Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cause for concern, or "just one of those games"?

OK everyone, settle down. Step away from the panic button. Yes, your beloved B's have lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season. But is that an indication that their play is slipping? Or is it just one of those things that happens to everyone. Right now, I'm more inclined to think it's just one of those normal things every team goes through. Although they didn't look great against Buffalo, and Julien made his displeasure clear, they didn't play that poorly. And last night, while I was surprised and a bit disappointed in the "energy" they displayed, they played OK again. Now, "OK" isn't good enough if they plan to stay on top in the East. Fortunately the issue's they're having now are easily correctable. It all comes down to effort, and that's the easiest thing of all to fix. The forecheck game has been off lately. That has been such a strength of theirs, that I can't see why they can't get back to it pretty quickly. Maybe these losses will remind them that, despite their obvious skill, at heart they're a team built on hard work. It seems to me that lately they've started to rely too heavily on their talent, and less on their system and effort. And we see the results. Guys like Blake Wheeler are immensely talented. But unless and until he decides to simplify his game a bit, he'll struggle to score goals. The worst thing that happened to him was getting away with some crazy stick handling moves earlier in the season. Now he acts like he has to beat everyone on the ice, the bench and a couple of ushers before shooting the puck. Hate to say it, but it's shades of Sergei Samsonov. Great moves that don't result in a shot on goal. Somewhat entertaining, but worthless. Let me be clear; this is in no way an indictment of Wheeler, his skill set or his potential. He's been a terrific player so far for the B's. But he needs to shoot the puck more. He prides himself on not "wasting" shots, which is an extent. When you're playing teams like the Wild or Devils, you have to take any and all shots that are available. You don't get many clean looks with the way they play defense. So you have to chip everything you can on net and hope you get a good bounce. And lets face it, that's playoff style hockey as well. The young guys, especially ones that have no NHL playoff experience like Wheeler, need to learn that fancy doesn't win in the post-season. Simple, smart hockey does. Ugly is beautiful in may and June. You can make your living (and the highlight reels) by being fancy in December against Atlanta. Play that style against a playoff team, and it's a short series. Again, I'm not saying skill guys shouldn't be allowed to "create" out there, but there is a time and place for it. The middle of a 1-0 game against a trapping team isn't the time or place. Before this sounds too much like a Wheeler bashing, I should point out that his line, with Krejci and Ryder has been their best line by far lately. The Savard line, with Kessel and inexplicably, Axelsson, has been all but invisible. Again, I don't think this is anything to get all worked up about. They're too good to think that this funk they're in will be long lasting. But it seems every little "chip" pass Savard tries lately goes directly to a defender. When they work, he looks like a hero. When they don't, he looks like he has no clue what he's doing. Every player goes through those stretches where things don't work the way you expect them to. I fully expect Savvy to turn it around quickly. Lucic is also in a bit of a rut. But at least he seems to be trying to hit his way out of it. But dear Lord, as much as I love the kid, he has some awful hands. Is it just me, or does he have to stop his feet every time he handles the puck? If the puck bounces AT ALL, he's screwed. That being said, and even though he probably doesn't "deserve" it, it may be time to throw him back up on the Savard line. Savvy and Kess seem to play "looser" when the big man is riding shotgun. And honestly, Axe is a fine player and a hell of a guy....but he isn't a first line wing. The good news is, the B's have the Senators coming to town Thursday, and they could be just what the doctor ordered. I mean, that team is "simply dreadful" (to quote the great Fred Cusick). With the B's in need of a win in a big way, the Sens are a perfect fit. I can see a big win, something along the lines of 6-1 for the good guys. A convincing win, playing their style of hockey, could go a long way towards starting a new winning streak. Which is important, because after Saturday's tilt with Carolina (AGAIN!), Montreal comes to town Tuesday. No need to give the Habs any idea's about catching them for the division lead. I know, they B's still have a 12 point lead on the Habs, so it isn't like they can catch them next week. But, as we get close to the All-Star break, the more distance they can put between them and Montreal, the better. Bottom line is, this 2 game losing "streak" is probably nothing more than a blip on the radar. A normal occurrence that we all knew was coming. The key is to not let it turn into a legit "slump". And I believe they have the talent, especially in goal, to prevent any long losing streaks. Getting their game "right" is their first priority and Ottawa *should* prove to be a good team to sharpen up against. Go B's-Kynch

1 comment:

  1. Great work there Kynch. I have to agree with you on most points. My MAJOR issue is the fact that Per Johan is up on the first line w/ Savvy and Kessel...He's a great penalty killer and a grinder (3rd,4th line) but in no way is he a first line player and it's w/o question, slowing that line down. Even worse to me is the fact that he's on your first PP unit. I dont know if you've noticed but since he's been up there, that unit has been virutally useless. I suggest you go Chara, Wideman, Savvy, Kessel, Ryder on your first unit and Kreijci, Wheeler, Lucic, Hunwick, Ward on your 2nd. That gives both units finesse on the half wall, deadly shots in the slot and big presences in front of the net. Nonetheless, I think this skid is meaningless and they will bounce back tomorrow night against an absolute terrible Ottawa team.