When Good Coaches do Bad Things.

Quickly:  I can’t believe Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau started Jaroslav Halak in place of Carey Price at goaltender in last night’s Game 4 matchup with Philly.  Bonehead move.  I do not understand the thinking behind that;  Price had not played poorly in game 3, despite what the sportscasters are blathering about in their 30-second soundbites, not even in games 5 and 6 in the Boston series when the Habs allowed 10 goals in two games.  Although it would be fair to say that Price was not brilliant in any of those three games,  the goals allowed were not attributable to negligent goaltending; it took a team effort to surrender leads consistently and quickly.  On Monday night in particular, (game 3 vs. Philly), Price was screened badly by his defencemen on the first two goals.  If the Habs’ blueliners would either stand up at the blueline a little more, reduce the gap between themselves and the attacking Philadelphia forwards and possibly generate the occasional offside OR get the hell out of the 22 year old netminder’s way, he might have had a chance.  Since they chose to do neither….not so much.  It is true that Price made a mistake on the third goal, but what of it?  Is Carbo sending the message that one mistake will result in a player’s butt being nailed to the bench?  If so, I suggest he examine the game film a little more carefully, especially any footage he might have filed under “Kovalev, A:  defensive coverage”.    I suspect that file might be a little thin, so it won’t take Guy long to review the available material.   Also, the Kostitsyns’ pictures ought to be showing up on the side of a milk carton any day now.  Anyone having knowledge of their whereabouts is invited to contact Canadiens’ management and advise.

My point is that the whole team turned in a Game 3 performance that was a big pile of meh (much to my delight, I might add).   To single out Price and bench him as a result has nothing to do with encouraging accountability among the players, and any efforts to justify it on those grounds are ridiculous.   Once you accept that, it’s obvious that playing Halak in game 4 was a mistake – down two games to one in the other guy’s barn, you need to win and carry the series back home tied.  Going down 3-1, knowing you’ve already surrendered home ice advantage, and heading back home is not a plan for success.  The rest is easy:  if you have to win this game, you play your best goaltender, no ifs, ands or buts.  Choosing instead to turn to a guy with limited NHL experience and who hadn’t played in something like three weeks until the 3rd period of game 3 is not a wise choice.

As it turned out, Halak did not play terribly.  He was  facing the wrong way for two of Philadelphia’s goals, but at least one of those goals was a direct result of more incredibly bad team defensive coverage.  Halak could not be blamed for the loss, but he did not play well enough to steal a win either.  It’s possible that Price would not have raised his game to such a level either;  we’ll never know, though, because Carbonneau kept his powder dry and his best player on the bench in the Habs’ most important game of the season to date.

I actually like Guy Carbonneau even though he spent all those years as a player wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge and then toiling away in obscurity and boredom for the Dallas Cattle Rustlers (or whatever they’re called).  I think he’s shown himself to have some flair for coaching;  you can’t argue with the success that the Montreal power play had in the regular season, and there’s no doubt the team over-achieved this year.  Both of those things are symptomatic, in my opinion, of good coaching.  Even good coaches make bad decisions, though, and tapping Jaroslav Halak on the shoulder last night was one of them.

Gr8 Game Seven Coming

Watching Game 6 of the Caps/Flyers series tonight, I was struck by how great a game Mike Green was having. From the hit he laid on Sami Kapanen (the one where they had to get the Philly Fire Department to pick l’il Sami out of the rigging up in the rafters) to his rapid and purposeful sprints up ice, to his masterful puck handling along the Flyers blueline while on the attack, Green made me a believer. I wish this guy was on our team.

Of course, Green’s play was overshadowed by that of certain a hairy Russian force of nature. What a play Ovechkin made on the go-ahead goal; he blocked the point shot of his constant tormentor Timmonen, then immediately broke for open ice between the two Flyers defencemen, instinctively knowing that the partially blocked shot would surely be recovered by Kozlov and that he had an opportunity for a breakaway – but only if he didn’t hesitate. Ovechkin took two lightning quick steps towards centre and was eight feet past a now very alarmed Timmonen and the much maligned Kozlov hit Ovechkin on the tape with a beautiful pass as Ovie blazed up the middle of the ice. Everybody in the rink, including Martin Biron, knew that Alex the Gr8 would not be denied, and moments later the Caps had taken a very improbable lead.

The Philadelphia fans had barely resumed breathing through their open mouths when, for a change, it was the Flyers who took a “too many men” penalty (really, Gabby – three of those in the last couple of games is waaaaay too many). On the ensuing powerplay, Ovechkin was served up another beautiful pass, this one from Brooks Laich and Ovechkin hammered that thing so hard, everybody seated in the stands behind the goal ought to immediately drive to the nearest church, synagogue, mosque or temple and thank the resident deity or deities that Ovie’s shot bulged the twine, because if that puck had hit the glass it would have killed everybody in the first six rows. Do you think that game will shut the TV monkeys up about Ovechkin needing to “step up”? Probably not; five’ll get you ten that’s still the main theme harped upon by the flapping gums – “monster” or not.

Alex’s interview on TSN after the game was awesome; it was so obvious to me that he wanted to strap the blades on and play Rasputin-PDGame Seven RIGHT NOW. This guy is Rasputin on skates – aside from the near spooky physical resemblance, there is the matter of Mr. Ovechkin’s superhuman constitution to be addressed. He played a shift in the second period that lasted well over two minutes of concerted attack. The Flyers may well need a group of Russian assassins and some cyanide-laced confections to take down their hirsute nemesis, because neither the substantial hits applied within the rules by Richards, Umberger and others, nor the straight up punches to the back of the head administered by the ever-classy Derian Hatcher have done the trick, and the hitherto-successful Philadelphia scheme for Ovechkin prophylaxis by the constant application of major doses of Timmonen has run its course. Ovie has figured out how to get away from that coverage, as evidenced by the six shots he had on goal in Game Five and the further seven (not to mention two goals) he added tonight.

This is going to be a great Game Seven.

Can I ask what the hell Pierre McGuire was babbling on about when he kept referring to Martin Biron’s “active glove”? Umm, Pierre, that’s just stupid. No goalie has a “passive” glove. They catch stuff with them. They’re called “trappers” and “blockers” for a reason; these items of equipment represent an active concept. Anyone who stands there just waiting to get hit, is… well, Andrew Raycroft does that. Perhaps that’s a bad example, but you get my meaning.

As for the other game this evening, I didn’t see much of the Habs/Bruins Game Seven. I did see Game Six of that series and much of Game Five too. One thing I don’t understand is the media babble about Carey Price supposedly having come apart at the seams. The so-called experts point to the ten goals surrendered by the Habs ‘tender in those two games and lazily conclude that Price played poorly. Now I’m no Habs fan, but I do know a classy and talented kid when I see one – Spouse and I were lucky enough to see almost all of Price’s games with the Hamilton Bulldogs during last year’s Calder Cup winning run – and Price is most certainly getting a bum rap from the wags on that one. Yes, he coughed up the puck late in Game Five to put the B’s ahead, and yes, he looked rattled after he made that rookie mistake, but none of the five that got past him on Saturday night in Game Six could be called soft goals. The pundits ought to have been asking where the defensive coverage and veteran leadership was on the Habs bench; how, it might fairly be asked, were the Bruins allowed to continually come back and score throughout the third period? With the series on the line, the Habs got a questionable effort from the Kovalev unit, for example, which was a -3 on the evening. I do not recall hearing much mention being made of that fact; it’s too easy, I guess, to point the finger at the goalie. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for whatever kind of Habs-related misery there can be, but it’s the job of those in the media to correctly identify the reasons why the Habs suck, not to pin the whole shootin’ match on  a twenty year old rookie who was playing in the WHL last year at this time.