Saturday, December 01, 2007

12-1-07: Predators 5, Canadiens 4

See? I was right. The game in New Jersey last night wasn’t the worst thing ever. This game, however, was. Because they had it. They fucking had this game, they had it tied up, duct taped, and bolted to the floor; they had it wrapped up like a Christmas gift from an OCD grandmother. Up 3-0 with all the momentum, they were flying- good energy, good offense, good defense, good goaltending, the works. And then it turned out that they’d only wrapped it up so neatly in the first half so that they could give it away in the second. Welcome back, Radek, have two points and twenty-one thousand peoples’ collective will to live. Hope you like it.

1. Carbonneau began the evening with a very avant-garde offensive strategy. Probably seeking to compensate for the lack of offense in the previous game, he decided to bench Begin and Kostopolous- two of our best penalty-killers and stronger defensive forwards- in favor of Grabovski and a re-forwarded Streit. Then he totally reimagined his lines (in no particular order, have fun trying to rank these trios): Plekanec-Kovalev-Higgins, Koivu-Smolinski-Streit, Grabovski-Kostitsyn-Ryder, and Chipchura-Latendresse-Dandenault. And at first, it looked like it was working. Guys who’d been struggling were scoring (Higgins, Plekanec, Latendresse), Kovalev and Chipchura were doing some of their nicest set-up work, and even Ryder looked like he was maybe having a little fun again. Chances were even, but Huet was hot and the D looked sharp enough, and I probably wasn’t the only one trying to avoid jinxing the whole thing by thinking ‘shutout’.

2. But then, suddenly, there was freakish shorthanded goal off a weird bounce and a not-entirely-atypical Huet puckhandling misjudgment, and not long thereafter, everything went to shit. Because it turns out that, sans Begin and Kostopolous, our penalty-killing is abysmal. However, it’s not like we haven’t seen this kind of defensive collapse before- once again, they gave up two goals in the last five minutes of play. I can see Carbonneau’s strategy here, once he thinks he’s got a solid lead, he starts pushing the team to fall back and play more cautiously, but the fact is that they’re not good at long stretches of defensive play in their own zone- they give up way too many good chances, overcrowd the goalie, take silly penalties, and just generally look like asses until they get a whistle or get scored on. This, maybe, is where we feel the loss of Bonk and Johnson most acutely, in that this season it seems like the Canadiens might actually be better defensively when they’re pushing the attack rather than trying to hold. Bottom line: the ‘defensive’ guys don’t really seem to be that much more reliable in the final seconds of a game than supposed liabilities like Kostitsyn.

3. I’m not sure how to evaluate Huet on this one. On the one hand, he was fantastic early on, and the Habs were once again badly outshot, mostly in the 3rd period. Those are good reasons not to blame the goalie. But to be critical, he seemed uncharacteristically rattled by that first goal, and it’d be easy to read his subsequent performance as a bit of a collapse. I’m torn. Anyone have any suggestions on this?

Probably best to keep this short, I’m not feeling a lot of love for ahbabi right now. It’s one thing to lose, it’s another thing to give away points like gouda cubes at Costco. This kind of a meaningless surrender is both ugly and disturbing; it reeks of hubris and bad faith, of a team that doesn’t know its strengths and weaknesses. Pride goeth before the fall, and all that. I don’t want to see how fucking far they’re going to fall before they learn that they’re not yet good enough to take any lead for granted.


saskhab said...

Fact is, they were lucky to get the first 2 goals of the game, which were horrid goals allowed by Mason. The first period was a mess, with I don't know how many odd man rushes given up... one where both Markov & Brisebois were trapped and Plekanec was back on a 3 on 1 wasn't a freak occurrence... there were several bad pinches.

The 2nd was the Habs getting control back.

The 3rd was an utter collapse.

This team doesn't have the kind of defensive players that you can lean on down the stretch. Even Bégin & Kostopolous don't fit this mold. I'd say the closest we have are Chipchura and Dandenault, but even I'm not sure on Dandy. Bégin & Kostopolous are good shot blockers and hitters, but average skaters who can't chase down loose pucks. They're the definition of 4th liners. We need a 3rd line.

How fitting that the guy who did the lion's work for us in that regard last year tied the game and scored in the shootout against us. Congrats Radek, you deserved that moment. Especially since Smolinski was the dumb one taking the lazy penalty at the opposite end of the ice. Smolinski can't keep up anymore. Dude has played 1000 games and that's probably the furthest he should go. Time for him to call up Wes Walz and see if there's a real estate business they can start up.

E said...

well, personally i thought the plekanec goal was considerably more of a goalie faux-pas than the higgins one, but that's quibbling. what's important, i think, is to realize that getting goals like that (i.e. ones that the goalie shoulda had) is a part of hockey as well, especially if you're a team that shoots a lot (as we should be but aren't). it's just as important to learn how to exploit leads taken by luck as those taken by skill.

as to begin and kostopolous, i agree that they're no substitutes for bonk and johnson, but they are among our better pk'ers, and if they're going to continue his habit of taking bad penalties late in the game, it'd be useful to have them dressed.

it's true, though, i was secretly just a little bit happy for bonk. and i noticed he's got ten goals already- pretty cool. i'd felt bad for him when he ended up in nashville, given the franchise's uncertainty, but he seems to be doing well for himself, and (even though he broke my heart yesterday) i still wish him all the best.

Kaz said...

major heartaches all around. bonk doing well in nashville; our best pk'ers would be 4th liners on other playoff bound teams; and both bonk and johnson signed for less (combined) than smolinski and kostopolous.

i know i shouldn't play what-if, but what if we still had both (and it certainly seems do-able from a cap standpoint). we'd have a great third line; a fairly decent fourth line that could take some of the defensive pressures off Koivu; and still have a spot for youngsters on each line.

i also second the call to bring back max. there's a roster spot open for pete's sake. and for all of carbo's bellyaching about lack of offense, the Habs have the third highest goal total in the East. we need better defense, and stop leaving price and huet for target practice.