Washington Capitals-Montreal Canadiens: Mistakes Sink Fragile Habs

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IApril 22, 2010

Montreal 3 Washington 6 (Bell Centre)

posted by Rocket
All Habs

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." ~Albert Einstein

When the pundits did their pre-series checklists, it was suggested that the Canadiens' second-ranked power play should be able to exploit a very weak penalty kill, with Washington ranked 25th in the league in that particular category.

Despite being a defense liability on every shift, we are told that Marc-Andre Bergeron is a must in the lineup because of his booming shot. Yes, Bergeron was a minus-three tonight, and is already minus-eight in this series. But, he is a power-play specialist, and his contributions outweigh any negatives about his defensive play. That's a given, isn't it?

Would you be surprised to learn that Bergeron has zero power-play goals in the postseason and only one power-play assist? Let me go one step further to challenge this myth. How do you feel about Bergeron having two power-play assists since the Olympics (including the postseason), and one power-play goal in 2010?

How many goals against do you think Bergeron has been responsible for in that time? We can start with the giveaway that led to Jason Chimera's goal tonight, and work backwards. We'll still be counting after the season comes to an end.

Having successfully tackled that myth, perhaps we should look for more. Listening to the chatter after the game, I was convinced that Roman Hamrlik was solely responsible for tonight's loss. Apparently he is old, slow, and fatigued after a long season.

Hamrlik was guilty of the turnover in the offensive zone which led to the Capitals' forward Mike Knuble scoring a short-handed goal with 6.3 seconds left in the second period. The Canadiens had dominated the second period, outshooting Washington 21 to nine. It was a devastating moment for the Habs, and undoubtedly, it was the turning point of the game.

So, if Hamrlik is indeed so old and slow, why is he regularly deployed on the power play by the coaching staff? It must be for his offensive statistics. Let's take a look. Hamrlik has one power-play assist in the playoffs. In the regular season, he only tallied two power-play goals.

What about Josh Gorges? He plays the point on the power play too. Regular season and playoffs, Gorges has three power-play points. Interestingly enough, Sergei Kostitsyn has the same number of power-play goals this season as Gorges—zero.  Yet, as we know, Kostitsyn has been effectively banned from playing when his team has the extra man.

The head coach tells us that forwards on the power-play point are a risk to giving up the short-handed goal. Yet, Hamrlik has been responsible for two very significant short-handed goals in consecutive games, and what is his upside?

Can we agree that this would be a better team with Sergei Kostitsyn on the point of the power play? Alternately, Mike Cammalleri could be used at the point with Kostitsyn on the half-wall to take advantage of Sergei's superb passing skills.

So, isn't it fair to say that the Canadiens didn't take advantage of a major chink in the Capitals' armour? By his decisions, Jacques Martin did not put his team in the best position to win. Instead, he stubbornly stuck to things that hadn't worked all season.

The same can be said about Martin's lineup decisions.

When asked about sitting Ryan O'Byrne for the first three games of the series, Martin responded that his young defenseman had a lack of confidence. Apparently, the press box is well-stocked with the writings of Maslow on self-esteem. It seems that it didn't occur to Martin that singling out O'Byrne for mistakes wasn't really helping matters.

Playing tonight under difficult circumstances, O'Byrne led the team in hits, with seven, in only 13 minutes of ice time. Despite playing eight minutes less than Gorges, they each had four blocked shots, the most on the Canadiens. Remarkably, O'Byrne had the same number of shots on goal as Andrei Markov. As you might expect, Markov played 16 minutes more than O'Byrne.

Suffice to say, it's not easy to find good reasons that O'Byrne was not in the lineup since the start of the series. Conversely, there are some obvious ones for his inclusion.

It's likewise for Sergei Kostitsyn. The younger Kostitsyn was excellent tonight and finished the game at a team-high plus-two. That is an impressive statistic given that he was exiled to the fourth line and only played eight minutes.

Isn't that an improvement over the contribution of Mathieu Darche with 2:22 of ice time in Game Three?

While some players are victimized by the coach, others get a free pass. Benoit Pouliot has played dreadfully in this series. He has been very soft on the puck. Somewhere, Pouliot has picked up a "Get Out of Jail..err, 4th duty" card and has remained on the second line. He looked lazy on Alex Ovechkin's second goal tonight.

There is a stubbornness about this coach. Still not convinced? Could primary responsibility for the position in the series rest with Martin?

Coaching is about motivation, instilling confidence, preparation, strategy, and adjustments. Which quality is a strength of Jacques Martin?

After the last minute goal in the second period, did the Canadiens come out of the intermission refocused? The Capitals outshot them 20-6 in the third.

In a game with slim margins, attention to detail is very important. Why did Tyler Sloan, the Capitals' most vulnerable defenseman, see a steady diet of the Canadiens' third line during his 16 minutes of ice time? Keep in mind that coach Martin had the last change.

When Semyon Varlamov was a rebound machine in the first two periods, why weren't the Habs coached to go to the front of the net for screens and second-chance opportunities? Certainly Varlamov played well, but was he really tested when he looked like he could be beat?

On the Washington bench, Bruce Boudreau made adjustments that paid dividends. He put a struggling Alex Semin together with Ovechkin and the pair combined for the third Capitals' goal. To protect a lead with his team on the power play, Boudreau replaced Ovechkin on the point with Tom Poti and sent out his best defensive forward, Brooks Laich.

Don't get me wrong, execution matters, and for that the players should be held accountable. But it is the responsibility of the coach to put his players in the best position to succeed. The coach must learn from his mistakes and make adjustments.

The frustrating part for fans is the apparent unwillingness to learn and adapt.

For 86 games, we've watched the coach try to hammer a round peg in a square hole. Tonight was no different. It didn't work, again, and yes, that is insane.

Game Five is Friday in Washington with the Capitals leading the series three to one.

Rocket's three stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom
2. Alex Oveckkin
3. Bruce Boudreau

Special mention: Semyon Varlamov, Carey Price


The head coach has a defender. On Wednesday in La Presse, in a poorly argued article, it was written that Jacques Martin shouldn't be blamed because his doesn't have anything to work with this season. The author, a well-known bigot (who isn't worthy to be named here) said that this year's talent is no better than an expansion team. I wonder how many expansion teams had five players above the $5 million salary level (adjusted for year of entry)?

The article goes on to say that Martin almost won something one year in his career, which is better than the coaching records of the Canadiens during the past 15 years. Apparently the author doesn't understand that the statement skewers the hiring policy that he so vehemently protects.

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.

(photo credit: Getty)

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