Wednesday, October 17, 2007

10-16-07: Panthers 2, Canadiens 1

Is it possible to do everything right and still lose?

It’s certainly not a pleasant possibility to consider. Where your own team is concerned, you always want to believe there’s a reason for a loss, so you search for an explanation, and usually you find it. You look for something they could have done, should have done, but didn’t- not enough shots, not enough backchecking, a poor performance by a key player. And if (when) that fails, you look beyond for the more cosmic explanations- bad ice, bad bounces, bad calls. But sometimes, no matter how hard you look for a cause to explain the loss, you can’t. Sometimes, they do everything right, and they still lose.

There were ill-omens. Steve Bégin, who (for those of you living in tiny caves in the Himalayas) is an incredibly industrious and widely loved 4th line/penalty kill fixture for the Canadiens, was scratched from the game for no reason whatsoever. Unlike the night’s other new benching, Latendresse, neither Bégin himself, nor anyone watching, nor apparently any of his teammates had the slightest inkling that he might sit, and Carbonneau- somewhat bitterly- refused to explain his rationale. But the strange thing is that the rest of Carbonneau’s press comments all focused on the idea that the team’s problem last game was work ethic- dude must have dropped that cliché about ‘a full 60 minutes’ 18 times in four minutes. Yet Bégin is possibly modern hockey’s most perfect incarnation of hard work, and he’d been playing well. Maybe not spectacularly, but spectacular has never been his thing. He’d been doing pretty much exactly what he always does, and you’d think that given his role and his popularity there’d be no reason to scratch him unless he’d become an active detriment to the team. And yet he sits, and fucking Garth Murray dresses, and let me remind you that Murray at his best is roughly comparable to Bégin on an average night. I’m going to take this as further evidence that Murray has naked pictures of Carbonneau in a compromising position with a goat, because I can think of no better explanation for this decision. If anyone else has a better one, I’d dearly love to hear it.

Of course, I can’t really say it made much of a difference in the outcome, because effort was not the Habs’ problem tonight. Most everyone seemed to be working at or above capacity, there was speed and energy, and they created some promising chances. Everyone I’ve mentioned in the previous days as good- Higgins, Plekanec, Koivu, Ryder, Kovalev, Huet, and the entire defense- was still good, and Grabovski and Kostitsyn created some merry havoc of their own. Sure, there were a few misplays: a turnover by Brisebois that, had Huet not saved the goal and his ass simultaneously, would have squandered any goodwill Patrice has managed to build up in the past few games; an extremely ill-advised last-minute penalty to Komisarek. Nothing catastrophic, however, or even particularly worth bitching about.

But Florida played 90% of the game as if it was a penalty kill- not only did they not generate much offense through the first two periods, they didn’t even seem to care that they weren’t generating offense. All they did was hold the game close- which Vokoun made easy- and then grab the opportunity when it presented itself, and that was enough. A scoreless OT, one goal in the shootout, and they go back to Miami two points richer.

So is it possible to do everything right and still lose? Of course it is, but there’s a good reason that fans rarely consider the question: because if the team does everything right and still loses, the failure isn’t a failure of action but a failure of ability. Left with the choice between believing that our team won’t win or that they can’t win, we’ll always choose won’t and berate them for laziness before we accept can’t. But the fact is, every game has to be lost by somebody, and sometimes the losing team loses not because they made some sort of mistake, but because they were simply the less talented squad. And yes, I did just imply that maybe my beloved Habs are less talented than [shudder] the Panthers.

It’s a question I’m very much considering now. Carbonneau can throw whatever kinds of tantrums he likes, he can rant and rave about ‘working for a full 60 minutes’ if that’s what makes him feel better, but it ain’t work that’s the issue, it’s that ahbabi can try everything they can think of and still seem unable to get that tiny piece of rubber onto the only slice of ice you get credit for putting it on. They can do everything else with it. They can pass it, carry it, shoot it, block it all night long, but in the end none of that counts unless a particular red light goes on. Which is silly, really, it’s frustrating, it feels tyrannical and unfair that, of all the skills that seem essential to the game, something as basic and uninteresting as puck-in-net should be the only thing that actually matters. But goal-scoring is, apparently, like sex- when you have it, it seems like only one small part of a larger, more complex whole, but when you don’t have it… it very quickly becomes the most important thing. Right now, these Habs emphatically do not have it, and it’s not for lack of intensity or exertion. They’re trying. They’re really fucking trying.

But maybe they’re just not good enough.

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