I’m incredibly busy this week, so ain’t no time for a cutesy recap today. Nope, we’re going straight to the core conundrum with no detours anywhere else. The Habs are losing. Who or what should we blame? Here are random thoughts.
1. The skaters are playing as well as they ever have. Yes, they’re having trouble finishing, but Biron has been fantastic and the Habs have always been a two-posts-for-every-goal kind of team even under the best of circumstances. Our offense never comes easy, frustration is par for the course, and if I hear the term ‘snakebit’ one more time I’m going to throttle someone. Coming close and not quite getting the puck over the line all the damn time isn’t bad luck, it’s just who they are. They’re getting their chances: Koivu and Higgins have been fabricating impressive near-misses out of half-chewed bubble gum and bits of twine, Plekanec is improving every game (although his line might have some puck-sharing issues to work out), Kovalev and the Kostitsyns are getting pounded and stifled but doing pretty well anyway, and the lower lines are working their asses off as per custom. Markov has been unremarkable but Gorges and Bouillon are really stepping up, the D is good. Certainly there are marginal improvements that could be made, but nothing worth whining over.
2. Except the power play. For some reason, with the man advantage, the Habs have convinced themselves that they are a dump-and-chase team. THEY ARE NOT A FUCKING DUMP-AND-CHASE TEAM. I know it sounds bizarre to say that any team sucks at dump-ins, but there you have it. This is how the power play goes: Habs dump in, Flyers dump out, repeat. There is nothing that annoys me more in hockey than the phrase ‘we just have to get pucks in deep’, which for some reason every North American-trained hockey player says in response to the question ‘what do you need to do to win this game?’ (most of my respect for Kovalev stems from the fact that he doesn’t say this). It doesn’t matter if the player in question has scored every goal in his entire career on an odd-man rush or a slapshot from the point, he’ll still talk as though banging around the back boards is some sort of magic secret to hockey success. For the Habs, it’s not. Sure, sometimes they can score from that kind of a set up, particularly any line with Kostopolous and/or Begin, but it’s exactly the kind of game our ‘best players’ do not do well. It’s time to face facts and admit that we are a fancy-shmancy team, a twirly, pretty-pass kind of team, and that’s the strength we need to play to when the calls go our way and we have some extra room to play in.
3. Paradoxically, we are shutting down the Flyers better than they’re shutting us down. The Habs’ D has done a good job of keeping shots on net low and they’re still making, by and large, very good outlet passes. The forwards are doing their part to keep play in the offensive zone. The Flyers defense is all about stickiness, and it’s slowed us down somewhat, but it hasn’t stopped us. However, I am getting really annoyed with all the stick-grabbing. Fine with me if they want to try to thwack us into oblivion, but disarming your enemy is just bad form.
4. Carey Price has been playing badly, and badly in a very distinctive way. Either all the stress and anxiety that he’s repressing is finding its release via his glove hand, or he’s concealing some kind of injury to his wrist or arm. And by ‘concealing’ I mean ‘not acknowledging in words’, because it’s getting pretty obvious in his play, especially considering that his catching used to be one of his greatest strengths. But whatever the cause, he’s not doing well. I’m not going to argue over whether the goals he’s let in are ‘bad’ or not, all I’m going to say is that an NHL goalie who faces 7 shots in a period should never ever be letting in 3 of them. Even goalies on teams with incredibly weak D who face 40+ difficult shots a night do not have save percentages that bad.
That’s where my convictions end. Does Halak get a real chance out of this? My instinct is no. Should he? Probably, unless Price really isn’t injured. Would Ryder give us more offense? I kinda doubt it, although he might get one of his inexplicable hot phases, you never know. Should we worry? Yes. In the regular season, a couple of games wherein one outplays one’s opponents and still loses are no particular cause for anxiety- you figure that the hockey gods are harsh but just, and eventually good effort will get rewarded. But now… it doesn’t matter why you lose. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad play by everyone or someone or no one, all that matters is the result. There’s no comfort in a moral victory, and two moral victories that haven’t translated into actual victories have put the Canadiens in a hole they may have a hard time climbing out of.