Saturday, 17 December 2011

Game Thirty-Three: Devils v. Habs

It just never gets dull around here, does it? For those who might still be rolling out of bed, Jacques Martin was summarily dismissed as head coach this morning, and Randy Cunneyworth has taken over as "intern" head coach.

I have to admit, I'm pretty surprised about the firing. While Martin was by no means on solid ground, considering how an amply talented Habs team has struggled to establish itself as an Eastern Conference contender, I didn't think the ground of tenure was quite that shaky. Nonetheless, Pierre Gauthier made the move, almost certainly because he (like I) was not satisfied with the team's progress (or lack thereof), and because he's probably getting strong signals from his bosses that's he's on the plank and will be the next body to be dismissed.

Myself, I wasn't particularly enamored with Martin - never really have been, but I certainly would never be counted amongst the coin-tossing mob that's been continually pounding the drum for Martin's (and Gauthier's) firing since last summer. Martin is/was a pretty good coach, but he was ultimately hampered by his own lack of flexibility. The tough love approach to young players, the steadfast determination to play the veterans (regardless of how poorly their performances were), and the unmoving devotion to his "system" which would never (and perhaps more accurately could) be modified. The primary focus on puck control, which has tremendous benefit to helping mediocre teams play competitive against good teams, never really played into the Habs core strengths over the past few years - which has been speed. Yes, game in, game out, we've been taking some of the League's best clubs - the Flyers, Bruins, Sharks - to the cusp of defeat, but because the Habs style was so conservative, we never really were able to clinch the winnable games. For that, I think Gauthier and Habs ownership probably took the view that Martin's style had run its course, and the team had nowhere to go but sideways or down as long as he remained behind the bench.

So yet another new era has dawned in Habs Land. It's Cunneyworth's baton to run with - at least for awhile. And who knows? He might turn out to be another Lindy Ruff or Barry Trotz - two guys who came from different directions, but had the hockey background and knowledge to become great NHL coaches. Maybe Cunneyworth is that guy. Or maybe not. He'll have 50 or so games to prove his worth, plus perhaps get some playoff games to boot. All we can do is hope.

7:17 EST update: I tweeted Les Perreaux, a reporter from the Globe and Mail and old alumni contact, whether Cunneywoth's hiring signals the continuing demise of separatism in Quebec. Ever the responsible journalist, Les tweeted back "if you could just float that with some other national newspaper on Monday I'd greatly appreciate it." Point taken!

First Period:

- As these things usually go with a new coach behind the bench, Habs storming out of the gate, while Brodeur and the Devils hold on and wait for the storm to pass.

- So much NHL inexperience standing behind that Habs bench right now, the Martin haters might end up not wanting what they long wished for. Time will tell.

- That PK unit is just unbeatable. And Darche does a nice job shot blocking.

- Take a shot, and you never know what happens. Such was the Devils' first goal by Sykora, which appears to have caught Price off guard. 1-0.

- Even though the Habs came out hard they register only thief first shot on Brodeur at the 10 minute mark.

- Desharnais line just delivered Habs best shift of the game. So far.

- First big benefactor from the Cunneyworh era is Kostitsyn, who is promoted to first line duty.

- While there is plenty of speculation that this will be Brodeur's final season, and while he's not quite as nimble as younger years, he's still pretty damn nimble.

- Nokelainen, 30 feet separated from everyone else on a breakaway, misses the net. Such is to be expected from a career 4th liner, I suppose.

- Cole could easily face supplementary discipline from the League following that hit on Larsson. Elbow made contact with head in what might be construed as intentional, although in Cole's defense, Larsson did move his head down before contact was made.

- A disappointing first for the Habs, inconsistent offense and a general lack of discipline.

Second Period:

- Subban connects on the PP, in what can only be described as a one more starting point in a long road to return to his form from last season. Game tied.

- Subban's first PP goal of the year by the way. Almost nobody would have believed it would have taken him until Dec 17th to do it.

- Cole gets called for interference, the wrong call as it was Parise who skated into him.

- And the Devils cash in. Really hate to see goals generated by blown calls.

- Campoli, of all players, with a cannon blast past Brodure for his first as a Hab. And Hall Gill with an assist? Wowserz.

- Oh what a pretty tic-tac-toe score, Eller finishes it off, and Gill another assist? Wowzerrrrrz.

- It might be presumptuous, but Habs offense seems a bit more free wheeling and relaxed tonight - certainly so in this second period.

- Weber not really helping his case to play on the PP unit with yet another bad pinch/misplay at the line.

- Oh dear. Habs make an absolutely wretched line change, Hal Gill very slow getting off the bench, and Devils the game on a goal by Clarkson that ought never be scored in the NHL.

Third Period:

My connection failed, but really, there wasn't much to say about the third period other than if this team hasn't reached bottom, it surely scraped the barrel. The team looked as lost as it did disinterested in front if Price. It very well may have been the worst period of hockey I've seen in 10 years.

The blame really goes all around. After the game the locker room was reportedly closed for an extended meeting, where one can only assume some frank assessments were made about the direction this team is going and the efforts (or lack of) by many of the players.

It really was that bad. So bad that it's conceivable that player moves are made in the forthcoming days.

Lars Eller made some pretty blunt statements tonight on Twitter about that third period. His words really do sum up just how far this team has fallen so fast.

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