Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2-12-08: Lightning 3, Canadiens 2

There are three reasons why it’s difficult to productively analyze a loss based on the initial watching. The first is attention: you seldom know that it will be a loss until the game is largely over, so you’re focus is clouded by hope and excitement, and there is a very natural tendency to be watching for good signs rather than bad ones. The second is that loss is apophatic, it’s more a collection of things not done than things done, and it’s always more difficult to demonstrate a negative than a positive. And finally, hockey is the world’s greatest example of the butterfly effect, wherein very small errors or differences can rapidly snowball into massive consequences. So in order to explain why a team lost, you’re essentially trying to sift through a bunch of rapidly flowing game events as they happen in real time, looking for tiny little things that somebody didn’t do which in turn caused bigger things to not happen, which eventually led to Martin St. Louis dancing circles around your team like some sort of magical hockey pixie.

  1. Here is the basic outline of what happened, which I assume is more or less what most people who watched the game from a similar point of view to my own saw: the Habs played well in the first period, in which they exchanged goals and chances with Tampa fairly evenly, although I’d even give a slight edge to the Canadiens in terms of quality pressure. Huet, however, seemed unsteady and let in two not-very-nice goals. During the second and most of the third, roles reversed and the skaters played a flat, dispassionate, passive style that placed Huet under massive pressure- to which the goalie responded with a series of paradoxically improbable saves. However, eventually he let in a third one (another not-very-nice one, indeed, nearly a carbon-copy of the first goal), which seemed to wake the team up a enough for them to manage a few final minutes of futile offensive aggression.
  2. The larger question, however, is why this happened, and here is where every Habs fan will have their own opinion and none of them will agree. I will say, for example, that I think the stunning ineffectuality of their shut-down efforts was on display again, in that the Habs’ better offensive players ended up having to try to spend their time containing Vinny et al., which a) they’re not that great at, and b) keeps them mostly in their own zone, from which it is difficult to score goals on the opposition net. The way that things are going, I’m starting to think that the Canadiens’ only trade deadline move should be to reacquire Radek Bonk.
  3. Here’s another possible explanation-by-absence: No Roman Hamrlik. The fact that we’ve lost 3 out of 4 games that he’s been out is beginning to elevate ‘Hammer’ to near-divine status. Prior to this, the consensus seemed to be that he was a good, reliable defensive player and a very solid investment. But given the way that people now blame our losses on his flu, he’s apparently the single most important player on the Canadiens’ roster. Either that or we’re so fragile that pretty much any injury beyond the 4th line will lead to instant suckage.
  4. Don’t like that? Okay, how about this: it’s the lack of stable forward lines. Either the Habs were making a lot of bad changes this game, or Carbonneau was being really experimental, because I swear in the 3rd there were two centers on the ice for most shifts. But then again, there was only about one good player per line tonight- Plekanec, Koivu, S. Kostitsyn, and Streit were all active and energetic, but chemistry seemed to be in short supply. Higgins and A. Kostitsyn were intermittently good, Kovalev wasn’t bad but wasn’t much of a threat, Ryder was totally invisible, and Lapierre and Latendresse were conspicuous only for their timidity.
  5. Or maybe it was the absence of Begin and Kostopolous, benchings that I don't understand the logic of, unless the former is nursing an unofficial injury and the latter was being punished for Monday morning’s malfeasance. The only reason to keep them out is to keep Dandenault and Brisebois in, and what has that done for us? Begin and Kostopolous aren’t scorers, true, but they genuinely are energy guys, they do play hard and every now and then they play hard enough to pot one by sheer force of will. I’m not a Brisebois-hater on principle, but if Carbonneau’s policy is that guys have to earn their ice-time, I fail to see how he’s doing so.

After 3 consecutive losses, we’re starting to get to the point where my worst fear isn’t that something is structurally wrong with the team, but rather the possibility of slipping into losing-streak mentality, the every-man-for-himself psychology that is fatal to the style of game the Habs have to play to win. Relying on individualistic scoring, like Higgins’ goal tonight, is a recipe for them to get a goal or two every game and still lose. To play well, they need to pass cleanly and confidently, which means trusting the guy on the receiving end and not freaking out about your own point totals. Which is hard to do when the team is losing, because everybody gets so fucking desperate just to prove that he’s not the problem. I’m tempted to say that the critical thing right now is to do whatever is necessary to get multiple scoring elements going again, because this season (barring a few players) their best defense has always been forward momentum. When they try to fend off an oncoming onslaught from a conservative, defensive footing, they often just give up more goals. When they keep up an onslaught of their own, they are quite capable of out-skating and out-thwacking most teams, and racking up goals as well. But maybe I’d just rather see them lose zealously, by making outright fuck-ups, than lose lazily, by not doing so many things.


Kovalev Fan said...

You hit it on the head. This team cannot defend a lead at all. Carbonneau is pissing me off with his line shuffling, not allowing players to become familiar with and develop chemistry with each other, and his complete refusal to let his team play aggressively with the lead. You saw what Tortorella did with the lead last night--a one-goal lead in the waning moments of the third. He did not let his boys sit back and play "shut down." He pressed the attack. And it worked.

Make no mistake--the Habs play a system. Their inability to press forward while leading is due to the system upon which Carbonneau insists using. What baffles me is that he is willing to try new tactics with line combinations at a whim, but absolutely refuses to try a new tactic as far as pressure goes. I sense an almost idiosyncratic obsession with line combinations on his part. I'm now convinced that when he was player, one of his favorite hobbies was analyzing his line mates and the combinations on the rest of the team, and wondering how they could have been tweaked had he been in charge instead of Demers, Hitchcock, etc.
My opinion of Carbonneau, shaped by your own descriptors, is that he is more of a "mad scientist" of line combinations than a true tactician.
I loved him as a player--I'm starting to really tire of him as a coach.

Finny said...

I love you. :) If only for your vocabulary that puts me, the former English major, to great shame.

but also for this:

Martin St. Louis dancing circles around your team like some sort of magical hockey pixie.

... because I could totally see it happening.

E said...

a very belated reply, but what the hell- it's my blog, i can let my erratic sense of timing run free.

i remember a lot of talk last year about carbo's 'system' and how it was ruining the habs. i was pretty skeptical about it at the time, mostly because they were so inconsistent from game to game that it was hard to discern any order. if there was a system, they weren't playing it very well, so how can you blame it? but this year there is a very identifiable hanging-back with leads, which seems to be a waste of time because none of our forward lines are particularly great defensively- higgins is by far our best two-way forward, most of the rest of them are strongest defensively when they're strong offensively. i think our d has improved enough that carbonneau could stand to have a little more faith and let the forwards press the attack more consistently, at least under most circumstances.

my hope is that the line-juggling is a symptom of inexperience more than anything else. the most obvious thing a coach does is set and deploy the lines, so sometimes i think carbo plays with them just so that he can do something. as a former player, it must be frustrating for him how little control he has over what happens on-ice. so he juggles, in a way, just to exert his influence in the most obvious way. given the time to settle into the role and become more comfortable with his authority, i think it'll abate somewhat.

and thanks finny- as a short person myself, i try not to be patronizing about tiny hockey players, but sometimes...