Regaining Discipline And Composure The Key To Settling The Habs Stormy Sea

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After going 8-1-1 in their first ten games of the season, the month of November was not as kind to the Canadiens. In thirteen games following the strong but misleading start, the Habs went 5-5-3, and played some of their most inconsistent hockey in two seasons. The rough patch has everyone wondering, and quite legitimately, was exactly is wrong with the club.

Last night, a second consecutive win, albeit ugly, against the Thrashers, looked convincing for 44 minutes, until a snoozing player on a line change unexpectedly offered Atlanta a pseudo powerplay for twenty ticks. One minute of elapsed time later, and the opponant had made a game of it. The slip up and ensuing panic virtually undid the good that came before it, leaving a bad aftertaste despite the win.

The Canadiens, hence, began a seven game homestand by winning butt ugly again. The one minute fiasco will again have many shaking their heads as to how such things can get untracked so easily. To suggest the 2008-09 campaign has been anything but a smooth ride so far would be an understatement.

Several factions are pointing to heightened expectations for the team's 100th season, and the first in ages where they have been considered a serious contender. Others point to a league wide adjustment in terms of playing the no longer surprising Canadiens, who may have caught many rivals off guard in their giant leap to the top of the conference class in 2007-08. Both views have great merit, and teams have been getting geared up to beat the Habs more than they have in recent seasons.

Part of the problem of pinning the tail this Habs donkey is that several ugly issues have been reared in the first quarter season, and they are not unlike falling dominoes. Among the several scabs being picked at are a vanishing powerplay prowess, the absence of a quality fourth defenseman, the lack of production from the Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn trio, the disappointing showing by sophomores Ryan O'Byrne and Sergei Kostitsyn, the inconsistency of Chris Higgins' offensive contribution, and the overall team cohesion that once enabled it to run untinkered with.

As if that weren't enough to make a team psychologist hand in his resignation, some questionable calls by coach Carbonneau, in search of desperate solutions, has brought matters to a head of late.

 

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Now sitting in fifth place in their conference with a 14-6-4 record is hardly an unenviable scenario for a team in search of its lost identity, but the Montreal Canadiens are not, nor never have been, an easily diagnosed enigma.

On the surface, the team composition looks solid enough to aspire to better heights, but in the frustrated undercurrent lies a different beast. Paradoxically, the Habs are both a team with a solidified lineup, but very young in its minset, containing several second and third year elements. The club is still growing and being groomed, and it could be said that last season it leapfrogged its own growth curve.

What is currently exasperating fans and team members alike, is almost like a post - pubescent blues, in such that the group needs tempering, patience and reflection. They need this step back in order to take the next few forward steps.

The Canadiens are a healthy mix of able vets and younger guns, but the fact remains that the current lineup dresses up to ten players nightly under the age of 25 who have yet to make a lasting imprint on the team. The various issues holding the team back have spurred on virus like symptoms that has caught up to the whole of its composition. Few players have so far escaped the spreading malaise.

In all, perhaps only captain Saku Koivu, linemate Alex Tanguay, goalie Carey Price, and defenseman Andrei Markov have supplied efforts consistent to their repuations. Others such as 2007-08 leading scorer Kovalev, the Kostitsyn brothers, Plekanec and Higgins, have exasperated the patience of the populace with varying degrees of questionable work ethic. Clearly the funk has them confused.

Only in a Montreal perspective, is it not comforting to ackowledge that with all these mounting issues, the club is still capable of pilling up points despite its lacklustre play. It isn't merely enough that the club is loaded with raw skill, talent and determination, but it must also put forth a proud effort every game to satisfy all concerns.

Recently, coach Carbonneau emitted the always dreadful line, "I don't know what to think anymore", as a result of his team looking like world beaters against Detroit, but sieves against the capitals two nights later. The coach simply cannot come to terms with why messages that sink through and produce desired results one game, are completely abandonned in the next. It's a simple enough proposition - coaches prepare a team with a game plan and players ought to show up prepared to execute them. Something is getting lost in the translation, and why is a mystery.

What's worse, is that in Montreal, there is always a temptation to burn down the house to rid the kitchen of flies. Demote this player, bench that one, and fire the coach are the usual illogical solutions put forth in panic. Thankfully the Canadiens are run by Bob Gainey, a man who panics about as often as Popes buy lottery tickets. The situation would have to deteriorate to extreme proportions before he would act foolishly and blow up his carefully pieced blueprint.

Being that the Canadiens are managing to win points with half efforts, and still gain the odd overtime loss point in more dismal showings, the current dysfunctions will be tolerated as they are worked out. Both the GM and coach know the team they have in their hands, recognize and understand in some part what it is dealing with, and are making some headway in getting through it.

There is an old saying, "When you are going through Hell - keep going!"

As it stands, Montreal have been making some subtle progression on a pair of fronts that will and should bring some dividend and get the club out of this funk. It's gone for the most part unnoticed, but the team has been playing a sounder defensive game to counterbalance the awol production of it's top line. It has helped to keep some games closer than they ought to have been, and what the team has been able to learn about itself in the process, was ably applied against Detroit last week to good result.

The other significant improvement has come from the pluggers and plumbers on the forth line, namely the likes of Steve Begin, Max Lapierre, and Tom Kostopoulos and assorted company. On many nights of late, they have lit a fire under the team, and have made a rare offensive contribution that has helped other factions of the team get more involved in the action.

For last night's Thrashers game, coach Carbonneau put his foot down in a few areas, and boxed the unproduction Guillaume Latendresse and wayward Sergei Kostitsyn punitively. The moves were done mainly to shake up the complacency that sometimes sets in on young players, and bring about a certain heightened awareness of their work ethic. It was for sure a calculated gesture, that has little backfiring risk on a club so talented.

It will be interesting to watch, is whether the multitute of shifting line combination from period to period can produce the desired cohesiveness the team needs from itself. Carbonneau is back to the bottom line of preaching the mantra that talent only has merit when it outworks the opposition. This club needs to regain its composure and focus. It needs to relax a bit in terms of individual goals, and the team concept will fall back into place and set everything straight

Evidentally, the Canadiens cannot lose a minute of focus on this.

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