Daily Hab-it: Martin the funny man
Calgary Flames' Matt Stajan, left, celebrates the Flames' goal as Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, right, picks himself up and teammates Jamie Wisniewski, right, and Brian Gionta look on during the second period of the NHL Heritage Classic in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. The Calgary Flames beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-0. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andre Ringuette, POOL
By Arpon Basu
Published Tuesday, February 22, 2011 1:50AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:10AM EDT
Jacques Martin has a reputation as a man who offers little insight into his serious thoughts, and even less into his sense of humour.
The reputation is more than warranted.
But from time to time, Martin has moments of great levity in spite of himself.
In Vancouver on Monday, it was one of those times.
Having led what sounds like an intense practice, the kindly old coach was asked in French what he thought was ailing his team over this seven-game stretch that has produced just a single victory and 16 goals, with six coming in an over-analyzed 8-6 loss in Boston.
A big part of his answer, given in a grave tone with a straight face, was that his team was too focused on offence.
Cue the laugh track.
The Canadiens have scored only one goal on this road trip, but Martin feels the key to turning things around lies at the other end of the ice.
"We had a good meeting this morning, we need to re-adjust our mindset," Martin said. "It's important to focus on playing well defensively, get back to our good habits and protect our goaltender. It's the only way we can win games."
This, of course, leaves Martin open to great ridicule.
The Canadiens offensive woes are well documented. In 10 games this month, they've scored more than two goals just three times, and lost two of those games (although one was in a shootout).
In light of information like that, laughing at Martin's insistence on strong defensive hockey being the path to success is easy.
But it's wrong.
Canadiens identity rooted in defence
Over this seven-game stretch that has netted four out of a possible 14 points in the standings, the Canadiens have allowed two goals or fewer just twice – a 3-0 win over the Maple Leafs and a 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres the following game. In the five other games, the Canadiens allowed 23 goals, albeit eight came in that one Bruins game.
The exact same thing happened back in December when Montreal went through the other swoon this season and allowed three or more goals in nine of 10 games, going 2-8-0 in the process.
So, when you combine those two slumps you have a Canadiens team that allowed three or more goals in 14 out of 17 games and went 3-12-2, with two of those three wins coming in two of the three games where their opponents were held below that magic mark.
If you take those 17 games out of the equation (yes, I know you can't do that, but bear with me), the Canadiens have allowed as many as three goals only 17 times in 43 games, with a record of 28-10-5.
I've already written once about the need to interpret Martin's responses to the media, which is why what he says in front of a microphone should never be taken at face value.
There is often something behind what appears to be a rather drab quote, something that's been contemplated and dissected, but which has been stripped of those interesting details for public consumption.
So when Martin said his team is too focused on offence, I think what he meant to say is that his players are so desperate to break out of this scoring slump they have diverted from the system.
For instance, in Calgary and in Edmonton it was not uncommon to see three Canadiens forwards below the opposing team's goal line. Sensing an opportunity to score, someone often took it upon themselves to help out in the corner in a desperate attempt to maintain puck possession.
Under Martin's doctrine, this is a major no-no.
Often times those plays turned into a 3-on-2 the other way, which then led to a Canadiens odd-man rush of their own, which eventually moved back toward their end and, suddenly, they found themselves playing run-and-gun hockey.
You could practically see the hives forming on Martin's face.
It might be fun to watch, and a lot of people probably would prefer it if the Canadiens played this way to take advantage of their speed, but it's not how they have reached this point of the season in playoff position.
It's also not the game plan going in, meaning once a game turns that way not everyone is playing on the same page. It becomes shinny hockey.
Seeking a response
Martin juggled his lines Monday in Vancouver in an effort to balance out the attack, but also to try and spark some kind of response from his team.
Jeff Halpern found himself on a wing with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez was back with Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais was still surrounded by Benoit Pouliot and Ryan White, while Lars Eller was centering Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen.
It suggests that Martin will roll four lines against Vancouver, where he will not benefit from having the last change and at times will need to expose Desharnais and Eller to some difficult assignments against the likes of Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
It's a big test for his club, one that no reasonable person could feel the Canadiens have any chance of passing.
The last time Montreal faced Vancouver at home in November, I headlined my preview piece "A mismatch of epic proportions" because, well, it was. The Canadiens had lost three of four games going in, while the Canucks were riding a six-game winning streak.
Except the Canadiens won that one 2-0, sparking a four-game winning streak and a run of 10 wins in 14 games.
I'm not saying history will repeat itself, but an offensive juggernaut like the Canucks (tops in the NHL with 3.33 goals per game) could be just the type of challenge Martin needs to make sure his message of defence-first hockey gets through.
And funnily enough, it might very well wake up the offence in the process.