Friday, February 20, 2009

Forward momentum is a beautiful thing

credit Habs inside/out

I am a positive guy. Or at least I try to be. And from what I see, we’re close. We’re missing something, but we’re damn close. First off, let me state that the stat sheet is a lot uglier than the game was. 48 shots allowed to a team like Carolina may sound extremely bad but teams like that often shoot from every possible angle and rely on rebounds and deflections. I’m not saying Carey Price wasn’t spectacular tonight, because he was, but I’m simply saying that 48 shots to Carolina doesn’t scare me as much as it sounds.

A team like the Montreal Canadiens will hold onto the puck more and rely on passing and trick plays. I usually prefer to look at scoring opportunities which, for the Habs, doesn’t necessarily translate to shots. But tonight, I must admit I would rather see them play like the Hurricanes. The best moments of the game for the Habs came from shooting at Cam Ward from every angle and going to the net. He often gave rebounds and snipers like Kovalev, Tanguay, Markov, Kostitsyn and many others can zip one in against a goaltender like that. We’re not talking Martin Brodeur here.

Don’t get me wrong. Passes are fine. But look at the third period. Kovalev stopping on a dime to lose his opponent and then go for a cross ice pass to Koivu on the side of the net. Fine. Kostitsyn (both) soft back-passing a puck entering the zone hoping the guy following wears the same jersey as him. Very Wrong. Am I the only one who loved to see him fire that bullet? No, it didn’t score. It was still a better scoring opportunity than giving the puck to Brind’amour. Forward momentum is a beautiful thing.

And this is actually the real big problem with the Habs. How often do they lose 40 seconds of a power play trying to enter the zone? If Bouillon or Brisebois do “the right play” and dump it, it’s predictable and too often the players are idle at the blueline. If Sergei or Plekanec try to keep the puck at the blue line for a couple of seconds, it’s as predictable. The difference is that even if a Carolina player is first on the puck on a Breezer dump, he’s still far from the net with 5 players in front of him. When the Habs lose the puck at the blue line with 3 idle players waiting for the puck to enter... my neighbours think I’m losing my mind.

I’m not advocating dump and chase as the only option, but look how Kovalev tries to enter the puck usually: deke a guy at the blue line, follow the ramp and go deep in the corner. This gives time to your defencemen to enter the zone and give you additional options if Koivu or Tanguay aren’t open in the slot. Forward momentum is a beautiful thing.

This is one of my two real complaints about Carbo’s work (other to follow in next article). I understand he needs to keep 23 players happy but if I was in his place I’d blow a gasket and promise anyone who enter the zone doing a back pass some extra push-ups to be done immediately after the game. When the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge shoot on net, go for rebounds and keep the passing game to honest forward passes, they have their opportunities. Carbo… force them to do it. It’s your job. Oh and a similar threat about bad changes or stretching ice time may be in order. Kovalev is one thing. Sergei doesn’t have the credentials to deserve that special treatment.

But back to the game, The Koivu line doesn’t work. No shots on goal for him and Tanguay. It’s nice to see so much talent on one line but there is something missing. And when did Kostopoulos become a valuable option on the second line? How does it complement the work of Chris Higgins? With Thomas Plekanec who doesn’t seem to know what to do, that’s one screwed up line. The fourth line, despite Habster’s dislike, is a usual highlight for me. They don’t often score, but they work hard every shift and often create chances. Lang and the brothers have some potential but only when they go toward the net and shoot. Forward momentum…

Come on guys, go back to the basics. For the centennial, give us some good old north south hockey. There is enough talent to score with simple play here. Use the trick play when they don’t see it coming, not as an option A.

Look how the Hurricanes beat you tonight. Shoot to the net and go for the rebound. Simple isn’t it?

Leave the tricky play for the All Star game. By the look of the voting, it’ll be the Western Conference against the Sainte-Flanelle anyway.

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