Thursday, 7 May 2015

Canadiens-Lightning Game 4: Pre-Game (Dark) Thoughts

1) Marc Bergevin has made the point repeatedly that all a team can do is set itself up and make the playoffs every season. He’s made the point that with 30 teams, it’s hard to win it any season, the only thing you can do is have the depth and talent to try to make a deep run and hope the bounces go your way.

Conversely, Brendan Shanahan in his post-season wrap-up, said that it’s easy to say you have a plan for a team, for a rebuild, but it’s much harder to stick to it. When you get close, in a market like Toronto, there comes pressure to ‘go for it’, and you deviate, you squander your talent and future for band-aids, right now.

And, we’ve seen where the Penguins ended up with the notion that they had to go for it, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as huge pillars of their team, with big pieces like Marc-André Fleury, Kris Letang and James Neal, that they should add a couple of pieces at the deadline to surround them. Now they’re at the point where they’ve dealt away a lot of their depth, their future, even some of the big pieces, to add players at the deadline, and whittled away the core.

Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said at the end of the year that he already regretted dealing away Simon Després. He’s done that before too, remember how he told the media he’d made a huge mistake in signing Tomas Kaberle as a UFA, a couple months into his massive three-year contract? Right before Pierre Gauthier obliged him by taking that rotten player with a rotten contract off his hands?

So I hope that Marc Bergevin resists the temptation to capitalize on Carey Price’s window, that he sells the future for some immediate help.

I agree with the hope of Habs fans that the GM can wheel and deal and improve our team, but with the caveat that every team out there is looking for that steady Top 4 defenceman, or the big skilled centres. The Leafs are looking for their true #1 centre. The Canucks say they’ve moved on, but watching Ryan Kesler in these playoffs, it’s easy to rue the trade. The Oilers tried to force Leon Draisaitl into being ready. The Sabres despair that Mikhail Grigorenko will make the jump.

I’m not very worried, because in his recent interviews, Marc Bergevin did explain that it’s hard to do a rebuild, add talent, when you’re drafting 25th or so every year. He’s got his eyes wide open.

I’ll allow that two seasons in a row he flipped his second-rounder for a veteran rental player, but I think that’s a reasonable response, to acquire a decent player at a decent cost, but not sell the farm. It’s a little bit like having one foot on the dock and one in the boat, it’s delicate, you can’t quite stay in the middle, you eventually have to choose one, but he’s managed so far to get a little help, without sacrificing prime prospects or his first-rounders.

2)  I don’t know, I’m kind of out of ideas.

Has anyone checked the inflation of the pucks, made sure Yzerman, Brisebois & Cooper haven’t tampered with those?

Maybe the Lightning have somehow gained access to video that shows all our plays and know what we’re about to do before we do it?

3)  “Brandon Prust’s post-game comments were both baseless and demeaning of a referee whose 20-year career in the league has been marked by professionalism, integrity and a high degree of respect from players, coaches and management,”--Colin Campbell

How would that corrupt biased moron know anything at all about professionalism and integrity and respect?

4)  Once again, or rather, still, the glare falls on Michel Therrien.  It’s a results-based business, and in the post-mortem Michel Therrien and his methods will be dissected. But it’s not outlandish to suggest that an assistant coach take the fall for the popgun powerplay, a traditional strength of our organization.

NHL coaching is moving away from the old days when a tyrant played one-man-band, like Bob Pulford or Toe Blake, it’s accepted that it’s more of a staff now, more like the NFL, with various areas of responsibility for different assistants, but the HC retaining ultimate accountability.

Also, as I’ve posted a few times, Marc Bergevin was quick to act a couple summers back when Carey Price seemed lost and sliding all over the place, he let go Pierre Groulx and got a different goalie coach, who he thought could get better results.

So my hunch is that Dan Lacroix will take a lot of this heat, may walk the plank, and with a slew of talented coaches and wizkids out there, someone new will get a kick at this can next season, see if a different approach and fresh ideas get different results.

5)  Lots of talk about whether Alex Galchenyuk has been ruined, wasted by playing in the NHL rather than the AHL, played too much too soon, by a defensively-oriented coach.  That Detroit would never have rushed him to the NHL like that.

I would qualify that Detroit seldom or never have a Top 3 draft pick, an exceptional player like Aaron Ekblad or Nathan McKinnon who’s ready to go his draft year.

The Canadiens have tried to straddle the fence by having him play in the NHL immediately, but easing him in, on the wing, with limited minutes, and slowly bringing up the heat.

Note how Nathan McKinnon had a killer year in his rookie season, but with Paul Stasny gone this season, and having to play Top 6 centre against tougher opponents, kind of regressed points-wise. I don’t think Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy are too worried, ready to write off the kid. They’ll make adjustments, try to allay the issues, and move on next season.

It’s a little of an indication of how easily we’re shaken as a fan base, how the media pressure translates into a problem, that we’re now focused on Alex as a problem, some fragments of the fan base is already moved past looking at the blemishes, the current warts, and is now writing him off.

The kid is going through a rough patch, but he’ll be fine. He’ll learn from this. It would have been ideal, in hindsight, for him to not miss his draft year with his ACL, or to have the ability and roster depth to give him time in the AHL to work his way up slowly, but it doesn’t mean the kid is ‘ruined’.

Carey Price probably should have spent more time in Hamilton, as Guy Carbonneau wanted, but ultimately he rose above. I think Alex is a great kid, loved by his teammates, he has a strong support network with his family, he’ll figure this one out.

6)  Just to reiterate a point I’ve made recently, we’ve steadily eroded scoring talent over the last few seasons in trade for character, and it’s now achieved critical mass, as demonstrated by our toothless offence and powerplay.

Subtract a Mike Cammalleri here, a René Bourque there, an Andrei Kostitsyn, a Daniel Brière, a Thomas Vanek, and you can’t really fault any of these moves, there’s pros and cons to all of them, but in sum total, we now have a team that has Max who can score, and Brendan and Alex who both chipped in twenty this season, but aren’t quite there yet.

As flawed as those departed Canadiens were, they had the ability to put the puck in the net, it came naturally to them, and not so much to the reinforcements we brought in.

And I’ve mentally done that exercise this season, and despite how jubilant we were two or three seasons ago that help was on the way, realized that the shelf was still bare for next year, in terms of Top 6 talent ready to go.

Danny Kristo got traded.

Tim Bozon got deferred for a year at least by his bout of illness.

Sebastian Collberg didn’t quite bloom and was bartered away.

Arturri Lehkonen, the slew of smaller shifty forwards are progressing but still not quite ready.

It would be nice if one or two of these guys had been a pleasant, Gallagher-like surprise, but I suppose you don’t get one of those every year.

As a fanbase, we have to realize there are way more teams in our boat than the opposite, too many talented forwards to squeeze onto the roster.

The Canucks are going through the same self-examination: Brendan Gaunce, Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen, …, none of them are quite ready to go next season, it’s more of a hope than anything else that one of them steals a job.

The TSN 1040 guys are talking about this right now, how you can’t count on a Bo Horvat every year.

7)  Jacob de la Rose has to be in the AHL next season, work on his game. We can get a UFA plug to fill his current role on the team, and allow the kid to apprentice properly.

8)  I really hope that Michaël Bournival can come back strong next season, that this concussion-wasted season doesn’t derail his development.

9)  Lars Eller unfortunately still spends a lot of time stickhandling the puck away from the net, away from pressure, instead of towards it. He has a little bit of P.K. in him, stickhandling feats that ultimately don’t seem to have a plan behind them, and lead nowhere.

Now, I’m being a little blunt, partly to pander to my many critics who accuse me of being profligate with the keystrokes. I’m not calling these guys dummies, but their stickhandling is a little bit pointless, results-free to my frustrated fan eyes.

Kind of like a running back who instinctively dances side to side at the line of scrimmage instead of hitting the hole decisively after making his read. Some RB’s juke to get a defender to commit one way, so they can then go the other, while some RB’s juke as a matter of course, they do it out of a bad habit.

P.K. sometimes decides to try to deke out the opposition when he doesn’t have an easy, obvious option. He’s getting much better, but still reverts back to that when he feels pressure to do something late in the game, instead of just headmanning the puck and gaining position, making the safe play. I wish he used the bungee cord leash, to use Michel Therrien’s example from a couple weeks back, to jump on an odd-man rush, instead of feats of spinning and dekeing.

I’ll admit that Lars is getting better at this, he made a real effort this season to try to take the puck to the net, to shoot more, and I’ve given him props for this in my recaps a few times, but he’s still a work in progress.

I’m okay with readers disagreeing on this matter, but my assessment is that Lars sometimes gets in his own way, his efforts are wasted.

I remember when Marc Bergevin opined early this season that Lars needs to play like a big forward with skill, as opposed to a skilled forward with size. Lars has wavered on this, reverted a few times in some games or streaks to trying to out-deke Alex Galchenyuk. Lars gets better results, satisfies me as a fan, when he does the former, uses his size, plays with authority as opposed to dexterity.

10)  I’ve got a strong suspicion that Andrei Markov is banged-up. Not enough to be out, but maybe a hamstring or charley-horse or something, just enough to slow him down. Noticeably.

There’s no way he’s experiencing that sudden, huge drop-off in performance just due to fatigue.

Next season, Andrei has to play much, much less on the PK, give those minutes to a Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi. In the past, the Big Three, or Chris Chelios and Petr Svoboda, they wouldn’t sit out the PK, they’d play their fair share, but the coaches would use this opportunity to even out the icetime by giving Craig Ludwig or Rod Langway more minutes then.

PK should be tailor-made to play Jarred, and rest Andrei, reduce the wear and tear and risk of nagging injury.

11)  I can’t help but think we’re a couple years behind trend, zagging when everyone is zigging. Again.

A few years ago, Bob Gainey radically transformed his roster by acquiring Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, small talented forwards who can skate and take advantage of Gary Bettman’s promised obstruction-free game, to provide fans with a fan-friendly offensive game.

And we got bruined and leafed. The league actually went for size and grit, and we got reffed out in the cold.

Now that we’re sizing up, drafting players like Jacob de la Rose and Mike McCarron, who have size but not necessarily the offensive chops, the league is de-gooning and maybe being dragged scratching and clawing towards a more open game, Don Cherry be damned.

Is Steve Yzerman ahead of trend, picking up various Ondrej Palats and Cory Conachers and Tyler Johnsons and seeing what sticks, while we’re behind trend, trying to add toughness to survive assaults by the Bruins and Leafs and Senators and Sabres?

12)  I was watching Canada-Sweden yesterday, and the Swedish goalie is 6’5″ Anders Nilsson.

He couldn’t thrive in Long Island, big surprise, and went back to Sweden where he apparently had a good season working with a Finnish goalie coach.

How’s about we bring this kid back to North America, on the cheap, and let Stéphane Waite go to town on him, coach him up good?  Be next season's Devan Dubnyk?

Dustin Tokarski had his chance, despite his questionable measurables, and he didn’t deliver. Let’s be decisive here, and try something different.

13)  The Lightning goals are beauties, wide-open nets created with beautiful passes, I’ve posted on this before.

We’re trying to win ugly, like every frigging team in the NHL. When a talking head asks Player A “How do you solve Team B?” or Goalie C, the answer is invariably:

“Keep it simple. Get shots on the net. Get in Goalie C’s kitchen, try to disrupt him or screen him. Crash the crease. Don’t let him get too comfortable.”

That’s what hockey has been reduced too. Homogenized big tough players who beat on each other, with the odd Sidney Crosby or Henrik Sedin mixed in.

In the NFL, when you ask how do you beat this team, this defence, there can be twenty different responses.

“We’ll use the pass to set up the run.”

“We’ll use the run to set up the pass.”

“We’ll use our running backs and tight ends to connect with short passes over the middle, nullify the pass rush, get the ball out of our QB’s hands quickly, pick on their slow linebackers who can stop the run but can’t cover.”

“We’ll stretch the field, brutalize their DB’s who can’t cover man-to-man.”

“We’ll use play action, keep their safeties playing shallow, open up the passing routes.”

“We’ll run over Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, gas them so they can’t rush the passer.”

“We’ll run the no-huddle so they can’t substitute and bring in their fancy situational packages.”

But hockey has been dumbed down to the point where it’s a sludgefest, dump and chase, grind along the boards, hope for a powerplay, hope that your interference is more effective and unobtrusive than their interference.

We’re trying to get enough puck at the nets that one will bounce in, that eventually a scramble will pay off.

And somehow, the Lightning are tic-tac-toeing us to death.

14)  I’ve been hard on P.K. in the past when he committed a glaring mental mistake, something borderline unforgivable, like a pass through the slot in his own zone that gets intercepted, or turning over the puck when he’s the last man and trying to deke around a defender. I’ve noted this season when Andrei tried to be fancy in his own zone and got burned and the puck ended in his net.

In this game, while we slam Michel Therrien for his overly defensive, safe approach, Tomas Plekanec deviated from that in the final seconds, and it led directly to the loss. In the neutral zone, with about ten seconds to go, he should have dumped the puck behind the Tampa Bay net, made the safe play. Instead, he tried to create, tried to manufacture one last shot at the Tampa net, and he got burned. Somehow the Lightning found the time to turn around and score, even though I was checking the time on the clock as they rushed in and figured they wouldn’t be able to.

Sometimes a poster on HIO makes the very reasonable point that not every goal against is a mistake by our team, that we should grant the other team some credit for making a nice play. In this case however, Tomas goofed badly, and amazingly, wasn’t bailed out by the clock.

It’s situational, hindsight, but I wish Tomas had been thinking OT.

15)  Something that caught my eye in the crawl on TSN yesterday:


So it's not like their pipeline is now tapped out.

No comments:

Post a Comment