Following the Canadiens can be an exhilarating, yet sometimes exhausting experience. Over the past several seasons, the Canadiens have been up and down like a elevator. Players, coaches and management come and go on a yearly basis, yet the runaway roller coaster continues unabated. Throughout the change, we as fans always find things we like about the team, and players to latch on to.
Last spring, this group of players took fans on a dizzying run to the conference finals, deepening the bond between fan and player. When times get tough, however, the spotlight focuses on certain players with scorn. Usually the talented guys bear the brunt of criticism, and that’s the way it should be since they earn the majority of praise during the good times, and consume the majority of the salary cap at all times. But once the criticism is levied, some fans resort to defending their favorite players as if they were a part of their immediate family. Mama and Papa bear gnash their teeth.
No two players embody this phenomena more than Carey Price and Andrei Kostitsyn. Talented? Check. Important to the team’s success? Check. Contributors to the Habs early season success? Check. Nobody would argue that not only has Carey Price been the Canadiens best player, he’s been one of the best goalies in the league until recently. As the Canadiens player of the month for 3 consecutive months, it goes to show how terrific Price was during October and November, and how he was the best of the worst in December. For his part, Andrei Kostitsyn has had an up and down year, but I don’t know if we’ve ever seen him play as well as he did for the first 10 games of the year. 10 points in 11 games during the month of October, and he too had begun to quiet his naysayers.
But over the past month, Price has had weak goals slip past him, bringing on shades of last season when he was at times unfocused, and couldn’t catch a break. Is it fair to feel a bit of concern that his play has not been as sharp as we’ve been accustomed to? Questionable wraparounds and shots through the legs are not what the doctor ordered. Similarly, Kostitsyn has had his share of struggles. A modest 8 points in 13 games in November was largely swept under the rug, because he was bounced around from line to line. December saw his slumber worsen, with only 1 goal and 4 assists in 14 games, with his lone goal coming after he had been made a healthy scratch. He also only had 27 shots on goal in those 14 games, for an average of about 2 per night. For a sniper with a lethal shot, that’s not good enough. Excuses? Don’t want to hear them.
Newsflash: Instead of trying to blame somebody else for a blown assignment or inability to handle somebody bigger & stronger than them EVERY SINGLE TIME, if Price gives up a soft goal, it’s OK to say so. If he plays a poor game, it’s FINE to say so. If he has a bad month, quit trying to pin it on the team and coach if you were one of the people that tossed laurels at his feet when he singlehandedly won games! If he gets the glory when he’s the hero, he deserves criticism when he’s less than what the Canadiens need. Similarly, if Kostitsyn is soft on the puck, or laisser-faire, it doesn’t make you less of a fan to say so, and it won’t help you to become pals with the player to try and defend them at each and every turn. Unless the criticism is mean spirited, cruel or bigoted (which unfortunately still exists), thicker skin is needed and lording over these guys as if they were our children needs to stop. They’re adults with a job to do. While young, talented players are crucial to any organization, talent alone doesn’t score goals and make saves. Work ethic and execution do. Anyone who follows me know how critical I am of the coach and his tactics and strategies. He’s not blameless in this, but he’s not entirely to blame, either. At the end of the day, every player is solely responsible for the quality and consistency of his own performance.
Look, I cheer for anyone who wears the bleu, blanc, rouge, even if they’re not my favorite player (hello there, Benoit!). I want them to produce, and I want them to share in the accolades. What I can’t stand is when we constantly drum up excuses to cover up mistakes, exonerate poor decisions and pretend that there aren’t any issues with consistency. It’s a lot easier to completely blame the coach’s decisions and his strategy rather than the players…which would make sense if the player hadn’t had any previous success. On the eve of the season, I posted a blog entitled “Prove It“. In this second year of the major overhaul, there are no more excuses for this team or the players. Everybody has a role and everybody has experience save for Eller and Subban. Max Lapierre paid the price for his poor play and his inconsistency. His ice time was reduced, and he was eventually sent packing to Anaheim. Players are to be held responsible for their performances, and cheered for their achievements. Kostitsyn and Price got off to sizzling starts and got the hero worship that goes along with those kinds of performances. Price sustained his great start for a couple months, while Kostitsyn tapered off. Fair criticism is deserved, and both have earned their fair share lately. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I suppose some of you will see where I’m coming from, but I suspect that there are others who will insist that I’m just another hater and not a real fan for questioning results. The sad truth is that what was accomplished months ago means very little if the results don’t continue coming. The real question at the heart of this blog is ‘how long do you make excuses for questionable play before the crosshairs zero in on the player himself?’ It has somehow become taboo to voice concern over the play of Price and Kostitsyn. Some fans are shell-shocked because there’s been a lot of unfair criticism, but this doesn’t mean that fair criticism is suddenly unwarranted. Many will read this blog as a bashing, and interpret it as me being a hater. If you’re one of those people, congratulations, you’ve missed the point entirely, and helped prove my point.
For everyone else, what’s your take?