Friday, April 16, 2010

Capitals-Canadiens: Game 1

So the habs take game 1 against the Caps in overtime. Last night's game showed that when it comes time for playoffs, all regular season stats are to be thrown out the window. According to all the experts (tsn, rds, sportsnet, radio) Montreal had no chance in hell against the caps and any win against the league's best team would require a God-like performance from one of the their goaltenders. Aside from the first period, Montreal didn't need to depend on Halak in order to win the game as the Canadiens were able to keep up with the Caps from the second period onwards, in fact, you could argue that Montreal was the better team after the first. Caps outshot Montreal 19-6 in the first period, but Montreal responded by outshooting the Caps 31-28 the rest of the way.

It was clear that the Habs were nervous/scared in the first period, they were trying to play it too safe, which ended up being disastrous, they were lucky the game out of the first 20 minutes with the game tied. Once they got comfortable, the Canadiens imposed their play on the Caps, in fact Jose Theodore deserves some credit for keeping the Caps in the game because Montreal had multiple scoring chances.

The Canadiens were able to contain Ovechkin all night, resulting in zero shots on net from the supersniper. Spacek played arguably his best game as a Hab; he did make a couple of mistakes, but his positives outweighed his negatives, especially his play on Alex the Great.

Halak was impressive as well, especially in the first, after that all he needed was just to play well positionally the rest of the way as the Canadiens were effective in containing the Caps' high octane offense, limiting their shots to the outside.

Scott Gomez continued his impressive playoff play, after last night's win he is now at 46 points in his last 43 playoff games. He made a beatiful move on Ovechkin and followed it by crashing the net and completing a great tic-tac-toe play. He topped off the rush by pushing Mike Green into the net after he scored his first off the 2010 playoffs.

Props must be given to Darche, Pyatt and Lapierre. Their non-stop play and energy gave Montreal a lot of momentum in the second, they also drew a couple of penalties and a few scoring chances. Props to Benoit Pouliot as well. He has been struggling lately, but he dished out a couple of nice hits and used his speed and stick to create turnovers. He made a bad mistake on the second goal, he should have cleared the puck, but overall he had a good game as he skated hard and used his size to his advantage.

Cammalleri played an impressive game. He didn't stop hustling all night, for a 5'9 185 pound forward, he gave the Caps D trouble down low all night, his linemates Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn had multiple scoring chances as well. Plekanec scored a beautiful goal in OT and it could not have been more fitting. After being misquoted by the media and made fun of by Theodore, Plekanec did his talking on the ice.

Finally, props to Jacques Martin for adjusting his game plan after the 1st intermission. For a guy who loves the passive trap system, he really sold the forecheck game to his team.

It's still important to remember that it is only one game and that the series is far from over, but so long as the Habs can use their speed against Washington's less then stellar defense and so long as the Canadiens forwards continue to backcheck and help out their d-men, the habs will give themselves a chance to win every night.

I fully expect Washington to come out flying next game, but that's not always a good thing. All the pressure is on them, especially Ovechkin. We'll see what happens, looking forward to the rest of the series. Hopefully, if the habs play another good game, they will get some respect from media and fans outside of Montreal.

Go habs Go.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Looking Good...So Far

I wrote a blog about a month titled" "Injuries aren't an excuse, they are a reality." As this team begins to get healthier, it's starting to look like that it was the case.

First let me start off with some interesting stats that just cannot be ignored.

With Markov in the line up, Montreal this year has 20 wins, 9 losses and 3 losses past regulation. Moreover, Montreal this year has played only 8 games with a lineup that has been 95-100% healthy and have won 7 of 8 games. The sample size of the latter statistics is rather small, so it should be taken with a grain of salt as the win-loss ratio will certainly balance out. But the sample size of the statistics with Markov in the lineup is just too big to ignore.

You can slice it all you want, when you consistently lose key players for long periods of time, no team will do well. This is precisely why Boston and Detroit(two of the best teams last year) are having so much difficulty this year as both have yet to play a fair amount of games with a healthy line up. Not coincidently, Detroit since the Olynpic break have had all their players return from injuries and are winning more consistently.

Let's be honest, the Canadiens do not have a Stanley Cup contending team, but what does that really mean? San Jose has had arguably one of the best teams on paper for the last 3-4 years and have not gone any further than the Canadiens. Other teams are in same boat such as New Jersey and most recently the Canucks. There's one thing that people need to realize about the playoffs is that it's anybody's game. Every year we see one team that surprises everyone like the Hurricaines last year and Edmonton a few years ago.

Am I saying that the Canadiens will win the cup? No. But what I do want to say is that the Canadiens have a great core moving forward in the future, one which people do not give them a lot of credit for.

Montreal is solid in goal. Price and Halak are one of the best 1-2 tandems in the league(note that I say one of the best and not the best). Whether we keep one or both next year, we are still in a great position because we have Cedric Desjardins in Hamilton who is starting to look he will be able to be a solid goaltender in the nhl as well.

Montreal's top 6 is solid as well. Pouliot-Gomez-Gionta and Cammalleri-Plekanec-Andrei can carry this team offensively. We have played only 1 game this year with all six in the line up and that was against Florida on New Years Eve and surprisingly the Canadiens scored 5 goals.

We have a very good core on defense as well. Markov, Gorges, O'byrne and soon to be an nhl player P.K Subban gives Montreal stability on the back end for years (If we can extend Markov).

The most important thing moving forward is to move one big salary and by this I mean either Hamrlik or Spacek. All it takes is one salary and Montreal is in a pretty good position next year to tweak important areas of their team like the Bottom-6. It needs to get bigger and grittier. There are some good players that will be on the Unrestricted free agency market next year(atleast for now) that could help fill the need for grit and size like Manny Maholtra and Colby Armstrong.

All in all I don't want to start talking about next year too much as we have yet to have finished this season. As it stands, Montreal is in a very good position in the Standings with two very important games coming up against Boston and the Rangers. Montreal needs to win at least the one against the Rangers because the Rangers hold 9th place and a Canadiens win will be a huge blow to the Rangers. Hopefully, after these two games Montreal can start looking ahead in the Standings as they are only 4 points out of 5th place.
We're in the final stretch of the season and it looks like it's going to be an exicting one, Go habs Go!.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pouliot-Latendresse Trade: A Few Months Later

There's nothing too detailed or analytical about this post, I just wanted to show you some ver interesting stats of both players with their new teams.

In 24 games with Canadiens, Benoit Pouliot has put up the following stats:

13 goals 5 assists and 18 points.

He's scoring 0.541 goals per game and 0.75 points per game.

In 39 games with the Wild, Latendresse has put up the following stats:

21 goals 9 assists and 30 points.

he's scoring 0.538 goals per game and 0.769 points per game.
It's amazing that two players who were considered busts on their orginal teams are producing at almost the exact same pace after the trade. I guess it's pretty clear that both players desperately needed a change of scenary to get their careers going. So far, it has been a very good trade for both teams, what the future holds no one knows, but both teams are profiting from the trade.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The mechanics part 1

Trade deadline is the perfect time to look into team building mechanics and the many obvious myths associated with certain methods. I often read seasoned sports journalists who seem to cater to the unrelenting crowd of alarmists that make-up a good part of the Habs fan base. While the former get lost in their entitlement to their opinions forgoing an intelligent analysis, only reinforcing the latter's need to, well, worry. It's all nice and giddy when you want to sell something, as catering to target crowds is the cornerstone of any good marketing scheme, but I on the other hand am not interested in ratings here.

I look at the Habs presently, and all I can do is be very enthusiastic about seeing this team go forward in the next few years. The reasons for this are simple, but aren't inherently obvious for some. My expectations are the same as any Habs fan and I don't even need to say what it is. Since we are not and will never be in a market where we can tank a season on purpose, and such a window of oppurtunity, if it ever existed, was forfeited over a decade ago, then the obvious path is that of long-term team building. This is what the Habs have chosen to do instead of tanking, over a decade ago.

Long-term team building requires patience and flexibility. It all starts with the draft and player development, obviously, but the mechanic goes much further than this. Players have to be cycled/renewed for replacements by youth, or sometimes for need. This is what we've seen from the Habs in the last 5-6 seasons. The building blocks have been added, replacing underperforming or underacheiving players, while filling holes for short periods at positions which they hadn't developed a player yet, and now that we have a constant stream of good players making their way into the team, more and more positions are getting filled internally. The secret of success doesn't lie in drafting a phenom like Crosby or Ovechkin, and mostly only teams who can afford to tank can do that. The secret lies in keeping a focus on the objectives, and keep progressing towards renewing the old with the new and better.

What is truly missing to the Habs? So many answers could be given, always depending on what one thinks is the right formula to win. Personally, I don't think it's as straight forward as many think it is. I look at the Habs, and I let go of my preferences, and rather try to see what is being done, what is their plan. With each year that goes by, I see less and less holes to fill on the team, and the team also seems to be getting younger. It's a process, and so far its going well. People will pretend the opposite, because they only care for their expectations, for results, which have to be immediate, they forget to stop for a second and appreciate what is being done.

When we reach trade deadline, it's the same old story every year. Angry fans who didn't get their candy. A minority of teams get success from deadline trades, and that success is short term at the very best. The reality of the salary cap makes it even harder for teams to make transactions than it was in the pre-cap era. Whatever trade could've happened, to me, would have been nothing compared to the excitement of seeing a player like Subban come up and impress the hell out of most. We are finally at a point where we are adding important players internally at every position. Why screw this up with an overpayment on the trade market right smack in the middle of a transition season?

If there is a need to fill, and since this is a team with a stream of renewal of players with youth who don't cost much, then the obvious way to do so would be through the free agency market, as you don't need to let go of assets you'd rather keep. I've always been of the opinion that the trade market should be used for securing assets for players who you will lose and don't need in the short term, or to fill a need that you can't presently fix with either prospects or free agency. Or obviously, if an offer that is too tempting comes along, which is rare. But for any of those, I don't tend to think that trade deadline is the best time to do so. The off-season offers much more wiggle room.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Trade deadline: Rumor habs interested in Raffi Torres

Rumors are going around that the Canadiens are interested in Raffi Torres of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The rumor comes from the following source He's a legitimate source as he has broken the Lehtonen to Dallas trade and the terms of the Kovalchuk trade. He's also been given props by Bob Mackenzie of tsn.

Torres is an intriguing player because he's the exact type of player Montreal needs on their bottom six. He's extremely gritty and is great along the boards. There's just two problems, one he gets paid 3 million this year and two, he's an unrestricted free agent next year(could be good or bad).

I guess this rumor indicates that Pierre Gauthier is looking to bolster his bottom 6 and hopefully add some much needed grit.

Two more days left, we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Injuries: Not an excuse, They are a reality

A lot of people are complaining about our back to back loss against the Flyers Feb 12th and 13th. In my opinion, people need to tone down their complaining considering that we were missing Andrei Kostitsyn, Cammalleri, Pouliot, Markov and Marc-Andre Bergeron during those games. To calm down the masses I think it's time we put things into perspective.

Montreal this season has scored 164 goals as a team. Of all those goals, 64 of them were scored by the players mentioned above, which accounts for 39% of those 164 goals. In addition, the habs as a team are averaging 2.6 goals per game(gpg). Of those 2.6 gpg, 1.01 goals is scored per game by the combined efforts of the five players.

What this means is that without these players Montreal is averaging only 1.59 gpg. So if the opposing team scored 2 goals in a game(which we did against the flyers), we're pretty much behind the count considering that it's going to(according to averages) pretty hard to score goals.

Now this might be a good enough excuse for the back to back losses against the Flyers, but some might say that this doesn't account for the inconsistent play of the previous 61 games. Well let's examine a bit further.

For the last 5 games we've been playing with a minimum of four players who have played less than 50 games in the nhl. We've been playing with a minimum of six players who've started the year in hamilton and of those six, three of them were on the top two lines.

Also, the Montreal Canadiens have played a grand total of 2 games with a healthy top 6(which includes Andrei Kostitsyn, Plekanec, Cammalleri, Gionta, Gomez and Pouliot). Considering that we play a more conservative style of hockey; any blow to our top 6 will make it hard for us to score goals. Considering that we've loss 25% of all our games by one goal makes all these statistics even more relevant.

Also, don't forget that Andrei Markov has played only 26 of 63 games. Important to note here is that without him in the lineup we are well below .500 in our winning% and well above it with him the lineup. I think it's pretty safe to say that had Markov not been injured for the majority of the year, we would have atleast a couple of more wins, which would have put us in a very comfortable spot in the standings.

If you still think injuries are a lame excuse, well look at other teams that have been plagues by injuries. The Boston Bruins last year finished with the best record in the eastern conference and are currently fighting for a playoff spot. The Detroit Red-Wings who made the Stanley Cup finals last year are also fighting for a playoff spot and have also been plagues by injuries.

I am very confident in saying that we will have an easy time securing a playoff spot if this team is healthy after the break. I think a little patience from the fan base and media will go a long way because it will take some pressure off of guys who clearly can't carry the load(Pyatt, Darche, Sergei, Spacek) and who have enough pressure as it is.

I think the complaining needs to stop and that there should be more fan support for this team that hasn't given up despite all these injuries.
As Always feel free to comment!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Be Skeptical of Radio:Tony Marinaro

People in this city love to regurgitate what they hear on the radio, but most of the time what is said on the radio is crap in order to get ratings. A good example of this is Tony Marinaro.

Early on this year, Tony would challenge callers who would complain about Scott Gomez's contract. He would mention to everyone how Gainey had no choice to get Gomez because he wouldn't have been able to sign any free agents(Cammalleri and Gionta) with Metropolit and Lapierre as his top two centers. But around Christmas time, Tony Marinaro suddenly had a change of heart and went on a month long rant about how Bob Gainey was an idiot for trading for Gomez because his contract will ruin the Canadiens for years. What's even funnier about this hypocracy is that it came at the exact same time that Tony was promoting Pierre Mcguire as a possible candidate for the GM position in Montreal. It also came at a time where people began to question Gomez's play, so it's pretty obvious that the team990 did this order to add fuel to the fire in order to get more ratings for their station. In fact, I even called Tony Marinaro after the Minnesotta game to point out his sudden change of heart and he defended himself stating: "If I ever supported the Scott Gomez trade, then I must have been on medication that day." That's a pretty lame excuse if you ask me.

Another example of adding fuel the fire to get ratings comes with the goalie situation. Tony Marinaro for two years defended criticisms against Carey Price from callers and P.J Stock. Now that it's "cool" to hate Carey Price(until he has 10 good games and everyone jumps on the bandwagon again, as usual), Tony Marinaro has joined in on the bash fest. Not only does he bash Carey Price, but also exaggerates reports about his behavior and relations with his teammates (i.e The Markov-Price story which turned out to be nothing more than a family argument which happens in every household).

The point of this article is not to bash Tony Marinaro, rather it's to point out the stupidity that is said on the radio in order to boost their ratings. Radio hosts do this because there are people out there who can't form their own opinion on hockey games so they need these so called "analysts" to do it for them. The same goes for television shows such as "L'attaque a cinq" and "L'antichambre". The more you listen when controversy is spread, the more these journalists will make up controversies in order to get their station's ratings boosted.

Be skeptical of what you here on the radio because the majority of the time it's to cause controversy in order for you to phone in and listen rather than actual comment and spread hockey knowledge. The media is part of the problem in Montreal and the fans don't help that problem by listening to these clowns spread so called "truths".