It’s a little like having to dance with an ex at a social event. Both go through the motions until the song ends, neither party enjoys it, although there is a certain familiarity.
For the Montreal media and Jacques Martin, the script goes something like this:
Reporter: What happened coach?
Martin: We weren’t ready to compete tonight. The compete level wasn’t there.
Reporter: Where were the breakdowns?
Martin: We stopped playing the system.
Reporter: Where do you go from here?
Martin: The key is special teams and limiting opponent’s chances. If we stick to the game plan, we’ll be alright.
After each of 82 regular season games for the past two-plus years, the dance hasn’t varied much from the template. For the priviledge of hearing the same thing over-and-over, in two languages, the team has sacrificed selecting a coach who might actually have an impact on the ice — just a minor inconvenience in the eyes of some.
So what happened when an up-start rookie reporter, Jessica Rusnak, didn’t follow the rules and asked the one question that fans everywhere were screaming at their flat panels? “Why the hell is Mathieu Darche playing the power-play?”
She said it far more politely.
“Jacques, what’s the thought process behind having Mathieu Darche on the power-play and having a guy like Erik Cole on the bench?” — Jessica Rusnak
Well, first of all, the members of the complicit media hid under their chairs. They wouldn’t want to jeopardize their chance at asking a question — useless press conference or not. The coach gave a condescending laugh, and then proceeded to enviserate the young reporter in a way she wouldn’t soon forget — at least enough to prevent her from asking a meaningful question again.
Afterward, Ms. Rusnak admitted to being shaken up. Some of her colleagues, rather than stand up for her, sympathized with the stresses of being a coach and suggested that a quiet apology was in order away from all the microphones and cameras. Yes, as if it never happened.
What was fascinating to me is that by veering away from predictable questions, the reporter was able to run the press conference off the rails — like a needle being dragged across vinyl putting an abrupt end to the dance. Martin became unglued like Obama off his teleprompter.
“[mocking laugh] If you look at your stats last year, how many goals did Erik Cole score on the power-play? So maybe I do some work. I think that he’s had an opportunity. Mathieu Darche does a good job in front of the net. So that’s the perogative of being the coach. It’s always important to do the research.” — Jacques Martin
The coach’s reply was very condescending to the rookie reporter. Rusnak said that she felt that he was teaching her a lesson and she didn’t like being yelled at. She wasn’t able to answer Martin’s question but the answer is three — the number of power play goals by Cole last season.
That just happens to be the same number of power-play goals by Darche in his career — he had two goals last season and one two years ago. Cole has 43 power-play goals in his career. So it would seem that the arrogant coach hasn’t done his research.
Besides, if Darche was doing such a good job in front of the net wouldn’t the Canadiens power-play be clicking at a better than 2-for-29 success rate? Again, the coach is trying to claim something that doesn’t coincide with the numbers.
Tonight, Darche played 3:12 on the power-play.
That’s more than Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostitsyn, two players with size who also possess a better shot and touch than Darche. Cole, the major off-season acquisition, didn’t get any power-play time. Lars Eller, the best skater for the Canadiens, by far, had only 12 seconds of icetime when the Habs had the man advantage.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the coach stubbornly held to the notion that his personnel choices were correct.
“I thought we saw some encouraging signs on the power play, I thought we got the puck at the net more and battled in front, which is what we need to do.” — Jacques Martin
Actually what they need to do is score. The power-play was 0-for-4 tonight while Toronto scored twice with the man advantage. So much for winning the special teams battle.
On a night when Hal Gill was being recognized for having played 1000 games, again fingers were being pointed at the trio of rearguards who have played a small number of NHL games. When the coach was asked about it, he said “That’s twice now we’ve lost the lead in the third period. I think there’s inexperience (on the blue-line), sometimes, that’s part of the learning process.”
Is the coach correct? As he suggests, let’s do the research. We’ll look at the Canadiens defensemen and the number of goals scored by the Leafs when they were on the ice.
Hall Gill — 3 goals against
Josh Gorges — 2
P.K. Subban — 2
Raphael Diaz — 2
Yannick Weber — 1
Alexei Yemelin — 0
This result is almost inversely proportional to the number of NHL games played, which is exactly the opposite of what the coach said. On the season, Weber leads the team with a plus-4 ranking while the more experienced P.K. Subban is at minus-6.
If we simply look at Toronto’s tying and winning goals, we find that Gorges, Subban, Gill, and Diaz were on the ice. That’s three of the Canadiens most experienced defensemen on the ice. Again the coach hasn’t done his research — he’s just flat wrong.
Perhaps when Martin began his NHL coaching career more than 25 years ago, he could make false claims and not have them challenged. Now with greater access to statistics, more recording equipment and a legion of fact checkers, it’s much more difficult.
The game has passed the coach by and he isn’t ready to admit it. We have heard him say many times that his team plays a puck posession game — how many of you believe it?
Tonight, Martin told us that the power-play is working well, Darche is a special teams stud, and that inexperienced defensemen are to blame as the losses pile up. And he said it in a way to suggest ‘Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?’
There is an angry, increasingly vocal fanbase who aren’t buying what the coach is selling. And my guess is that they won’t go as quietly as Martin’s dance partners.