Saturday, November 15, 2008

Canadiens Lacking What Begin Brings

According to Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, the Habs played what was possibly their best game in two seasons last Tuesday, when they blanked the Ottawa Senators 4-0 to rebound from what the coach called their worst game in the same span, a 6-3 humiliation two nights prior against the Maple Leafs.

Perhaps the Canadiens just found the one rival in their path with a slower pulse in the Senators, because two nights later, the Habs stunk out the joint against the Bruins.

Truth be told, Ottawa is about as dysfunctional as the Tampa Bay Lightning most nights, and beating them shouldn't have been anything to get excited about. Heck, two nights later, the Islanders handled the Senators with ease, and so went the theory the Habs have cured any of their ails.

Without the benefit of anything more than video evidence to suggest only part of the story, the Canadiens seem in need of some kind of a boost.

To echo the phrase uttered by former disposed coach of the year Orval Tessier, the Habs have looked like they are in need of heart transplants of late.

I call chemistry into question. More precisely, the lack of it.

All kinds of adjectives could be employed to describe the Canadiens recent play. They could include sluggish, uninspired, individualistic, unfocused, distracted, and without heart.

One of the more popular topics of late, when discussing the Habs woes, is the contribution of Georges Laraque, hired to make the entire team taller by a few inches. Or so, it was billed.

Laraque hasn't exactly carved out his niche on the team as of yet, and it wouldn't be a stretch to claim he has been a glaring non factor in almost every game he has been dressed for. Playing on the Canadiens fourth line - an energy line in essense - he has made slow footed Guillaume Latendresse look like Paul Coffee by comparison.

I can't fake it. I like the guy, but there is no polite way to say that Laraque has done absolutely squat so far this season.

Some might suggest that last Tuesday, Laraque's presence kept Ottawa's Chris Neil quiet. That would be true, if they had actually lined up against each other on the ice when the score of the game was still being contested.

While others have contemplated what Laraque is or isn't bringing each game, I have missed what dressing him each game has eliminated, namely the contribution of energetic fourth liner Steve Begin.

Since popping in the insurance goal against the Flyers in the third game of the season, Begin has sat out 8 of the last 11 games this season. He's almost become a afterthought in the Canadiens scheme of things. His name is often mentioned in the same sentence as the phrase "days are numbered" when it comes to his contribution in team terms.

Now, no one will confuse Begin with being nothing more than a simple role player, but here is where putting his role, his traits and attributes, and his dedication come into importance. He brings to the Habs, a deckful of intangibles few players on the team can boast of.

Feel free, if you choose, to see Begin as simply a player who has been the victim of a trio of bad timing penalty calls in the last season and a half. So the guy is overexhuberant - I wish that could be said about a half dozen nameless others.

Begin has the third longest tenure on the club, after Saku Koivu, Andrei Markov and Patrice Brisebois - who skipped two seasons. He was actually Bob Gainey's first acquisition upon becoming the Canadiens GM in the summer of 2003. That tenure, and the path taken, means something to the team chemistry.

Comparing Begin's stats to Wayne Gretzky is missing the point. Begin brings bucket loads of guts, spirit, leadership, dedication, grit, speed, and heart to the team.

Allow me to bring up these questions:

Have you ever seen Begin coil when it comes to dropping the gloves in defense of team mates?

Have ever seen Begin back away from a hit?

Do you know that, as a member of the Saint John Flames in 2001, Begin was voted playoff MVP despite not being his team's leading scorer?

Begin knows what it takes to win, and what it takes to create a winning atmosphere. He's a wild card's loadful of intangibles, enjoying a press box view while the Canadiens lack all the things that he could bring on a game by game basis.

Begin might just play ten minutes a game or less, but he spends the other fifty on the bench yapping. Knowing his character, his contributions eminate from there as well.

Would it be a drastic alteration to the Habs game plan to play him regularly and gauge his effect on the club for two weeks?

As I watch the Canadiens dedication issues lump into a pile, this is one managable move that would barely be cause for friction.

It's time for an injection of heart - it's cheaper than a transplant!



KATIA said...

I like Begin although I think father time is creeping up on him. Guys that play that reckless crash and bang style seem to lose it real quick once the downward progression sets in. You're right though, the Habs remain one of the least gritty teams in the league. On most nights, they ice 2 gritty forwards--Tommy K and Lappy. That's not going to cut it. Maybe this sounds like panic but I'd almost rather see the Habs unload Lang, Begin and Dandy and replace them with Stewart, Chipchurra and Dagostini. That would inject a bit of youth and grit into the lineup. The Habs are also doing a diservice to Price by not getting him a seasoned back up to help him deal with the highs and the lows of an NHL season

RetroMIkey said...

Sorry Robert, but Begin's tenure is up with our team. Sad but true.

Have to agree with katia that Begin's body has taken its toll.
He's not real big when you see him out there.

homme de sept-iles said...

Even though Begin may be worn down to some degree, I fully agree that he is a key missing component.

He is one of the most valuable players on the team for all the reasons you mention.

Laraque's presence seems (seemed) to have an initial effect but, overall, it seems he has not contributed as much as we all expected.

I agree also that Lang is a player that (despite the dazzling skills and very intelligent play) may not be what we need right now. Sitting him for a few games or alternating him might make sense. Unfortunately with his rate of pay, we won't see anything like that anytime soon. So he'd better wake up.

I thought we'd see more of Dandenault and Chipchura. It's a long season and I guess we'll see what Carbonneau is thinking as it progresses.

On the plus side, Lapierre is taking the Begin-type role more consistently and seriously this season. Good for the team.

But he is not as good as Begin at all of those important things.

I hope we see #22 sooner rather than later.

Topham said...

I would ask, when was the last time you saw Begin not shoot when he had the puck in the offensive zone, or on a 2-on-1?

His energy and effort at getting the puck is often mis-spent as he has been a giveaway machine lately.

And he, like Komisarek of late, has the annoying tendency of playing the late hit at the expense of his positioning.

I don't know if it's because he can't keep up now, or whether it just shows more now that we have players who can.

In my opinion, Carbonneau needs to think about working on the first three lines and think about using that 4th line a whole lot less than he does. With Higgins, Plekanec, Koivu, the Kostitsyns, there's no reason why the top lines can't be energy lines as well. They just need to be coached (or coaxed into it).

Besides, energy line (new term that it is) is just a term to describe the only trait the 4th line has going for them. You constantly hear the guys on RDS rattling on about the job being not being scored on, giving the other guys rest. Do the other guys need that much rest would be my question. And, if they don't shouldn't we be using them.

The only good thing about the 4th line is when we play other teams with coaches stupid enough to oblige by playing their own 4th line. Luckily ours is better than most, so we always get a little injection of hope from them. When a smart coach plays us, we see them put out a proper line against the 4th liners and they are exposed.

I know it's a bit harsh and all. But hockey, unnfortunately isn't all hard work. It doesn't matter how hard the 4th line works if you don't have talented guys also working hard, then you are up the creek. Carbonneau needs to get to work on that file.