Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Ghost and the Darkness - Version 2.0

Just once... just once I'd like to have some confidence in the coaching staff for the Montreal Canadiens. I honestly can't remember the last time that was the case.

Perhaps it was the whole Roy debacle and I've resented the Habs brass ever since, be it behind the bench or in the front office. Perhaps it's the years of the Ghost and the Darkness (Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin, respectively).

BTW I actually like that movie even though I don't like Val Kilmer or Michael Douglas as actors. Go figure.

I remember blogging back in 2010 about how we'd own Jacques Martin longer than we should if the Habs went on a Cinderella run. They did and we did and then surprise, surprise we were suddenly able to draft Alex Galchenyuk and the Ghost and the Darkness passed into the team's history.

I'm not going to get into fancy stats or whatnot as there are plenty who can cite them chapter and verse and tell you the Habs are not really doing well when the numbers are crunched. What I'm going to tell you is that one day before the puck is about to drop versus Tampa Bay I look at the line combos Michel Therrien is icing and my first reaction is large strings of profanity and a mini-twitter rant.

Here are the forward line combos this morning:

Pacioretty - Desharnais - Vanek
Prust - Plekanec - Gallagher
Eller - Bourque - Gionta
Wiese - Briere - Bournival

Right off the bat I have to wonder why Marc Bergevin ever bothered to sign Daniel Briere, and why Briere ever bothered to lace them up for the Habs. Here is our proven playoff performer slotted in on the 4th line, after a season where 5 minutes a game for him is the norm.

Oh but wait, I'm told. Wait and see what the "real" lines are tomorrow. Are you kidding? So that means we are one day from puck drop and practicing with "fake" lines?

Not sure how that's supposed to inspire any confidence or faith that the coaching staff knows what it's doing there.

I love Prust but putting him on the 2nd line makes it a shut down line. Plekanec will wear Stamkos and while Gallagher tries to avoid interference penalties at the net I guess Prust can score all the goals there? Yeah... right.

Briere and Bournival both did fine on Plekanec's wing. I don't get why they never get to stay there. I don't get why Briere has spent the bulk of the year in the coach's doghouse, and I really don't expect it to change suddenly after 82 games.

Also, if I'm UFA this year and I look over at proven playoff performer Briere's season with Montreal my first reaction is "fuck no". Briere (and I'm not a fan of his nor have ever pretended to be) has been treated like dirt by the head coach IMO. How is that attractive to outsiders looking in?

Meanwhile the third line is the Black Hole line.

Lars Eller (who arguably belongs on the 4th over Briere) and René Bourque can't find the back of the net even with floodlights and a rocket guidance system. To shut down the third line you just have to ride Gionta.

Looking at these practice line combos today, all the Bolts have to worry about is shutting down Montreal's first line. That's it. Montreal will get lucky once in a while with the other lines, but there are no real consistent threats there.

Then there's the powerless play, which is now at a whopping 0-23 which I think is the worst it has been in about a decade. Before that it had another long stretch of ineffectiveness. Contain Subban and you contain the PP.

And yet, somehow, the Habs coaching staff can't figure out how to overcome that.

Meanwhile the Tampa Bay coaches have got to be salivating over this. All they have to do is contain the first line, get one or two past Carey Price, and they're golden.

And yes I have no doubt that Therrien will do the blender thing and switch up the lines. The problem there is that he usually makes it worse.

Last game when Bournival did well on Plekanec's wing his reward was to get dropped to the 4th line. Because why have speed and scoring ability on the 2nd anyway? Yes, let's put a grinder in there and watch Pleky try to do it all himself.

@RobertB_Rice has repeatedly pointed out how that with a deeper team than the Canadiens have had in a long time, Michel Therrien has done arguably less with the Habs than Jacques Martin did with a lesser squad.

And you might want to check out Cowhide & Rubber by @kyleroussel on this coaching thing too.

I don't care if the Habs win the Cup, I don't want Michel Therrien to continue on as head coach. I have a multitude of reasons for this, not the least of which are his usage of Subban, the team's treatment of Beaulieu, and the regression of Galchenyuk.

The bottom line is this - I dislike and distrust Michel Therrien even less than I did Jacques Martin and that is no small thing.

Yes the Habs will get into the post-season again (and rightfully so) under Therrien, but how did Martin get so far with such a weaker team? He had bigger holes, far less talent up front, and somehow got to the Eastern Conference Finals.

I really want the team to win the Cup or at the very least make a strong showing in the post-season. I love them and I cheer for them when they win and my heart breaks for them when they don't.

But if it means an automatic contract renewal for Therrien, please forgive my hesitation.

We had a Catch 22 with Jacques Martin and now we have another one with Michel Therrien. Once was enough for me with that nonsense.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Now and Then

This man right here is why I'm a Habs fan. Love you Dad!
Sometimes I think life as a Habs fan was a lot more fun and less stressful before the advent of social media, particularly twitter.

Don't get me wrong. I love twitter.

I tweet incessantly and I enjoy interaction and discourse and friendly banter. The Montreal Canadiens are what united most of us and drew us together so that we might become friends. I've met some great online friends who have also become great offline ones and I feel blessed.

That being said sometimes I miss the good old days. Back then when I wanted to chat about the Habs I did so live and in person with my Dad or my brother or the other kids at school. We might have taken pot shots at each other, but it was always light hearted, never truly nasty or ugly.

When the team did well we were happy. When they fell we were disappointed. We didn't write mind boggling mathmatical dissertations about fenwick and corsi and scapegoats were still beloved regardless.

I'm no fan of Douglas Murray, but I don't remember slagging players who actually didn't dress for the game during my pre-twitter days. Mostly I fussed about the ones who were playing unless they were injured or suspended in which case I'd ask my Dad when they were due back, and then I'd focus on the actual game.

It's incredible I know.

Now my TL does get filled with those watching the game, the heartbreak and the frustration over missed goals, shots, and the joy when the team does well. That part, at least, has remained consistent. So it's not all bad.

Instead of turning to my Dad though I just say it online. (Sometimes I say it online to my Dad.)

I also don't remember the TV pundits being so doom and gloom about this team all the time. Lately it seems like a good quality cattle prod is needed to get them to say anything kind about this team.

Last night the Canadiens finished the season with a new mark in the history books (first OT goal on a penalty shot - thanks Captain Gio) and hit the 100 point level, which as Jack Todd so helpfully pointed out, ties them with the LA Kings.

Bear in mind that the Kings are (rightfully) considered an excellent team and a true contender. Then you listen to radio shows, the TV critics and read the blogosphere and watch them pre-award Lord Stanley's Cup to pretty much every single team except the Montreal Canadiens.

Now I'm not saying that the Habs are an elite team or that they are just as favoured to win the Cup as the Kings, who no doubt have their own team strategy and issues to work on before the post-season gets underway.

What I am saying is that can we play the actual post-season before we award the Cup? Otherwise Don Cherry already handed it over to the Boston Bruins (yet again) on last night's episode of Coach's Corner.

Even the team's own media is thoroughly negative a lot of the time, and sometimes I get caught up in it myself but then again I don't pretend to be anything other than a fan anyway.

I'm not sure when the Habs become the constant underdog, especially given that they are the only Canadian team to leg it into the post-season this year.

Yes they had a horrendous season a couple of years ago, but that was then and overall they post a much better record than the favoured Leafs or Senators when it comes to playoff performances over the past five or six seasons.

You know who will determine how far the Habs get in the post-season? They will. They did it in 2010 and they did it last year and they'll do it again this year.

This no doubt will cause Don Cherry and the rest of HNIC's Blue and White or Black and Gold zealots some damned agony. Even the RDS "homers" have nothing better to do than pick this team apart six ways to Sunday most of the time.

I'll sorely miss TSN next season. At least they can usually offer up some balance and perspective.

Where's the love?