Hockey is, as are all team games, an exercise in trust. That's why teams do those ridiculous bonding tests during training camp, in which a blindfolded player is guided around obstacles by a teammate's voice, or a guy's got to fall backward and let a teammate catch him. Those silly games are just metaphors for what happens on the ice. Every player needs to know he can count on the guy skating next to him to cover his mistakes, assist on his goals and have his back in the rough going. Equally important, every player needs to feel that his teammates and coach trust him to do the job he's assigned. The ephemeral "confidence" players talk about starts with knowing others believe he can perform up to expectations, and that, in turn, begins with the coach.
Jacques Martin doesn't trust his backup goalie. He plays Carey Price as often as possible because he doesn't like Alex Auld's chances to win. As a result, Auld plays once a month and, unsurprisingly, comes in rusty half the time. He stunk last night, but you have to wonder how much of his poor timing was the result of sitting for weeks.
Martin doesn't trust most of his defence either. His natural tendency to rely on proven veterans over younger players in must-win situations means he's seriously overplaying the only remaining vet who can actually skate. Roman Hamrlik played more than 28 minutes again last night; the second time in a week he was on the ice for nearly half the game. That included an inexplicable 6:35 on the PP, for a guy who's averaged 2:46 per game with the man advantage all year. Hammer is tired, and when he's tired, he makes mistakes.
Most troubling, the coach doesn't trust his kids. In a game in which the Canadiens fell into a deep hole early, you'd think anyone with a pulse and the potential to score a goal would be taking a regular shift. Instead, Kostitsyn, Pouliot, Eller and Desharnais all got fewer than nine minutes of ice time at even strength. Max Pacioretty was on the ice five minutes less than his veteran linemates, and one can only imagine how much ice time P.K.Subban would be getting if the defence weren't totally decimated. This isn't a good situation. The kids can only learn by playing, and getting minimal minutes because the coach is afraid they'll screw up isn't giving them much confidence. Those five young forwards account for a good part of the team's hope for the future. They need to play.
Spinning off from Martin's lack of faith in the kids is his over-reliance on Scott Gomez. The man has fewer goals (7) than Kostitsyn, Pouliot and Pacioretty and only one more than Desharnais, who's played in 37 fewer games. His 30 points are only slightly better than P.K.Subban's...a rookie defenceman's...27. There is absolutely no evidence, dramatic pointless rushing notwithstanding, that Scott Gomez will be the man who will come up with a vital tying goal. Yet, he played more than 20 minutes last night, including 4:08 on the PP. With all that ice time, Gomez came up with no goals, no assists and was a -1. At least he didn't take a dumb penalty for once. Perhaps that was Martin's justification for sending Gomez out for shift after shift when the team was desperate.
Trust is one of the most important intangibles in a team sport. Players have to trust each other, but they also have to trust their coach to believe in them and put the right players on the ice at the right time. The young players, untried though they may be, have to be getting frustrated when they end up sitting in favour of veterans who don't get the job done.
Martin coaches with a fear of losing rather than a drive to win. Someone needs to tell him losing by one goal is still losing, and he has to loosen the reins on some players. He's got to start trusting players to do their jobs.