Sunday, 16 October 2011

Game 4: Montreal 5, Avalanche 6 (SO)

The season has not started with a bang. With a talented but not necessarily deep roster, the Canadiens need a few things to go right for them to win regularly. The goaltending needs to be solid. The young defence corps needs to play dependable hockey. The forwards need to outskate the opposition, convert some lucky bounces. The power play needs to click, to ensure adversaries don't take too many liberties with the relatively small Canadiens roster.

So far, not many things are going right for our team. Carey Price had excelled so far this season, but admitted to playing poorly against the Avalanche. PK Subban has tried to be the second coming of Paul Coffey, and has committed some glaring errors. The power play had been anemic, but showed signs of life last night. The forwards played with heart, skating and hitting all game, as they haven't in the first three games.

It's a copout to mention injuries as a reason for losses, since every team needs to contend with them during a long season. Instead, it would be news if there were no injured Canadiens. Yet players like Ryan White and Mike Cammalleri are sorely missed for what they bring to the lineup. Those two would have been the antidote for guys like Shane O'Brien and Kyle Quincey facewashing and crosschecking our forwards in front of the net all night. Had Mike been there to convert on a couple more powerplays, and had Ryan brought more size and toughness to our lineup, the final score might have been different.

The return of Andrei Markov also cannot come soon enough. His presence in the lineup will settle the defence down, bump Hal Gill and Jaro Spacek further down the depth chart where they belong, provide mentorship for the Three Nuevos Amigos (Yannick Weber, Alexei Emelin, Raphaël Diaz), and a living, breathing, skating template for PK to observe from the bench ( "Hey, Andrei just bounced a pass to Mathieu off the boards, and even if Matt didn't corral it in, it didn't end up in our net. Maybe my next shift I'll try that instead of trying to deke my way through their entire lineup every single time I touch the puck....")

Paradoxically, I want the Canadiens to wait until Andrei is 101% ready before bringing him back, instead of 95%. We're not neck and neck with another team for the President's Trophy. Let's use the regular season as an extended training camp during which we feed ice time to our youngsters while Andrei rehabs.

I hate to beat on PK, because he works hard and tries harder, but he needs some coaching. He needs Mr. Ladouceur or Pearn to sit down with him in the video room and show him what he's doing on the ice, how it's costing the team, and some video examples of what other players in the same situations do that is simpler and more effective. He has to understand that when you fake out a forechecking forward by pretending to pass then keeping the puck and stickhandling with it, it will work the first couple of times, or if you only do it once in a while, but when it becomes your go-to move you make yourself vulnerable to having your pocket picked, as he had his picked last night. He needs to know the situation, what the score is, who his teammates are on the ice and where they are, before he makes these decisions, and to vary his play. If a forechecker is aggressive, expecting him to try to rush the puck, and PK beats him with a simple pass, it's just as good as if he'd stickhandled past him. It also make him more effective the next time he's up against that forechecker, who will be leery to commit one way or another.

I'm not going to panic, since I'm not expecting the Canadiens to waltz to the Stanley Cup. Instead, I think this year is one we will use to build toward a legitimate run soon. We can live with a slow start to the season, as the youngsters develop. There were a lot of positives yesterday. The trio of Weber, Emelin and Diaz did some good work, and logged some serious minutes, which they need to improve. Max Pacioretty was inspired, after a couple of listless games. Travis Moen plays with determination and seems to want to silence the naysayers. Lars Eller made me sit up and take notice, which I haven't done since he got here from St. Louis.

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