family. A large, contentious, unhappy family, perhaps, but you can’t choose your relatives. Whatever the ending is, after it comes it will finally be summer again in
Until then, maybe all we have are good memories and the blank, stubborn refusal to give up.