Saturday, February 09, 2008

2-9-08: Senators 6, Canadiens 1

I don’t actually remember which one it was. I’ve blocked it out. I think it was Heatley, because I’ve been having nightmares about that gaping left eye of his quite literally staring holes in Huet. But anyway, during the second intermission of this game, one of the unholy trinity responded to a leading question from a CBC interviewer that, yes, this match was indeed a ‘statement’ from his team and his line. He did not, however, specify what the statement was. For the benefit of the Habistani masses, I shall offer this (admittedly loose) translation of what the Senators told the Canadiens on Hockey Day in Canada: Stay the fuck out of our way, bitches.

They have a point. We were getting uppity. It’s understandable, though. Based on what was predicted for the Habs, everyone ‘round these parts has been getting uppity all season. Our place was supposed to be at the bottom of the standings, because we didn’t get any marquee UFAs, because we don’t have a superstar, because a lot of our roster is young and inexperienced, because we missed the playoffs last year. But they- our team, our Montreal Canadiens- haven’t stayed in their place. They’re the Becky Sharp of the 2007-2008 hockey season; they’ve risen above their proper station, but (as far as I can tell) the rest of the hockey world sees them less as plucky underdog than as opportunistic upstart. Which is fine (we’re barely cognizant of the existence of the rest of the hockey world anyway), but we should remember that the team has already played far beyond what they were supposed to be. It doesn’t get easier just because you’re good- in fact, the higher you climb, the harder it gets. That’s what their Big Line told us tonight, that getting to be first in the conference is going to take more than just reliably spanking the Bruins, more than just being able to beat the Devils once, and more than being able to tough out the Flyers. If our Habs are serious about this, if they’re not content to merely be better than expected, if they really want to play for The Big Shiny, than sooner or later the path goes through Ottawa. And they’re not ready for that yet.

However- and I say this with great trepidation, and only after much weeping and soul-searching- it wasn’t quite as bad as it looks. The Habs got some good chances, hit a lot of posts, and played 16 out of 20 of the Senators perfectly competently. Emery was hot, can’t do anything about that but it’s not exactly something to panic about long-term. The bigger problem is obvious: The Canadiens have no solution for Ottawa’s unholy trinity, when all three are healthy and hungry. This season’s Habs are not a very good shutdown team against anyone, but especially not against truly elite scorers. Formerly Carbonneau was a coach who relied heavily on a pure checking line, a trio whose function was nothing but to contain the Crosbys, Ovechkins, Spezzas, and Lecavaliers of this world. There is no such line this year, and it shows, for in spite of an overall improved defensive corps, we get embarrassed by flashy moves from big names more. Against most teams, that doesn’t matter, because we score more now too, but in some cases… it’s apparently fatal.

So after a surprisingly hot run, we’ve finally encountered something we just couldn’t handle. What happens next? Hope Washington gets the 8th seed and eliminates Ottawa peremptorily? Make a Spezza voodoo doll out of a Barbie with one of last year’s McDonald’s Star Sticks and figure out where to poke for ‘high ankle sprain’? Pray that the much-rumored Hossa trade miraculously features Brisebois rather than Higgins? Poke Kovalev and Koivu with sharp sticks before the next game until they get real, real mad? [Insert innuendo-ridden joke reference to the dubious psychological state of Ottawa’s goaltending here.]?

I’m stumped.



Simonus said...

1) Hope Huet (or Price) is in a better place next time

2) Remember that a Hamrlik/O'Byrne 2nd pairing is much better than a Brisebois/Streit pairing

3) Get back some hunger that we seem to have lost recently

4) The Saku line starts to pot goals (has started to look better)

5) Maybe a trade

6) Clap until Tinkerbell turns Latendresse into a fully developed power forward

MathMan said...

1- Hope Huet can stop the puck next time

2- Get a little puck luck (note that I did not say "a little more" -- anything above zero would have been an improvement).

3- Get the Defense healthy.

4- Do not assume that ridiculous game actually meant a whole lot.

Seriously, sometimes everything goes to pot, a team gives up 3 goals in 5 minutes, and the game is pretty much over from them on, especially if their ensuing domination of play does not result in the beginnings of a comeback. If it had happened the other way (and it could have!), nobody in their right mind would have claimed that Montreal had just proved their vast superiority over Ottawa, but because Montreal is the scrappy underdog, that's the storyline.

It doesn't mean that it's right though. Boston is 0-6 against Montreal and their last defeat was even worse than this one (8-2). Does anyone truly think Boston is such a vastly inferior team that can't possibly compete with Montreal? I mean, rationally?

Of course not. So why is Montreal to Ottawa any different, especially since Montreal has previously been a lot more competitive with Ottawa than Boston with Montreal? It's not, but the Senators are so exasperatingly over-hyped and, yes, overrated, that it's the only way the story gets presented.

It was just one of those games.

E said...

simonus- hey, i think hamrlik/streit is a pretty decent 2nd pairing...

and yeah, if the koivu line starts heating up the way it did last season at this time, the whole landscape changes. it might happen. it will probably happen. but at this point it really is just wait, and hope. which i guess makes it no better or worse than any other option.

mathman- firstly, while the rapidity of the goals was shocking, two out of three weren't bad goals, i don't think it was entirely huet's fault. secondly, we've already had remarkably good luck with injuries- hamrlik is really the only major loss we've had. so if anything, we need to consider that we've already had more fortune than a lot of teams get going into the playoffs. how would we look with 4 or 5 of our current roster on the ir?

i agree that the sens are overrated, in that the general population tends to overlook their incredible streakiness (or more accurately, overestimates the value of the hot streaks and underestimates the significance of the cold ones). their first line, however, is not overrated. when that line is damaged or having an off-night, i think montreal and ottawa are a pretty even match that could go either way. but when they're on, we don't have a solution for them that doesn't rely on prayer. granted, most teams don't have anything better, but my point is that if the habs are going to compete with them, they need to come out prepared for that kind of onslaught. last night they started out unprepared for it, but more importantly, they didn't seem to get any more prepared as the game went on.

regardless of the logic of it, i'm pretty sure the coaching staff in boston has been looking pretty hard at why exactly we give them so much trouble- i very much doubt they're throwing up their hands and saying, 'oh, it was just a freakish succession of bad nights'. a lot of things in hockey are luck, but that doesn't mean that the team should accept that as an excuse.

MathMan said...

Oh I'm sure they looked at it in Boston and that they looked at it in Montreal, too. And I'm not saying they were bad goals, just good deflections -- and let's face it, Huet had an off five minutes. And the defense badly needs tightening up, so the return of Montreal's second highest-paid player (and quite arguably with an importance to match) will certainly help there.

But I'm sure they didn't throw up their hands in Boston and say "that's it, we'll never beat these guys, they're way too good for us", give up, and forfeit any future contests, including any playoff series between the two. Despite the fact that Boston is 0-6 against Montreal, and was thoroughly embarassed in most of these contests.

So why does that seem to be the general feeling around Montreal? Especially since Montreal competed with, and even occasionally outplayed, a healthy Ottawa in previous games. Fix what's broken in this game and take another crack at them, don't assume they're invincible -- because they are far from it. This is a team that's 0-4 against Washington, after all. Washington is a good team, but not some sort of uber-powerhouse, chosen avatar of the hockey gods notwithstanding.

If anything, the nature of this loss would indicate that the next game would not be so lopsided, score-wise -- the score flattered the Senators, really. It's not as if Ottawa established consistent pressure for the whole of that first period and that Montreal simply couldn't cope. THAT would have had me seriously worried. Montreal did everything but score in the remaining 15 minutes, and a single goal for the Habs in that period could have made a huge difference for the rest of the game.

So no, I don't buy into the woe-is-us defeatism that seems rampant after this ridiculous game, and I don't buy that the Senators are some unstoppable powerhouse. And I don't buy that the Habs couldn't possibly catch up to them, or even that the Sens would make mincemeat of the Habs in the playoffs.

And I want that unlikable, cocky, and arrogant team cut down to size by someone too. But since I live in the Ottawa area, that might just be exasperation over the exagerated hype.

Kaz said...

I agree that it wasn't all Huet's fault. Yes, he probably wants Heatley's one back. That was pretty ugly. But it was really the D that left both goaltenders out to dry.

The easy hole to spot was Hamrlik's absence. He would have been a vast improvement over Brisebois -- a truth evident in every game since he's been out, not just this embarrassment.

But perhaps the bigger hole was the one Komisarek usually fills. He was badly out of position on several plays, resulting in a unthinkable -3 for the night. Plus, I think he was the closest defender on both PP goals.

Given that he might very well be the Habs most consistent player this year, I'm not worried. Just a one game anomaly. Right?

hambown said...

1) Accept that the Senators are in fact the Righteous Warriors of the East and, as such, are not to be bested in a prolonged series

There is no other remedy. However, I do like the Habs chances against other teams in the East. Please believe me, E, that I do hold them near to my heart. Just not *in* there.

E said...

mathman 2- but that's my point, i'm not assuming they're invincible. i do think there's got to be a better way to play them, i just can't think of what it is. looking at the shift charts, i can't tell if carbonneau had a line matching strategy and just started experimenting when it didn't work, or didn't give a fuck, but either way nothing was effective as a forward match. he seemed to be trying to play the smolinski trio against them a lot. [shudder]. anyway, when one writes a recap, one does feel that if you're gonna bitch about something, you should at least have some sort of reasonable claim that it could have been done better. i don't have that here. and from the looks of it, not many other people who saw the game do either. which is the worry.

kaz- didn't he put komisarek with bouillon here? that struck me as an odd choice. even if you want to split him from markov, frankie isn't the dude i'd put him with. they're too similar, in a way, i'm not sure they can both play their best style and provide full coverage...

hambown- nooooooo!!!!

MathMan said...

E -- Oh. Sorry.

I think what Carbonneau needs to do is get Hamrlik back (that's 25 more minutes of relative safety right there) put Komisarek back with Markov (I love the guy to bits, but it seems he's not ready to be The Guy (tm) on his pairing yet) and check them tighter.

Then be more alert for deflections and rebounds... that seemed to be how many of those Sen goals were scored, and it's something Huet doesn't seem too strong against (not that there's a goalie who is, really).

Ultimately, though, I'm not sure there is a lot they need to do *differently*, as opposed to *better*. Sometimes stuff happens, and sometimes it happens very quickly. Montreal had their own version of it when they laid four power-play goals in quick succession against Carolina early in the season. And when stuff like that happens and you're down 3-4 goals after one period even if you didn't really play *awful*, well, there's not much you can do but double-check your game plan and hope to do better next time.