Monday, October 24, 2011

It's a Bigger Problem Than Just Jacques Martin

I share the frustration and sense the impending panic (for some they're already there) amongst Habs fans.  Fire Jacques Martin, fire Pierre Gauthier and on and on.  Yes it's true that the front-office has dropped the ball in terms of evaluation and preparation for the start of the season (Andreas Engqvist, really?).  The coaching staff has done even worse to start off as we'll point out below but in all honesty, the worst job so far has come from the players.  And before you start with the "it's the coach's job to get them going" (and I agree), you also need professional athletes making a lot of money to have the ability to self-start.

Even though Martin likes to blame his inexperienced blue-line for some of the problems we've been seeing in preventing goals, I think it's time to be honest with what's really going on.  Hal Gill a notoriously slow-starter is off to another one of his anemic starts.  If Gill isn't preventing goals he's not really adding much to your team and right now and he's not preventing goals.  PK Subban is giving all of us that thought he would be immune to a sophomore slump a reason to pause and wonder why we thought he would be any different from almost every other NHL player coming off of a solid rookie season.  Back is the old giveaway-prone Subban who's often covering the wrong man or off in his positioning during the mad goal-crease scrambles.  Unfortunately, not back with that old Subban are the electrifying rushes that skirted past aggressive fore-checkers and penetrated the opposing team's zone with ease.  But worst of all, Josh Gorges (aka Mr. Stability) has simply been awful.  These three guys represent your 'veterans' on a defense-corps that's, once-again, decimated with injuries.  None have been able play to even their expectations let-alone step up and exceed those expectations as is needed with you're beset with injuries as the Habs are.

Thanks to our ever-informative general manager and evasive coach, we have absolutely no idea when Andrei Markov will be back.  And regardless of when he is back, please don't expect the Markov of old and don't forget to add in a few weeks for him to get his 'timing' back.  In fairness, the Campoli signing was a solid one and could've surely helped this fragile team but his injury, although a freak accident, severely crippled this team.  Even then, I'm not so sure how things would've panned out with Martin (2011 edition) behind the bench.

The coach has confused me this season.  I used to understand and even respect the fact that he protected his veteran players in his post-game press conferences.  He'd usually point out how a rookie or young player made a mistake but would rarely if ever criticize his veterans - a noble gesture for those that have put in the time, blood and sweat to prove their belonging.  So I kind of understood when after last game he blamed the loss on his inexperienced group of defenders even though a quick study of the tape showed that it was in fact his veterans that were mostly at fault.  What I didn't understand however was how quickly he buried Erik Cole on two separate occasions during the last post-game presser.  The first being when asked by reporter Jessica Rusnak about his use of Mathieu Darche over Erik Cole on the powerplay to which he ridiculously answered that she should do her research (when he clearly hadn't done his).  And secondly, when questioned about the repeated 'too many men' penalties, a penalty where the coach usually takes the blame, he didn't hesitate in blaming Cole for one of those penalties.  Even when the coach knows exactly who to blame, they rarely call out those players by name (especially not in a post-game presser).  I don't care that it's up to the players to time when they leave the bench for a change, the fact remains that this team has led the league in 'too many men' penalties since last year.  So if he wants to blame the players, he may not want to single out the one that been here the least amount of time.  Maybe, just maybe, as a coach, you can run a few drills to teach your players exactly how to avoid that penalty in the future.  To get back to the original point, isn't Cole a veteran - why are you calling him out in front of the media?  It was so uncharacteristic of Martin's style that it actually made me wonder, for a minute, whether there is more to the Cole/Martin issue than meets the eye.  I highly doubt there is a deeper issue there because I do believe in the professionalism of both Martin and Cole but maybe we saw a glimpse of a coach who for the first time during his tenure in Montreal has begun to feel the heat and pressure of his job and deservedly so.

I really don't care that Martin doesn't show as much emotion as a Lindy Ruff or act like a petulant Claude Julien does when a penalty gets called against his team.  I don't even mind as much as my fellow fans how rigid he is in sticking to the system that has won him 500+ games in the NHL.  What does bother me though, is his stubbornness when it comes to player evaluations.  Martin decided late in the preseason that Diaz offered more than Emelin to which I don't have a major issue with.  However, over the span of the last 6 games, Emelin has shown himself to be much more adept with his defensive-zone coverage and marking.  Diaz has shown on more than one occasion that he is not quite ready for all the defensive aspects that are required from a NHL d-man.  Additionally, from my perspective, one of the most difficult qualities for a d-man to acquire and master is the art of when to pinch in or not on a play.  I have been overly impressed with Emelin's decision-making on that particular skill-set.  Why the coach is ignoring that and other obvious signs of improvement from Emelin in order to play Diaz is beyond me.  If it's for the powerplay, I would suggest Martin heed his own advice and do some research.  Emelin led his team in defensemen scoring last year in the KHL with 11 goals, 7 of those coming on the powerplay.

Finally, let's take a look at Carey Price.  I love Carey and I agree that he's not being helped by his defense but when your team is in a rut, your goalie needs to step up and make that extra unexpected and sometimes extraordinary save (more so when you're considered an elite goalie).

It's a difficult situation to win games when your top defensemen are playing well below their potential.  It doesn't help when your elite goalie is playing just OK and struggling to steal a game or some points for you.  You add the disturbing issue of Martin's mismanagement and apparent unfairness to Cole and it seems like a perfect storm.

How do you get out of it?  It's funny, what was it that Hal Gill said last week?  Winning creates confidence but you need confidence to win?  Well, sometimes you just need a little luck or at least one referee that can properly recognize when a puck hits the netting and is out of play before your opponent ties the game.

Look, the article above is negative but I do think that Price will regain his stellar form, PK will get back into the groove and the team will find some chemistry and play better.  I'm disappointed in the squad's start as I'm disappointed in Martin's start but just as I believe the team can improve, I also believe that Martin can also improve and get better.  That being said, let this be a warning shot across the bow for Mr. Molson.  It may be high-time to start setting up your emergency rescue plan - just in case.

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