Friday, November 30, 2007

11-30-07: Devils 4, Canadiens 0

Something tells me that there’s going to be a lot of hyperbolic outrage about this game. In fact, it might be a good idea to avoid all sports coverage in Montreal altogether until tomorrow night, at least if you’re a person of delicate sensibilities. That’s understandable- 4-0 is a pretty ugly score, the sort of thing that’s likely to predispose any fan to outrage. But I’m going to take this opportunity to exercise my God-given right as a Habs fan to be irrationally contrarian at weird times and say this: It wasn’t as bad as it looks.

  1. Firstly, you have to remember that we cannot beat the Devils. Just purge your mind of any thoughts you might have had- however tiny, however frail- of coming out of this game with a W. Brodeur hates us with a searing intensity that makes you think he must have been molested by Youppi! as a child (except I don’t think they had Youppi! back in those days). Who knows, maybe it was a love affair gone bad, I haven’t read his biography. But whatever the cause, he will not allow us to win a game in New Jersey so long as he can balance on skates. And yes, he does have the power to do that. So any Canadiens-Devils game must be judged on the proper scale, and the proper scale is that the best possible outcome is a 1-0 loss. Maybe a 2-1, if the Habs are on a real hot streak going in. And in spite of the score, this game wasn’t actually that far from being a 1-0 loss, or maybe a 2-0. The Canadiens were sharp through the first 30 minutes, and made Marty work to fulfill his malevolent designs.
  2. That first goal, though, was a heartbreaker. You knew, eventually, that Brisebois was going to have one of those wrong-side-of-the-highlight-reel moments… it happens to everyone sooner or later. Nevertheless it motivated Carbonneau to put him with Markov for the rest of the game, which might sound like a good thing (getting paired with the team’s ‘best’ defenseman) until you remember that Markov is also more or less the Habs’ official babysitter. Bet he thought he was done with that when Souray left.
  3. In the end, though, what killed the Canadiens was penalties, and not just mere mortal penalties, but freakish mutant penalties that no one should ever take- namely, perfectly simultaneous high-sticking double-minors to Chipchura and Latendresse (two guys who, it must be said, had been playing fairly well until that point). This meant not just 5-on-3, but 4 solid minutes of 5-on-3, and in fact 5-on-3 that continued for another two minutes after Jersey scored its third goal. Particularly given that Chupacabra is one of our better PKers these days, it’s not surprising that this whole incident turned a very ordinary 2-0 loss to the Devils into a much uglier 4-0.
  4. It didn’t help, of course, that Price picked tonight to be Opposite Night and do badly at all the things he usually does well. Getting beaten high glove-side? Check. Mishandling the puck? Check. Miscommunicating with the D? Check. Huge, vile rebounds? Check. Not that he was really responsible for the loss, being as how he was put in a few situations that no baby goalie should ever be put in, but it’s important to remember that skills aren’t fixed traits- just because Price can do so many things brilliantly doesn’t mean he will do so in every game.
  5. And of course, no loss would be complete without Carbonneau running some really weird lines, including trying Dandenault with virtually every other member of the team. If the solution to our offensive problems is really as simple as getting Mathieu in the right place, then I’m a happy girl. But it’s not.

Look, we all knew there was no getting two points out of this game. If there was any game, all season long, that everyone knew would turn out badly, it was this one. So let’s all just take a deep breath, put away the letter-bombs (pretty sure Brodeur has a guy to check for those), accept our fate, and move on to the much-more-beatable Predators.

Oh, and incidentally, I’ve noticed that our recent run of defensive faux-pas have led a lot of people to suggest that O’Byrne get pulled up from Hamilton. What these people forget is that the Bulldogs haven’t been so hot lately either. I saw them a couple days ago, and for what it’s worth, O’Byrne was good enough, but I don’t see how he (or Kostitsyn al-Asghar for that matter) are supposed to solve any of the Habs’ current problems. If anything, I’d say it might be more useful now to have additional options for the more defensive forward lines than the offensive ones, and thus if anybody should get called up it’d be Lapierre. But Gainey knows best, right? Right??


Jeff J said...

"If anything, I’d say it might be more useful now to have additional options for the more defensive forward lines than the offensive ones... But Gainey knows best, right? Right??"

It would indeed be nice to have one more reliable fwd. After losing the entire checking line from last year (Bonk, Johnson, Perezhogin), Gainey replaced them with two players: Smolinski and Kostoupolos. The team already had 7 NHL defensemen and he signed Brisebois. It created an imbalance and that's why we're seeing Dandenault on the wing. He's been a horror show (check his Corsi number at behindthenet) on every line. He's an adequate 3rd pairing right-side defenseman. There is no need for this.

Koivu's line faced mostly Madden last night. They collectively had zero shots at EV to four for the Madden line. Ryder played just 8.5 minutes at EV - the second fewest on the team - and he still managed a couple of shots despite playing with checkers. For a team struggling at 5-on-5, it's just plain irresponsible to limit their top EV shooter to so few minutes.

Sorry for beating the same dead horse here, but it's so frustrating to see Carbo swayed by the popular opinion that Ryder has turned into suck. I don't see how any reasonable person could think he's suddenly devolved from a 12% shooter to a 4.5% shooter. He's been getting his shots; the dice have just been turning up snake eyes lately. If Gainey's truly smart, he'll leverage this to get Ryder signed below market value.

E said...

i'm curious to know what you think of the usefulness of the corsi numbers. i'm quite new to the hockey stat thing, and (i must admit) have only been somewhat reluctantly pushed into it, so possibly this has been argued out elsewhere, but it seems to me that in general they skew somewhat unreasonably in favor of offensive players. guys like komisarek, for example, who don't take a lot of shots themselves and are deliberately used by the coach to play difficult defensive minutes, end up with terrible corsi numbers. but the reason for komi having a low number are quite different from the reasons for kovalev having one, or dandenault for that matter. it strikes me that you need a fair amount of (somewhat subjective) qualitative analysis to put that data in useful context. but you obviously know this stuff better than i, so what's you're opinion?

also, i'm glad you agree about ryder- i don't think people have a lot of respect for the kind of player he is, and it's sad to see carbonneau seeming to share that.

Jeff J said...

One of the big ways to abuse stats is to jump to conclusions with a small sample size. The idea with the Corsi number is to get a bigger sample than points or +/-. A couple of flukey goals can seriously skew the statistical production of a player (see Begin). Shots for/against generally provide fourfold increase in sample size over goals.

Just like any other stat, you have to be careful to look at the context. Komisarek's value comes more from reducing the shots against than generating shots for. More importantly, I think Markov and Komi's poor numbers reflect that they're facing off against guys like Sundin, Crosby, etc. It's the same job those guys had last year, but the difference this year is the Habs checkers playing in front of them. The forwards just haven't been doing the job they did last year.

Another piece of the context puzzle is the players style. Guys like Kovalev who are very patient with the puck are going to suffer a little bit because they are so selective with their shooting. I doubt style of play swings the balance more than a couple of shots per 60. If being a selective shooter is a good strategy, it should be evident in shooting%. The shooting% numbers don't really jump off the page for patient danglers and their linemates.

On Ryder, I'm not exactly a fan myself. I tend to agree with a lot of the subjective criticism - he can be a defensive liability, he's not a great skater, he's not much of a passer. However, last time I updated my resume, I couldn't honestly include a section on my NHL scouting qualifications because I have none. I don't think it's fair to trust my own eyes in this matter; I'd prefer to trust something quantifiable. He's the team's top generator of shots 5-on-5. This season's numbers say that, for all those subjective flaws, he's a good option to play alongside Koivu. Certainly a better option than Latendresse, Kostoupolos, Dandenault etc.

A lot of the criticism of Ryder is centred around the fact that he's an 8th round pick. If you want to criticize someone, criticize the people who couldn't find a better option that Ryder to play with Koivu with the 50+ draft picks they've had since they drafted Ryder. It's not his fault that he's in the top 2 or 3 of a mediocre bunch of wingers.

E said...

i do understand the sample size concern, and the corsi numbers are certainly sometimes useful (for example, in confirming that koivu and ryder have indeed been generating offense, even if they haven't been scoring). but there's a difference between using it for guys like ryder- who are supposed to be more or less directly responsible for the number of shots for/against taken while they're on the ice, and guys like komisarek, who aren't supposed to do that themselves and are therefore constricted by the way the coach chooses to play them. i guess what i'm saying is that it's not necessary fair to hold everyone on the ice when a given event happens (not just a goal, but a shot, or anything else) equally responsible for that event.

i have a lot more to say on ryder, but for now i'll leave it at this: i can certainly see why people dislike him, but i also think he's often judged not on the scale of the sort of player he is, but on the scale of completely different styles of play that people prefer to his.

Julian said...

Youppi! used to be the mascot of the Expos before being adopted by the Habs, so it's entirely possible that he did some terrible things to Brodeur way back when that left him with a burning rage towards all things Montreal.