Who will outsuck whom?

Kent Wilson
February 09 2009 11:03AM

Flames Canadiens Hockey

It's the Blurst of times for the Canadiens and Flames right now. Calgary has just finished losing 4 straight for the first time this season, sullying many of the sky-high expectations they had built over the prior two months. The Canadiens, on the other hand, have won just two of their last nine, including blow-out defeats at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs (5-2), Florida Panthers (5-1), Atlanta Thrashers (4-2) and Tampa Bay Lightning (5-3). Their dreams of winning the Conference are all but dead.

Im sure a lot of Montreal fans are surprised and disappointed by their clubs relatively lackluster results, especially in light of all their success last season - but Im not. The Canadiens were the Boston Bruins of 07/08: all the coins landed on heads for them. Kovalev, Plekanec, Streit, Markov, Andrei Kostitsyn and Chris Higgins all set career (or near career) bests. They also got well above average goaltending from both Price and Huet. To say nothing of that incredible PP.

The percentages have swung back on Les Habitants this season though. Kovalev looks like a disinterested floater again now that the pucks aren't going in, while Plekanec is proving he really isn't a 30 goal scorer. Streit is gone, Higgins is hurt all the time. The club has also suffered from long-term injuries to Tanguay, Koivu, Price, Komisarek and recently the resurgent Robert Lang, which certainly hasn't helped.

With the hurt and the bounces going the wrong way, an ugly fact is becoming crystal clear for the Habs faithful: their team is average. At best. They routinely get outshot at ES and they don't have an out-of-this-world PP making up the difference this year. Their roster is fast and sneaky, but rather soft (aside from Big Georges) and not terribly good at moving the puck in the right direction.

Montreal won the last meeting between the two teams in December, 4-1. If they win this one on Dome ice, we'll know the Flames are in the throes of something fairly ugly here...

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 12:14PM
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I agree that the Canadiens got the percentages last season for sure, but they have had some pretty significant injuries and are still 5th in the East, so they're probably slightly above average.

On a related note, I see Tanguay's point totals are shinier but from the numbers it doesn't look like he's driving possession - sort of the opposite of the player he was in Calgary.

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#2 walkinvisible
February 09 2009, 12:14PM
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i see this as the likeliest of the next games for a flames' W. if we lose tonight, then it will be easy to match the canucks' laughable 8-game skid. it seems that a big part of the flames' confidence problems come from not being able to beat the opposition goaltender; after tonight, we see giguere, bryzgalov and a suddenly-hot kings squad.

fingers crossed.

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#3 Kent
February 09 2009, 12:39PM
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The Habs came out swinging this year, but have been coasting on inertia since. We're witnessing the slow down now I think. They haven't been a good ES team for years and I think it's catching up to them now - partially due to goaltending and injuries, but also because getting your brains beat in at ES isn't a good long-term strategy.

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#4 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 03:06PM
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Kent wrote:

They haven’t been a good ES team for years and I think it’s catching up to them now - partially due to goaltending and injuries, but also because getting your brains beat in at ES isn’t a good long-term strategy.

What, just because 70-80% of the game is played at even-strength ;)

The powerplay they've run out over the past few seasons has covered some warts, no doubt about it.

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#5 Cam
February 09 2009, 03:31PM
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As a die hard Montreal fan, I can assure you the injury bug won't fly as an excuse this year. We were still winning a ton of games with Koivu, Higgins, Tanguay and Price all on the shelf. I think your assessment of us peaking last year is dead on - the cloud that was sitting miles high last season is finally approaching mother earth at a disturbing rate of speed. The combination of a healthy team and peaking players won us the East last year. This year, we look a lot more human.

It sounds like you have watched a few Montreal games, Kent, because puck movement has been one of the gaping holes in Montreal's game this year. Don't get me wrong, I love Komisarek to death and the role he plays is vital for Montreal, and although he has struggled at times this year, Hammrlik is a rock on the back end, but those two guys are far and away from Tomas Kaberle and Jay Bo. Josh Gorges has played above expectations, but is still young, as is Ryan O'Byrne. Francis Bouillon shows flashes of brilliance at times but is aging and can only handle the 5th or 6th guy minutes. Patrice Brisebois is far from the player he was a decade ago. Andrei Markov is definitely driving the puck movement boat this year, and it's not enough. If we had a big, strong core of forwards who could play a big forechecking game, it wouldn't be so bad, but our forwards - particularly our top 6 and our centers - are undersized and don't suit that game.

If I were a betting man, I'd say 4-2 Calgary. They match up against us very nicely, and we've been .500 on the road this year. Flames get it done.

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#6 merzer131
February 09 2009, 04:24PM
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"It’s the Blurst of times for the Canadiens and Flames right now."

Ah the Blurst of times.

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#7 Kent
February 09 2009, 05:30PM
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Quite the honest take on your team there came. Refreshing.

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#8 Doogie2K
February 09 2009, 05:48PM
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Alright, I'll take a stab at refuting you, Kent. I was going to turn this into a post at my site, but #$%* it, it's already in this here box, so here we go.

=====

I honestly thought the Habs would be better at EV this year with the addition of Tanguay, and (spoilers!) they actually are, but with everyone and his dog being hurt at some point, including at least five of the top six forwards, Kovalev going back to his default disinterested (hurt?) state, Price and Halak both being mediocre at times, the team only having one good PP blueliner...it's been a confluence of shit this year. Oh, and our top scorer just got an important tendon sliced in two. Whoops.

To be fair, some guys were riding the percentages train last year, but at least at EV, not as many as you'd think based on the number of careerish years. And really, looking at it overall, it's mostly just the 46-14-27 you're interested in. I mean, do Ryan O'Byrne and Mikhail Grabovski really count? Michael Ryder? Hell, Sergei Kostitsyn? Yeah, I'm thinking they didn't drive the results. Anyway, those shot/Corsi/Fenwick numbers are pretty Goddamned ugly, I must admit: they were clearly riding the PP and now that it's not burning up the charts, they've come back to Earth. Still, their underlying numbers this year are actually better than last year, when "plus" was apparently a four-letter word; they're actually even on EV shots for the year, and a much smaller negative per-game in Corsi/Fenwick than last year, but the percentages have returned to normal. Frankly, I'm more inclined to blame a crappy, injury-riddled PP than average-to-slightly-below-average EV results.

I haven't seen as many games as I'd like, but what I've seen, other than a couple of shining examples (a shitkicking of the Leafs, that dominant effort against the Wings), they've been, as Kent said, kind of average, but like I said before, I think a lot of that can be explained by injuries, the PP, and 14-27 returning to Earth (oddly enough, 46 still has an absurd S% this year -- maybe it's a feature, not a bug). Sure, it seems like every time I turn a Habs game on these days they're losing 2-1 or 3-2 to some dull crapbag team like the Hurricanes (or some surprisingly exciting crapbag team like the Leafs), but I can't believe they're that bad, just as it wasn't realistic to think they were that damned good last year. As with most strong swings in luck, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle: I think, based on their paper talent level, they should be a solid 4-5, not the 6-8 they're looking like at this point.

But hey, the PK's decent for once. More than I can say for the Oilers.

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#9 Doogie2K
February 09 2009, 06:03PM
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Oh, and just to be clear, I'd love to believe the Habs are going to win, but I'm pretty sure the Flames are the superior team (I have it down as 3-1 Habs on an empty netter, but I tend to treat the prediction zone like Earl Sleek does). I just don't think Montreal's an average-at-best team; I think they're a good-but-not-elite team having a bad year.

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#10 Kent
February 09 2009, 06:24PM
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I don't think we're too far away from each other, Doogie: my conception of "average" isn't too different from "good". I think the only point I wanted to make was the club's success from last season was mostly illusory.

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#11 Doogie2K
February 09 2009, 06:36PM
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@Kent: I wouldn't argue that: like the Oilers, I figured/hoped improvement would see them largely run in place, albeit with better underlying stats. My objection came because I see "average" as synonymous with "playoff bubble," whereas I think the Habs are a cut above that, just having some shit luck.

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#12 Kent
February 09 2009, 06:46PM
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Yeah - I see the Habs as a "true" 5-7 team, rather than challenging for the conference which was expecting of them by some.

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#13 Kent
February 09 2009, 06:47PM
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*expected

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#14 Kent
February 09 2009, 09:37PM
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See? Montreal...not that good.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 10:28PM
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@ Cam:

You aren't by any chance my buddy Cam, the die-hard Canadiens fan, are you?

Because if not, that recitation sounds remarkably like what he told me on our way out to play hockey about two weeks back.

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