It Hab-En Last Night: Marty, the Powerplay, Habs on TSN
For the 112th time in his illustrious Hall of Fame career, Martin Brodeur earned the shutout and led his team to certain victory.
And really, no one should be surprised. Since the beginning of time, Brodeur has completely owned the Montreal Canadiens. And despite a slow start to the season, which has led to less than impressive stats for the certain Hall of Famer (2-4-1 2.70GAA .904GAA - and it was considerably worse before last night's shutout), Marty can always count on a game at the Bell Centre to turn that frown upside-down and get himself and his team out of a slump.
And for the New Jersey Devils, last night's game couldn't come any sooner. As you can tell by Brodeur's record, they weren't doing all that great before they rolled into Montreal. Sitting in last spot in the East (currently up to a four-way tie for 9th place with 5 points with last night's win), the Devils really weren't living up to the hype and the potential. For several games in the first couple of weeks, the Devils weren't even icing a full line-up, playing 17, 16, sometimes even 15 of the required 18 skaters. Most will know that I wasn't too fond of this cap-circumventing tactic, as it hurts the spirit of the CBA and it implies that any team that wants to sign a big name free agent when they don't have the money to pay him can just claim an "emergency" and ice a non-competitive hockey team.
Nevertheless, despite "investigations" by the NHLPA, the Devils were allowed to do what they did, icing only 3 forward lines in a couple of games. But last night, they came into Montreal with a full line-up and a purpose, and despite having several less-than-recognizable names on the scoresheet, due to the same cap issues, the Devils delivered, and came out with the win in an embarrassing 3-0 shutout against the Canadiens.
With goals in each period from Zach Parise, Jason Arnott and Matt Taormina, the Devils capitalized on the few chances they even attempted to win the game. They picked their spots, made the perfect plays and beat Carey Price when it counted. And despite only taking 20 shots on the Canadiens netminder, it could have very well been 5 or 6 to nothing if it wasn't for some really incredible saves once again from Price, that earned him the 3rd star of the game.
All three of the Devils goals were scored even strength, which boasts good things for the Canadiens penalty killing units, which allowed but one shot and no goals on four attempts. And that's a good thing, because it would have been pretty ironic if the Devils scored with an extra man. Get it? So while Hal Gill and Josh Gorges did well in their near-five minutes of shorthanded ice time, they really weren't all that great in the other fifteen minutes they played. Both were -3 on the night and were on for all three of the Devils goals, a rare occurrence for the generally responsible and talented defensive shutdown tandem.
No one likes it when their team loses without scoring a goal, especially when the problems are so blatantly obvious to even the most casual spectator. Perimeter shots, lackadaisical play and complete and utter poweplay ineffectiveness are not going to win you games. The Canadiens are still 3-2-1, with 7 points, and there are still a lot of bright spots last year's Eastern Conference finalists, but none of that is going to get any better unless Jacques Martin and his staff wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to one particular issue.
FIX THE DAMN POWERPLAY JACQUES
As if we really need to discuss this, the Canadiens powerplay was, once again, totally and completely ineffective last night.While managing a relatively impressive eight shots on three attempts, the Canadiens really couldn't get many legitimate chances through to Brodeur. Through six games, the stats are starting to border on the ridiculous. The Canadiens are 29th in the league on the powerplay with only a single powerplay goal in 20 opportunities. Granted they're 26th in number of powerplays received, but that shouldn't be anything that surprised Habs fans, as it seems to be a common occurrence year-in and year-out. But the Canadiens will not stand even going to stand a chance at making the playoffs if they can't figure out a way to improve their powerplay and get it to where it was last year - top five in the league.
The issue could very well lie in the absence of powerplay quarterback Andrei Markov, but the coach's insistence to stay the course on the main advantage, and play the same perimeter game on the man-advantage every single time certainly isn't helping. Besides PK Subban, there really isn't anyone who fits the bill of a powerplay defenseman. And considering Subban hasn't been all that effective either, I had a hard time mentioning him and "powerplay defenseman" in the same sentence.
Roman Hamrlik is the king of delay of game penalties, and he proved it against last night by taking one at the tail-end of the powerplay. And despite the lack of suitable offensive defensemen, if Jacques Martin has a reasonable bone in his body, he'll take Hamrlik off the man advantage for Saturday's game, sit him down and explain to him that you're not allowed to toss the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. Jaroslav Spacek has been absolutely horse crap to start the year, and his 3 minutes of powerplay ice time are undeserved. Spacek needs to get off the powerplay, now. And while I like Josh Gorges manning the point on the man advantage, you have to consider the possibility that the coaching staff may be overstraining him and asking too much of him this early in the season, to play even strength, on the PK as well as on the powerplay, to put up points in Markov's absence as well as to babysit Hal Gill.
(Note: expect me to go off into a tangent in about three or four sentences)
So what needs to happen to fix the powerplay? You can wait for Markov to return, you can get desperate and sign a crappy free agent defenseman like Marc-Andre Bergeron - who is slowly starting to creep back into headlines and into the minds of Habs fans - like you did last year, or you can get creative.
And I realize that's a hard concept for someone like Jacques Martin to grasp, but it really shouldn't be that difficult for anyone.
The Canadiens have no shortage of talent with offensive potential. We all know the talent of Cammalleri and Plekanec, and Andrei Kostitsyn has had an uncharacteristically good start. Of course Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez need to get it going, as I mentioned in Tuesday's blog, but they are definitely "offensive players". Add to that list Benoit Pouliot, Lars Eller, and even the likes of Jeff Halpern, Maxim Lapierre, and Dustin Boyd who can all do some pretty good damage in front of the net on the man-advantage, and you really have no shortage of forwards to play on the powerplay.
That being said, and considering the absolute ineffectiveness of the defense on the powerplay, why not move away from the conventional 3-forwards 2-defenseman, and play four forwards on the powerplay like any sensible coach?
Seriously Jacques, what the Hell is wrong with you? Play Plekanec on the point along with Subban. Let Cammalleri do his thing up front, use Kostitsyn as a rover, and plant Lapierre, who actually deserves some PP time, right in front of the net, and there's your first powerplay unit. You have Plekanec to cover Subban defensively, you have Cammalleri's shot, and you have two big bodies to play in front of the net. On the second unit, put Gorges with Gomez on the point, and have Gionta, Pouliot and either Eller or Boyd up front. Same deal.
Why is this so hard for you Jacques? Your team is 1 for 20 on the powerplay, and 5 of 7 of the defensemen have been playing like absolute shit. Spacek and Hamrlik look like they don't belong on any NHL team, yet alone to be rewarded with powerplay time. and a plethora of good talent getting limited ice time who might actually do something beneficial for the team on the powerplay. Yet you insist on sticking with your plan, sticking with your outdated coaching system, your preferences and your grudges, putting players who've barely ever put up ANY NHL points on the top lines, and punishing the young, offensive talent for pretty much no good reason.
WAKE UP and open your eyes. This team has MOST of the tools to fix the things that are keeping it from being successful. Believe it or not, Gauthier and Gainey have provided you with some big bodies, a lot of talented forwards and even some good, experienced defensemen. The problem isn't in the players, it's in what you tell the players to do.
But go ahead and continue to play defensively. Go ahead and continue to ice the most boring powerplay units, and you'll see what will happen. I realize that this entire rant was probably for nothing, as Jacques will probably continue to play the same powerplay units, and he'll probably continue to ask himself why his team isn't scoring on the powerplay. And he'll continue to "not-punish" Benoit Pouliot by putting defensive players on the Gomez line, and he'll continue to tell his players to sit on their hands when the game is within a 1 goal radius - for either team.
Have fun with that.
The Habs are in Ottawa tomorrow for a game against the Senators. Expect the same crap that we saw last night, but maybe the Habs will get lucky and come out with a win like they did last Saturday.
TSN TO BROADCAST HABS REGIONALLY
PS: Yesterday, TSN announced new, regional coverage for the Montreal Canadiens on their network. On top of the 16 games that they already plan to show nationally, Habs fans in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, as well as some parts of Ontario, including Ottawa and Kingston will now have access to an additional 24 English-language games throughout the season, all in HD. This brings the number of Canadiens games on TSN to an impressive 40, not to mention the 29 already offered on CBC, and local Habs are well on their way to having nearly an entire 82 game schedule available in English. In fact, as it stands, only a dozen games are slated to be broadcast ONLY on RDS this year, a number which I expect to diminish to zero by this time next season.
Moreover, the broadcast team is actually pretty impressive. Long time TSN broadcaster Dave Randorf will call the games, and former Hab Mike Johnson will take care of the analysis.
The only issue is that at the moment is that, you guessed it, the package will only be offered to Bell TV subscribers. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprised, TSN is owned by Bell Globemedia.
But for us Videotron subscribers, this news only re-ignites bad memories of the months it took for TSN2 to get onto the Illico grid. Knowing how they do their business, it's likely we won't get the package until well into the season, if at all. Hopefully I'm wrong about this, and we'll be able to watch the first game between the Habs and the Coyotes on Monday night on the new TSN feed.
But just in case I'm not, I plead to all the Videotron subscribers (as well as those who aren't!) to contact Videotron at this link to request the addition of the Canadiens' regional TSN feed.
You can view the full schedule of games at TSN.ca/Habs.
PPPS: Read @Tygerlylly's Early Morning Habs Musings for another (but mostly similar) take on last night's Habs events!