Habs Fever: The Time is Now
Published Monday, March 28, 2011 10:16PM EDT
The Montreal Canadiens got the day off from practice Monday after a demanding practice Sunday. One of over an hour, with twenty minutes spent on sprints and drills designed to challenge the lungs.
The club needs to address a lack of goals and soon, or a season of over-achieving will be lost in the final two weeks.
There have been times this season when the club has had more than half its players from Hamilton or a taxi squad, being relied on to beat teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning with their talented snipers and bevy of first overall draft picks.
That impressive night of beating Tampa only two weeks ago with half an NHL team feels like about two seasons ago to listen to the fans and feel their 160 over 100 blood pressure boil over.
Those heady moments of making it to the final four last year, and dancing within reach of the Northeast Division title for most of this year are long gone from the memories of some Habs fans who only have on their minds the last three games and the frustration of not even getting to cheer a single time in over 180 minutes.
While the head coach hasn't thrown the water bottles, he is relying on the maturity of his leadership group to impress upon all that the time for recovery is right now with the Atlanta visit Tuesday.
Net drive will be an indicator
Here's what to expect from the Habs against Atlanta to score some goals. Mathieu Darche said one word when I asked him Sunday what it is going to take to score: "Perimeter."
Darche went on to explain that goals are scored inside five feet of the net most of the time and the Habs have not gotten dirty in that area. Lars Eller said essentially the same thing in reflecting that no one is getting any rebounds.
The Habs will be fighting hard to get in tight quarters around the Atlanta net. If you see in the first period a lot of hard successful net drives, then they will be okay by the final horn.
If they are not, then look out, because the anger and frustration among fans on talk radio is palpable in both languages. The hosts are spending the bulk of their time calming down the masses. Usually, they will incite fans for a little radio drama, but these days it is 'calmez-vous'.
If Montreal doesn't beat Atlanta Tuesday, the wolves will be howling and showing their teeth ready for the condemnation of the head coach and the GM and anyone who is not carrying their weight, which will be everyone except Price and Subban at this stage.
It feels like one of those times that win or tie, the fans love their Habs.
A dose of perspective
The grass is always greener over the other fence, yet the Capitals lost eight in a row this season. Eight. I shudder to think what their team would look like now if the emotions in this town met that losing skid and what that Caps team would look like if it were left up to this city to micromanage the roster and management during that losing skid in December.
Heck, you want to see some truly dead grass? The Panthers haven't made the playoffs in a decade. There would likely be a murder if a drought like that happened here.
In this city, much easier are comparisons to the amazing job that Dan Bylsma is doing with that Penguins team right now, but no mention in the debate of the fact that Martin's Habs beat Bylsma's Pens in last year's playoffs with Crosby and Malkin in the lineup. Short and selective memory from some.
Habs defensive style being copied
The cushion over the Hurricanes for a playoff spot is seven points with very little season left to make up that gap.
The Habs may just need all of that gap the way things are going, but bad momentum can change so quickly in sports.
It can change as quickly as the good momentum did when all seemed so positive after an 8-1 drubbing of Minnesota. Hard to believe after everyone was draining goals, that they haven't scored since.
Recently, what seems to be plaguing the Habs is they are being beaten at their own game. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said as much after his shutout here last Tuesday. The Caps have also altered their way of approaching winning hockey to a defensive style.
I asked Mike Cammalleri the other day if hockey overall was getting more defensive. He said "yes" and then I followed with "is it boring"? He said, "it must seem like it now, but that's how you win." On another occasion, Cammalleri said he was a proponent of defensive hockey and that it was the smarter, more effective, way to play.
Oh how I wish it were different.
I grew up in Edmonton during the '80s and covered the greatest offensive team hockey has ever produced. Of course, the fire wagon hockey is to be missed. It had creativity that took your breath away. Today's hockey is systematically defence first and it is getting more so. That's just the way it is. No way on the horizon to change it. It will be interesting to see if the league has even one 50 goal scorer this season. I watched a 92-goal season in person.
So if you are the Habs, you do what has to be done and that is defence first. They have done it successfully most nights, all things considered, except the last three games have been awful - no one argues that.
Team sticks together
Carey Price told me Sunday that "this is a great group of guys. We got some real great characters in here." He added that it is going to be easier to get out of this slump because they all get along so well and support each other.
I say this to you to illustrate that the room is anything but lost, and that the players are still full of confidence and instinctively keep the faith.
You see, it is in their nature to be faithful to the cause and to each other. They've grown up on teams. They understand the definition of team.
The booing is going to get intense Tuesday if the Habs lose, so I will say this preemptively - time for some to understand the definition of 'fan' like the players understand the word 'team.'
Toronto GM Brian Burke is fond of saying "there's only one parade each year."
Only one team celebrates the destination achieved at the end of the road. The other 29 teams just enjoy the journey.
I invite you to enjoy the journey watching the team you are passionate about try their best, even if you realize at the end of the day there might not be a parade.