It’s actually nice to see a bad loss. Not a they-did-the-best-they-could-but-were-outplayed-loss, not a bad-luck-bad-bounces loss, not a hey-you-win-some-you-lose-some loss, but a shitty WHAT-THE-FUCK-KIND-OF-TEAM-BLOWS-A-3-0-LEAD???? loss. It’s exactly the kind of loss the Habs (and their fans) need right now, because let’s face it: we were all getting a little uppity. Some of the past weeks’ wins have seemed to come so easily, things have seemed to be clicking together so neatly, that a lot of us- and I’m as guilty of this as anyone- were starting to almost overlook the rest of the regular season. It’s fun to start looking ahead; ahead to the next ‘interesting’ game (Sens, Tuesday); even ahead to the playoffs (closing in on the #1 seed…). But at this point in the season, nothing is certain. They can still lose. They could still miss the playoffs. There are a lot of teams behind- good teams, teams not merely hungry but ravenous- who will work extra hard now to grab two points from somebody ahead of them, and gain momentum from a victory against a leading opponent. It was necessary to lose like this, to remember these things.
1. Let’s get one thing out of the way first: This loss was not about a lack of toughness. It was about fatigue. The Habs haven’t played many back-to-back games this season, in fact, almost all of their schedule has been played on the classic Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday pattern. It’s become very nearly a routine. This weekend, with its afternoon doubleheader was a break in that routine, an anomaly, and it showed in the Canadiens’ inability to play the full sixty. Their speed, accuracy, and forward momentum declined noticeably throughout, and while I don’t want to take any credit away from the Rangers’ aggressive, determined effort, I think the weak last frame was more about the Habs’ inability to connect with each other than about anything NYR did. They were worn out and thought (subconsciously, I assume) that they could coast on the lead- which is pretty much always a bad thought.
2. However, regardless of whether it was the reason for the loss, it was a rough game that saw (as per RDS) 41 minutes of penalties given out in the first 40 minutes. Komisarek and Jagr spent virtually every shared minute of ice time in a state of constant war- thwacking, shoving and grabbing their way along the boards- and Avery provoked his obligatory pile-up. But probably the best exemplar is Kovalev’s egregious and unpenalized elbow on Hollweg, for which Hollweg retaliated on his next shift by smashing Kostitsyn al-Asghar from behind into the boards, which in turn provoked Gorges and Koivu to try (ineffectually) to maul him, and Bouillon to fight Orr, for some reason. Now, we are not going to defend Kovalev’s hit. It’s the sort of atypically violent play that Kovy sometimes does when he feels somehow wronged or just generally irritable. There have been a few such cases over the years where the normally disinterested winger decides that some opponent needs to go down, and he does so in a brutal but peculiarly businesslike way. We have no idea why he did it, but we would have understood if Hollweg felt compelled to exact some kind of vengeance. Which he presumably intended to, but sadly, the large creature is apparently illiterate and mistook poor lil’ Kostitsyn for Kovalev- an easy mistake, given that the child’s back was turned and the names are so similar. See, this is why we need adult literacy programs, people, so folk like Ryan won’t feel ashamed of their ignorance and can get the help they need. We have to do this, not just for Sergei, but for all vulnerable rookies everywhere.
3. Goalie gossip: Huet gets the second start, and although I do think there were moments when he was a little less sharp than usual, I don’t think he was responsible for the loss and I doubt Halak could have done better, given the erratic performance of the D. But we won’t know for a while, because immediately after the game Halak was sent down to the Bulldogs. Which can only mean… [cue surging violins]… The Return of the Expected One! Could be good- I think he might do a little better in the higher-pressure atmosphere of the final run of the season.
4. Other gossip: Speaking of people who are not doing well in high-pressure situations, Ryder gets scratched (as per my request- this is what you get for sending Carbo a box of chocolates and a big lavender teddy bear) and reportedly (and by reportedly, I mean according to totally unsubstantiated and unconfirmed fan-circulated rumors) storms out of the building in a huff. Because, you know, that worked so well for Rivet last year. There was also a rumor going around that he’d been traded- to Atlanta, in exchange for several crates of peaches, some of those crazy sugary nuts they make, and a case of exotic Coca-Cola products from around the world, because Pleks loves blackcurrant Fanta. Which only proves one thing: Ain’t no hockey gossip like Habs’ fan hockey gossip.
This is the time for the Canadiens to be in one-game-at-a-time mode, thinking of nothing beyond the match at hand. Of course, that’s a hockey cliché, something everyone says they should do but never actually does. And in reality, sometimes a long-range view is useful- for a team that needs to claw into playoff contention, for example, it can be useful to always keep an eye on the big picture of the standings as a whole. But at this point, I don’t think the Habs should (as Higgins said in a recent interview) focus on overtaking the Senators. I think they might be able to, of course, but the harder problem they face is not climbing but sustaining, and that requires taking every single opponent seriously. The rest of the teams don’t disappear just because they’re a few points below. They are still, just as much as