Bob Gainey did not like what he saw at the end of last year. The team that he had carefully assembled over the past 5 years was falling apart at the sub-atomic level. The spectacle of the Centennial celebrations brought too fine a magnifying glass and resurrected the glory – and the (unfair) expectations – of the past. The pressure cooker blew a gasket.
Now, in its 101st year, the Montreal Canadiens are going back to the basics. The team has a clean slate for the 2009-10 season. With new players, a new headcoach, a new assistant coach, a new goaltending coach, a new strength and conditioning trainer, a new coaching staff in Hamilton, and new ownership – everything is brand-spanking new. Everything that is, except for its fans. And boy, do we need to lighten up.
Jacques Martin is bringing experience to the table and implementing something that the Habs have not seen in a long time: a system.
Puck possession. Fore-check. Support.
Simple hockey. Jacques Martin hockey. Grumble grumble. Hal Gill. AK-46. Grumble grumble. Have we seen Jacques Martin hockey yet? No, not for a full 60-minutes, but there have been glimpses. It’s a work-in-progress.
Martin is keeping the players on a short leash and it’s good to see. The punishing bag skate for a non-existent performance in Vancouver sets an important precedent for this season. Martin has made it clear that players won’t get away with any listless performances. And as Andrei Kostitsyn can attest, you won’t get away with not playing the system. Martin is going to hold each and every player accountable for their actions. If you make a selfish or lazy play, you’ll find your задницу nailed to the bench.
Jacques Martin is trying to create not only a new system but a new ethos in the locker room. He’s trying to build a team. For us fans, however, a new team is hard to accept. Where is the familiarity? Where are our heroes? Many fans, myself included, lament the loss of Alex Kovalev on the powerplay – circling the right faceoff circle, defenders too timid to approach, an opening, a shot, a goal. I watch the powerplay now and what do I see? Chaos.
But give it time. Newbies Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta are more than capable of putting up points with the man-advantage. Jaroslav Spacek and Marc-André Bergeron might even make up for losing Markov to injury (almost, maybe). How is the PP going to look exactly? I don’t know. What’s for sure is that what we saw out West won’t be the same powerplay that we’ll be seeing in March.
Give it time.
We’ve got a long season ahead of us and there’s no reason to throw in the towel just yet. We’re not the Leafs. The Habs haven’t even had their home-opener yet and some fans are ready to run the team out of town. As fans, we’re gripping the stick a little too hard.
As the players begin to learn the fundamentals of Martin’s system and get to know each other, we’ll see more goals, better defensive play, and better results.
Are there concerns?
Will we have secondary scoring? Where’s AK46? Why can’t he create any opportunities for himself? Is Kyle Chipchura really going to be another 1st round bust? Will the team be able to hold up both offensively and defensively without Markov? And what about Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak?
Big questions that came up during a 5-game road trip. Now give the team some time to answer them. And maybe, let’s give them a little support. Let’s welcome them home on Thursday and give them a reason to be proud that they’re wearing the sweater.
Go Habs Go!