Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Puck Possession: A Missing Factor in the Habs Season

image Canadiens coach Jacques Martin uses a puck possession system, really?

Speaking to the media before Tuesday’s game against the Washington Capitals, GM Bob Gainey felt the game against Washington would show where his team’s limits are.

“We’re in a race with a lot of teams (eight or nine), for three or four limited spots,” he said, “Our play reflects that’s where we should be.”

The Canadiens surely found their limits in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the contending Capitals. Washington fired 42 shots at Carey Price, missed the net 19 times, and had 18 blocked.

That’s a total of 80 discs of frozen rubber in the direction of the Canadiens net. By comparison, Montreal had just 52. Keep in mind that this is a team that had their best player, Andrei Markov, back on the ice.

Gainey also noted that when they face the seven or eight teams vying for the those four playoff slots, the Canadiens need to take them on head-to-head.

So for 2010, the Canadiens are 0-2, both against top-eight teams, and are 6-18 overall against Top-15 teams in the league.

Gainey knows his squad is not a top tier team, but can contend for the playoffs. As we all know, once the playoffs begin, it’s a whole new season.

Injuries aside, the biggest concern with the Canadiens right now is puck possession.

Jacques Gallery   05.thumbnail When Jacques Martin was hired as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, he saw his new team as a puck possession based squad.

Gainey, in the introductory press conference, said how he was always impressed by Martin’s defensive and possessive coaching style.

That was reiterated by Martin on Wednesday after the team’s off-ice workouts. The coach defines his system in this audio sound byte courtesy of

Well folks, we’re 45 games into the season, sitting miraculously at .500.

There is no stat in the NHL to calculate time of possession, it would be difficult with all the loose pucks, but give it time. The available statistics do show that the Canadiens’ puck possession game is clearly not there.

The Canadiens rank second last in shots for, with 27.3 on average, and are tied with Anaheim for third in shots allowed (32.8).

image It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that those numbers show that the Canadiens are a lot less in control of game flow than their opponents.

Nor does it help the possession factor when they are the third most penalized team, in terms of minor penalties, in the league. That heavily contributes to Montreal  being shorthanded a league-leading 193 times.

Play like that offsets their top-ranked power-play unit, where 33 of the team’s 112 goals (27th overall) come from.

Habs fans can enter their complaints about the calls by the referees to their heart’s content, but discipline is always the factor in a minor penalty.

Now that the key players are all healthy, Kostitsyn brothers the current exception, the Canadiens have 37 games to improve their possession game before the second season. If they don’t it may be an early golf season instead.

Talking to Hockey Central (Rogers Sportsnet, Fan590) on Wednesday afternoon, Martin remains optimistic that the team’s upcoming home stand will put his team in the right direction.

The Canadiens play their next four games, and six of their next eight, at the Bell Centre. Montreal has lost their last four home games.

Kostitsyn Injury Update: Jacques Martin cancelled Wednesday’s practice in favour of off-ice workouts, and a team meeting.

Sergei Kostitsyn did skate for just over a half hour, in a track suit, to gauge the injury to his left ankle. He was joined on the ice by the team’s head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend.

It is unlikely that he or brother Andre (lower body) will play in Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers.

image Dickie Moore (l), Jacques Plante (c), and Floyd Curry during the Habs dynasty era.

This Day in Habs History:  On January 6, 1963, Jacques Plante became the 4th goaltender, in NHL history, to record 300 wins with a 6-0 shutout victory over the New York Rangers.

It is also Habs legend Dickie Moore’s 79th birthday.

1 comment:

Topham said...

Martin's take on his own system is funny, thanks for that.

I thought you and the readers might enjoy a look at the system as it plays out in statistical tables: