My Habs, in case you haven’t noticed, are in trouble. Important players are slumping, rumors of concealed injuries and dressing room bickering are rampant, speculation about trades, demotions, and firings is growing, and- barely a third of the way through the season- public finger-pointing and name-calling has already begun. They lost their last three games, five of their last six, one of the worst recent records in the NHL. They are, in short, a very fragile team at this point.
Here is a picture of a kitten:
Cute, no? But not exactly suggestive of hockey prowess? Put that kitten on skates with the rest of its littermates, and I’d have given that team pretty good odds on beating the Habs tonight. 50-50 at worst. And that’s 6-7 kittens who’ve probably never skated before and lack opposable thumbs. In fact, I’d say that goalie kitten wouldn’t have even had to be particularly sharp. That’s how shaky this team has been looking.
But, ahamdulillah, tonight they didn’t have to play kitten-team, they got to play the Boston Bruins instead.
1. First, a few comments on the off-ice antics. For the most part, I partial to Carbonneau- mostly because he looks most nights like he’s appearing in a minor part in a dinner-theater production of Guys and Dolls rather than coaching a hockey game. But also because I (usually) find his brusqueness about his job sort of soothing- in a town that’s very quick to offer adulation to those in the hockey-world who’ll whore for it, he doesn’t give a fuck about alienating media, fans, and players alike. For the most part, I think that’s a good thing, it makes him seem a bit above the maelstrom. However, he does (like almost everybody associated with the Habs except for Gainey) have quite the flare for drama when it suits him. In the past few days, he sort of spazzed out and started bitching about some of the more popular parts of his roster, including Price (messianic baby goalie), Markov (highest paid player in team history), and Koivu (captain and manifestation of divine grace on earth). He did roughly the same thing last year- stayed tight-lipped through a lot of bad spots, then picked one moment to let fly with the vitriol. It’s a coach’s only defense mechanism: as the most prominent, disposable part of a team, his job is in danger anytime things get rough and there’s no obvious cause. I don’t really think there’s much he can do about the current problems, since Gainey sets the pieces he has to work with and he can’t exactly put Ryder on a remote control. But nevertheless, the more inexplicable and unsolvable the slump, the more his ass is on the line. So his only real option is to deflect blame and hope the misdirection holds until the team gets to an upswing.
2. And who better to deflect blame to than players everyone hates anyway? Markov et al may have gotten yelled at, but Ryder, Brisebois, and Gorges sit this game out. Gorges has to sit a lot anyway, who knows what his future will be, and Brisebois is an obvious choice because he’d been not just weak but conspicuously weak at a couple of key moments in the past few games. But poor Ryder looks more and more to be taking on the mantle of Sergei Samsonov- punished not so much for being bad as for failing to be the genre of player the Habs need.
3. RDS’s in-game poll today asked if the Habs should be going with youth as their way forward, and the responses were overwhelmingly oui. Which is wonderful to see, in a way, because it suggests that a fan base whose primary idea for improving the team seemed to be ‘sneak down to Tampa, drug Lecavalier’s Zima, put him in a sack and smuggle him across the border in the trunk of a Mini (he’ll fit if you kinda squeeze him in at an angle)’ is starting to be truly down with the Mythic Gainey Plan. But the youth movement has obvious upside for the fans, in that even if the team is bad, it’s often a lot more fun to watch young, enthusiastic, overly-emotional hockey players being bad than old, jaded, affectless hockey players.
4. Of course, if the injuries keep going this way, there may not be much of a choice. Huet is already down with a minor groin pull, leading to Halak getting called up, and in this game Smolinski and Begin both looked to take some sort of significant hurt. Combined with the aforementioned benchings, this could be a crisitunity of epic proportions for eager and comely Bulldogs.
5. Such as, for example, Lapierre and O’Byrne, who were called up yesterday. Lapierre was kind of a no-brainer- the kid may be obnoxious, but no one has ever yet faulted him for lack of enthusiasm, and the Canadiens need all of that they can get right now. Calling for O’Byrne, however, reflects a bit of desperation- we’ve now got a roster with 9 defensemen on it. But the big bachche did himself proud this game, playing a smart, conservative style and getting two assists out of it. He looks good with Hamrlik, although the way Breezer’d been playing, probably most things would by now. Grabovski got sent down, but I think that’s more a matter of immediate exigency than a criticism of his play- he’ll be back soon enough.
6. I haven’t even mentioned that this was a win yet, have I? Obviously you know that from the score, but it’s probably worth pointing out that they did win, and moreover that the win was largely due to Chris Higgins. Dude looked burned-out and exhausted in his mid-game interview, but played like a demonic cheetah from first to last, even through a mostly-useless second period that saw the team collectively fall not just back on it’s heels, but flat on it’s ass in the gutter. One thing you can definitely say for the lad, he takes this game and this team very, very personally. It’s going to get him hurt one of these days, and I don’t just mean the ankle.
The Habs are now 4-0 against the Bruins this season, and they didn’t even play that well in this game (great first, lousy second, adequate third). If they continue on like this, they’re almost guaranteed to get at least 8 more points by the end of the season! Now I know I have something to look forward too, besides the next team-member’s public airing of dirty laundry and personal recrimination. Whomping Boston and lapping up the dregs of otherwise operatic failure- such are the simple, day-to-day pleasures of Habs fandom.