Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2-26-08: Canadiens 5, Thrashers 1

The trade deadline is a tough time of year. So many changes, so many concerns, so much to think about. But I’m just a lowly hockey blogger, it’s out of my hands, and if I let it distract me, I’d be letting down the team. I just have to stay calm, put it out of my mind, and focus on tonight’s recap. That’s what I’m (un)paid to do, to recap hockey games. Settle down, E. Focus on the Thrashers. Focus on the game. We needed these two points. These are big points for us. Can’t afford to let the business stuff get in the way.

1. All previous matches between us and Atlanta this year went to a shootout. This one, however, was a massive third period blowout- 4 unanswered goals in less than ten minutes. Huet-less Canadiens > Hossa-less Thrashers.

2. I have to say, Chris Higgins strikes me as a very anxious dude by nature, or at least, when faced with the prospect of having to go play in Atlanta. This past couple of weeks, as his name started coming up in more and more rumors, I think I actually saw sweatles flying from his head on several occasions. But with the deadline behind him and his job secure for at least a couple of months, he seemed like a new man tonight- played more aggressively, took more chances, I swear he even looked a little bit faster. And he got two goals to show for it. Whether played with Ryder or Lil’ Kostitsyn, he and Koivu finally seemed to be gelling a bit. Which is nice, because having a playmaker with no one to make plays for has been incredibly depressing.

3. I want to see more of Grabovski and S. Kostitsyn together. Grabovski’s got great speed and great hands but sometimes doesn’t seem to have much focus- or even the slightest clue what he wants to do, for that matter. The end result can be like Kovalev on a bored night, only more lovable. S. Kostitsyn, on the other hand, is a rat terrier who just needs to learn to perceive goalies as a previously unclassified species of rodentia. They both looked good individually tonight, but I feel like they'd be 39 flavors of (Bela)Russian sexy together (and by ‘sexy’ I mean ‘not at all sexy but very quick on skates’).

4. I have more thoughts and feelings about the Huet ‘trade’ then I can yet articulate. For now, I’ll just say that I respect and admire him as a goaltender, I like him as a person (as much as you can like someone you don’t actually know), and I will miss him- as I’m sure his former teammates will also. Best of luck in Washington, Cristobal, I hope you can carry them to the postseason the way you carried us down the final stretch that first year, and may UFA-dom bring you great wealth and long-term job security with a good organization. One consequence of this is certain: our mid-game manic grin rate has taken a severe blow. Price doesn’t believe in smiling, and Halak always looks like a nervous street urchin who snuck into the dressing room pre-game, put on the goalie equipment, and is afraid that security is going to catch him and kick him out at any second.

5. Now, there’s no question, the Carey Price All-Singing All-Dancing Follies Revue will be the biggest spectacle in Montreal for the rest of the season. Purify your hearts, Habistan; get out your rosaries, japa malas, or masabih (hell, make it all three, just to be safe) and pray fervently. We’re going to need it- because precedent or no, going to the playoffs on an all-rookie goalie tandem is a very, very high risk (high reward?) proposition. However, if the pressure is going to get to the kid, he didn’t show it tonight- the team kept the tough chances against him low, but he was where he needed to be at the right times. Can’t ask for more than that. Okay, we can totally ask for more than that. Need more than that, even. Hence the request for divine favors.

I’ll have my half-assed reaction to the trade deadline tomorrow (or I guess later today, by the time anyone reads this), once I’ve had some time to think it over. Oh, and FYI, a shameless plug: if the several-thousand words per post of my blathering on here are still not enough for you, you can now read bite-sized, word-count limited, profanity-free comments of mine on the Habs (and 29 vastly more qualified folks on the other teams) occasionally at the New York Times’ Slap Shot Blog. See, you know it’s good, because it’s the New York Times, right? Right?


Faraz said...

There does not exist 29 other more qualified folks. You are simply the best hockey writer I have ever read. I'm sure I'd feel that way even if I wasn't a Habs fan.

Keep it coming, you make us proud.

Julian said...

1. This non-habs fan feels the same as above.

2.High risk, high reward? I don't think they give two Cups for winning with a rookie goalie, the reward seems to be about the same...

Except, of course, you have another rookie-goalie-Cup-win story to go along with Dryden '71 and Roy '86. They're good stories though, so maybe it is indeed a higher reward.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing to add about Prices future, but every time he makes a save he makes it look so easy that it seems like a slow paced game and actually makes the game seem boring for that breif period even though it might not be. He has that "I could care less about the amazing save I just made" attitude like he's done it an infinite amount of times and it's no big deal to him. But for the first time the other night he looked pretty intense like he had a firecracker benieth him. I've always said that if he could play with a little more with a jump in his step and had 100% focus night in and out that he'd be one of the elite. Intensity looks to be there, let's see how focused he can be.

Delicious said...

I have to insist that the Huet trade, and the lack of a Hossa trade, are not about this year, but next year.

I live in LA, so mostly I see the West (except on the 3/8, when I'm using my agent's seats to see the Habs up close). And I just see any Eastern team winning the Cup this year, so why rent Hossa?

My reading of Gainey (which I impose on him) is that the job of Montreal teams is not to make "deep playoff runs" but to win them -- which I don't see the Penguins doing. You don't see no Anaheim team giving up 50 shots.

E said...

faraz- shukran jazeelan. but by 'more qualified' i meant 'with more extensive hockey-knowledge and more experience at blogging' which is pretty hard to argue with. but i'm working on it.

julian- yeah, there's the intangible rewards of the excitement and great story if he turns hot during the playoffs, but i more meant that if gainey is right in betting that price will flourish under pressure (as he has in the past, at lower levels), then it might be good for his development.

anonymous- nobody's ever questioned that price can be excellent at times, the question is whether he can sustain that excellence, and one game isn't enough to judge that. my view has been that he might be one of those guys that flourishes on pressure and immediately foreseeable rewards, and therefore excels best in tournament play- the world juniors, the ahl playoffs, and yeah, possibly the nhl playoffs. what i'm not convinced of yet is that he has the day-to-day consistency to be a starter for a full season.

delicious- i have my own reading of gainey's activities, to be posted later today/tonight. i'd be interested to know what you think, even from the limitations of a western conference view.

Delicious said...

E --
Glad you asked!

Because I don't have the Montreal media I don't have a sense of what Gainey is like (or, more accurately, "like"). But, from far away, I don't get the sense that he's interested in a Nashville or Washington strategy of "let's load up and make a playoff run"! He doesn't need to bring fans into the building; they're there already. His is a longer game.

Which is why I think he thinks he needs to throw Price into the deep end now. My own theory of championships is, It's hard to win a championship without at least one player whose number you're going to retire. There are the Carolinian exceptions to this rule, but in general I think it holds up -- you can't just win with only marquee talent, but it's a lot harder to win without them.

Whose number is going up to the rafter, on these Habs? Koivu? Doubtful. Maybe in LA. One of the kids? Hm. I don't see the team enough to know...but if Price is really the franchise savior it's best to know now, so you know what's on your team. What good is it to go two rounds in the playoff with a goalie you suspect will never take you through other two?

In short, I think that while "the best is the enemy of the good" is very true, and a sturdy way to build a sitcom plot, for Bob Gainey the cliche cuts the other way.

Julian said...

Hmmm, I dunno delicious. This year has seen more parity than ever, I think teams like Carolina are going to be more the rule than the exception, that is, good teams that get lucky enough. It's always taken a lot of luck to win the Cup, but with fewer elite teams and more above-average-to-elite teams out there, I think it'll be even more dependent on luck. I read the goal differentials of the past ten Cup winners through the regular season the other day. Every single one (except Carolina, +34) was above +48 on the season. This year only Detroit is on pace for that, Dallas is at +35 and after that there's another huge dropoff. (thanks mc79hockey.com)

While it may be true that more of the better teams are in the west, all an eastern team has to do is win one series against the western team, their other three are against the "weaker" eastern teams.
Really, a seven game series is a crapshoot. Generally the better team will win, but that's far from a guarantee. If you have a team good enough to get to the finals, you have a team good enough to win the Cup.

I think Gainey screwed up because the Habs this season are one of those "above-average-to-elite" teams, especially with a older, more proven goalie in the nets. They may not be Detroit or Dallas, but they're certainly in the next group. If you've got a decent team, you've got a decent shot at the Cup, whether or not you have an all-time elite player on your roster. If you have enough very good players and enough luck, you can win. I think the Habs traded one very good player for a question mark, and are now more dependent on luck.

I dunno, but I think building a team is a cyclical thing, if you've got a team good enough to challenge, it's a silly idea to trade that chance away for a second round pick because you want to know if your 21 year old goalie will be a franchise player someday. You can always find out next year.

hambown said...

Kudos on the NYT gig E. And may God be behind either Price or Halak going into the playoffs. Your squad looks galvanized, while my poor Sens are adrift in a sea of sloppy defense and a desert of barren offense. Yes, we're drowning and dying of thirst at the same time.