Tuesday, February 05, 2008

2-5-08: Canadiens 4, Senators 3

Thank God for the small victories. Very, very small victories. Marginal, slimly achieved, skin-of-the-teeth, hanging-on-by-the-fingernails victories. These are the nights when one is truly grateful that it doesn’t matter in the standings- at least, not until the third tie-breaking principle- whether a victory is a blowout or a narrow steal.

1. The good part is that they won, against the only team ahead of them, minus one of their best defensemen, bringing them with in one fucking point of taking the top of the conference. Any preseaon prognosticator who declared that we would come in 12th or worse and hasn’t apologized yet is hereby banned from any and all postseason partying in Montreal. Maguire, you got lucky this time, but we’re watching you. The bad part, however, is that they nearly blew yet another three-goal lead, against a team that was missing its two most dangerous offensive players, and that on the four goals only four guys got points- so much for distributed scoring.

2. The Plekanec line is now crossing the line from ‘beautiful’ to ‘miraculous’, the first two goals being achieved from the three of them playing exclusively off each other. If you didn’t know already, this game would make you realize what makes this trio so lethal: their flexibility. Unlike a lot of offensive lines, which have a role division between playmakers and snipers, this line consists of three guys who are (now) equally comfortable doing both. They can each score individually, under their own power, but their all capable of setting each other up quickly and precisely, which makes it difficult for opposing defenders to predict them. It’s not just the raw skill that impresses, it’s the strategic ingenuity- all the more so because Plekanec and Kostitsyn al-Akbar are so relatively young, yet have the maturity now to not only predict and capitalize on Kovalev’s moves, but do their own equally impressive thing without his direct assistance.

3. Hamrlik apparently showed up with ‘flu-like symptoms’ today and was immediately quarantined (i.e. sent home) by Carbonneau. Playing without him, I realize, puts a lot more stress on Komisarek and Markov. It was obvious that the Senators realized that these two would be playing big minutes and that trying to throw them off was part of the game plan, hence the ubiquitous Chris Neil (who has never had cordial relations with Komi), shoving his grotesque visage up their asses every other shift. I do fear that, even sans Emery, his presence means the Sens will always be able to out-asshole us. Max, we need you now as never before.

4. Speaking of Lapierre, he got some extra time out of this because Koivu finally took that last crappy hooking penalty that Carbonneau just couldn’t tolerate anymore- the captain was benched for much of the third. I have to say, as much as I love Saku, this is ridiculous. I know, people explain it as an old-rules, pre-lockout play style, but it’s been three seasons now, and that just ain’t no kind of excuse anymore. Granted, some of the calls against him are bullshit, just as a high percentage of all hooking calls are bullshit, but he just needs to grow up and exercise some fucking self-control. The issue, of course, is that he almost always takes these penalties at ‘bad times’, meaning times when games are close, when the stress level is high, when paradoxically he’s trying his hardest. It might be understandable, but if we can’t count on him to play responsibly during high pressure moments… that’s a really big problem. This season Kovalev has gotten his act together and managed to repress those tendencies of his that formerly hurt the team. Koivu has to do the same, or even devotees like me are going to understand if Guy cuts his ice time permanently.

5. Other notes: S. Kostitsyn put in a really energetic offensive effort that just wasn’t quite matched by his linemates. Smolinski trio was uneven- took some lame penalties, but did some very solid defensive work in the tense final minutes. Huet got hassled a lot more than he usually does, but only seemed to get sharper for it- if anything, he gives up more goals when he’s gone too long without being pressured than when he’s pressured constantly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the guy is more awesome than gigantic carnivorous scarab beetles. And has a better glove hand.

With this match, the Canadiens have proven that it is certainly possible for them to beat the Senators. What they have not done is inspire the confidence that they could beat Ottawa decisively or consistently- say, hypothetically, in a best-of-seven series. If, you know, such a situation were ever (for some reason) to arise.

10 comments:

Jeff J said...

"Speaking of Lapierre, he got some extra time out of this because Koivu finally took that last crappy hooking penalty that Carbonneau just couldn’t tolerate anymore- the captain was benched for much of the third. I have to say, as much as love Saku, this is ridiculous."

Koivu has to play that way to be effective. And he is effective. For every 20 times he's hard on the puck carrier, he might be called for hooking once and come away with the puck 15 times (those are just out of a hat numbers). If he's not hard on the puck carrier the bad guys retain possession. Then some other Hab has to attack the puck and risk the call, or the bad guys get a scoring chance. Koivu's aggressiveness is a net positive. You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Benching him for it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And so on with other idioms.

Oh, and if Kovalev has repressed some tendencies from last season, the results aren't manifested in his EV scoring numbers. After last night, he's at 1.6 EV pts per 60. While that's up from last season's 1.2, it's the same as his 2 year average post-lockout, and down considerably from the 2.1 he put up in 05/06. That's despite having a primary scoring role this season and having much better linemates. Kovy has been a phenom on the PP. At even strength his production hasn't changed. The guys deserving the credit for the line's improved 5-on-5 scoring are A.Kastsitsyn and Plekanec.

E said...

jeff, i agree that koivu's aggressiveness is generally a good thing, but i also think it's very clear that the refs are watching him closely for this kind of thing and are going to be hard on him about it. that's not necessarily fair, but he should realize it by now and be more cautious in his use of penalty-risking pressure. i don't think that every single one of these incidents, or even most of them, have been cases of the 'good penalty' that you have to take to stop a scoring chance. they're becoming chronic and are the last thing anyone needs during tense minutes in a close game- if it was kostopolous doing it, no one would tolerate it. i don't think koivu's overall effectiveness is an excuse for it, especially because while your numbers seem sound, your causative explanation is speculative. but i've got a backlog of old games waiting to be watched here, so as i go through them, i'll try to keep an tally of how often koivu gets penalty-risk aggressive and how often he gets possession out of it. believe me, i'd like to be able to vindicate him.

and my personal view is that the main tendency that kovalev has repressed is his puck-hoggery. he's a lot more willing to share with his linemates than he once was, which means (whether or not he's elevating plekanec and kostitsyn, which i don't necessarily think he is) he's not holding back their success the way i think he often did last year- when pleks flourished mainly by being separated from him.

saskhab said...

Jeff... it's not effective. I don't see how taking a hooking penalty in the offensive zone is EVER effective. If you don't have the puck, you work your but off by a) taking the body or b) obtaining postiive body position. Hooking is neither of these... it is, quite simply, the last resort move. And if the puck is in the offensive zone, you are never at your last resort.

You can be hard on the puck carrier without raising your stick parallel to the ice and placing it on said puck carrier. If this was not the case, then PP opportunities league wide would be at the 2005-06 levels. Everyone else has adjusted, and shot totals and scoring chances haven't gone through the roof. Players have learned to play the game effectively with the new legal standard. Saku needs to as well.

Saku is also by far the best faceoff man on the team. Puck possession usually draws penalties. Is it not possible that this stat is why his teammates are able to draw more penalties?

It's when Saku loses possession that he negatively impacts the team. He may be aggressive, but it's a lazy aggression.

Digger said...

What's wrong with Higgins; he looks lost. Ever since he got put on that checking line in December, he hasn't been the same. He never has been a big hitter but he could always draw two or three penalties a game but that part of his game has gone South too. His shots on goal are down as his line is usally in the Habs end. I remember a guy that got 4 or 5 short handed goals last year and this year he hasn't gotten any. Maybe he's hurt.

saskhab said...

Higgins hasn't shown his speed too much recently, so I kind of suspect he's playing through some kind of pain.

E said...

saskhab- did you look at jeff's post on his own blog that he linked to? his argument isn't (if i'm characterizing it correctly) that the hooking penalties themselves are effective, but that saku overall is an effective player, demonstrated by the fact that- even though he takes a lot of penalties- the team as a whole takes fewer penalties when he's on the ice, suggesting that he doesn't make mistakes that put his linemates or d in a position to have to take a penalty. jeff is suggesting that the net benefit to the team of saku's style outweighs the cost of his untimely hooks. it's an interesting position, but i'm still not sure i can agree that the hooking penalties are a necessary evil.

digger- higgins' lack of speed has been getting more and more conspicuous, especially when he plays on the line with s.kost., who's such a cute lil' bundle of energy. but i'm not sure it's a current injury- if i think about it, he never recovered the kind of pick-up after the high ankle sprain that he had before it (don't rush your rehab, sidney...). i'm not inclined to criticize him too harshly for it, because he is so defensively responsible and still contributes significantly- if not spectacularly- in the offensive zone, but i think it has hurt his tactical rapport with koivu.

Jeff J said...

e said...
"i don't think that every single one of these incidents, or even most of them, have been cases of the 'good penalty' that you have to take to stop a scoring chance."

Agreed. I'm not saying the penalties are a good thing. They're obviousy the downside of his play. I'm saying that if you eliminate the penalties, you're going to eliminate at least some of the good things that precipitate from Koivu's aggressiveness.

"i don't think koivu's overall effectiveness is an excuse for it, especially because while your numbers seem sound, your causative explanation is speculative."

Yes, it is speculative. The fact is, the team as a whole draws way more penalties than it commits while Saku is on the ice, despite Saku's considerable penalty deficit. If someone can provide a better explanation than mine, I'll gladly subscribe to it.

saskhab said...
"I don't see how taking a hooking penalty in the offensive zone is EVER effective. You can be hard on the puck carrier without raising your stick parallel to the ice and placing it on said puck carrier."

If you were to count the number of times a player had his stick parallel to the ice and on another player then count the number of times it resulted in penalties, I bet over half of them would not be called. And that's about as clear-cut as obstruction calls get. There are a whole lot more that are in that fuzzy grey area of referee discretion.

Yes, you can be aggressive without using your stick. If you can be aggressive *and* use your stick and not get caught most of the time, you'd be foolish not to. It's a fine line and the best veteran checkers walk very close to it. Sometimes they get caught.

If Saku's play resulted in a net negative for the team while he's on the ice, then I'd agree entirely. The undeniable fact is that when Saku is playing, the team is way better than average in terms of penalty differential. By benching Koivu in favour of Lapierre, Carbo is sacrificing this positive penalty differential. If Carbo tries to eliminate Koivu's penalties by making him play more passively (like Chipchura) it's entirely possible it will result in a net negative for the team. I have my spreadsheets - it's something I'll keep an eye on.

"Saku is also by far the best faceoff man on the team. Puck possession usually draws penalties. Is it not possible that this stat is why his teammates are able to draw more penalties?"

Koivu averages 9 faceoff wins and 8 faceoff losses per game. I think that one extra possession would be dwarfed by the number of other possession changes during the flow of the game.

Kaz said...

I'm not sure that Kovalev's "puck hoggery" has diminished all that much. It's just that it's much more effective this year. His linemates are moving without the puck, waiting to find some open ice and waiting for the D to make a mistake. Usually that mistake takes the form of more than one defender thinking that he can grab the puck from Kovy. Kovy gets into such tight situations, that I don't see how he can't lose the puck. But usually Kovy is somehow able to stickhandle through 2 or 3 guys with little to no space at all. And because that extra one or two defenders made that mistake, it opens up Kostitsyn and Plekanec. That was especially evident last night. It was like a PP at times.

As far as Huet, I thought he was more rattled than usual. He was too deep on Spezza's goal, which is a little disturbing since his game is almost entirely based on positioning. Judging by his reaction afterward, he was pissed that he let it in.

And I think Neil and co. were getting to him. There was one skirmish where he took a few steps towards Neil and obviously had a few words. And on the last goal, he gave Fisher a few shoves in the back, right before the puck went by him. I've never seen him that discombobulated by the opposition before. Maybe they said something about his mother?

Kaz said...

BTW, digger, that line wasn't really a checking line. Carbo has been trying to get three scoring lines, and one energy line. Higgins, Lapierre and Ryder formed that third line. It worked well for a time, but then Carbo inexplicably fiddled with his lines again.

And now, even worse, Dandenault is playing in Ryder's place. Dandenault makes a halfway decent energy line forward, but not enough to displace Kostopolous or Begin. And he certainly isn't providing any scoring. So now that third line is an awful lot like a checking line, and all because Ryder didn't bury a couple of chances.

saskhab said...

Yes I did read Jeff's blog. I was merely referring to penalties, not overall effectiveness. I like Saku being aggressive on the puck, but he's crossed the line so many times that it's no longer a fine line... it's pretty clear cut. It was the same thing last year, too.

I think Saku is effective generally, but that particular move is not.

As far as the faceoff % goes, in theory you're correct on the 9:8 ratio, but most players don't have many games like this. They will have a 11:4 ratio one day followed by a 7:12 the next. So I remain by that point... it could be that he's able to draw more penalties in those games where he gets extra puck possessions and easier matchups... while he takes more in games where his faceoff prowess is in question due to negative matchups.

And I highly doubt Carbo wants Saku to play more passively. He just wants him to recognize what's legal and what's not. Carbo didn't have a man crush on Chip... he played him limited minutes for his passive play and when Smolinski got healthy and with Lapierre having moved ahead of him, sent him to the minors.

It's an unfair comparison on a lot of levels, and an irrelevant one if you ask me.