The Worst Fans in Hockey: Take 2.

As the Habs stand on the precipice of elimination. It saddens me to see the fan (and some media) reaction to the current roster. I’ve already written about how Habs fans can be considered some of the worst fans in hockey. I am fully aware it’s a broad statement. If you spend five minutes on twitter reading through any fan base’s tweets and you’ll see plenty of terrible fans. Mainly it’s people who refuse to either look into the details of the games or players; enjoy meaningless hot takes; or are prone to mob mentality. This reached a crescendo in my head when I saw Sean Campbell, host of the post game show on TSN 690, tweet about a “fan” who called in last night to complain about Pacioretty, because he believed that  Beliveau would have deked on the breakaway and that shows leadership. I mean…I have no words for this…so I’ll simply carry on. 

One thing I want to make clear is that I’m not against criticizing your team; everyone is entitled to that opinion and right. Especially as a consumer of the product that is sports. My issues is with the sub segment of fans, who prefer to live with their narrow view of the game and seemingly exist simply to stir the pot, or bask in negativity. Typically these fans are ultra-quiet when the Habs are playing well or will nit-pick on one player struggling despite team success. Look all fans will sometimes veer into the negative when things aren’t going right, but some prefer to just stay there. It just seemed that the Habs seem to have more of them, or maybe they just come out of hiding for the playoffs. So I’ve identified the 7 types of worst Habs fans, and ranked them on the DEL: “deking equals leadership” scale of 1 to 5; 1 being mildly offensive yet somewhat understandable and 5 being so irrationally stupid that you wonder if that person is constantly drunk and was watching cock fighting instead of hockey but thought it was a Habs game, so they kept yelling “Patio-ready sucks!!!” at a chicken.


The Bandwagon Fan

 Habs win game 1 of a series? This fan is talking about the Stanley Cup! Planning the parade route and party. Habs lose game 2 of the series? This fan morphs into a “He Sucks” Fan or a “Chicken Little.” Habs win game 3? C”EST SENT LA COUPE! Habs lose Game 4?…ok you get the picture.

 DEL Rating: 1. This fan is annoying, but not the worst. Most of these fans are either getting swept up by playoff fever or don’t usually watch the game on a regular basis. As mentioned – there is a fear that these type of fans dip into a more annoying fan type, but many are willing to just be supportive of the team and remain positive.

 

The Numbers Team and the Anti Numbers Team.

 I grouped these two together, because I’m only talking about the extreme fringe of each group. Those who only live and die by analytics, and those who flat out refuse to even acknowledge the value of numbers in any shape or form. Full disclosure here:  I am a numbers guy, but I don’t think they are absolute. I understand what PDO is but I don’t think it’s just an indicator of puck luck. Perhaps over the course of a season, but in a short series with the most talented players on the planet? It could be an athlete elevating themselves into a level of focus that allows them to exceed their average play even if it’s only for a few games. On the flip side to deny the value of these stats when they have so obviously been indicators of success means you’re so out of touch that it makes it difficult to be credible. 

DEL Rating: 2.5 Both extreme wings of these groups fall into a “know-it-all” category which is insufferable at times. It’s ok to have your ways of viewing the game, but don’t push that view on others, and scoff and belittle those who don’t share it. At the end of the day, you want to see your team succeed, but these fans come off a selfish, and usually deserve a to be ignored or occasionally, punched in the face.

 

The Subbanites

I love P.K. Subban, when the trade first happened, I wrote a whole blog on how I believed it was a mistake. It’s important to note I also love Shea Weber. They are two different players, and I appreciate what both can bring to the table. As the season progressed, there were moments were I missed Subban, or felt he could have helped the team, but in the end the trade was made, and it’s over now – move on. It’s ok to cheer for Subban, and be happy for his success, but don’t use it to revel in the Habs struggles. Those who constantly compare Subban and Weber, and gleefully point out that the Predators swept the Blackhawks to mock the Habs are bordering on trolling. Be the bigger person – Subban certainly has been – if you really are a fan of his, than emulate his character and class and shut the fuck up. 

DEL Rating: 2 to 3. It’s still fresh enough that I’m willing to be somewhat understanding, but as time goes on this will slide up the scale. In the meantime, Subbanites need to meet someone new, or go see a shrink so they can learn to let go. It’s not good for the soul to hold a grudge, or be an annoying prick.

 

The Old Timers Club

 Look, I’m all for nostalgia, after all, the Habs have a very rich and impressive history. But…that was then, and this is now. The game is so different as compared to the 90s, the 80s, the 70s that you cannot compare eras. It is a fool’s errand. I appreciate the lessons of the past to help build a better future. But when it comes to sports, some of those lessons don’t make sense anymore. The game is faster, players are bigger, goalies are better, management is different, coaching is more detailed…it is a different game. Furthermore, the Habs haven’t won a cup in 24 years – just like the Subbanites need to learn let go, so do the Old Timers. Be proud of the history, draw motivation, and spirit from the legends but don’t blur the time line. Enough with “these guys need to play with more vigor and jam! They don’t have enough heart. Dag nabbit! They need to hit more! Shoot less! Drink raw eggs, and crap thunder!! I don’t want Maurice tonight. I WANT THE ROCKET” and so on…until they fall asleep. So unless you have a time machine or can find those damn Forum Ghosts and bring them to the Bell Center, you need to step into the present.

 DEL Rating: 1.7. I have a soft spot for these old timers. As a fan who has read up on the history of the game, and Canadiens. I have become more sympathetic to the good old days. Furthermore I think the Canadiens mean more to Montrealers than most other franchises around North America. I’m not suggesting they are better or worse, simply that the Montreal Canadiens and the city of Montreal’s are intertwined in their history. Sports has become part of culture in many places. In Montreal it’s been the case for 100 years….Good Lord am I becoming an old timer? No way, I’m going to put on my Jean Beliveau jersey, read the hockey sweater, pound some prune juice, and go to bed early.

 

The Chicken Littles 

A lovable group, only in the fact these fine folks are as consistent as Andrei Markov. Pre-Season; Regular Season; Playoffs; Off-Season…it doesn’t matter to our fine feathered friends, as catastrophe is always looming around the corner. A player will inevitably slump, an injury will definitely occur. The coach will make the wrong decision, the GM will bring in the wrong player. A player’s positives are completely glossed over to concentrate on the negatives. I actually feel kind of bad for these fans, because I think deep down they want the Habs to succeed but they are incapable of seeing anything positive that would allow them to have hope. Perhaps they fear hope, after all it’s easier to hang out in the dark versus actually come out in to the light, and taking a look around. In the end these people have an expiry date, and begin to reach dangerous levels of annoyance in their constant negativity

 DEL Rating: 3. This can quickly spiral into a 5 if negativity levels reach a code red. But sometimes it’s easy to fall in the chicken little mode when things aren’t going well so I’ll give them a slight pass. But for those stuck there…at some point they will either need to be brought in or dragged into the light. Where they will either turn in to dust or begrudgingly accept that “hey, it’s not so bad to cheer for your team, win or lose.”

 

The “He Sucks” Fan

 An amalgamation of the Bandwagon Fan, a Chicken Little, with a pinch of know-it-all. The “He Sucks” Fan is close to being the most annoying fan in existence. Almost every fanbase has these fans, but Habs nation takes the cake, as no one is safe from the clutches of this type of fan. This season Max Pacioretty became only the 5th Montreal Canadiens in their history to have 4 straight 30 goal season. As captain this season he was the most steady presence on the ice all season. He has become a two way force and dynamic penalty killer as well as one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. So of course because he’s struggled to score in this series (but generate chances, create space on the ice, and get shots on net): “He Sucks!” Carey Price has another stellar season in nets for the Canadiens. Widely regarded as one of the top 5 goalies in the NHL, he has backstopped the Habs to number of playoff appearances and earned a Vezina and Hart trophy along the way. Despite the fact he has no goal support in this series, has .936 save percentage and 1.82 GAA, numerous fans have come out and said “he’s not playing well – told you he was overrated.” One media member had the gall to suggest that Price wasn’t “stealing games for the Habs”…so I guess that means: “He Sucks!” Look I know the best players on a team will always be held to a different regard, however to ignore the work they are doing and quickly dismiss them as lazy or not good enough, shows a lack of credibility and understanding as a fanbase. It takes a significant amount of assuming to be a “He Sucks!” fan, and in the end you definitely come off looking like an ass to you and me.

 DEL Rating: 5. In the end this fan is so incredibly frustrated they need a smoke, a glass of wine, and a massage just to end up tense. They will also turn on a dime the second a good game happens to the players they were currently hating on. Stating all along that it was their complaining that got the player to kick it into extra gear even though that players has been playing as hard as possible all along. The most frustrating aspect of this fan is their complete and utter denial that the other team has anything to do with Habs’ struggles. So many fans seem blind to the fact that Lundqvist has been incredibly good for the Rangers in this series, and has kept them in games for long stretches where they could have been down by 2 or 3 goals. 

“Lundqvist? He Sucks…Pacioretty and Price? They suck MORE! TRADE THEM ALL! Blaaargghhhh”

Ugh….Well at least this fan is consistent…consistently annoying.

 

The Troll

 The ultimate worst fan. The fan who isn’t a fan of the team, but a fan of hate. One who stirs the pot, and makes outlandish claims aimed to generate a reaction. This fan is the mutant offspring all of the worst fans with a dash of evil thrown in. They exists only to crap all over the Habs and humanity, and revel in failure. Usually a front runner who jumps from being a fan of whoever the best team in the league is at that given time. This fan believes no one wearing the CH is good, and that the Habs will never win; don’t want to win; and can’t ever win – and will say anything to “prove” it. This is the fan that other fans tell spooky stories about around a camp fire. 

The Troll. They are rarely seen as they are often sitting behind a keyboard and tweeting away and cackling like an evil scientist. There is no redeeming quality to this fan. The worst of the worst. The only way to beat them is to ignore them. Because they can very quickly cross a line and they can be hurtful.

 DEL Rating: 10. If I ever met a troll in real time. I would tell them “I’m sorry you’re the way you are’ and walk away…right after I break their fingers so they can’t mean tweet, or cyber bully anyone for a few weeks. Assholes.
 There you have it. Come on Habs fans! I know there are plenty of good, honest hockey fans out there. Let’s rally behind the team and cheer them on win or lose! Habs in 7! 

Go Habs Go!

First Round Preview: Canadiens vs. Rangers

After a one year hiatus, the Montreal Canadiens are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs. While many of the Montreal Canadiens haters and naysayers will shake their heads and spout off about the Habs, the truth is, any warm-blooded Canadian knows the playoffs are simply just better when a franchise like the Canadiens are involved. It’s the same reason that despite the rivalry, I, for one, am happy that the Toronto Maple Leafs have made the playoffs this season. It’s good for Canada. It’s good for hockey, and it’s good for Canadian fans of hockey. 

Once again, the Canadiens find themselves in a match-up against an Original Six team. While the match-up with the Rangers lacks the regional intensity that the Leafs bring with them, or the incredible history and intensity that come with a Bruins match-up, the Rangers and Habs have had their fair share of memorable moments over the last few years.

There was this infamous moment – (cue Montrealers going crazy and throwing Molsons everywhere): 

Which led to this:

 

And finally this:


 

3 years ago, the Canadiens had an improbable run to the conference finals until they ran into the Rangers and, more specifically, until Chris Krieder ran into Carey Price. I’m not going to sit here and suggest that the Habs would have defeated the Rangers with Carey Price in nets, but when you consider the series went six games with Dustin Tokarski in nets, you’d have to think they would have had a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993. That Rangers team was very, very good – better than most people gave them credit for (including this fool). 3 years later and they’re still very, very good; however, they are different than that team that beat the Habs in 2014. 

 So let’s not dwell on the past, and focus on the present, and near future. In breaking down this first round match up, I decided to focus on 5 factors I believe will give everyone reading this (hi Roy!) a more clear picture on who to look for, what to look for, why to look for it, and who has the advantage.

1) Offense at Even Strength:

At first glance, this would appear to favor the Rangers; they feature a fast and deep squad of forwards, and mobile defensemen led by Ryan MacDonagh. The Canadiens have had goal scoring problems for most of the season and their most able puck-moving defenseman is a 106 year old Andrei Markov. Lo and behold, when you look at the numbers, you’ll see that at 5v5, the Rangers scored 14 more goals than the Habs throughout the season.

Before all the chicken little Habs fans out there begin to slide open their windows and climb out on the ledge, it is worth noting that when you consider goals scored at 5v5-close (close play is when the game is tied within or within one goal in the first and second periods, and tied in the third) the Rangers only have 2 more goals than the Habs on the season. Consider as well that the Rangers scored 7 more empty net goals than the Habs and this offensive advantage is not so stark.

When you factor in possession stats it leans even heavier in the Habs’ favor. Regardless of who coached the team this season, the Canadiens have been one of the best possession teams in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Rangers have been middling at best, however, where they make up for the lack of shots towards the opponent net by capitalizing on their high danger scoring chances: this is reflective in their above league average shooting percentage. Furthermore, they are one of the best teams in the NHL at generating high danger scoring chances, through pre-shot movement. (slot passes, east-west scoring chances).

While Habs can take solace in knowing that captain Max Pacioretty is the best offensive player at even strength on either team, the Rangers boast more balanced scoring from top to bottom. Their forward group is led by every Habs fan’s favorite Ranger: Chris Kreider. Both teams have even strength scoring dynamos in Michael Grabner and Paul Byron, but the Rangers have gotten some good offense from their rear guards, even though their possession numbers aren’t great. This is an area that Montreal struggles in once you look past Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry.

Advantage: New York Rangers. It’s very close, yet the Rangers’ spread out offense, give them an edge even though Montreal is better at possession and shot generation. This is in theme with most NY/MTL discussion I’ve had…it’s close, but New York bagels are better, but give me Montreal smoked meat every time…. 

 
2) Defense at Even Strength:

While fans always huff and puff about goal scoring, the objective of hockey isn’t to just score as many goals as possible. It’s to score more goals than your opponents; a simple and obvious act that often gets lost amongst the hand-wringing and complaining. As detailed above, the Rangers seem to boast more depth than the Habs. However, defense is a team game, and the Habs worked hard this season to become an elite defensive team, often at the sacrifice of potential offense. The bottom line is this shift in strategy worked. The Canadiens were the 3rd best defensive team in the NHL at 5v5, while the Rangers were 18th. The Canadiens goal differential at 5v5 was +24, while the Rangers were at +14. At even strength, the Canadiens boast the two top defenseman in all the NHL with regards to goals against. No other defenseman in the league allowed less goals against at even strength than the immortal Andrei Markov and the man mountain Shea Weber. The Habs’ system champions possession and defensive responsibility from their forwards – this allows for less shots against, and less chances against. While any line with Kreider will drive offense towards the oppositions net, the aforementioned Markov and Weber will be standing in his way. Injuries have hurt the Rangers this year, but they simply don’t have the skill on defense to drive possession out of their zone beyond MacDonagh. As a result, they focus on creating turnovers and blocking shots in order to counter attack, and take advantage of the team speed.

Finally, it helps having the best goaltender in the league to back up your D, but more on that later…

Advantage: Montreal Canadiens. For the most part, the Habs one-upped Trump by building a wall at their blue line before he could erect one along the Mexican border. 

3) Special Teams:

The Habs started out the season with one of the hottest power plays in the league. Armed with Weber’s canon of a shot from the point, they were scoring goals and leaving traumatized goalies in their wake. However, that was a long time ago, and the Habs’ power play limps into the playoffs without much success. Overall, they finished the season with a respectable 19.7% success rate; however, that has plummeted to under 14% down the stretch. As teams have adapted to the Habs “one trick pony play” of setting up a Weber slapshot, there’s been a shocking lack of creativity and east-west scoring chances. Considering they have one of the best goal scorers in the league on their team, you’d think they’d find a way to get Pacioretty more shots. On the other hand, the Rangers have hummed along at an average of 20.2% all season and have been on fire down the stretch at over 30% success rate. 30%! You can’t blame Habs fans for heading to their closest Belle Province, stumbling into the kitchen, locating the piping hot gravy pot, and dunking their faces in it. Once again, all you fantastic chicken littles, I’ll ask you to put the gravy pot down, and continue to read on.

The power play is only one aspect of special teams – the other is the penalty kill. I’ve never been shy about stating my lack of belief in Michel Therrien as a great NHL coach. Nothing has been more indicative of that than the Habs’ penalty kill, pre and post Therrien. Julien has instilled an excellent penalty kill strategy that has seen the Habs’ penalty kill ranking rise from 22nd under Therrien, to 14th overall to finish the season. Over the last month of the season, the Habs had the 3rd best penalty kill league-wide. Meanwhile, the Rangers had the 3rd worst penalty kill over that same span and finished the season 19th league wide.

Neither team generates a ton of power play opportunities, which works in the Habs’ favour. Furthermore, the Habs were one of the least penalized teams in the league under Julien. The ability to avoid taking penalties will be vital due the potentcy of the Rangers’ powerplay.

 Advantage: New York Rangers, but only because in a New York (power play) minute anything can change. If the Rangers fail to draw penalties, this could lean towards the Habs. (Yes, I’m sitting squarely in the fence on this one.)

4) The X-Factors:

For the Rangers, the aforementioned power play is an obvious x-factor. While his peak goal-scoring days are behind him, Rick Nash was still tied for the team lead in power play goals and has the ability to put the puck in the net, the Rangers will need him if they hope get to Price. JT Miller and Kevin Hayes give the Rangers  scoring depth and create the offensive balance the Habs seem to lack. However, the key x-factor is Mika Zibanejad. A player familiar with the Habs from his Senator days, Zibanejad put up 37 points in 56 games. He will be tasked with slowing down the Habs top line, while chipping in with some offense. If he can add that extra layer of depth to an already deep lineup, it will add significant pressure on the Habs’ defense corps. 

As far as the Habs are concerned, they have a certain 4th line left winger that has been the talk of the town before this playoff series kicks off. Alex Galchenyuk began this season as the Habs’ number one center. He led the team in scoring when he sustained a knee injury that knocked him out of action for 6 weeks. Upon his return, he resumed the top center role, but seemed to struggle defensively. Although he was driving offense at a high rate, his defensive mishaps caused him to slide down the line up, eventually ending up on the wing. To be clear, Galchenyuk is the Canadiens’ best offensive center and he’s playing on the 4th line…on the wing. He may the most obvious x-factor in playoffs history. If he can harness all that talent and take advantage of his playing time, it will add a dimension to the Habs attack that would have the Rangers scrambling. At 22 years old, Galchenyuk is still young enough to develop into that top line player, but it isn’t a stretch to call this the first major fork in his career. 

Advantage: New York Rangers. They simply have more x-factors. A greater potential for their depth make an impact, including a guy I write about in the next section. (How’s that for cliffhanger? Not bad, right?)

5) Goaltending

For the longest time, the Habs were defined by their goalie and best player: Carey Price. Too often, during the Therrien era, Price was forced to support a leaky ship and force it through rough waters. It all came to head this year when the Habs’ penalty kill went into the tank. While his even strength save percentage was largely unaffected, his save percentage during the penalty kill plummeted. So what happened to the man who has been widely regarded as the best goalie in the world for the last 3 years? Did he forget how to play for a month? Did he throw in the towel? Well, the question was answered when Julien took over and shored up the penalty kill. After weeks of frustration, Price could focus on being the best goalie in the world, and since the coaching change, he has done just that. 

As for the Rangers, they have their own icon in nets. King Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the best goalies in the NHL for the better part of the decade. However, at the age of 34,  Lundqvist has shown signs of slowing down. He put up the lowest save percentage of his career at .910, and was largely outplayed by his back up Antti Raanta. Having outlined the Rangers’ penalty kill struggles above, I decided to take a look at the goalies 5v5 save percentage. Sure enough, there was Price, sitting amongst the league leaders. When I lowered the threshold of games played, Raanta even showed up in the top ten. Lundqvist did not rank in the top 20 – astonishing, considering he has been the symbol of goaltending consistency over the last decade. Finally, I decided to look at save percentage with respect to high danger chances, as this is a good indicator of the goalies that can make the tough saves. Once again, Raanta bested Lundqvist. Granted Raanta played only 30 games compared to the 57 for Lundqvist, but it’s pretty clear that Raanta may serve as another x-factor in this series if the King stumbles. Lundqvist has been a competitor and elite athlete his whole career. It is unlikely he will let a difficult season hinder his desire and need to excel in the playoffs. However, what the mind and heart want, the body sometimes cannot follow. Considering his well documented trouble at the Bell Center, the Rangers’ coaches will have to keep a close eye on their franchise goalie. 

Oh…I know what you’re thinking: “Hey Z…who led the league in the high danger save percentage??” Well that would be one, Carey Price. 

Advantage: Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price has dominated the Rangers throughout his career. While many people are saying he was out to get revenge on Kreider, my guess is he simply was upset he never got a chance to compete during that conference final. He will be hell bent on winning this series, and likely to be more focused than ever. He represents a daunting task for the Rangers but not one that’s impossible to beat. 

Final Verdict:

I’ll be honest, before I started this preview, I had assumed there couldn’t be two more evenly matched up teams in the first round. However, after finishing my analysis, I was surprised to find out that the Habs were largely superior to the Rangers in every possession metric I could find. Now, I’ve discussed the use of analytics on this site before, and I am a big proponent of using them to gauge a team’s chance of success. It won’t be 100% what I base my judgement on, but it’ll certainly influence any decision I would make. While the Rangers scored more goals, the reality is hockey is not just about scoring goals and but also about keeping them out. This is where the Canadiens have a marked advantage over the Rangers. In fact, only 2 teams in the NHL allowed fewer goals than the Habs 5v5. As a result, the Habs have a superior GF% (ratio of GF/ GA as a percentage) than the Rangers. The Rangers have gotten sub-par goaltending from Lundqvist and have largely survived with a dangerous powerplay, and an above-league average shooting percentage. The Canadiens seem to be at a disadvantage on paper – they played in the weaker division, lack the scoring depth, and the power play has struggled to generate any additional offense. However, they control the puck and generate lots of shots towards the opponent’s net. Since the coaching change, they have defended at an elite rate, and when it’s all said and done, they have Carey Price in nets. If Lundqvist can turn back the clock, or Raanta can pull off a Halakian effort, I can see this series stretch to 6 or 7 and going the Rangers way. The Rangers are a very good team and can get to Price is the Habs defensive structure breaks down and then begin to allows the Rangers to cycle the puck and set uo their offense. But I’m betting against that; I’m betting on a razor sharp focused Price; and finally I’m betting that the Habs close this series out by winning 4 hard-fought and close games. 

How many games will it take? Honestly I have no idea because every game will be a battle. It could easily go 7, but I’ll go out on the limb and say Habs in 5 with a Carey Price shutout to win the series at home.

Go Habs Go. 

Subban Street

My son isn’t even 3 years old yet. He doesn’t even understand the competition aspect of hockey. He knows it’s a game and he knows his Dad transforms into a 3 year old when he watches it. He also knows the Montreal Canadiens are Daddy’s favorite team, and therefore, by no choice of his own, the Habs are his favorite team. His nightlight has the Habs logo on it and there is a giant Habs flag in his bedroom, but most of all, there is this:

…sunny days?

My son doesn’t really know anything about the Habs (yet), but along with Cookie Monster and Elmo, P.K. Subban is his buddy.

That is the thing that numerous fans don’t understand (or want to admit): P.K. Subban transcends the sport of hockey. A larger than life personality; he made an impact outside the sport. Whether it was his charitable donations (not just financial but also with his own personal time), or his desire to be an entertainer beyond just an athlete – he exists beyond the realm of the game. While some are uncomfortable discussing this factor in the predominantly white sport of hockey, it is impossible to deny the impact he’s had promoting the game of hockey within the black community across North America. In terms of cross media appeal potential, he may be the biggest star the NHL has ever seen.

Unfortunately The Montreal Canadiens (and the NHL to a certain degree) had no idea how to take this unstoppable force of energy and use it to propel their franchise to the next level, on and off the ice…that may be the saddest part in all this.

One of the most prevalent points made by fans/analysts against Subban in the hours after the trade was that he was “too focused on off-ice matters.” While there is no denying that Subban had multiple projects on the go, to make the assumption that they were affecting his play is simply wrong if you dig into his  metrics. Long a favorite of the advanced stats community, Subban actually had a good year last year. A statement that would illicit eye rolls and groans amongst a large part of the hockey fan base. At the end of the day, the only number that really matters is “wins.” While the Habs were tearing through the NHL for the first 20ish games last season, not a single fan gave two shits that Subban was busy with “off ice projects.” Then came the post Carey Price injury collapse, it was inevitable that the focus would shift to the team’s next best player. His errors amplified to an over dramatic degree and his successes were buried underneath the mountain of crap that became the Habs season. It was an unfair character assassination that ramped up when the Canadiens double downed on their mediocre, uncreative, “foxhole buddy” coach: Michel Therrien. As the season spiraled out of control, more and more reports of Subban being a bad teammate began to surface. “A divide in the dressing room” became a recurring narrative as the losses mounted. Subban was right in the center of that storm. It appeared that his teammates didn’t like him, but many reputable reporters claimed that there were no significant issues in the room – although the issues seemed to get worse as the season went along. It’s easy to imagine as the losses started mounting, the stress probably boiled over a few times and turned mole hills into mountains. There are likely so many layers to this story that we will never know the truth. We do know that the coach threw his star defenseman under the bus, and there seemed to be no love lost between the two. Some way, somehow, the Montreal Canadiens chose the coach over their star defenseman…I won’t remind any of you what happened the last time the Canadiens made that decision.

I was listening to TSN690 on my drive home last night, when Mitch Melnick was talking to TSN analyst/play by play man: Gord Miller. Now Gord Miller calls a great hockey game but he said something that made me spit my coffee out all over the windshield and I wasn’t even drinking coffee. He had P.K. Subban ranked outside of the top 15 defenseman in the NHL…the Top 15!?! Not the top 5, not the top 10, not even the top 12…THE TOP 15!? He was trying to explain to the listeners and a bewildered Melnik that “outside of Montreal” – a lot of the hockey management world does not see Subban as an upper echelon elite defenseman. I’m not one to discredit Gord Miller sources – he’s in the industry and I’m not – so I’ll assume what he’s saying is true. To further his point: Subban’s exclusion from the Canada World Cup team is constantly brought up by his detractors and lends even more credence to his information. However, I have a significantly hard time believing that with the proliferation of advanced stats in hockey, P.K isn’t considered at least in the top 10 NHL blue liners. Certainly Nashville seemed to think so.  Miller asked Habs fans to take the blinders off when it comes to Subban – repeating he’s not the elite defenseman that we perceive him to be. I mean, he has a point – it is typical that a hometown fan base will overvalue players from their own teams. (I once got into a discussion with a Leafs fan who was convinced that Bozak was a bonafide #1 center in the NHL- I mean…come on, man). Trust me I get it, and I know Habs fans can be exceptionally irrational. I wrote a blog post claiming that Habs fans are the worst in the league – I get it.

But in this one specific case I think the millions of upset and irrational Habs fans are actually right.

Why?

Because P.K. Subban is so incredibly polarizing that he creates his own set of special blinders to the greater hockey world. I thought James Duthie of TSN got it right when he described that “hockey culture is still so back-asswards that people – and I don’t think it’s just Bergevin and Therrien, but even some of the players – they can’t deal with that kind of guy who has so much energy and so much personality.

The same people who accuse Habs fans from looking at him with a hometown bias are unaware of their own biases against him. Some are obvious (they simply don’t like his style of play), some are uncomfortable (blatant prejudice, English/French divide), some are simply the result of a very real chasm that exists between old time hockey people and the  modern analytics driven community. It’s that last point that leads many people to actually underrate Subban and overrate a player like Weber.

Now let me preface my following point by stating two factors:

1) I genuinely feel bad for Shea Weber. I think Shea Weber is very good hockey player. I like Shea Weber on my team. Habs fans who are upset right now, will be cheering their hearts out; the first time he smashes Marchand in the corner, or blasts a laser into the top corner to win a game in OT. He didn’t ask to be traded for someone as polarizing and popular as Subban. I think it would be shameful for the Habs fanbase to hold the trade against him and not support him as a player. He is coming here to win, and he will play his best – let’s show him the respect he deserves and cheer him on.

2) I like the analytics movement. I think it’s progressive in so many ways. Yet I do feel that some analytics people subscribe to the theory that numbers mean everything. The numbers are the end all and be all of any decision being made concerning a team compromised of…human beings. Human beings exactly like you and me. Ones that are emotional and can be affected by their everyday lives and relationships. A team is like a family; you don’t have to like everyone but you have to get along. To treat everyone like a marionette governed by Corsi and Fenwick strings simply isn’t a realistic way to build a “family.” I repeat – I think it has an important place in the decision making process, but if it’s the only factor being considered then you aren’t looking at the whole puzzle.

This chasm between “old timers” and “number guys” – when you look at this from an analytics point of view; there is no contest. Subban is not only better than Weber, you could argue he’s much better. Don’t take my word for it, much smarter people than me have done the breakdowns.

advantage: Subban

The analytics based media members also made it clear what they think of the trade.

ouch

…oh crap

i need a beer

However for a large contingent of fans and media, they subscribe to the old time hockey mentality; where character, leadership, hard work, and ‘don’t bring any attention to yourself’ are valued attributes. Chemistry is just as important as puck possession, and no one is bigger than the team. As a result these people choose to overlook these numbers due to the fact that the numbers elevate Subban to a level they aren’t willing to place him in. In their eyes, Subban plays with a “high risk” factor and Weber plays a “stay at home” style. They overlook the delta in the analytics because Weber plays with an intimidating presence and makes the “smart” play, while Subban is a “puck hog” who tries to do too much. But the biggest reason why it’s ignored is that Weber is perceived to be a leader; a team guy. Weber works hard, takes no praise, and plays for his teammates, and the crest on his chest. On the flip side, Subban is perceived to be a selfish, “me first” player. He’s a flamboyant, attention seeking teammate, who celebrates to loudly. He spends way to much time working on his brand – even at the expense of his team. 

I have no doubt Weber is all those things they say he is…and that’s great. Those are excellent attributes to have because the metrics aren’t everything. My issue is with the description of Subban – are those traits all true? No – you certainly will have a hard time convincing me that Subban was not truly proud to be part of the Montreal Canadiens. Could they partially be true? Where there is smoke there is usually fire. The numbers guys hate the terms “leadership” and “character” because they are intangible traits that cannot be measured, but to ignore that they are valued by a large part of the hockey community makes them just as blind as their counterparts on the old timers side who refuse to acknowledge the value of advanced stats. It’s when Subban’s personality and character are directly attacked that the argument begins to blend into that uncomfortable grey zone with that small minority who drive the general prejudice undertones that exists in the “good ol’ boys” culture of hockey.

Now before people begin complain and moan that prejudice doesn’t exist in the game and it’s merely Subban’s personality that irks people, I think that’s exactly the point. Most people don’t even realize they are being prejudice. It’s complicated, and I’m hardly the first person to touch on this topic. While I think blatant prejudice actually does exist (see: Don Cherry, various members of French media), the reality is that a very uncomfortable and unintentional prejudice exists in the NHL. “Unintentional prejudice” sounds ridiculous, and I’m acutely aware that I’m struggling in my attempt to describe my point. In the last 24 hours, P.K. Subban has been described as “flashy”, “flamboyant”, and that he’s an “all eyes on me” player. This is not dissimilar to how Ovechkin has been described. I’m not saying that there is a wide spread prejudice that occurs against all Russians and black players in the NHL. There is a huge contingent of fans/media/management that value the “good ol’ fashioned Canadian way” of playing hockey and if a player should fall outside those parameters – no matter what the numbers say, no matter how successful they are in the game overall – they will be ostracized to some degree.

I think it’s extremely unfortunate that P.K. Subban is no longer a Hab. He’s a tremendous talent on the ice. People will point out his attitude and problems in the dressing room, but when you have a player of Subban’s standard, I believe it’s incumbent on the coach and management to make it work. Just a few paragraphs ago, I wrote that “numbers aren’t everything” and I still stand by that. I don’t know how bad it was in the dressing room or if it was bad at all. For all I know, maybe the players led a mutiny against him and forced him out. At the end of the day though, I don’t think Subban in the dressing room was an unmanageable proposition. I don’t think that one of the most well spoken, media savvy, and classy hockey players in the world could not be mentored and guided into more of a leadership role. Subban is a superstar and he’d hardly be the first superstar who needed to be treated with a little extra attention. The people in charge have to make it work. In this case, they decided to make it work by moving a player for one they feel is better. The Canadiens are run by an old school management team, and in my opinion, they were taken to task by a younger, modern management team in the Preds who understand where the game is going and what type of players you need to get there. For fans of the Canadiens I think some of the disappointment comes from the way management handled Subban – it appeared that there was too much politics and prejudice involved. Certainly it’s a let down for people who cheer for an organization that prides it’s self on being classy. The only real way for the Habs to “win” this trade is for them to win the Cup. As mentioned, I like Weber, but does his replacement of Subban in the line up move the needle enough for the Habs to win a Cup? It is unlikely. Subban is 4 years younger, will now be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Unfortunately in 2-3 years, this probably ends up looking like a bad trade. Alas, while I believe Weber will be a very good player for the Canadiens – I will have a hard time getting over the disappointment that my son won’t see Subban develop into a truly great defenseman I think he will become. It’ll also be safe to say that Subban likely won’t be his favorite player…I guess that holds true for many young, soon to be fans of the team who already adore him…and that maybe the most heartbreaking thing of all…

I’ll leave you all with my favorite P.K. Subban moment: After a dominating performance in game 6 to tie up the 2014 Eastern Conference Semi Finals against the rival Bruins. Subban said this about going to Boston for game 7: “I can’t wait to go back in to that building and hear all that excitement from the fans and I can’t wait to take it all away from them”…Sure enough – he played great and the Habs won. Somehow this is the type of player that the Candiens felt they didn’t need. It literally leaves me shaking my head.

I always sign off this blog with a Go Habs Go…and I won’t stop now…but this is a difficult one…

Go Habs Go…

Habanana Bread and Superstitions.

I’m sorry Habs fans. I have a confession to make. This absolute clusterfuck of a collapse; this 21 losses in 26 games; this downtown sinkhole of a season; this “wtf is happening!?!?” season. Yes, all this crap…It’s all my fault. 

As one of the resident keepers of the Montreal Canadiens karma flow – I’ve failed all of you. Due to the Habs’ scorching hot start, I got lazy. With the Habs sitting FIRST in the WHOLE league on Dec 1st, and a 99.999% chance of making the playoffs. I took my eye off the puck. I allowed things like work, my health, and my family to distract me. What have those things ever done for me that my beloved Habs have not (besides provide me with a living, strength, and unconditional love)? I know what you’re thinking: “How could you Z? We all believe in superstitions and that you can directly affect the outcome of a Habs’ game or a season based on your completely random actions and behaviors” – and you’d all be correct – I have no excuses. We keepers of the Hab karma don’t volunteer for this, we are chosen. This was revealed to me during the Habs’ epic run to the Stanley Cup in 1993. After watching the Habs lose the first two games to the Quebec Nordiques, including a heartbreaker in OT. I made three key decisions that altered the Habs’ playoff season and lead them to the Stanley Cup:

1) I decided to move my daily shower from the second intermission to the first intermission.

2) I had a piece of homemade banana bread and half a glass of milk during the second intermission. Yes – my poor and incredibly sweet mother, was forced to bake banana bread for 2 straight months, and never questioned me once.

3) …and this is the big one – I decided not to watch any more overtimes. That’s right; I didn’t watch a single minute of OT after the Habs first loss. Although I would stay up in bed and periodically turn on the radio. If I heard a goal or my father cheer from the den, I’d go sprinting to the TV to celebrate with him and catch the replay. 

 We all know what happened, the Habs won a record setting TEN overtime games on their way to a 24th Stanley Cup. While Patrick Roy certainly deserved the Conn Smythe trophy that year; now you all know who the real MVP was…my mom and her banana bread.

I’m going to disney world!

All that said; I have to apologize for this season. Just like Mr. Bergevin and Mr. Therrien – I kept expecting this slump to turn around, and as it slid further and further into the abyss…it became too late. I wore different Habs’ gear; wore it backwards; put it on differently; stopped wearing it and threw it the corner; finally I burned it all (I’m just kidding, it’s still in the corner). I took my lucky Habs’ flag and moved into my son’s room. I changed seats during games (Yes, I made my pregnant wife change seats all to appease the hockey gods)(before you ask, my wife thinks I’m crazy, yet doesn’t question my behavior when it comes to the Habs after all these years). I forced my son to sleep with his P.K. Subban doll; then I took it away; then I threw it in the corner; then I gave it back to him, because he got upset…he’s 2…I’m 35…maybe I need help. I tried changing my phone background to different Habs’ logos. I watched weekend games at different bars; I tried not watching; I tried drinking different beer; I prayed to St. Rocket and St. Beliveau…

…Nothing worked.

It all came to a head during last night’s Sabres game. I tried watching a portion of the game wearing my Habs’ tuque, while wrapped in a “lucky” red blanket, wearing just a pair of “lucky” boxers, while eating a “lucky” bowl of tuna, and doing a handstand…and they still lost (all that is true…except for a handstand, although I seriously debated it). This season is over, nothing can be done to salvage it. We, the superstitious lot, dropped the ball. I’m sorry Habs fans. To make it up to the miilions of Habs’ fans out there; and the tens of tens of my fans here. I present the top karma changing superstitious acts you can partake in to change the Habs fortunes. 

 1) Changing seats. Whether you have a lucky spot on the sofa or a lucky bar stool. When times are good, you’ll fight Brock Lesnar over it. When times are bad you’ll play musical chairs like you’re back in kindergarten. Have I done it? Many of us do this regardless of superstitious levels, and I’m certainly no different.

Get out of my seat tabernac!!

 2) “Lucky” Clothing: During the Habs ’93 run I wore the same pyjamas for 2 months. During most Habs games, I wear my lucky Habs cap (it’s not so lucky), and when the Habs went on their “Halakian” run in ’09 – I did the reverse of this trend and went commando during the games. Have I done it? Oh yeah, but I learnt a very valuable and painful lesson: when going commando, always wear button up jeans, not zipper fly…ouch.

Haaaaallllllaaaaaakkkk!

 3) “Lucky” items: Whether it’s a rabbit foot, a hockey card, or a piece of banana bread…we all have something we feel can swing the momentum of the game. This includes moving the items around or – if they are edible – eating or drinking them at different times (or not at all). I’ll take you back to the Habs’ 2014 run to the conference finals. During the first round sweep of the Lightning, I was on antibiotics and abstained from drinking, and even after I was done the meds, I continued not drinking! Did it last long? Well the Habs took their first loss to the Bruins in game 2 and the beer started flowing again – but you know what? That beer guzzling switch worked because Habs beat them in 7. Yes I know, it’s crazy, but it worked (until Kreider runs Price, cause no amount of karma manipulation can overcome losing Price…cue all the sad fans pointing to this season, as they burst into tears and become puddles of slush). Have I done it? As outlined above – my mom’s banana bread is partly responsible for the Habs 24th Stanley Cup. The banana bread was not invited to be part of the parade. 

 4) People: Who you watch games with can directly affect the outcome of the game. One year, my Dad came to visit and the Habs promptly lost 5 or 6 in a row. So I asked my Dad to go for a drive. We drove a few hours to the border, where I kicked him out, and drove off. The Habs proceeded to win 8 games in a row. (Please note: none of this happened…the losing streak did occur and I did ask my Dad to consider going back home. He gave me the “you’re an idiot” look and the conversation was over after that). Have I done it? Beyond the lesson I learnt of never implying to my father that he’s the reason for a Habs losing streak. I have to admit I have avoided friends when I felt like they were bad luck. I didn’t tell them until now…sorry guys. The good news is they likely don’t read this because they’re bad luck and I don’t tell them about this blog.

 5) Prayer: I often find myself praying to the Habs’ saints. While some ppl choose to pray to God, I feel like the Habs’ saints have a more vested interest and can influence the outcome more handedly. It appears as though they have been slacking this season. So I’m all for going back to the Big Guy. I’m willing to help organize a cross religious prayer session for broken down and defeated Habs’ fans. We can meet up and go “religious building hopping” – to a church, synagogue, and mosque – all while holding hands and praying for the Habs’ success and Carey Price’s knee. Sports: bringing people together since 2016. Have I done it? I think I’ve prayed every Habs game lately …sigh.

 

this graph is entirely made up…except for Jedis..

 
 6) Sacrifice: Calm down people- there will be no slaying of any living animals to appease the hockey gods. I mean the sacrifice of personal Hab items or “good luck” charms that have failed us. You know how after a break up, you take a bunch of your ex’s shit and put them in a cauldron and burn it all. This is the same thing. So grab all those failed lucky Habs jerseys and boxers ; grab those hats, rally towels and t-shirts, and burn them to the ground! Bonus points if you dance round the fire and chant the names of all the Habs’ hall of famers. Have I done it? I can’t say I have – but during the Habs disappointing 2012 season I did rip up my Komaisarek and Kovalev t-shirts like I was Hulk Hogan on a ‘roid rager. 

 7) Try anything: When all else fails – you must try anything. So if that means spraying holy water onto the sides of the Bell center – you do it! Or if it means building an exact replica of the original Forum in your backyard, and hoping “if you build it, they will come” – you do it! (Incidentally if any of you do this and the “ghosts” show up for a game of shinny – please ask them wtf is going on with his season) Or if it means doing something real crazy, like lighting yourself on fire and running down St. Catherine from the old Forum to the Bell Center while yelling “I am the torch! throw me from failing hands to be held high!” – you do it! Please note you’ll likely have to also run away from the fire department and the cops. (please don’t actually try this…unless you’re wearing flame retardant suit and don’t run into any people or cars. Actually please don’t do this…or do it, but don’t light yourself on fire, run around wearing this suit instead)

je suis le torch! Lance moi!!

…or you can stop paying for $200 tickets and $12 beers, and $5 hot dogs. You can stop watching the games; relax and spend time with friends and family instead. But let’s face it…that will never happen, as much as this city loves to cheer a winner, we also love to complain and “fix” a loser.

Therefore, us keepers of the Habs’ karma will keep chugging our lucky beers, wearing our lucky hats, and eating our homemade banana bread.  

Heads up Habs’ fans. There’s always next year – in the meantime, let me know what superstitions you have and any ones I’ve missed. 

As always… (this is getting really hard)

…Go Habs Go.

WTF is going on?!

I mentioned in my last post that I didn’t update my blog during the Habs hot start because I was superstitious. As a result, someone recently asked me why I’m not furiously blogging during this 4 for 21 slide. Honestly I’ve been too discouraged to write. The Habs have 9 out of a possible 42 points over the last 21 games…read that again. It’s remarkably depressing. Also I should come clean and admit that no one actually asked me write about this slump, because only about 17 people read this blog on a regular basis. So I pretty much asked myself – tough times indeed. Although, I have been pretty animated on Facebook lately…and this post actually started out as a simple Facebook post…until I realized it was long…really long.

Originally this aforementioned post was supposed to be accompanied by a link to an article breaking down the stats and shedding light on the current status of the Montreal Canadiens. However given the length, I figured I’d slot it into my blog. My blog is typically humorous (or tries to be), on occasion I’ll take a moment to get emotional about the Habs or do some analysis. But really, moving forward I’m going to leave the analysis to the experts. I enjoy linking to articles that will give the dozens (and dozens) of my readers a chance to learn about the Habs from a different perspective. While I’m sure some of the readers make a point to soak up as much knowledge as possible, the majority are simply basing it on the good old “eye test” – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As I’ve mentioned numerous times the emotion that Montrealers have for the Canadiens is unrivaled in any major city for any single sports franchise. That’s a good thing…and a bad thing (my last post was titled the “The NHL’s Worst Fans…?” after all).

I do take pride on trying to be a rational Habs’ fan in this city…but it is extremely difficult. I try hard to be as level headed as possible amongst all the fanatic extremism that Habs’ fans oscillate between. This year has been the ultimate version of that. I tried to tell friends to quell their expectations after the Habs’ hot start and I’m trying to talk the same friends off the ledge during this historically bad run. Because that’s where we are at…this is the worst stretch of games for the Habs since 1940. For any fans to think it is as simple as saying “les boys just aren’t trying hard enough”, or “the coach sucks” is shortsighted in my opinion. While both those things may be true – for a team to lose 17 of 21 games it takes some exceptional circumstances. In my humble, and irrelevant opinion…this slump is not due to “lack of effort”; it’s not due to our stars “not being leaders”; or the Habs’ not being “tough enough”. The hardest thing to do as a fan is to educate yourself beyond the basic emotions that govern your perception. I know it’s hard, I’m prone to it as much as anyone (I have to duct tape my remote to the sofa, due to how often it’s been flung across the room lately). But if you want a a more well rounded understanding of the ebb and flow of the season, it would behoove you to take some time to get into the numbers, and take a deeper dive into the stats. It’s fine that some people aren’t interested in doing that – ultimately I’m not saying one way is better than the other. Just like real life, a sports season is not black and white. These aren’t robots that play the game, and it’s not zombies coaching the team. I often lament that the human element is overlooked with the proliferation of advanced metrics and statistics. However in a strange twist of fate, I’m asking people to look at the numbers to remember that these players are human, and for what its worth they appear to be playing hard – and the numbers back that up. It almost makes no sense, but neither does criticizing P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty for not doing “enough”, when both these players are clearly doing their jobs and what’s asked of them. On the flip side, when times are tough, fans will always demand more from the team’s best players.

Here are 9 quick thoughts on the Habs slide. In the future I’ll call this feature the Rocket Rumblings. (Get it? Rocket…Maurice Richard…? His number was 9? Ok forget it)

1) In a backwards way, the Habs good play during the early part of this collapse hurt them. I suspect given the string of dominant games vs. Washington, Boston, Nashville, Los Angeles (all losses), the coaching staff, the management, and even the players themselves felt that this would eventually end. Except…well it really didn’t. Actually it got worse…much worse. it’s at the point where lately I debate even watching the games…and when I do – I feel like this…

Anchorman

…and after struggling through every game of this collapse…I have this reaction:

What the fuck is going on by ALMO7TAR

2) I understand that fans want the coach held accountable for the incredibly poor results lately. But Bergevin hasn’t done much to help his embattled coach during this tough stretch. I will say the vote of confidence given to Therrien was a good idea (since he clearly won’t be fired), it puts the onus back on the players to keep playing hard cause the coach won’t be the scapegoat…that said…

3) …Under no circumstances does it seem that Therrien has lost the room. In fact many respected journalists, such as Bob McKenzie and Brian Wilde have suggested the opposite; and the Habs locker room remains a tight knit group.

4) I’m not going to lie. I’m not Therrien’s biggest fan, and although he seems to have progressed this year; you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. There have been some strong cases made that this slide offered the Habs the perfect opportunity to move on from Therrien. Do yourself a big favour and read this article by Dimitri Filipovic, who uses advanced stats to shows the flaws in Therrien system without resorting to the witchhunt that’s happened over the last 20 games. It’s lengthy but eye opening and worth the read.

5) I do believe the Habs should have demonstrated more patience with both Alexander Semin and Zack Kassian. Semin in particular was more valuable than his play let on, if only that he allowed the coach to balance the lines more effectively. Kassian is more of a grey area, and it is disheartening that he never even got a shot with the Habs. I suspect a condition of his trade to Montreal was that he’d stay out of trouble…and well, we all know how that went…

6) As mentioned Bergervin hasn’t done Therrien any favours. My opinion, the biggest gaffe was not trading for a veteran goaltender as soon as they knew Price’s injury was serious. I suspect that Condon’s early season success had something to do with that decision. Scrivens probably deserves more of a chance, but he doesn’t seem to be the answer either.

7) While fans bemoan the fact that Habs rely too much on Carey Price…NO team can win consistently with a save percentage of 89% (Habs save percentage since Dec 1st as heard on TSN 690 today). If you’re someone who truly believes in the symbiotic relationship between goaltending and confidence, than this becomes a considerable factor because the Habs shooting percentage has also taken a beating since December. Are they related? I think so…

8) I understand Therrien wants to spread his scoring over many lines, but Galchenyuk NEEDS to remain at center. While he’s been resistant in pairing Pacioretty and Galchenyuk, he needs push Desharnais to the side once and for all, yet he persists on keeping Galchenyuk on the wing with Desharnais at center. At this point Galchenyuk, Plekanec, and Eller should be his top 3 centermen. It’s astounding to me that with all the criticism being levied on the players, none seems to be put on Desharnais by some in the media. I have tremendous respect for Desharnais and how hard he’s worked to reach the NHL, but he is NOT a top 6 forward. At the end of the day, Therrien is responsible for the deployment of the lines and who gets more minutes. This is why he’s the main lighting rod, and deserves a majority of the criticism.

9) I’ve made this point numerous times. If you remove a team’s best player in any sport as a result of injury – they will be worse. If you remove a hockey team’s number one goaltender they will suffer even more. I don’t care who the team is, if you take Crawford off the Blackhawks they will be worse (not much worse…but worse). In fact look no further than 2 seasons ago when the Habs rolled through Tampa Bay when they were missing Ben Bishop (who isn’t even Tampa’s best player). Now if the number one goaltender also happens to be your best player…and Oh!…that player also happens to be the reigning MVP and arguably the best player in the entire league…well…and pardon my french, you’re fucked. This shouldn’t be used as an excuse to explain why the Habs only have 4 wins in their last 21 games, but when you consider that Price is the clear cut leader of the team…it was always going to be tough for the Habs to win without him…

…I just don’t think anyone thought it would be this bad.

There is still a lot of season left to be played…it’s getting harder and harder to believe but as always…

Go Habs Go.

The NHL’s Worst Fans…?

Given the Habs red hot start, I resisted blogging due to superstition. 

Yes, I actually believed that releasing a blog post to my tens of fans (Hi Roy!) would somehow alter reality and cause the Habs to lose a hockey game.

 Look no one ever said superstitions made sense, it is what it is…and it’s f’n real, ok!

 (Please note: I also believe in winged horses, pagan Gods, and Batman)

 As a result I’ve missed out on putting down my thoughts on the record setting 9-0 start. While one can argue that I didn’t even do a preview post before the season began, I could argue back…nothing…since I totally could have done it. My only valid excuse is that I had tend to my multiple fantasy football teams….and my child, of course…if I go missing one could assume it’s because my wife gave me multiple F5’s after reading this section.

 I’ll keep my thoughts on the Habs start to a minimum because ultimately my overwhelming feeling throughout the whole run was “it’s only October.” While it’s nice to bank some points early and not have to rely on a mad dash finish to make the playoffs to secure home ice advantage. I couldn’t help but think that this start was getting way too much attention. Either way, the big 3 have stepped up and played great. A full season of Petry will do wonders to rest our top pairing (specifically Markov) and give the bottom pairing more time to grow (specifically Beaulieu). The 4th line has been great, and Galchenyuk has looked good at center. So all this leads me into my next point, which sadly has overshadowed anything else I wanted to write about with regards to the Habs.

 Alexander Semin.

 Not specifically Semin, but the fans reaction to Semin. Not just about Semin…but the fans reaction after Monday night’s 5 -1 loss to the Canucks. (Even worse I heard someone complain about Price, this person’s name is probably Judas and suffers from short term memory, and is blind…and deaf). Also can’t forget the fans’ over reaction to the game against the Maple Leafs on Saturday. (one fan: OH MY GOD THEY GAVE UP 5800 SHOTS!! THE HABS SUCK) (another fan: YAY WE ARE 9-0 WE RULE THE UNIVERSE, CALL OFF THE SEASON. WE GOT THIS) (me: SIXTY! SEVEN!) (sorry I couldn’t resist)

 It comes down to the fans’ reaction.

 It’s often said that Montreal has the best fans in the NHL. I’ve said it myself. During one of many (long) short and sweet posts waxing philosophical about hockey and life, I’ve mentioned how galvanizing the fan base can be during a playoff run. How tremendous the Montreal fan base can be. Well here I am to sing a different tune. For the most part we do have some amazing fans, but – and keep in mind: I’m a super fan, I watch every game, I own a plethora of paraphernalia, my son’s first word was Habs (this isn’t true, but I wish) – I’m here to say that…

Habs fans are the worst fans in the league.

 Cue “Yes!” chorus from my Bruin, Leafs, Flyers, Senators, Rangers, Canucks, Oilers, Sabres, (this list can go on) fans. However I’m not stating it from their point of view. Those teams love to hate the Habs for a myriad of reasons, chiefly among them is how Habs’ fans love to remind people of their rich history and championship pedigree. While I admit this can be annoying (nostalgia is fun, but it has its limits), any fan would love to have lineage and history of the Montreal Canadiens. I mean could you imagine if the Habs had still been winning cups this whole time, my God…we’d be insufferable. We’d essentially be New York Yankees fans…Yuck…hold on while I take a shower after that thought.

 No, my statement is based on the fact that Habs’ fans live and die from one extreme to another. Look honestly they aren’t better or worse than any rabid fan base. Most Canadian cities have irrational fans, but everything gets amped up here, due to the history, the culture, the politics, and the fact that everyone is a know-it-all. While saner minds usually prevail, it’s sometimes disheartening to see our fans come down on a player because of a perceived reputation and not based on his play on the ice. It’s even tougher when that is sometimes split along the lines of language. I know it’s complicated but it’s also not complicated. This is your team: support them! You don’t abandon ship at the first sight of trouble, just like you shouldn’t cram aboard the bandwagon because your team is doing exceptionally well…in freaking OCTOBER…I mean is it even November yet? Get a grip people.

eh Michel? Which way to the parade mon gars?

 It’s all compounded by social media which gives everyone a platform to voice opinions…I fully support this of course, but it’s hard to read things about Semin for example, when you realize fans simply aren’t willing to educate themselves. I mean the guy has a 57 CF% and producing more shots on net per minute than Tomas Plekanec. Yes he’s looked a little slow, yes he’s had some brutal turnovers, but you know what…so have other players. The fact remains he’s a useful player and you have to question how the coach is motivating his players or if he is using them to their full potential. But hey, let’s pile on a guy who’s been in our line up while we went 9-1, of course he’s the reason we are struggling! It’s hard to swallow such irrationality of expectations sometimes. Habs fans have become like that student in the class…you know who I’m talking about…that kid who gets mad because they got an A, not an A+…Really? I hate that kid…unless I needed help understanding algebra, then that kid was my BFF…

 I’d say it’s compounded even further by the fancy stats crowd. While I’m a huge proponent of the advanced stats movement, and have written about it at length…holy crap are they a bunch of negatrons. Habs advanced stats have been decent through ten games, but in the last few games they’ve fallen off…CUE THE NUMBER GEEK POLICE! HABS SUCK! WEE WOO WEE WOO (that’s supposed to be sirens)…sometimes these guys are more insufferable then the layman who won’t educate himself and still be pissed that we lost “one.” Hey now, I respect the numbers, I understand the concerns, but these people are like those kids at the arcade back in the day; the ones who knew all the crazy codes at Street Fighter and wouldn’t tell any others. SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE GUY…instead of being all smug with your hadoukens. I know Therrein doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to advanced stats, but you know who does…Price and you know who else? P.K Subban, and wouldn’t you believe Captain Pacioretty has excellent metrics as well. I know Semin is a lightning rod for the number guys, but let’s face it guys; he isn’t making or breaking the Habs this season. His benching isn’t a good sign, but at the same time, it’s early in the season and maybe you want other guys to play and get some burn. I always try and say this, don’t assume to know what’s happening behind closed doors, the makeup of a team is more than just numbers and spreadsheets. Let’s not over react.

Hadouken your face Michel!!

 I wrote ages ago about the different types of fans. One of those was the “Chicken Little”, a fan who couldn’t believe in this team no matter what. Even if they won a Cup, they were the genesis of my “Bursting into Flames” post because I could genuinely see these naysayers exploding at the sight (and utter confusion) of the Habs success. The sad reality is…all the different types of Habs fans have a slice of “Chicken Little” in them. The biggest Habs haters, aren’t the Bruins fans, or Leafs fans, they’re Habs fans.

So let’s focus Habs nation, there is A LOT of season left to play, there will be slumps, streaks, injuries, and surprises. Let’s keep our eye on the prize. Going 82-0 was never an option, and even worse going 82-0 and losing in the first round would be meaningless. The games that matter start in April, and they end in June. That’s what Bergevin is concerned about, and that’s what we should be concerned about. Let’s not fret small decisions, bad turnovers, and uneven score adjusted Corsi. Just take a step back off the ledge, stop planning the parade, and relax. I mean, the team is having a great start, let’s just enjoy it and appreciate the effort from les boys. Only in Montreal will you find fans nitpicking anything on a 9 and 1 team. I, for one, will do such thing! We have a good team, with great players, solid complimentary players, and a mediocre coach…Damn, I was this close…oh well can’t win them all…there’s clearly some chicken little inside this fan as well.

I guess that’s what losing since ’93 will do to a fan base…

 …But hey at least it’s not as bad as’ 67. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

 Go Habs Go

Never too Late.

It is safe to say the the Habs’ season comes down to tonight’s game 3 match up versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While losing tonight doesn’t officially end the season, going down 3-0 to a very good Lightning team will be a death blow.

While I picked the Lightning to win in 6, it seems like even more of an uphill battle for the Habs to drag it to 6 games. While we can write off game 2 as a complete debacle, the real gut punch game was the first one. The Habs played an excellent game only to come up short in double overtime. A win in that game changes the complexion of the series and perhaps none of the undisciplined behavior that marred game 2 happens.

We can’t change the past, but we can affect the future. As such I’ve outlined 5 factors I think will swing some of the momentum in their favor tonight...While it seems like it’s a little too late for any of these changes to really make a difference – when you’re back is against the wall, you either come out swinging for your life or your turtle and fade away.

1) Changing the lineup:

 

By all accounts, Bergevin attempted to bring in a top 6 winger at the trade deadline. While he did manage to nab Petry to help the blue line, he came short of acquiring a Thomas Vanek like forward up front. At the same time, I think Vanek’s play during last year’s conference finals run left somewhat of a bitter taste in Begevin’s mouth. As a result, it may have had something to do with his focus on getting gritty, bottom 6 players. While this hasn’t really panned out; Torrey Mitchell, at the very least, has proven to be an effective 4th line center, and an important defensive zone face off man.  The fact remains: the Habs can’t score. Therrien has tried various different lineups throughout the year without yielding any significant results. There is no disputing that Max Pacioretty has been the Habs’ best forward this year, he led them in goals and pointsTherrien has tagged him with frequent sidekick David Desharnais, and he is currently playing with Tomas Plekanec. It’s been fairly obvious, that Lars Eller has been the Habs best center lately, not just in the playoffs but down the stretch. Yet Therrien has not made the move to put Pacioretty on Eller’s wing. Perhaps having all your eggs in one basket is not a good idea, but at this point, with your season on the lineit may be time to bust out this pairing. 

Other than that, we have to consider the curious case of Alex Galchenyuk. He played nine games at center earlier in the year; he scored 9 points in 9 games including a hat trick. That was his best stretch of the season, yet he was either removed from the role by Therrien due to his defensive play, or as some have suggested, he requested to be removed and put back on the wing. Perhaps the responsibility of playing center was too much for him. Once again with your season on the line, you need to go all in.

Ultimately Therrien is not known for his creativity or risk taking, he knows he has an ace in Price. So he has built a conservative, methodical strategy up front used to exploit his greatest strength – his goaltender. But with the Habs having scored only 7 goals in the last 5 gameseven the staunchest supporter needs to admit that something‘s got to give here.  While we all wait and sit patiently for a power play that has been dormant for a year and half. It would be nice to see the coach roll the dice with some brand new line up combinations in hopes of jump starting a moribund offense.

 

2) Beating Ben Bishop:

 

Bishop is now 12-1-2 in his career versus the Montreal Canadiens. He has a SV % north of 95%, and has looked more like Carey Price, than Carey Price. Prust’s attempts to throw Bishop off his game are well documented, and it seems that the Habs in general have gone out of their way to get in his crease, knock him over, and take their shots. Here’s the problem; it isn’t working. First of all; Bishop isn’t even his real name. His real name is The Mountain and he’s 6’10and weighs 400 pounds. In all seriousness, Bishop is 6”7 and 215 pounds, he is imposing physically and most likely unaffected by the Habs small(ish) forwards. Second of all; he’s still dominating – other than flubbing a routine glove save, our forwards have no goals through two games. He weighs so heavily on the heads of the Habs’ shooters that they either miss the net while going for the perfect shot, or they shoot it right at the logo in his chest. Bishop is in a zone, there is no denying it.  The best way to beat a hot goalie is to capitalize on the power play – which is what the Lightning did in game twoIn lieu of that you need to get some lucky bounces, now while luck is something of an intangible force which you can’t affect, you can affect the bounces part. Instead of focusing on running Bishop, Habs players need to be looking for deflections and rebounds. While Bishop is enormous and covers so much net, he’s still a little jerky in his movement, and does give up plenty of rebounds. The message to the defensemen should be to keep pucks low and make sure they get through traffic. They need to do away with the high slap shotsThe only way to score is to get pucks to the net, not past the net. Bishop is not invincible; cracking him gives the Habs the best chance of winning.

 

3) Play keep-away:

 

After Detroit almost beat Tampa Bay in 7, I was upset that we had to match up with Tampa instead of Detroit, but happy because I felt Detroit had provided the Habs with a good blueprint on how to stifle and frustrate the Lightning. It started in nets, where Mzarek was able to steal a game, and play at high level throughout. I felt good about this since the Habs have a “fairly good” goaltenderI was also impressed with how the Red Wings adapted after suffering a barrage of shots in the first two games. They began to cut off the neutral zone, and control the puck. The Lightning were the highest scoring team in the league, and they reached that level with a mediocre power play. At even strength, this team is freewheeling and fast skating. They love to bring the puck through the neutral zone, and carry it into the offensive zone. At that point their superior fore-check takes over and generates chances for all its myriad of offensive weapons. The Red Wings put a stop to that for the most part, by trapping them in the neutral zone, and forcing them to go outside. They followed this up by having the defenseman move the puck up quickly up the boards and not allowing the Lightning to set up any sort of fore-check. The best adjustment was Detroit realized the best way to neutralize the best offense in the NHL is to take away the puck. The Red Wings took the play to the Lightning, instead of dumping and chasing (a staple of Therrien); they used their skill carry the puck in and cycle against some of the slower Lightning defensemen. They did to the Lighting what the Lightning normally do to their opponents. In fairness to Therrien and the Habsthey did a good job of this this in game 1 and through the first ten minutes of game 2 before the wheels fell off. But this is not an inherent strategy of the Habs, and when the wrong personnel is on the ice, it’s impossible to generate the type of sustained pressure and cycle needed to control the puck.

 

4) Discipline/Special Teams;

 

I tied these two together because of the game two debacle. As mentioned above the Habs played an excellent first ten minutes of game twoWell that momentum was grounded,due to some selfish and undisciplined penalties taken by some of the Habs veterans. This type of behavior continued throughout the game to the tune of four Lightning power play goals. This problem was compounded by another “O fer showing on the Habs power play (now an unbelievable 1 for 26 in these playoffs). At this point we are beating a dead horse, but the special teams play has got to be better. The Habs have no hope of beating this team 5 on 5, so they need to create that imbalance on special teams. Their stupidity in game two may have woken up a Lightning power play, however I suspect that it was a blip on the radar. Tampa has struggled with their power play all year,and the Habs’ penalty kill has been good for the most part. At the very least, the Habs should be conscious of playing a tight and discipline game, and not affording the Lightning any chances to find out whether or not their power play is really back or not. At the same time the Habs need their power play to wake up – one of the biggest critiques of Therrien is that he is stubborn and unimaginative, and the power play is the best example of that. After a year and a half of stagnation: the Habs continue to do the same thing game in and game out. There no fluid movement, no cuts, no short passes – everything is long and sweeping: from one side of the ice to the other. All of this in hopes of a P.K. Subban blast from the point. The problem is EVERYONE knows this is coming, and yet the Habs persist with this model. As mentioned already, the Habs need to concentrate on getting pucks to the net, and look for tips and rebound. While some have suggested changing the whole philosophy of the power play, I think it’s a little too late at this point of the season. So shorten some of the passing lanes and look to get pucks on Bishop and pray to the hockey gods.



That’s all I got , but if all else fails…well….


 


Go Habs Go.