Matt is back! And he brings us a great take on the rollercoaster week it’s been for his Habs. A 5-1 beatdown of the Flyers and two big wins over the B’s will put a bounce in anyone’s step, and Matt is downright bouncy. And flouncy. And as you will see, in drag.
A dismal pre-season turned into a one victory regular season through the first eight games. Much of Montreal, one of North America’s largest cities, was, I heard, morose.
No doubt vandalism and assault rates skyrocketed in the C.U.M. (Communite Urbain de Montreal) as fans took their frantic frustration and angst worthy of an army of Sartre characters out on both animate and inanimate objects around them. I, myself, was reduced to rending my clothes, pulling my hair, and muttering obscenities in both English and French while staring at the wall instead of working.
Many bloggers and journalists were calling for the coach’s head. On October 16th the Habs took on the Flyers. The first period passed by agonizingly slow with hardly any SOGs by either team. Plekanec looked like he was skating about as fast I can (that is not a compliment) and the Habs defence seemed absent minded as usual. I rolled my eyes.
But then the second period started and there was a noticeable pick up in the pace of the game. Sloppy still, but faster. Then Kostistyn got a garbage goal, followed quickly by a pretty goal by Pacioretty – surprising everyone since he had an injured wrist and no one expected him to even play that night. Price was no longer flopping around like a bee got under his gear but diving and sliding like the skilled goaltender we know and love.
There were, for once, even noticeable attempts at defending the goal by defencemen. Cole was like a man on fire all of a sudden. I went from quivering in excitement, to trembling, and eventually to convulsions as I watched my team finally get it together. With the additional goals by Cammy, Cole, and a second one from Paci the Habs won the game 5-1 and Price got his 100th winning game. After the game Price said that Paci “had some pretty big nuts playing injured”. Maybe so, I’ll never know, but big nuts or not the Habs turned their game around.
Up next were two games against the arch-rival Bruins. Though the Bruins were not having a great start to their season either, they are the reigning Stanley Cup Champs and beat up on the Habs fairly consistently last year. I figured there would be a lot of penalties and fighting in the two games.
The first game didn’t start off well, with Plekanec basically scoring a goal on Price off a faceoff to give the Bruins the first goal of the game. Not good. The Bruins seemed to focus in on slamming Subban as often as they could, his goading possibly being the cause of it. Nevertheless, the Bruins kept falling for it and racking up penalties. Marchand and Subban had a game stopping fight, which they later laughed off in post-game interviews. Which is pretty big of them considering it was a laughable fight. Cole got a goal. But then there was lots of back and forth, but no penetration, through the rest of the second.
Price performed a miracle save on a Bergeron breakaway and I actually saw Diaz defending the goal effectively. All good signs. In the third the pace picked up further and the Habs, despite having a problem winning faceoffs, kept hammering the Bruins goal and poking every one of their holes till finally Pleky slammed one in. In the right net this time. Habs won 2-1. And I had to have a post-game cigarette because it felt like I just had 60 minutes of rough sex.
In fact, winning against the Bruins, in my book, is almost better than sex.
The second game against the Bruins started out where the last one left off. Frantic and speedy to and fro. Surprisingly, the first penalty didn’t come till 16 minutes into the game. Pleky scored on that power play, with Eller scoring about a minute later to bring the Habs up 2-0. The Bruins were noticeably getting agitated and kept pulling their harassment and roughing antics both during play and after the whistle was blown.
In the second period Desharnaies got a goal shortly before Eller missed a wide open B’s net. The Bruins scored and then denied a Paci breakaway. The B’s goaltender came way out and threw himself under Paci’s skates, sending him and the puck flying to the end boards. Apparently the only reason this was legal was because the goal tender managed to touch the puck first. In the third, the Bruins came out hitting and slamming, driving hard shots down low. With 1:46 left in the game Seguin scored for the Bruins. But Pleky came back and answered with an empty net goal to end the game with a 4-2 victory.
So what on earth turned the Habs around? No one had a definitive explanation. Factors that contributed to the 3 game winning streak included: Plekanec and Cole playing like they were on fire, the firing of an assistant coach in charge of special teams, Carey Price getting rid of his pink leg pads (such much for breast cancer awareness – pink and hockey apparently just don’t mix), Gomez (who had been a big hole in the defence) being injured and out, actually putting defencemen in front of Price, and more coordination of plays. My moving my lucky Habs beer cozy to a new lucky location in my living room no doubt helped out as well. Feng shui, baby!
But I think the main reason for the turnaround was due to psychology. Confidence, and the focus of keeping your eyes on the prize, returned. “That’s all it took, just a couple of wins. Now the guys are excited to go to the rink again” Carey Price was quoted as saying. I’m wondering if the Canadiens didn’t hire some sports psychologists to work with the team to get them back into the winning mood in the first place though. Then after that win after win after win it just wound the team up into a force, finally, to be reckoned with. Hal Gill described obtaining the positive or virtuous cycle of success a little differently:
“God, I hate confidence, because you need confidence to win and you get confidence when you start winning,” Gill said. “It’s more about trust in your teammates and playing as a team than confidence. With that, you get confidence as a team together. That’s what we need.” (from an article on NHL.com by Arpon Basu). But it’s got to start somewhere!
I also think that the evil Chara jinxed the Bruins by wearing a pink bunny suit for a charitable event before the two games against the Habs.
Pink, as I said before, just doesn’t mix with hockey for some reason. The photos of him in the silly suit were widely circulated before the game and no doubt Habs players saw them and saw their opponent in a new, and vulnerable, light.
Markov is now back in Montreal and should be good to join the team later in the month. With him back, and if Cammy and Gionta step up their game, the Habs will be looking really good.
However, what seems a mystery to most people is why did Carey’s Price game improved so much recently – to the point he was named one of the three stars of the NHL last week. I have the answer to that too.
I dressed up as a female teenage fan. Donned a wig, slapped some diamond studs in my ears, put on my favorite sweatshirt, grabbed my taupe vinyl handbag I wouldn’t normally be caught dead wearing in public and headed down to the rink to give Carey a good luck kiss.
And THAT’S all it took to turn the Habs around. There’s NOTHING I won’t do for my team! Me and Carey sitting in a tree…”
Follow Matt, or that hot chick on twitter: @mattsko