Thursday, February 08, 2007

2-8-07: Senators 4, Canadiens 1

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 Montreal, it will be warm and bright and we can sit on balconies and feel the sun on our skin again, and ponder all the many possibilities of next season.

Until then, maybe all we have are good memories and the blank, stubborn refusal to give up.


Lyle Richardson said...

This is becoming monotonous. Like last season, they started strong, collapsed in mid-season, only to rally thanks to Huet's goaltending.

This season? Strong start, crappy middle, but is there a saviour coming this time around? Only if Gainey deals for it.

Now other teams have slumped this season, including the Sens, so it's still possible the Habs could rally, but it's one thing to start slow and finish strong. Quite another to start strong and then regain one's footing when the arse goes out of things at mid-season.

Put simply, the Habs are still rebuilding, and lack a superstar to rally around. This team just can't score, and that's the real need Gainey must address. Unfortunately, it's gonna cost him, and one has to consider if a short term fix for a team that, at best,might win one playoff round, is worth sacrificing the future.

It's been a tough ten years for Habs fans. We kept the faith, kept hoping for improvement. Things are better now than they were, say, six or seven years ago, when this team truly sucked.

But now, alas, the promise has faded for this season, and without a shakeup via trade, this team will be lucky to back into the playoffs, if it even makes it at all.

Sure, there's still plenty of time for a rally, but I just don't see it happening given how awful they're playing.

Aebischer at least has given them a chance, since Huet has lost his groove. But there's no scoring, and the work ethic that served them so well earlier in the year is now gone. That's a bigger problem, one that perhaps not even the acquisition of a big star could fix.

And the rebuilding continues. Look to the future and keep practicing patience, even if it kills us...;)

Thanks for lettin' me vent, E.

E said...

oh, these days we're all about the venting on this here site. every habs-related site, actually.

i haven't been around long enough to judge your prescriptions for solving the problem. i've got no base experience to judge for myself whether a shakeup, or the acquisition of a big star, would be enough to change things. the team we have has shown the ability to rally from time to time, but not the ability to put together a solid winning streak. granted, they don't need a really solid winning streak to make it to the playoffs, they can probably scrape in there if they can get to a win 2, lose 1 rhythm, but i think they need it to get back some of that inspiration.

anyway, as much as it might be exciting, i'm not in favor of a giant trade for an expensive superstar. better to stick more or less with the team they have, or at least whatever good parts of it they can retain over the summer, and keep all the young talent they can get their claws into. whatever happens this year will happen, who knows, maybe they'll come around, but they're just too manic-depressive to be worth sacrificing any future potential for a cup run.

i still think they've got the capacity to turn it around in a pretty dramatic way with what they've got now- for example, if higgins can break out of his existential crisis it will probably do wonders. but i'm not holding out for a miracle anymore.

Lyle Richardson said...

Unless Gainey surprises us, as he did with the Theodore trade, I don't see him doing the "short term" fix.

Oh, well, now that I've had a couple of hours in the gym (the best way to relieve Habs-induced tension!), I'm putting this into perspective.

If they rally, great, they stand as good a chance as any to go all the way in "my NHL".

If not and they fail to make it, then fine, it's not the end of the world, just an earlier end to another season of frustration.

In that case, as you aptly noted, stick with the guys that are working, dump those that aren't, try to find the right parts via free agency if possible, and keep building with the kids.

The Habs are actually in pretty good shape in terms of their prospects. Still, they need a bona fide superstar to build around, something that's been lacking since Ron Corey and Mario Tremblay rode Patrick Roy out of town on a rail.

Keep your chin up and your stick on the ice, "E". And keep up the good work. I love your writing.