Monday, October 26, 2009

Game 10: Mixed Blessings

Against the New York Rangers, the Canadiens played a terribly symmetrical game. The equivalency wasn’t just an eerie evenness between the teams- although it was that, as NYR seemed to have the same problems as the Canadiens, if not the same assets. It was also a harmony between the Habs’ own strengths and weaknesses- a creepy kind of yin/yang balance between exciting offence and excruciating defense, play as creative on the rush as it was stagnant on the backend.

Part of that is the injuries to the D. Bergeron can compensate somewhat for Markov’s absence on the PP (he doesn’t ‘replace’ Markov, since his contribution is rather different), but he’s not remotely a comparable player in his own zone. Every defenseman the Canadiens have has been pushed up the depth chart, which means some of them are playing above their optimal ceiling, in terms of the number of minutes or their difficulty or both. It’s expected that the D will play slightly sub-par. They are slightly sub-par.

But the forwards aren’t doing their share. Yeah, I know, everyone’s forgetting the first period because the result was so good, but for all their offensive force and neutral-zone heroics, that top line can be pretty ineffectual at getting the puck out of their own end, and the still-hypothetical 2nd line is even worse. Based on this game, the Chupacabra/Latendresse/D’Agostini trio is our best defensive option, and they’ve been uneven on the season so far. NYR picked their goals off the Habs’ ugly giveaways and failed clearing attempts, but they didn’t capitalize nearly as often as they might have. When you give the opposition that many quality opportunities, you damn well better have some hat tricks up your sleeve.

Gomez? He cool. Cammelleri? He awesome. Gionta? He awesomer. These guys, played as a set, are so much better than anything the Canadiens have had in recent memory that it’s like moving up to the next generation of hockey offense- Bob Gainey finally bought us a Playstation 3. But if Mike Cammelleri doesn’t have a stellar night, including a few stunning individual efforts, the Habs lose that game 4-2. And Mike Cammelleri, as brilliant and glorious and electrifying and sensational and handsome and dashing and charismatic and intrepid and witty and debonair and strawberry-flavored as he is, will not have a stellar night every night. ‘Fast’ doesn’t mean uncatchable or unstoppable. If the Canadiens’ offense remains this unidimensional, it’s going to get shut down come January, and we’ll be in a place not so far from the one we were in a year ago.

This isn’t pointless negativity, and this isn’t nostalgia for the past. I’d be the first to agree that this is an exciting team with oodles of potential. But too much of that excitement is coming from a) one line and b) nearly getting our asses kicked and then pulling out a dramatic finish. Which is fucking great entertainment, it’s just not one of the Six Proofs of the Existence of Good Hockey.

The first hurdle was scoring. The next hurdle is depth.

[Please note: games 6, 7, 8, and 9 will be filled in behind this one, further down the page, because I don’t have hardly any time to write these days. Feel free to acknowledge them, and I’ll respond to comments, even though they’re not the latest thing. The posts aren’t time-specific anyway.]


Jeff J said...

The next hurdle is depth.

Indeed, I see the massive off-season revamp up front as swapping depth for a better top line.

Gomez > Koivu
Cammalleri > Kovalev
Gionta is probably > Tanguay, though I'm less certain of this than the first two.


$18.3M >> $14.5M

which means the Lang and Higgins roles are replaced internally with less experienced/capable players.

It also means the Habs have the most expensive top line in the league. I strongly doubt this is the best line in the league, so for the team to be competitive the depth forwards have to provide value on the dollar. This is an important year for the likes of Plekanec, A. Kostitsyn and Latendresse.

V said...

I think Chipchura's finally getting a fair chance and is starting to excel. I don;t think he deserves the (funny) nickname.

MathMan said...

The Habs don't have the most expensive top line in the league -- or at least, they don't have the most expensive set of top three forwards.

Mirtle made a nifty study breaking down the way the top teams from last year were structured salary-wise and among them, the average salary total for their top 3 forwards was -- drumrolls please -- 18.3 million. Montreal just happens to have a LW, C, and RW as their top 3 forwards which isn't a bad spot.

It's probably not the best top 3 forwards in the world (although if you evaluate players with Corsi, as you've been wont to do Jeff, these guys look like they might be aces, particularly Gomez). But the salary structure is actually bang-on.

Where the Habs save is goaltending, where they get good quality goaltending and the occasionnal robbery for very, very cheap.

Jeff J said...

Mathman: Looking at the cap numbers for the top three F's at nhlnumbers, I get an average of $15.31M. Not sure where Mirtle's numbers came from. Maybe he used actual salary rather than the cap numbers?

Going by the cap numbers, there are only three teams with a top three F's over the Habs' $18.36. They are San Jose, Pittsburgh and Washington. In these three cases I looked at the actual lines: Marleau/Thornton, Crosby/Malkin/Staal and Ovechkin/Nylander generally aren't playing together. Taking the next highest paid Fs (Clowe, Kunitz, Guerin, Knuble) gives them all a total less than Mtl's - though the Sharks are close at $18.33. So that's where my "most expensive top line" remark came from.

Yes, goaltending is cost effective right now. The upside of Price's struggles is that it should limit his cap hit for next year. Call me Mr. Positive.

MathMan said...

Mirtle only considered a small sample of "top" teams and I'm pretty sure stuck to the three highest-paid forwards. I'm sure the Islanders bring the "top 3 forwards" average cap hit down, for example, but I'm not sure that's a meaningful comparison when looking at salary structure.

I'm also not sure that the fact that Montreal plays all three of their top forwards on the same line as opposed to spreading them among two is meaningful from a salary structure perspective. Maybe that makes them the "most expensive top line in the league" as you describe them, but the fact that their top 3 forwards go C-LW-RW may not be such a bad thing. If they end up using Camalleri with Plekanec, does that make their salary structure better really, even though their top line isn't the most expensive in the game? (Well, maybe it does help them because it probably means Andrei has woken up enough to be a first line LW, but you get my point).

As for Price's cap hit, even if Price does well it's difficult to imagine his first RFA contract will be much about his current cap hit (it's over 2 millions), although it will be in real money rather than bonuses, so I'm not worried there.

E said...

mathman- remember, we're talking depth here. so yeah, it would be favorable if the best forwards were spread over two lines- that's two lines with scoring threats rather than one. it isn't necessarily a problem that we have a rw-c-lw set, but it is a problem if they're always played on the same line and we don't have anyone effective below them.

v- ach, i've been calling him chupacabra since this blog were naught but a wee bairn. it's an affectionate pet name, and using affectionate pet names for players is one of the greatest benefits of being a lowly independent blogger. don't worry, i mean nothing insulting by it.

MathMan said...

E -- ah, sorry. I get your point. I kind of like having the Big Little 3/Legion of Zoom/Ninja Smurfs together though because I believe good players have a synergistic effect on each other, especially the complementary way these guys play, and they rack up a lot of icetime to boot. But then again Plekanec has been great, so it really is a matter of finding two wingers that can either play with Pleks or allow Martin to bump Cammy down with Pleks.

However, the Lats-Chips-D'Ago has been dominating puck possession whenever it's been on the ice for two games now, and frankly I'm shocked they haven't gotten at least one goal on sheer volume. And the Max-Metro-Moen line has been pretty good too. So at least there would seem to be a top line and a couple of 3A-3B lines. And Plekanec.

...which brings us to the key depth move here: waking up Andrei. Honestly, if he was himself, there wouldn't be so much of a depth problem. We'd slot Lapierre to bang away on the second line, occasionally swap in a deserving winger from the bottom 6, and we'd have a pretty good lineup. I know he has more detractors than he really deserves but Andrei's a key guy, he certainly was in 07-08, and his somnambulism is really putting a crink in the lineup. But he's always been a slow starter, so there's hope.

E said...

seems like there's always somebody on the team who needs to 'wake up'. if not kostitsyn al-akbar, than it'd be latendresse or pleks. point being, there's always going to be someone who's either injured or not playing up to potential- i think it's important to find a work-around here, not blame all the habs' scoring depth issues on one guy. (not that i'm saying you are, but it's getting to be a default position in habistan)

i agree about the lats/chips/dags set, that's been an absolutely revelatory performance. i honestly didn't think they had that it in them. but i also think of it as the possession style of defensive forwarding- they're playing 'keep away' with the puck. when they're out, they spend a lot of time on the boards, don't get into prime scoring positions very often. i wouldn't be surprised if they got a few goals, but unless one of them lucks into a really hot shooting streak, i wouldn't expect a ton of points.

John said...

How about poise? What the fuck is poise?!!! I know, it's a word that muscle heads use to try and sound smart. "I almost ripped open my o-ring on the toilet last night, but I bared down and brought poise to that dump!" Now, let me just add, while most NHL teams are puck possession teams the leafs are retard-strong!