Every head coach in the NHL strives to have their team play the perfect game. Very rarely does any team ever approach this goal. Whether it’s a win or a loss there is always something that can be improved. Sometimes it’s the performance of an individual player. Other times it’s a particular facet of the team’s game, like the power play.
There are thirty head coaches currently employed in the NHL. Only one of them gets to enjoy the end result; the man who coaches the Stanley Cup winner, and even then it is a satisfaction that can only be enjoyed for an all too brief amount of time.
Being a coach in the NHL brings a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Every move you make is dissected, analyzed, and second guessed. As soon as you take the job, you quickly realize that there are many out there who know that they could do the job better. When the team is successful the rumblings of dissent are a minor murmur. However, when the team loses these same voices can become deafening.
Now take a place like Montreal, where hockey is a passion, and where you coach every night under the backdrop of twenty four Stanley Cup banners, and you have an idea of the pressure facing Canadiens head coach, Guy Carbonneau, on a daily basis.
This week was probably a week that Carbonneau would like to put in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible. The week started with the unpopular benching of veteran forward Steve Begin, saw a shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, that was followed by some remarks by Canadiens’ superstar Alexei Kovalev that seemed to criticize Carbonneau, and now a three game losing streak heading into Saturday night’s game against Buffalo.
Undoubtedly, the biggest story of the week was the comments by Alexei Kovalev after the team’s loss to the Panthers on Tuesday night. In a game in which the Canadiens dominated they found themselves holding on to a 1-0 lead when Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek took a penalty with 2:14 remaining in regulation time. The ensuing power play saw the Panthers tie the game with ten seconds left on the clock, and go on to win the game in the shootout.
The controversy began the next morning when the Montreal Gazette’s Red Fisher attributed the following quote to Kovalev.
“That’s the best 60 minutes we’ve played, but the last two minutes killed us. I think in those situations, maybe we should have taken a timeout. You know they’re gonna put everybody out there. We weren’t just ready for that. Maybe we should have taken a timeout.”
No sooner had those words been printed, and we had the first full scale controversy of the Canadiens season.
And then the media pounced on the story. Kovalev was causing trouble again, Carbonneau doesn’t have the respect of the room, Bob Gainey needs to step in, etc…
And before you knew it Kovalev was rumored to be going to Calgary, and Alex Tanguay was coming to Montreal and…
Essentially the role of the media is to serve as the fans conduit to the team. In reality, the fan pays the salaries of both the media and the team. Simply put, if we don’t buy the newspapers or go to see the team, than both have no reason to exist.
Where the problem develops is in the way the media covers the team. With various newspapers competing for readership there is a tendency on the part of some journalists covering the team to accentuate controversy on the team. Unfortunately, the more salacious the story, the more attention paid to the writer and his story.
A perfect example of this is the Kovalev/Tanguay rumor. The portion of the media that started this rumor certainly gained a lot of attention with the story. However, was there any truth to the story? Did the story have any merit?
And this is where the week’s events come into focus.
Many in the media and on numerous fan blogs took Kovalev’s story and ran column’s about Carbonneau’s lack of coaching expertise amongst other things. Many echoed Kovalev’s statements, why didn’t he call a timeout?, didn’t he want his best players on the ice in the most crucial moments of a close game?
What many failed to realize in their rush to judgment are the facts behind what happened.
After reading many different takes on this issue in the past few days, credit must be given to the two journalist’s who got it right; Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette and Bob McKenzie of TSN.
Both described the following;
Up 1-0 with 2:14 seconds left in the third period, Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek takes a slashing penalty to give the Panthers the power play. With the stoppage in play Carbonneau is able to put out on the ice the penalty killers that he wants. The Canadiens then won control and iced the puck. Carbonneau immediately changed his penalty killers. The play continued without a whistle, with Montreal gaining control and icing the puck, and once again changing the penalty killers.
At this point Florida brought the puck into the Canadiens zone and pulled their goalie, effectively creating a six on four power play. Montreal was unable to clear the zone, and with Komisarek stepping out onto the ice, the Panthers scored to tie the game at one with ten seconds left.
You’ll notice one thing in this sequence of play; there was no stoppage of play. Without the stoppage of play, Carbonneau was unable to call a timeout. Later on he admitted that if there had been a whistle in the last minute he would have taken a timeout. There was no point in wasting the timeout with a little over two minutes left. Unfortunately, for Carbonneau and the Canadiens there wasn’t an opportunity to take a time out before the goal was scored.
Now I’m not making any apologies for Guy Carbonneau. I admit that I feel that Carbonneau is going to develop into one of the league’s better coaches. I believe that he has brought a defensive accountability that the Canadiens were missing before. However, I do think that his tendency to juggle his lines, and shuffle his lineup constantly can be distracting.
But the criticism of Carbonneau should be fair, as should all reporting on the Canadiens. Clearly, any criticism of the team should be backed up by the facts and not gossip and innuendo.
And as for Kovalev?
Kovalev didn’t come out of this situation looking like a rose either. The theories behind a possible Kovalev/Carbonneau feud once again were explored. Despite his play so far this season (which has been excellent), there were many who called for Kovalev to be moved out of Montreal, and preferably as soon as possible.
However, I saw Kovalev’s remarks being borne out of frustration. The loss to Florida was a tough one and obviously Kovalev felt the need to let off some steam. Should he have left it in the privacy of the dressing room? Probably. But I interpreted his comments as coming from someone who is frustrated, because he wants to win.
As opposed to previous years, Kovalev has been a model citizen so far this year. He has arguably been the team’s best player over the first six games, and has appeared to take a mentoring role with some of the team’s younger players, while showing a renewed interest defensively.
Oddly enough, one of the main criticism’s aimed at today’s players is how they act like robots, giving the media a standard answer instead of revealing what’s really on their mind. In this particular case, Kovalev speaks his mind and is pilloried for it by the press.
Both Kovalev and Carbonneau have spent the rest of the week denying that there is any problem between the two of them, and having to discuss this issue ad nausea. You would think that after three losses in a row there would be more pressing things that need to be done as opposed to this distraction.
And both fans and the media wonder why players don’t want to play for the Canadiens.