Saturday, December 29, 2007

Habs Experience A Little Southern Comfort

(Robert L Note: Bare with me, loyal readers - this post is all over the place! It takes in these two recent wins in Florida, the team's fumbling and stumbling through ups and downs, its youthful growing pains, a fan's view, and my own perceptions and deceptions with having to take it all in while trying to make it all make sense in the grand scheme of things. This piece may read like a collage of thoughts and feelings you may have felt at times when pondering the Habs fate of late. Admittedly, that is exactly what it is. I hope that somehow it comes together as a whole for those reading it.)

Back to back wins, on consecutive nights, in the state of Florida?

Like, when has that ever happened with the Canadiens?

Usually, the southern state twofer presents itself as a traditional rough spot for the Canadiens and I'm certain many were not predicting this result after a very uninspired showing in Dallas on December 23rd - historically a 2 point Habs graveyard.

In addition to that notion, it is doubtful than any fan foresaw a ten goal outpourring down south after it was announced that coach Carbonneau had reconstituted the first and third lines incomprehensibly. What looked like desperate and foolish juggling some 48 hours ago, now looks genial two wins later.

Even Michael Ryder, in the midst of the most successsful vanishing act since Sergei Zholtok, chipped in with his first goal in eons!

As surprising as this recent pair of wins is, the team is still as mysterious as it is youthful. The Canadiens can be all guns some nights, and nothing but firers of blanks the next. It gets outshot badly, yet wins, and the next game the opposite happens and they lose while outchancing opponants.

Another paradox involves watching young players flourish while the team as a whole stumbles. Individual performances do not add up to a united chemistry. The puzzle pieces of the team are confusing in how they are all seemingly sitting there, but not always coming together like the big picture it demands it should be.

I have been struggling, to be quite honest, with how to approach writing about the repeated fumbles of the team in the past weeks. It is difficult when the team merely plays .500 hockey, to maintain some freshness in regards to a point of view and an overall theme.

This site was baptized as "Eyes On The Prize" because I sought to pursue the big picture - the Stanley Cup as a goal - with lessons learned from the past linking to the trials of the present.

Sometimes, with that goal in mind, I have to remind myself that big picture patience requires blogger patience!

I have long believed the Montreal Canadiens to be on the right path, with some of the right players, and the best coach and GM available presently to allow the process of building a championship team to be an accentuated one. This season, like last season, we are witnessing that the procerss does not happen overnight.

I feel I need to declare and explain such particular points when the frustration over the team's treading water begins to make me feel my words are becoming redundant.

Occasionally I get to feeling this way when I place myself in readers shoes and perceive my own words as beginning to sound like a broken record. I make no apologies for how I look at things in Habsland - it's just my job to try to not get boring and repetitive.

So, if what you are about to read sounds like something you have heard here before - crucify me for my consistency of thought.

The Canadiens back to back wins over the Lightening and Panthers reminds me of how much we as Habs fans have come to resemble fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs at times. We spring eternal hope with a mere sound win, yet despair to the depths of hell in back to back losses.

The connundrum baffles me to no end. Have we fans strayed so far from the teams glory years of the Canadiens that we have lost sight of the perspective of how to build winning teams that we must question every decision a coach makes in regards to line changes?

Have we reached a point of frustration where, sitting in a playoff spot, 5th in the conference, simply is not good enough by mid season?

Considering how young the present edition of the Canadiens is, shouldn't we be more hopeful than we are confused?

The answers to all these questions are hardly simple. They require some perspective and tunnel vision. They also require of a fan, the ability to focus inward at the soul of what hope means, while not glancing too long at the current NHL picture as a whole.

The Habs, all roadbumps given so far, aren't faring too badly. They have had their sluggish, frustrating, and distracted moments, but their standing in the upper echelon of the league, despite their slips, isn't all that bad.

Yes, we may agree the team could be doing better, but the memories of what is worse shouldn't be lost on our collective craniums. I mean, remember the days when an Oleg Petrov or Juha Lind represented hope?

The Habs are building - one brick, one loss, one day, one lesson at a time. If that is not fast enough for fans - that's their problem, not the team's.

When the nucleus of this current youth core reaches the ages of 24 to 27 years of age, the Canadiens will be built to contend year in and year out, much like the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators do.

In each of the last few seasons the team has added rookies from it's own fruitful drafts to shore up the team, building it from the ground up. Since 2005, it has been designed from the net out, with the drafting of Carey Price and the careful and particular selection of character defenseman.

The first wave of young talent - Komisarek, Plekanec, and Higgins - were joined last season by Latendresse, Lapierre, and Andrei Kostitsyn. This season has seen the additions of Price, Chipchura, O'Byrne and Sergei Kostitsyn. Should the next few years bring Alexei Emelin, Ryan McDonagh, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty - all solid prospects that may arrive sooner than we think - then the Canadiens will have assembled quite a devastating artillery of players from the draft.

It is refreshing, even while the team has meandered inconsistently of late, to watch players such as Latendresse and the younger Kostitsyn, both 20, develop their games and character.

Often, I believe, we forget how young this team actually is in spirit and experience.

Currently, there are 5 players on the team on pace for 20 goal (or more) seasons. Should Koivu and Andrei Kostitsyn pick it up in the second half, there could be seven. The team's best scorer from the last three seasons, Michael Ryder, is not among the group, and that may testify to the progression of the current lineup. Pencil in the younger Kostitsyn as another who may reach that 20 goal total in a year, and it gives the impression that the Canadiens aren't far off in assembling a well balanced team with both offensive attack instincts and defensively rounded games.

Many of these players are projecting career seasons - an upward trend that should continue as seasons pass with gained experience and confidence.

What has me newly inspired with these two wins in Florida, is that it seems the team has turned a corner. It is pushing itself to be better. It may be learning to deal with its own panic tendencies with a calmer reaction and focus. It is starting games with a more eager intent on setting a pace rather than being concerned with the fear of making mistakes.

Coach Carbonneau has caught me off guard with two gutsy changes he has made of late. One, which I do not agree with, was sitting Chipchura - undeservedly in my opinion. I don't understand what was behind the move, but the gamble has resulted in Maxim Lapierre's unleashed best efforts two nights running. Coincidence or plan?

Look into the future - don't Chipchura and Lapierre strike you as killer third and fourth line centers?

The other move that has been pleasingly perplexing to me, has to do with the perceived long standing Habs tradition of bringing in talent by grooming it slowly and surely. It is an old theme, going back to the grooming of such greats as Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lafleur, who were schooled in defensive systems and placed precariously into fitted roles on well established winning teams.

It has been complained long and hard by fans - "Why don't we just let these young kids play their game?"

It is a valid question.

Has anyone taken note that captain Koivu is centering two 20 years old?

Consequently, has anyone extended kudos to Carbo for having the balls to spread out his team's attack so fluidly over three lines in countering the pop gun, one line attacks of both Southern state opponants?

We have a young team that is learning by experience. We also have a coach who is learning who his team is by the same trials and errors. It could be that Carbonneau often poses the same questions we do - who knows?

I mentioned earlier about hope springing eternal upon the positiveness of good performances. I have come to the conclusion that it is so much easier to despair about the Canadiens, in regards to the current assembled talents in the stable, when the team disappoints, than it is to be hopeful.

But that is a natural reaction built up by hope.

The next time I feel like I have felt of late, I'll tap myself upside the head and consider the options that are presented by no hope at all.

I'd rather this hopeful outlook.


munch17 said...

I enjoy reading your posts.Always well thought out and articulate.
When you think about it - it is amazing what Bob Gainey has done . He has transformed the team into a young dynamic fast skating and creative team ( or at least on their way ) with tremendous potential for the future of the defence - Price,Halak,and all the young D-Men.
And although he is clearly building for the future trhe team is currently competitive and sitting near the top of the east. In spite of this He rarely gets the credit he deserves - e.g. the Mike Ribeiro circus was indeed addition by subtraction. He had no market value last year and he would not have evolved as a Hab - period.
It is the first time in recent memory that I look forward to 3 lines presence on the ice - we may not have a # 1 line but we have 3 pretty good # 2 lines now. TRhe only thing I would like to see would be how Chipchura would play with 2 good wingers.
Once again - keep up the good work

Robert L said...

Thanks for the kind words, Munch,

I'd like to see Chipchura play with Latendresse and S Kostitsyn. I think they could gel into a solid third line that would give the opposition alot of trouble.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! i don't ever really post comments but you have a great site here. keep up the great work!

Robert L said...

Thank you for the compliment.

Feel free to post your thoughts at any time. I usually urge those choosing the anonymous moniker to somehow distinguish themselves from others doing so by adding their name to the comment.

Thanks for popping in.

Flying Toaster said...

Am i the only one that desperately wants to see Latendresse, Chipchura and Lapierre on the same line? I honestly think that their constant determination and grit would seriously make the opposing lines explode with frustration? Lapierre and his constant nagging, Latendresse with his hard checks and imposing presence in front of the net, Chipchura and his nearly perfect defensive play, along side his good passing skills...

RetroMikey said...

I've always said we have to be patient and let the young guys develop on the team and on the farm so we can enjoy entertaining Montreal Canadiens hockey for years to come!
We will win the Cup, but that may happen this year or next year but I smell us sipping a Cup sooner than what's planned with the team we have and are building on! I will be shocked and disappointed if we don't make the playoffs this year (I predicted we would finish 5th before the season began). But we will surprise alot of skeptics and yes even Habs fans when we make the playoffs this year!

In Bob and Guy I trust totally!

Robert, Happy New Year buddy! A toast to you for making me enjoy reading your site buddy! Although we may disagree on certain thinga, we still are the most faithful and passionate Habs fans this side of the continent! Cheers to you and your loved ones! When I sip on some bubbly champagne for the New Year, I will be visioning our Habs sipping the Cup in the not so distant future as well!

Robert L said...

Flying Toaster! Love that nickname!

You're not alone in that thought.

In the playoffs with the Bulldogs in 2007, Lapierre was being groomed into the wing position and had great success there.

In theory, as far as the players charcters go, they would make a nasty mix. Where it might not work is that Max and Lats both shoot left, and that Chips and Lats are not the quickest skaters. They might make for a good line in the offensive zone. They could also be lacking elsewhere.

As much as I like the idea of this trio, I also think that both Max and Chips make the Habs very strong down the middle as 3rd and 4th centers. If that is their projected status, the Habs will be a deeply balanced team for years.

Robert L said...

Mike - I am actually enjoying being patient while watching this bundle of young talent bloom.

I cannot recall the last time the Habs had three 20 year olds on the team - was it 1986?

I love how the younger Kostitsyn seems to be spurring the elder on - both are playing very good of late.

Actually since the call ups of Sergei, Max and Rhino the future looks even more positive.

We will definitely make the playoffs this year.

Enjoy your New Year's celebrations - I'll be working for double time and a half!

BTW, Mikey, did you read my reply to yours at he Christmas post?

Jeff said...

i realize this article was written long ago but i just read it and i hope my comment reaches you. in twenty years of reading all things Habs, this is the most accurate depiction of a Canadiens fan's perspective and feelings that i have ever read. it's beautifully written and pragmatic in its point of view and diction. perfect really. thank you for writting it.

Robert L said...

Thanks much, Jeff..all comments reach me, no matter how old the post is.

Based on your kind words, I had to go back over this one for a refresh.

You're right too, I think this was one was my better ones. As confused as I state I was in writing it at the time, it was a fairly accurate portrait of how I myself, and perhaps other Habs fans felt at that moment.

Thankfully, I still agree with everything said in it.

Much appreciation for taking me back there.