FGD: Peppy Le Pew


As frustrating a season it has been for Flames fans, the Montreal Canadiens have been doubling disappointing for the Habs faithful. After a rough first half the club fired head coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with Randy Cunneyworth.

The move didn’t change their fortunes. The habs currently sit last in the East with 60 points, 12-points short of a playoff spot and are perhaps the first team east of Winnipeg to be well and truly out of the post-season proceedings. The strange thing about that record is the Canadiens shouldn’t be this bad. And, in many ways, they aren’t. Their -14 goal differential is superior to the Flames (-22) and in fact well clear of the Hurricanes (-26), Islanders (-40), Sabres (-23), Lightning (-36) and Wild (-37) all of whom are currently ahead of Montreal in the standings. That means the Canadiens don’t tend to lose by a lot very often, but instead can’t seem to make hay in one or two goal games. Sometimes you just can’t close the deal for whatever reason.

Montreal probably isn’t a "good" team, but I doubt they’re anywhere near as bad as they seem this season. That’s a big reason why the Flames can’t count on a sure-fire victory tonight, even if they’re facing what is ostensibly the worst team in the EC.

The Lineup

Cammalleri won’t face his old squad tonight due toan "upper body injury". That’s bad news because aside from the OT gaffe that led to his penalty, Cammy was probably the best player on the Flames first line versus Dallas. He frequently created plays in the scoring area and set up Iginla for his tap-in marker.

Cammalleri has been pretty decent as a pivot since being moved over, so his absence will be felt.

Tanguay – Jokinen – Iginla
Glencross- Stajan – Moss
Kostopolous – Horak – Jackman
Desbiens – Kolanos – Nemisz

Giordano – Hannan
Smith – Boumweester
Sarich – Brodie

Yikes. Stajan moves up to the second line and Calgary’s third unit is their fourth on a bad day. The Kolanos line probably isn’t even the top unit in Abbotsford. After the top six it’s replacement players all the way down. Expect everyone from Moss on up to play 17+ minutes this evening.

Kiprusoff will get the start again.

The Opponent

Most Flames fans would probably be unsurprised to learn that Rene Bourque hasn’t done much since becoming a Canadien. In 22 games, he has just four goals and six points and is a -12. Bourque is averaging less than two shots per game and is still getting routinely outchanced.

It’s been quite the precipitous fall from gace for the former Flame. A couple of seasons ago, he was routinely outplaying the other team’s best on a nightly basis. He managed 27 goals and 58 points in an injury shortened season while seeing tough minutes and less often on the PP. He seemed to poised to become a key feature on the Flames roster. Instead, he’s now a barely functional third liner.

Pacioretty – Desharnais – Cole
Geoffrion – Plekanec – Bourque
Leblanc – Eller – White
Engqvist – Nokelainen – Staubitz

Gorges – Subban
Campoli – Kaberle
Emelin – Weber

Luckily for the Flames, the Habs roster also resembles a MASH unit. Gomez, Moen, Gionta, Darche, Markov and Diaz are all down for the count. Montreal also sold Gill and Kostitsyn at the deadline, further eroding their depth. It’s the battle of two severely depleted clubs tonight and will likely resemble an earnest AHL game more than anything else.

Carey Price should get the start.

The Story

It’s over for Montreal this year, so they’re left playing for pride. The Flames can climb back within one point of the final spot with a win tonight, so the contest is far more meaningful for them. Whether that translates into a victory, however, remains to be seen.

  • RexLibris

    On paper it would appear that the Flames should be able to command the style of play and possession in this game. That being said, whenever one of the Eastern Conference teams comes out West to play it seems they can somehow take the Prairie teams by surprise.

    Any bets on whether the Habs win the draft lottery this year and take a small, speedy Russian (Yakupov)? That would be on par with Columbus’ luck of late.

    Gomez is injured? After all the hoopla about his having finally scored a goal there wasn’t any mention of his being sidelined. Darn, and he was just gaining some offensive momentum…

  • RexLibris

    Well I’ll be watching and participating in the Live Chat(if there is one) tonight. Could be a really fun game as well. However I see Bourque lighting it up against us tonight. When he’s motivated he can be a really good player(like the outdoor game last year), but when he doesn’t care he really doesn’t care. I can really see him caring and sticking it to the Flames.

    Also I don’t like to blame injuries, but WOW, come on, this team should be a playoff team without all the injuries. Backlund and Jones we could really use during those second periods.

    • SmellOfVictory

      People like to say this, but when the team was fully healthy they were even worse than they are now.

      @amanivan – I’ve notcied the MSM going to Stajan for a lot of quotes lately.

  • 25cent

    I wonder how Stajan will do tonight… seems to me that his play this season has been very hesistant, as if he does not even trust himself on the ice just like the head coach doesn’t. Lately that has changed a bit due to centers injured, and he got a couple goals! Give him a slight increase in ice-time and we may see some more confidence instilled in him.

    I will be watching tonight while eating some delicious pizza at Stavros, got to love a Tuesday night! GO FLAMES GO!

    P.S. Spelling mistake just before lineup: “Montral”

  • everton fc

    I am looking forward to seeing Stajan on the second line. Might do him, and the team, some good. Maybe.

    Moss and Glencross could be very good for Stajan. Let’s hope so.

    Must say Jokinen is one durable player. Never seems to get hurt. One of the few….

    We do have a more physical line-up than most games. What is the extent of Bouma’s injury?

    I hope the 4th line gets some looks. Desbiens and Nemisz probably playing for their futures, in some respects. Particularly Desbiens.

    As for the Habs… “On paper”, they certainly don’t look like a playoff team. Up front, all four lines could double as an expansion lineup.

    Then again… So could ours! Look at our defencive pairings…

    Incredible we are even in this playoff race!

    • amaninvan

      Reports have the Flames keeping the OMG line together, meaning Stajan moves on to the top line with Iggy and Tanguay. He is quoted as saying “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing with. You’ve got to a do a job”. I like his attitude… he has been playing some good hockey lately, lets hope he can score his 100th NHL goal tonight.

      The Flames 3rd line is a bit scary, the fourth is downright terrifying, even against the lowly Habs. Granted, they have 3rd and 4th lines that dont exactly strike fear into opposing teams. Let the Canadian version of The Replacements begin!

  • Montreal has gone from dominant-but-unlucky for its 22 first games or so, to average-and-somewhat-unlucky for a period covering most of Cunneyworth’s tenure, and are now genuinely sad-sack.

    Their goal differential in no way supports the notion of the Habs as a last-place club, but Cunneyworth has also turned what was an excellent possession club into one of the league’s worst. Cunneyworth isn’t solely to blame, of course (Montreal is one of the most-injured clubs in the league, and has since traded away talent for cap space and picks) but his tactics certainly aren’t conductive to strong possession as they systematically involve trading possession for position — the Habs are very much a chip-it-out, dump-and-chase club with a propensity for low-percentage long stretch passes. As a result, the Habs’ Fenwick and Corsi curves have plunged downward.

    Montreal also used to have a PP that was dominant on shot generation but comically unlucky on finish (their PP shooting percentage would’ve been second-worst in the league *at even strength*). Now it’s just bad, again largely owing to a change in tactics (the criticism Cammalleri made of it was that it consisted solely of putting bodies in front and shooting from the point — and that’s perfectly correct as the Habs are fully capable of holding the puck for a minute and a half of PP offensive-zone time and not generating a single scoring chance out of it).

    Their PK, on the other hand, is genuinely awesome on every level.

    • Fascinating. Thanks for the great comment.

      EDIT to add – it sounds like Cunneyworth is the Habs Dale Hunter. The team tried to fix an ilnness with bloodletting and it has made things worse.

      Also, Im guessing the “make things simpler” fix for the Habs PP was in response to their early struggles (ie; bad luck). There’s many little pearls of pernicious anti-wisdom that pop up in hockey and that’s one of them. The Flames own colorman Charlie Simmer hammers on it all the time.

      Make things simpler! Pucks and bodies to the net!

      Of course, if that was a remedy for anything it would mean the best PP’s would do that already (they don’t) and that PP “problems” would be incredibly easy to fix. They aren’t.

        • the forgotten man

          I’m not sure why you think Carbonneau could fix the Habs, or any club for that matter. He was terrible. He was actually pretty much the same style of coach as Cunneyworth: overplaying grinders to the detriment of scorers, not much of a grand strategy, weak in possession, and bad at personnel management.

          To illustrate how bad it got in a whay that’ll resonate with you: this is a guy who, with both Tom Kostopoulos and Alex Tanguay on his roster, *gave both the same amount of 5-on-5 icetime*. He completely failed to recognize Tanguay as his best 5-on-5 player, apparently because he wasn’t working hard enough.

          In 2007-2008 he rode a high PDO and an absolutely insane power play to the top of the conference. Otherwise the team was actually pretty bad. They had the *fifth-worst* score-close and score-tied Fenwick in the entire league. The 08-09 club was only marginally better in that respect.

          • Ironically, the best available candidate who best combines the coaching know-how, experience, and language issue (which is important) is Jacques Martin. They should never have fired him in the first place, and doubly so because francophone candidates who aren’t Montreal retreads are very rare, leading Montreal to continually bring inexperienced coaches in.

            Barring that, the Habs need to find a good puck possession coach and it’ll be tricky, especially given their language requirement. Their best bet is to go observe coaches in the Q and find one that plays the right style and understands the difference between good process and good results. Honestly, I have no idea who that might be. I’m worried that Patrick Roy will end up getting hired on name recognition alone, and that he’ll be a disaster. I’d rather go for a guy in the Guy Boucher vein: a guy who’s a career coach.

            Likely, though, step one will be to find a good analytical GM who can distinguish short-term variance from long-term ability and understands valuations. That probably means a number-oriented guy who isn’t an ex-player — perhaps Julien Brisebois, a former assistant Habs GM who’s now working with Yzerman. Someone who is definitely not Pierre McGuire, anyway.

  • Does anyone have any update on Cammy? Is he just out for this game or could he be out a while? Too bad, he was really coming into his own as of late.

    Any update on Backlund and Jones? I haven’t heard anything on them in a long time, and both of them were very important to the team.

  • the forgotten man

    @Kent: Exactly. The Dale Hunter comparison is perfectly spot on.

    Of course, the illnesses they really had (notably, they played a grand total of four games with a roster above the salary floor under Martin) were not ones that could be fixed by firing the coach.

    Kaberle was also an attempt to fix a perceived problem (the PP), and it was made at the expense of exacerbating a real one (inexperienced bottom-4 D struggling at ES).

    As for simplifying the game in an attempt to fix the PP, I perfectly agree with you that it’s a silly approach — so many coaches try to deal with a struggling PP by putting the biggest guy they have in front of the net and bombing the puck from the point, when the PP is all about puck movement. It’s something the Habs have historically always understood, even in the Souray years.

    But I suspect Cunneyworth’s simplifying the PP is not a reaction to a struggling unit as much as it is merely a reflection of his coaching philosophy — even at even-strength, the Habs now consistently seek to make the simplest possible play (chip it off the boards, dump it in and chase) in pretty much every situation, regardless of whether it costs possession, and don’t seem to have much in the way of alternatives.

    Increasingly we’re seeing teams adjust to the Habs’ simplistic gameplan after about half a period, and Montreal’s coaching staff simply doesn’t adjust back.

    It’s a mess.

    • Scott

      Given our current coach, I’ll but my money on his ability to not adjust after about half a period and the habs will go on to dominate the first two periods, at which point the team will get fustrated with the coach and give up on the game.

      Sutter is awful at adjusting throughout the game. Which i think, is why the 2nd period has been so bad for us this year. The only reason he have strong third periods is because we are way behind there is nothing the coach has to say at that point.

    • Point taken on the grand simplicity strategy. I think that’s the final, fall back position of any team or coach who is pretty much without answers. It’s generally defensible within the institution and to the public and it’s easy to communicate to the least skilled of your players.

      Here in Calgary we’ve heard similar paeans to “simplifying the game”. Especially this season. The plan seems to be: limit obvious mistakes as much as possible and implore your players to “work hard”.

      So: if nothing else seems to be working – render the club to a collection of blue collar players. Chip it in, chip it out, heart on your sleeve, hope for the best.

      • Doesn’t it work at times, though? I’m not advocating just bombing the puck at the net with bodies in front as a full-time strategy at all, but it does have it’s place. You do need a presence in front of the net.

        It worked last year for a time when Calgary placed Jackman in front of the net.

        Back in the glory days, Otto often stood in front of the net while Al hammered it from the point.

        I think the difference is that you need a lot of options in the proverbial ‘bag of tricks.’

        In the glory days, Al would mix it up quite often and obviously the team could fire the puck around like few else.

        It fell apart for Calgary last year because they couldn’t adapt to anything else.

        That’s the key, the ability to improvise on the ice as well as the coaching staff mixing it up every so often in order to keep the oppositon off-balance. And that requires talent, which Calgary had then and don’t now. Ditto for Montreal.

        • As you say, it all comes down to talent. The “pucks and bodies to the net” thing is just the default if you think you’re outclassed and don’t want your players taking risks that will be exploited in some fashion.

          • SmellOfVictory

            And to be fair, at least in the case of the Flames, I can think of numerous times that I watched their unfortunate passes and poor offensive reads and understood why the coach might want them to “keep it simple.”

          • Indeed. The disconnect for me is considering that a viable, long-term “identity” for a coach or a team and not simply the white flag of a roster that is over matched for a variety of reasons. The goal should always be not to build that kind of team and for the coaching staff to exhaust all other options first.

            It is the “duck and cover” of hockey strategies. The stop, drop and roll. If your GM or coach is coming out during a season and expounding this philosophy, it means you have no budget, everyone is injured, or more than one decision maker doesn’t really know what he is doing.

          • SmellOfVictory

            I totally agree. Especially when you look at a lot of the more successful teams of late: Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Detroit, all known for having ‘complex systems’ that require a little bit of time for players to acclimatize.

            I think Pittsburgh is an especially good example because they’re a team that has succeeded for lengthy stretches while missing one or both of their franchise centres and played in front of a goalie who I don’t think is significantly above average for a starter.

          • Bylsma is a coach I’d like to really study. His team had an immediate turn around when he took hold and it’s stuck even when major players have gone down for lengthy periods of time. The Pens are doing something very, very well and I’d like to know what.

  • @Scott: I don’t think Sutter particularly needs to adjust as a coach. Eventually the D will realize they just need to pressure the winger to prevent a chip-in and the Habs will get stuck in their zone.

    @Kent: You might as well be stealing the words right out of my mouth. “If you ask everyone to play with the style of a fourth-liner you’ll end up with everyone getting the results of fourth-liners”, that’s more or less how I put it.

    Interesting that the Flames are in the same predicament. Personally I’ve blamed Cunneyworth’s past as a grinder for his grinder sensibilities as a coach, but it’s possible it might just be that he’s in over his head and falling back to hockey truisms.

    It is, OTOH, frustrating to see and driving away skilled players — from Cammalleri’s outspoken distaste of the coach’s tactics to Plekanec who can’t be too happy to be doing the heavy lifting with two replacement players and then get slammed because his offensive production isn’t up to snuff (I’m sure Alex Tanguay can relate)… and all the more so because Montreal used to be a real possession club with real puck transition earlier in the year.

  • the forgotten man

    This is also why a team needs to decide on an identity as an organizational whole. Identity can’t continually change based on the current coach and GM. A team needs to decide what they want to be and then both GM and coach have to work together towards that goal. Detroit, of course, is a good example of the possession game being passed from one coach to another. Sometimes a team needs a new voice, but it doesn’t mean the entire team phiolsophy needs to be discarded. The GM then has to go get the ‘right’ players to fit the system. If the coach and GM aren’t on the same page or the systems keep changing you get chaos.

  • the forgotten man

    Hey Kent,

    Do you have a brother who is a Habs fan or are you double posting now that Steinberg is gone??

    Either or, this has been a great thread and fun to read…beats
    Oiler game days when we let them troll this site.

    Thanks Mathman.