Tuesday, April 01, 2008

4-1-08: Canadiens 3, Senators 0

Every now and then, you hear about games where a team or player ‘sends a message’. For both the Habs and the Sens, this was definitely one of those games. So rather than my standard format, I’m going to run down a quick summary of what some of them told us tonight:

Carey Price: I have an insanely sexy glove hand and I’m not afraid to use it- to catch pucks or smack someone upside the head, if need be. Screw modesty, I was born for this job.

Josh Gorges: I played in the WHL and the Western Conference. Anyone who thinks a few rough checks are going to throw me off is delusional.

Andrei Markov: I’m a quiet Russian defenseman and Jason Spezza still can’t beat me up.

Jason Spezza: It’s true, I can’t.

Roman Hamrlik: I break up offensive rushes in my dreams. [Poke checks Mike Fisher’s message out from under him.]

Guillaume Latendresse: I can skate!

Michael Ryder: Please, please, please give Grabovski another chance. I don’t mind sitting again, at least until Saku gets back and can keep feeding me gorgeous passes which I can look good by finishing roughly one-tenth of the time.

Sergei Kostitsyn: I’m really impulsive, but at least I stick up for my goalie.

Tom Kostopolous: And I stick up for my impulsive younger teammates.

Daniel Alfredsson: I have a profound understanding of penalty-killing, such that the NHL itself has tapped me to explain the discipline to the world. Maybe I should explain it to the rest of my team.

Mark Streit: I’m a decent defenseman, but ironically I’m a better forward. And I’m going to make oodles of money at it, especially by Swiss standards.

Martin Gerber: Forget offense, dude, the real money is in lukewarm goaltending.

Mathieu Dandenault: Never underestimate the value of tertiary scoring.

Chris Neil: I have obviously lost my power to irritate people.

Maxim Lapierre: I’m impervious to irritation anyway.

Martin Lapointe: Maybe I should have thought twice before making ridiculously exaggerated claims about my leadership abilities.

Ryan O’Byrne: I am the second coming of Komisarek, only with less mature positional sense and a barely-suppressed urge to accessorize these dull road uniforms. [Looks longingly at the pashmina shawl on that lady in the third row]

Bryan Smolinski: Say what you will about my lack of offensive flair, I kill penalties and I win faceoffs and I'm old enough not to be phased by tough situations. So there.

Steve Begin: Ditto.

Chris Higgins: I have some good speed and some slick moves but will always have trouble finishing, mainly because I get violently assaulted all the damn time.

Patrice Brisebois: I’m competent. At least, when the rest of my team is playing excellently.

Alex Kovalev/Tomas Plekanec/Andrei Kostitsyn: We share a common brain, and it’s smarter, faster, and more creative than yours. All of yours. Put together. Yes, we’re looking at you, Stephan fucking Hawking. We’re coming for you and your no-hair theorem.

Brian Murray: I owe John Paddock an apology, don’t I?

The Montreal Canadiens are the best team in the Northeast Division. That is now a matter of record. And this game is a perfect example of how they got there: eight Habs got points, twelve had hits, twelve did power play time (eleven of them for one minute or more), fifteen of them blocked shots, fifteen killed penalties (thirteen for one minute or more), sixteen had shots either blocked or on net. In the next game, the numbers will be similar, but different players will be on each list, and a quick scan around the League suggests to me that while some teams exceeded the Habs’ diversity in one or two of those categories, very few matched it in all of them. In a League where most experts look at the game in terms of specialization, where players are more and more compartmentalized into rigid roles, the Habs have generalized and distributed both the burdens and the privileges of the game more widely across the roster. This does not mean that they have no roles, but that for none on the team is the role a destiny or a constraint- they all make sacrifices, and they all create opportunities. I wondered, in the last recap, if this interdependence could be a weakness, could make their chemistry fragile under mounting injuries. In this game, I got my answer. Here is a whole greater than the sum of its parts; a team deeper, stronger, tougher, and more magically complex than it appears on paper. As a list of names, they’re unremarkable. On the ice, however, I’m convinced: this is the best team in the League.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

awesome. you should do this style more. :)

hambown said...

Gulp. Thrashed by the Habs, fresh off a thrashing by the freaking Bruins!

This is a terrible situation.

Do I hope the Sens make the playoffs, only to be horribly outclassed by Pittsburg, New Jersey, Montreal, Carolina/Washington (Go Ovie & crew!) Or do I hope they tank, and spare themselves the indignity of post season capitulation? (and endure the indignity of falling right out of the post season).

E, the Habs were in this position last year; what did you do?

Angst!

Well, congrats to le Tricolore. My hat is off. I will root for them in the playoffs.

t_fediuk said...

HAHAHA!! Oh man, I laughed so hard while I was reading this. Great job, great job!

E said...

hambown-

for the sens, i don't think there's any way to get out of this favorably, short of winning the cup. their late-season deterioration has been so spectacular that i don't think even a couple rounds of playoffs could cover up the team's flaws. it's pretty clear already that murray wants to change up his roster significantly, there's going to be a lot of restructuring in the off-season regardless of how deep they go.

i don't think i can give you advice, because when the habs nearly scraped into the playoffs at the end of last season, it was due to an improbable run of very, very strong play. if they'd made it, there would have been some reason to be optimistic, or at least believe they'd put up an entertaining fight. so i don't think i was facing the fear of seeing them 'horribly outclassed' to the extent that you are. anyway, i liked that team, so i would have been happy just to see them play a week or two longer. do you feel that way about this edition of the sens?

also, i have been thinking about your theory that the sens institutional culture was formed under the cloud of a media-promoted 'loser' designation, and that this is what makes them unable to play consistently like the elite team they should be. it's an interesting proposition, but i really can't decide if i buy it or not. it seems plausible, but how many of the sens current roster/staff has been around since those dark days?

i will say, though, that i do think there's still a less positive edge in the way a lot of the hockey media covers the sens. in some cases, there are obvious reasons why, but in others- particularly alfredsson- it seems like the repeated mentions of his past perceived failings serves no real point except to cast doubt on his present achievements.

anon/t- shukran jazeelan!

hambown said...

anyway, i liked that team, so i would have been happy just to see them play a week or two longer. do you feel that way about this edition of the sens?

Your question was unexpected. I find myself surprised to say that I'm not really enticed by the prospect of watching the Sens play into late April or beyond. They still play pretty hockey offensively, but only for about half of each game. Besides the big three, and Alfredsson in particular, none of the forwards really excite me. Besides Phillichenkov and Schubert, none of the defense inspire confidence (how is Luke Richardson holding down a regular spot?) Seeing Martin Gerber in net fills me with dread. Wow, guess that's it for this year. Have you thought/posted about the implications of rooting for different teams? Or of cheering for hockey versus a specific team?

how many of the sens current roster/staff has been around since those dark days?

Arguably none. The only exception being perhaps Alfredsson, oddly enough. But I argue that institutional culture is less transient or dynamic than the actual roster on the ice.

Because players steep themselves in hockey culture from child to NHL rookie, all players who *could* be on the roster have formed ideas in their minds about what kind of team the Ottawa Senators are. A scant few follow the team from a very young age, or are drafted /reared within the Senators organization, and possess a close experience with the organization that informs their perception. More to my point though, ALL of these players consume media to form their perception of the team. and this effects how they play once they become a part of the team. So the fact that the roster is completely different now than it was in the mega suck years does not really address my claim, as I see it.

I see the key idea as being how a team's representation in the media and fans affecting how those on the roster view their own team's potential. And this is not something that changes quickly, as far as I can tell. What I said about the period and intensity of media coverage adds convincingly to this story: the longer a team has been around, the more people have an idea of what they're about, and these ideas are intensified proportionally to the amount of media coverage received. Look at the Leafs for example. Begun as a storied hockey club, won lots of stuff pre '67, overload of coverage. But haven't done much since '67. It has taken more than three decades for public perception of the Leafs to morph from a winning franchise into a mediocre / poor one (delusions of grandeur aside). The Leaf roster today is very different than it was in the late 80's, but the feeling is the same.

As an aside, on the flip side of media coverage intensity, look at how about how a move to Carolina can rejuvinate careers: Joe Corvo, Sergei Samsonov.

E said...

Have you thought/posted about the implications of rooting for different teams? Or of cheering for hockey versus a specific team?

somewhat, not a lot. i tried to root for the sharks after the habs were eliminated last year, but just couldn't get into it in the same way. i think it is possible to support another team, but only if you have some preexisting reason to- i know a fair number of folks for whom the habs are a long-standing 'second favorite', and i think they can transfer some affection pretty readily to ahbabi when their preferred team is out. it's different for different people. however, i most emphatically do not believe that it's possible to cheer 'for hockey' in the abstract. it's a team sport, the competition between teams defines it, and i think without some selected team to act as one's own personal avatar in the story, one gets a lot less out of it.

as to the media coverage thing, i think what you're talking about goes well beyond the media into the realm of general cultural significance. older teams like the leafs and the habs don't benefit from an insulating wall of favorable press that protect them from being typecast as pathetic losers in hard times, what they have is the benefit of memory and history. The Team writ large means a lot more than the team on the ice at any given moment. young teams don't have that, but i think you're correct in asserting that the lack of it is a bigger problem for teams in canada, where there is so much history and culture bound up in the sport. in a 'non-traditional' american market, a lack of meaningful, successful history isn't an impediment because no one expects it anyway. in canada, though, there's always an unfavorable comparison to be made between a young team with a short, unsuccessful history and an old one with a storied past. still, i'm not sure how much difference it makes to the guys on the ice- it seems like a lot of players on both the leafs and the habs could tell you that the glorious past is cold comfort in a bad season.