Saturday, 3 December 2016

Game 24: Canadiens 1, Sharks 2

With Gary Bettman's dexterous awarding of the NHL's broadcast rights to the class clowns Sportsnet and TVA, I was blacked out of watching the game, and had to rely on "Canadiens Express" on RDS to witness the 2-1 defeat.  As Colonel Potter once said of Reader's Digest condensed books, they're so good, it makes you wonder what parts they could even have left out.

Although tonight's first period, you felt the editors at RDS must have taken editorial liberties, and left all sequences when the Canadiens were dominating in the Sharks' zone on the cutting room floor, to establish the narrative that San Jose somewhat dominated play against our beloved plucky Habs.

In games like these, compared to earlier in the season, the shine wears off players like Jeff Petry, who's fallen off his 164-goal-season pace somewhat.  You start to really notice that Phillip Danault isn't Guy Carbonneau 2.0 quite yet.  You start to miss having a Shayne Corson on the roster, or a scory deadly sniper to provide an outlet for Alex Radulov.  Mike Cammalleri?  Alex Semin?

Speaking of Kamerad Radulov, Alex took a nasty stick to the face and was helped off the ice near the end of the game, bleeding profusely.  We've all noted how he wears his helmet, often, with the visor tilted up and out of the way of his eyes, which kind of defeats the purpose.  We've winced and hoped that nothing bad would happen.  On this sequence, it's doubtful that the injury occurred because of the faulty use of his eye protection, Logan Couture was reckless with his stick and jammed it upwards, underneath the visor, kind of behind his back, without seeing where his opponent was.

Alex was in the dressing room after the game, sporting a few stitches on his right eyebrow, seeming okay to continue the West Coast Death March road trip.

This was the same kind of game as we've had against the Blues a couple of seasons ago, when your roster, your players seem clearly inferior to the bigger, stronger, scorier Sharks, who only had to step on the accelerator in the first period, and then coast to a win.

Next up, the Kings.  Let's hope Peter Budaj, overcome by emotions, is off his game.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Owen Sound Attack 3, London Knights 2 (SO)

I happened upon this game and decided to watch so as to 'scout' London Knights defenceman and Canadiens 2016 fourth-round pick Victor Mete, as it were.  What I had failed to realize was that Owen Sound is the team Mike McNiven plays for, as well as Petrus Palmu.  

Michael McNiven, a goalie who was initially invited to the Canadiens development camp as a free agent in 2015 after going undrafted that June, impressed the team enough to earn a contract, and has been progressing by leaps and bounds since then.  He shined in the Canada-Russia series last month, and earned an invitation to the selection camp for the Canadian World Junior team later this month in Boisbriand.

At the start of the broadcast, R.J. Broadhead and Sam Cosentino made much of Michael McNiven being second in the league in wins, and first in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage, which is kind of the trifecta for goalies.

Petrus Palmu is a familiar face in that he attended the Canadiens development camp this July as a free agent.  He didn't earn himself a contract, and he doesn't exactly get the fan's pulse racing, in that he's another skilled but very small forward.  Sure, he's a fireplug, he's stocky and all, but really, with so many small forwards in our organization, and despite the putative move in the NHL towards speed and skill, it's hard to see how he brings anything that we need currently or for the foreseeable future.  Daniel Audette, Sven Andrighetto and Martin Reway among others have got his act down pat already.

Victor Mete is, according to the game notes by the Sportsnet crew, on the first pairing on the Knights, ahead of Oli Juolevi, who plays on the second pairing.  So score one for the Canadiens, our 100th overall pick is a better player than the Canucks' 5th overall pick.  We win, they lose, there is no debate or need for further evaluation.

An interesting facet too is that Victor plays the right side with his partner Brandon Crawley, also a leftie, playing on the left.  So good for Victor, he's learning to play both sides, a skill which can come in handy in his pro career.

Of course, it's not all unicorns and rainbows.  Victor was indirectly responsible for the Owen Sound goal which opened the scoring.  While backpedalling in his zone a puck skittered nearby, and he batted at it to try to clear his zone, but it went directly to an Owen Sound player who got off a good shot on net, and a teammate cashed in the rebound.

The first period finished 1-0, and during the intermission there was (another) two-minute love-in on Michael McNiven.
"We have to talk about Michael McNiven, great first period, and he's such a good puck-handler too, that's just another intangible for him..."

"When it comes to McNiven, he's done a really good job, stopping the dump-ins, holding it up off the boards, allowing the defencemen to go back there and play with their heads up.  But when it got hairy, and London put the pressure on, he's done a really good job controlling the play.  The rebound control, excellent.  McNiven has had such a rise to prominence, the Montréal Canadiens free agent signing is a story that continues to grow and I think he's going to make a lot of noise at that World Junior camp."
At the start of the second Rob Faulds did an on-ice interview with Petrus Palmu.  Not to beat this one into the ground, but with skates on, the Owen Sound forward was eye-to-eye with Rob Faulds, who isn't a giant himself.  The kid does have 18 goals already this season though.

As the period started, Sam Cosentino discussed that Hockey Canada likes the fact that Victor Mete can play the right side, over and above all his other attributes.  It was also interesting to see him pull a spinerama to evade a forechecker, and then speed away.  

He had a very good second period, showing good positioning in the defensive zone, and good stick-checking ability.  On one sequence he defended an odd-man rush, joined a two-on-one and turned it into a three-on-one, and then hustled back on defence and neutralized a counter-attack.  Late in the period, he helped the Knights get set up in the offensive zone during a powerplay, and rushed up the boards and behind the net for an attempt at a wraparound.  He eventually picked up an assist on the goal that tied the game 1-1.

Petrus Palmu scored a spectacular goal to make it 2-1 midway through the third.  Oli Juolevi had the puck under control in his zone with Petrus bearing down on him, so he tried to make a pass, which hit his teammate on the skate blade and bounced high in the air.  Somehow Petrus got to it first, off to the side of the Knights net, and while falling to the ice to dive and reach for the puck, slid it past the sprawling goalie, over the line, at an acute angle.

He's still too small, despite his 19 goals scored.  If we were to be in the market for another mighty mouse, Alex Debrincat would be the one we should have gone for at the last draft, with his 26 goals leading the OHL currently.  But we used our second rounders at last June's draft to trade for Andrew Shaw.  Those could have come in real handy...

Oli Juolevi is having a really tough game.  After losing a puck battle along the boards, when he'd started with a clean possession but got caught trying to skate it out from behind his net, he then got a tripping penalty.  I know Mikhail Sergachev is himself having a difficult return to the OHL, but I declare that he and Victor Mete will have much better, more productive careers than Oli Juolevi, and so will Casey Staum.  Indubitably.

And it keeps getting worse for the young Finn.  Stepping out of the box, with a foot still in, he played the puck as it happened by, and that's a penalty, one which I always forget about.  Mr. Juolevi certainly seemed dumbfounded, he was ignorant of that capricious rule too.

Somehow though, after killing off two penalties, the Knights found a way to tie the game, and came close to winning it outright.  They stormed the Owen Sound net, as if they'd found another gear.  

But the game goes to overtime.  Early on, Victor Mete was on trying to rush the puck to the net, and was held by an opponent, drawing a penalty.  While the Knights swarmed the Attack zone, Mike McNiven stood tall, making a lot of saves.  He was the star of the overtime.  And Victor Mete did really well on the open ice also.

Two Attack players scored on the shootout, the two Knights were stopped by Michael McNiven, game over.

Michael McNiven, la première étoile.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

IceCaps 3, Syracuse Crunch 2 (SO)

I really like that RDS is broadcasting some of the IceCaps' games this season.  The product is a little amateurish, seeing as Stéphane Leroux and Norman Flynn aren't at the game in St. John's, but rather are calling it from a video feed in a studio, but it's great to see the farm team, the prospects with our own eyes.

I'm looking forward to enhanced coverage when the team moves to Laval next season.

--Unfortunately, Gabriel Dumont is injured, and Michaël Bournival just got called up to Tampa Bay, so we won't see them in action tonight.

I wish it would have worked out in Montréal for these boys, I liked them as players and as people.

--Jacob de la Rose had three assists in two games last weekend, and gets a good scoring change on the powerplay, getting off a dangerous shot from the slot midway through the first.  There's been some handwringing in his case, but I'm not too worried.  He's got a full year to work on his game in St. John's, and maybe even next season, since he won't be eligible for waivers next fall.  So let's be patient, let the big boy play in the AHL until he figures it out.

--Speaking of the powerplay, it's clicking along at 25% right now, so at least something is going right with the IceCaps.

--Nikita Scherbak was in the lineup provided prior to the game, but hasn't been on the ice yet, the announcers don't have any info as to what's going on, whether an injury or if he's being benched.

Although as they discuss the matter further, they mention that he was slated to skate with Mark MacMillan and Connor Crisp on the fourth line according to their game notes, so there's probably some kind of coach's decision at play here.

--Nikita is on the ice with Mike McCarron and Jacob de la Rose to start the second, so I guess there was a sanction against him for the nebulous 'violation of team rules', or a message being sent.

--And it looks like the message got through.  Nikita scores the IceCaps' first goal late in the second on a semi-screened wrist shot top corner gloveside, and very very late in the period, picks up an assist when he flings the puck at the net and it is tipped in by Markus Eisenschmid.  The horn to end the period sounded simultaneously, so the refs had to go to video review to allow the goal.

2-1 IceCaps after two periods.

--An unexpected spectacle during the second: Daniel Audette, all 5'7", 159 lbs of him, involved in a furious scrap with a Syracuse player.  And he didn't do too badly too, stayed upright and threw a lot of punches, until the end when he kind of tapped out, turned away, and let the linesmen come to his aid.

--Not to obsess over Nikita Scherbak, but about five minutes into the third, he got rocked by a solid bodycheck on the boards, and struggled to defend as play continued in the IceCaps zone.  He coasted off the ice when the zone was cleared.

--A few minutes later, as the announcers bemoaned the IceCaps' apathy as the Crunch pushed hard to tie the game, and bottled up the 'Caps in their zone, Yann Danis was beaten on a shot from the point he never saw, being completely screened.

Score is tied 2-2

--Halfway through the third, the main thought that occurs to a Canadiens fan is how few gamebreakers there are on this team.  It doesn't help that Charles Hudon and Mark Barberio are called up, but really, this game, the only trio that threatened the opposition net consistently was the line of Andrighetto, Eisenchmid and Scherbak.

It pains me that Mike McCarron is essentially invisible in this game.  Which is quite the feat when you think about it.

--Overtime:  Jacob de la Rose and Daniel Audette do well as a duo, set up a few chances for each other.

Nikita Scherbak also looks great.

Max Friberg makes a nice defensive play and gets a near breakaway as a result, almost scores.

Nice end-to-end action.

--Stéphane Leroux: "La première période au Crunch, la deuxième aux IceCaps, la troisième au Crunch, la prolongation aux IceCaps."

--Shootout:

Daniel Audette, couple of head fakes, wrist shot glove side off the post and in.

Corey Conacher, tries the blocker side, short side on Yann Danis, easy save.

Sven Andrighetto, comes in slowly, weaving, blisters a wrist shot also post and in, also glove side, top corner.

Tanner Richard, not sure what he was trying to do, did a whole bunch of fakes and weaving as he coasted in with his head down, tried to tuck it in five-hole on the backhand, easy stop again for Yann Danis.

IceCaps 3, Crunch 2 (SO)

Sunday, 27 November 2016

IceCaps 1, Providence Bruins 2

RDS game us a tape-delayed broadcast of the St-John's IceCaps game against the Providence Bruins, a 2-1 loss for the good guys.  RDS is getting set to be the official broadcaster of the Canadiens AHL team when they move to Laval, so they're doing the ground work this season like they did last year.  They'll have 9 more games to show in the regular season, and there's no word on any playoff coverage.  If we peer into our crystal ball based on tonight's results, that won't be something we need to worry about.

I slogged through the whole game, called by Stéphane Leroux with Norman Flynn as the analyst.  They're not in the best position to give a great product, since they're calling the game from a studio, they're not at the (half-empty) rink.  Tonight, they'd talk at cross-purposes a little, maybe not letting each other finish their thoughts, they'd start to counter the other's point before it was made.  Let's hope they find their groove during the season.

The game was also a little tough to watch because of the actual game too, though, not just the quality of the broadcast.  I posted at the start of the season that this was an underwhelming lineup, and while it was reinforced early with Mark Barberio, Stefan Matteau and Sven Andrighetto getting sent down among others, tonight it was effectively a one-line team.  A rusty Zach Redmond, playing his first game after breaking his foot during training camp, is no compensation for a Mark Barberio, recalled to Montréal.  And the thin roster looked like it could use callups Chris Terry and Charles Hudon.

The only forward line that menaced in the Bruins' zone was the Mike McCarron line, with Nikita Scherbak and Sven as his wingers.  It's not like they dominated, but whereas usually the play was confined to the St. John's end, when they were on the IceCaps would foray into the Bruins zone.  Late in the game, Stefan Matteau got a turn or two on that line.

All the other lines looked outmatched, and so did our defence pairings.  Jacob de la Rose did a couple of pro forma sorties against the net, but both times it was a little short of a nice effort, once firing the puck right at the goalie on a partial break, when you wished that he might have leaned into the defenceman, tried to protect the puck, and created something, a schmozzle at the net, a rebound, maybe draw a penalty.

On another chance, while killing a penalty and going on a two-on-one break with Max Friberg (Freebiiiiiird!), he made a nice pass that his linemate almost converted.  Trouble is the goalie gave up a big fat rebound that just sat in the crease for a full second, with the proverbial yawning cage unguarded, but Jacob had done the dreaded fly-by, he hadn't stopped at the net à la Gallagher, but rather had swooped behind and so wasn't in a position to just tap it in.

I'll give Jacob the benefit of the doubt on this one, and allow that he might have planned to do this, to keep his speed up and get back to his zone to defend against the Bruins powerplay, but it seemed to me, even as I guard against confirmation bias, that Jacob doesn't have much offensive instinct, or even the hunger to score goals.  It didn't seem like he had the killer instinct, but rather was going through the motions when he had the puck on his stick.

Late in the game, with Charlie Lindgren off for an extra attacker, with 30 seconds left in the game, Jacob did a good job scrumming along the boards after a muddled faceoff, and helping the IceCaps gain clean possession of the puck.  Unfortunately, as the team got set up to try to even the score, and as he stood off in the corner to the right of the net, the puck came to him, and he fired it back to the point, but missed his pass and it instead became a clearance of the Bruins' zone and drained the clock, effectively ending the game.

Earlier in the third, Sven didn't look great when Ryan Johnston, on a powerplay, made a shot/pass into the slot that didn't convert into a goal.  Sven was standing off to the left of the goal, ready for a one-timer, and after the puck didn't come to him, he banged his stick on the ice repeatedly, like P.K. once did to Brian Gionta in the playoffs, showing up his captain in a fit of pique.  Really not a good look for Sven to do that to a teammate.  Stéphane Leroux and Norman Flynn didn't miss it, and spoke about it quite a bit, mentioning that if we saw it, the coaches also surely did.

And the thing is, it's not as if Sven was wide-open with an empty net begging to be filled.  There was a defender nearby, the pass could easily have been intercepted, and the goalie could have easily shifted to make the save.  So it wasn't that frustrating to the viewer at home, I wondered why Sven was so demonstrative, whether there's a backstory with him and Ryan Johnston, or if he's not quite accepted his demotion to St. John's quite yet.  This really wasn't a good look for him.

One positive I thought was how Bobby Farnham and David Broll both got into scraps.  David Broll's was a staged fight, but I liked that he was there for that, that Brett Lernout or Mike McCarron didn't have to tangle with the Bruins' tough guy all night, as he tried to make a name for himself.  David Broll effectively neutralized him.

Bobby Farnham was the recipient of a questionable hit early in the first, when he was interfered with in the open ice, without the puck.  He went right back at the guy and took him to account himself.

There will come a day, and it will be none too soon, when pro hockey removes fighting from its game, when effective refereeing and enforcement policies will remove any need for enforcers.  Until that's the case, I'm confident that the IceCaps currently have enough muscle on the roster to push back against any opponent trying to use intimidation against them.

Aside from that, there's not much to note.  Stefan Matteau had a couple of flashes, but like most of his forward brethren, he was mostly invisible all night.  I'm making a conscious decision as I type this not to scurry to other websites, other pages to see what kind of reinforcements the Laval Rocket will receive next season.  Because this team misses Bud Holloway and Gabriel Dumont, for starters.

Speaking of which, Stéphane Leroux mentioned how Michaël Bournival had a goal and an assist for the Syracuse Crunch tonight.

A shoutout to Charlie Lindgren, without who the game would have been quickly out of reach.  He stopped 28 out of 30 shots.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Canada-Russia Series Game 6: Canada 4, Russia 1

The Canada-Russia Series was already won by Canada before this sixth game, so the results were academic.  The WHL squad won one game, and lost one in overtime to grab four points out of a possible six, in the 3 points for a win, 2 points for an OT win, 1 point for an OT loss system employed.  The Canada team composed by OHL players split their two-games, so all the LHJMQ needed to do to clinch the series was win one of the two remaining games in regulation.

They did that in the fifth game in Chicoutimi, where after a slow start the LHJMQ team gathered steam and impressed with a 4-0 win.  Noteworthy were Pierre-Luc Dubois and Julien Gauthier, two impressive specimens who were taken in the first round in the June draft, and who were teamed up on a line that produced a bunch of points in the second and third period.  Defenceman Samuel Girard, the Predators' second-rounder who is tearing up the Québec league with Shawinigan early this season, also caught the eye, as well as Nicolas Roy, a fourth-round pick by Carolina in 2015.

The sixth game in Baie-Comeau, a 4-1 win for the boys, was just the cherry on the sundae.  Maxime Comtois, a player prognosticated to go high in the first round next June, helped his stock with two goals.

It was particularly enjoyable in the Chicoutimi game to see Messrs. Dubois, Gauthier and Roy on a line on a powerplay, and completely befuddling the Russian defence with its size and passing wizardry.  Julien Gauthier scored two and added an assist, and had what Sportsnet announcers R.J. Broadhead and Sam Cosentino deemed the 'goal of the tournament', on a great individual effort.

It sets up a Canadiens fan, one who grew up with the great dynasty of the Seventies, to rue that none of these great young prospects will play for the Canadiens, will be the Canadiens' next Lafleur or Lapointe, or at least the next Richer.

For Pierre-Luc Dubois and Julien Gauthier, you kind of shrug and move on, you know that those two weren't 'in range' when it was our turn to choose, one was too high a pick, the other too low.  Mikhail Sergachev was the Goldilocks pick.

But for Nicolas Roy and Samuel Girard, those two could have easily ended up in the Canadiens system.  Nicolas Roy, a highly-touted prospect in the lead-up to the 2015 draft, underwhelmed observers that season and ended up falling in the rankings, from a projected high first-rounder, until he was seen as a late second-rounder at best just prior to the June draft.

He ended up going early in the fourth round to the Carolina Hurricanes, ultimately great value for a 6'4" centre who shoots right, one who made up for his poor 2014-15 season with a 48 goal, 90 point season last year, and this season has 14 goals and 16 assists in 17 games.

Who did the Canadiens prefer to Monsieur Roy?  No other than "late-bloomer" Lukas Vejdemo, an overager who racked up 5 goals and 12 assists in 52 games while playing for Djurgardens in the Swedish Hockey League.  Now, we have to bear in mind that this was against strong competition, he's playing against men, not teenagers, but his 2 assists so far this season do nothing to allay our fears, and neither does his tepid showing at the Development Camp this summer, when he blended in a little too much, for a 20-year-old playing against teenagers and undrafted players on a tryout.

Samuel Girard was also in range for the Canadiens.  With two high second-round picks, Monsieur Girard would have been a likely get, with his small stature detracting from his general skillset and deflating his ranking.  Sure enough, the Predators, those guys again, snapped him up 47th overall.  The second-round picks we dealt to the Blackhawks for Andrew Shaw were the 38th and 45th overall.

The NHL Draft is a crap shoot.  You do your homework, you put in the hours, you make the best decision you can when it's your turn to speak, but ultimately, you're choosing 17 and 18 year old players, three or four years before they're ready to play in the NHL.  Nothing is written in stone.

I understand the philosophy that it's wisest to take the best-available player when it's your turn to choose, you don't get distracted by organizational need or other matters, but in the case of Nicolas Roy, late in the third round, when all the remaining prospects' grades are bunched up together and essentially equal, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to a big tall offensively-skilled right-handed centreman who's a local boy, no?  This ticks off so many checkboxes.  I'd understand if he was a goalie and we just didn't have the organizational room to take a flier on him, but geez, don't we need size at forward?  Don't we need centres?  Aren't we trying to boost the local content on our team?

And when we start asking these questions, we don't exactly become paranoid, but we start to wonder if Peter Karmanos, besieged on all sides, might not have started preparing his exit plan by instructing Ron Francis to nordiquize his roster and draft Nicolas Roy, and Julien Gauthier last June, to make his Hurricanes even more attractive to Québecor.

I fear the day when these two drive down the Autoroute 20 with their compatriotes and have their way against Arturri Lehkonen, Sven Andrighetto and Martin Reway, easily push them to the side on their way to another win.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Game 19: Canadiens 3, Leafs 2

Because the Leafs entrain all of Hockey Night in Canada's resources with them, we got the A-team with Jim Hughson calling the game tonight, and not our usual helping of the reliably fallible Bob Cole.  Which was a plus, in a way, we got a play-by-play caller who helps the game along instead of obscuring it.

One of my hobby horses on social media is that there is no Canadiens-Leafs rivalry, that Toronto hasn't mattered for decades, certainly not in my lifetime.  The last we saw of them in the playoffs, we swept them, two years in a row, that whimsical assemblage of Mike Palmateer and Tiger Williams, and their trio of Jack Valiquette, Pat Boutette and Bruce Boudreau, who the ownership of the team was quick to point out didn't speak French, that they 'weren't French', as a point of pride.  They were merely saddled with a French surname, to their fans' implied chagrin.  As if it would have been a grave injustice to their gullible fans to have had a Gilbert Perreault or Yvan Cournoyer in their ranks.

Yet the CBC kept perpetuating this myth of a Canadiens rivalry with the Leafs, unbeknownst to most francophone fans who had their priorities straight, and knew that their hated rivals were the Bruins and the Flyers.  The challengers who usurped our crown, the Islanders and eventually the Oilers, those were the teams we were struggling with.  Not the ridiculous blue-and-whites, the fearsome  Inge Hammarström.

And it was a surprise to me, when I met some English-speaking Canadians from all over the country in university, some of them Leafs fans, and they would eagerly want to bust my chops about my Canadiens, and how the Leafs were going to win in three weeks' time, a game they'd already circled on the calendar.  It was unfathomable to me that they were a) fans of the Maple Leafs to begin with, b) that they would admit this verbally, out loud, c) apparently for all the world as if unabashed, and d), that they expected me to mount a defence of my team for some reason, as if there was this back-and-forth that we and they regularly undertook.  As if we were the mongoose and the cobra, rather than the polar bear and the seal.  This was a genuine stumper to me, and I couldn't play my ascribed role.  I didn't understand the game they were playing.

I began to understand this phenomenon when I'd watch games on CBC, on Hockey Night in Canada, instead of on Radio-Canada and "La Soirée du Hockey", and was exposed to this completely twisted narrative that the Leafs were our hated, worthy rivals, as opposed to less-fearsome Sabres from not-across-the-border, importunate inconsequential hurdles while we bid our time until the next Bruins game, the next meeting against those Nordiques upstarts.

And I've stated all this before, and when I do the HIO vets will call this whippersnapper to order, that maybe there have been a couple generations or so that have not known the Leafs to have been in any shape or form an adversary, but back in the Sixties, wooh, boy, the Leafs, well, they were one of the five other teams that didn't quite suck, they'd win some of the Stanley Cups we let slip through our fingers.  When the Red Wings faded, well, the Leafs kind of took a shufflestep forward and they were a team to contend with, they'll inform me.

Which is fine, but that's what it is, ancient history.  Actual history.  Dead and buried history.  Not an enduring conflict, as Dave Hodge and Ron MacLean and Bob Cole would have me believe.

And tonight, Kyle Bukauskas, Sportsnet's latest lowest bidder, who ousted more senior and better paid Chantal Desjardins with his polished insipidity at half the price, showed a photo montage to start the second period, and intoned that with Auston Matthews and their slew of rookies, the Leafs can once again challenge the Canadiens, like way back in the days of Dave Keon.  "The rivalry once again matters," he intoned.

Well, first of all it would be prudent to wait until those chickens actually hatched.  But mainly, how infuriating that, after years of being fed propaganda and lies and dreck like the Leafs new "Big Three", or their other new "Big Three", or their breathless reports about Brandon Kozun and Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer and Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov and Nikolai Borschevsky, all of their failed next great Leafs, all this hype about the Saturday clashes, all this one-way 'hatred', they come clean and tell us they've been selling us a bridge to Mississauga.

"What they need is a playoff meeting.  It hasn't happened in a long time..." now says Jim Hughson, and Craig Simpson agrees.  That's nice boys, but maybe that should have been the party line since, oh, maybe the Nineties?  Instead of this ginned up rivalry you've been fabricating, you've been shoving down our throats for all these years?  Vainly?

But I'm not one to dwell, or dramatize, so let's focus on the game.

--Shea Weber's 'secondary assist' on the powerplay goal that made the game 2-0 was as primary as it gets.  He never looked directly at Alex Radulov, instead kept searching for a shooting lane, and angled the puck at him at the side of the net, catching the defenders unprepared.

I understand the value of the primary assist and primary points as a statistic, how the're more 'replicable' from year to year in a player's career, how there's less variability, but I think some people go overboard, and discount secondary assists too much.  Shea Weber, in this instance, engineered this play, delivered the puck to a an excellent point producer on the goal's doorstep, with an extra half-second's respite with his subterfuge.  He gets a full point in my book.

Two assists so far in the game, and a crunching bodycheck on winsome heartthrob William Nylander, that's a pretty good night's work for him.

--There was a profile on Jamie Benn, how he was a baseball player growing up, and how it might have depressed his stock as a hockey prospect for various reasons, at least in some scouts' eyes.  Well, Frederik Andersen was obviously a soccer player growing up, he tried to head a high floating puck instead of catching it with his glove, as he frigging should.  That's what it's for, that glove.

I've wondered a few times why goalies are so poor at catching the puck nowadays, and whether the fact that so few kids play baseball is a reason.  When I was growing up, we'd all play baseball in the summer, organized ball and sandlot, all day all summer.  And the guys who were goalies all played catcher or first base, that was 'their' position, no one argued about that, they'd own the specialized glove anyway.  But it was understood that they needed to work on their catching hand, and that playing first and catching hoppers and throws off the line, or playing catcher and seeing pitch after pitch, sometimes having to block the plate, it was good practice for being a goalie.

It was such a stark contrast to see Mr. Andersen's reflex, when he sees a puck near his head, that he should try to head it, soccer-style.  A counterproductive reflex, since there was very little to be gained by that move, and it could have gone wrong in so many ways.

Which is more proof than we need that soccer is useless and bad and worthless and should be shunned by all as a participatory or spectator sport , if we can't ban and extirpate it.

--We don't have an answer for a player like Matt Martin facewashing and crosschecking in front of our net.  The only Canadien with enough size and strength to deal with him would be Shea Weber, but we would lose in that exchange, if both were sent off for fighting.  We'd lose our #1 defenceman, they'd lose a fourth-liner who'll score five goals this season.

--What can we say about David Desharnais getting a feed from Brendan Gallagher, receiving the puck at the side of the net with the cage wide open, but instead of having the killer instinct of the sniper, instead of flicking it into the net, has to corral it and wastes a second, until the opportunity disappears?  Was he trying to find Max Pacioretty with a pass?

--56.2 Minor Penalty - A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who is not in possession of the puck. 

A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who restrains an opponent who is attempting to “fore-check.” 

A minor penalty shall be imposed on an attacking player who deliberately checks a defensive player, including the goalkeeper, who is not in possession of the puck.

A minor penalty shall be imposed on Leo Komarov whenever he is involved in a clash with another player, like, say, Charles Hudon, not the other way around.  Leo Komarov is always in the wrong.

A minor penalty shall not be imposed on Alexei Emelin if he crosschecks Nazem Kadri in the back like that so that he has to absorb the impact from the boards with his teeth, but on James van Riemsdyk it's kind of borderline, sort of.

Way too close of a win against a creampuff like the Leafs, but after three straight losses, I'll take it.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Game 18: Canadiens 2, Hurricanes 3

Another game watched on RDS' 'Canadiens Express', another pennywise, tone-deaf win for Gary Bettman.  It was hard to focus on the game  rather than fiddle with my fantasy football teams in preparation for Sunday.  My excitement level might have symbiosed with the tepid buzz to be found in the half-empty Hurricanes rink.

A fumbled opportunity to bank two points against a weak sister.  While the Canadiens outshot the 'Canes 33-18, they lost 3-2.

Some fleeting observations:

--Early on, I noticed Carey Price was a little off in his puck-handling, not in sync with his defencemen as to how to circulate the puck, until I reminded myself that this was an Al Montoya game.  

Pierre Houde mentioned that the Hurricanes were facing their sixth consecutive backup goalie, opposing teams marking them on their calendar as an opportunity to rest their #1 goalies.

--The first few injuries/illness that the Canadiens have suffered have sucked a lot of the life out the lineup, the teeth from the offence.  In the pre-game show on RDS, Éric Bélanger and Gaston Therrien argued that a player like Charles Hudon needed "une vraie chance", a real opportunity to show what he can do, meaning a chance to play in the Top 6 or at least Top 9, with offensively-talented linemates.

But that's not what happened.  It's hard to follow the flow of the game, the line combinations throughout the contest on Canadiens Express, but it appeared that Torrey Mitchell played with Daniel Carr and Charles for much of the game?  

It's easy to dissect the corpse afterwards, but if I'm to coach from my comfy couch, you have to wonder if the Canadiens wouldn't be better off giving Alex Galchenyuk Daniel Carr and Charles Hudon as his wingers, and leaving the fourth line, which was flying so far this season, untouched and to even increase its time on the ice while the other forwards convalesce.  

--Pierre Houde mentioned along the way that Nathan Beaulieu's game lacked consistency, that he was making errors, and sure enough as this was being discussed he had a minor bobble with the puck.  Nothing serious, but it demonstrated that Nate isn't yet the sure-handed puck-mover we dream he'll become.

--I had the time to formulate the thought in the third that this was the type of game in which Andrew Shaw could earn his stripes, could lead the team to a comeback, when it needed a spark, a lift, and sure enough, on that rush, he tipped in the Andrei Markov feed, a play he had started with a dropback pass.

He took a bad penalty in the final minutes though, in the offensive zone, as les Glorieux tried to mount a furious and just comeback, and I guess as he vociferously debated the merit of this call with the esteemed referee, earned another minor for the heat of his take?  

So he gets half a star then?

--Seeing Al Montoya wobble on the first two lucky, bouncy goals by Carolina and then topple on the third goal allowed, a shot he should have saved, it's hard for this fan to wonder if there are still scars that haven't healed yet after the 10-0 debacle in Columbus.

--Chris Terry would have been well advised to produce tonight against his old team, and get a firmer purchase on a NHL perch, to guard against backsliding all the way down to St. John's.

--"Un match bizarre", as Pierre Houde opined as the final horn sounded.  Like the horror movie where you kind of killed the monster/bad guy, but not really, he's just resting his eyes/regrowing new tentacles and slime pods.  When he was down and out, we should have gone and cut its head off or thrown it into the volcano to make sure, not futzed around with the radio or brushing back the hair on the heroine and whispering sweet nothings to her.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Canada-Russia Series Game 4: Canada 4, Russia 2

Game 4 of the Canada-Russia Series promised to be exciting for the average Canadiens fan and draft nerd, with 4 prospects slated to play, namely 2016 first-rounder  Mikhail Sergachev for Team Russia, and defenceman Victor Mete, winger Will Bitten and goalie Michael McNiven for the OHL squad.  Victor Mete and Will Bitten were also 2016 picks, and long-shots to make the World Junior Championship Team Canada, since the tournament is known as a '19-year-old tournament'.  If anything, they are trying to leave an impression with Hockey Canada brass for next year's tournament.

Mikhail Sergachev seemed like a lock to make the Russian team though, if only in our opinion of our latest jewel in the crown, and his pedigree and production last year.  News that he wouldn't play in this game, after playing on Thursday for Team Russia, is the first inkling of a doubt for this fan though.  The Russian team has a well-known practice of favouring KHL and MHL players for inclusion on its international teams, players who are 'in the system', as opposed to players who exile themselves to the CHL for a better shot at being drafted and playing in the NHL.

Mikhail has had muted results since being sent back down to junior by the Canadiens, if only based on his production in the few games he's had (2 assists in 4 games, after maintaining a near-point a game pace last season).  In the first game between Team Russia and the OHL team, he seemed smooth and confident, but also didn't really do much to catch the eye.  He made a mistake or two and was shown on the bench receiving direction from the Russian coach.

The stated reason for his exclusion from the lineup was that all four Russian players who play in the OHL and played from Team Russia in Thursday's game had to play games over the weekend for their OHL team.  Fearing they would be fatigued, the Russian managers chose to go without their services, their roster of players who flew in from Russia having had the entire weekend off and being rested.

Michael McNiven has a good shot at at least an invite to Team Canada training camp.  He's not a pedigreed goalie, being undrafted and signed as a free agent by the Canadiens in the summer of 2015, but he's shown steady improvement since then and is having a strong start to his OHL season.  What also works in his favour is the fact that there are no returning goalies from last year's team, the road is wide open.

And the Sportsnet broadcast team of R.J. Broadhead and Sam Consentino are big fans also, judging by the call on a three-on-one break by the Russians early in the second period: "Stop by McNiven!  Marvelous, just marvelous, he does it again!"  For roughly the first half of the game, the story was how Michael McNiven had kept the Russians at bay and the game scoreless.

Will Bitten also drew our attention with his speed, getting a near breakaway on a penalty kill, showing speed and intensity on the forecheck.  He created a scrum and mini-brawl in the third with what I thought was a good strong bodycheck on the forecheck, and ended the game with an empty net goal.

Victor Mete got a lot of camera time and love from the announcers, being confident and mobile with the puck, getting powerplay time, and creating scoring opportunities.

So a good showing for Canadiens prospects in this 4-2 win.  Michael McNiven withstood a barrage early on, and very late in the third to earn a well-deserved win.  But for this worrywart, the major story is the absence of Mikhail Sergachev from the lineup.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Game 15: Canadiens 5, Red Wings 0

I got it right tonight, figured out that Bob Cole would be the pause-by-pause rambler on the Sportsnet feed of tonight's game, so I fell back on Plan B, Félix Séguin and Patrick Lalime on TVA Sports.  They're okay, they're not great, but so much better than the Ol' Foghorn, when forced to make a choice.

So a 10th straight home win for the Canadiens, 12 wins in 14 games, and Carey Price hasn't lost in over a year.  We could go over the old themes, about the Canadiens starting fast out of the gate, about Carey being the best goalie/player in the world, about Shea Weber's contribution and adding another powerplay goal with a laserocket.

Instead, let's focus on two calls made by Michel Therrien which prove to be inspired.  First, Paul Byron scored again, for the third time in three games since being moved up to the top line with Alex Galchenyuk and Alex Radulov.  There are many variations of the saying that once is a fluke, two is a coincidence, and three is a trend, which could apply in this case.  I don't want to get carried away, we saw what happened with Dale Weise who eased back down to earth after a hot start on the #1 line last year.  In the meantime though, I want to ride this pony for as long as we can.

Another great coach decision is the use of Phillip Danault between Max Pacioretty and Andrew Shaw.  Both of these guys scored tonight, and maybe they can get back on track.  Phillip also potted a goal, so we're seeing a bit of that third-line magic from last year, if we can call this unit the third line.

Mike Bossy, who works as an analyst on TVA, didn't mince words: "C'est l'incompétence de David Desharnais et Tomas Plekanec au centre de Max Pacioretty qui a donné l'opportunité a Phillip Danault."  He makes the point that the Canadiens Head Coach was forced by circumstances, as a last resort, to try Phillip with Max, and it's hard to disagree.  What this does though is validate Marc Bergevin's acquisition of Phillip Danault, and his belief that having 'too many centres' isn't really a problem, that they can adjust and play on the wing, but it's nice when they're there to be called upon when needed.

So, two flowers for Michel Therrien, and now the pot, as we say en français.  Monsieur Therrien, did you see how Jeff Blashill, the Wings' coach, pulled Jimmy Howard between the second and third period, after he let in five goals on 25 shots?  And how that stanched the bleeding?  I still believe that the Columbus 10-0 debacle could easily have been averted, been a mere loss instead of a crisis, if Carey had been inserted after two periods.

Fleeting thoughts: a bad giveaway by Joel Hanley, when he had good control of the puck, preceded his double minor.  These kinds of faux pas will earn you a ticket back to St. John's.

--The Canadiens only won 44% of their faceoffs, and Alex Galchenyuk struggled right along with everyone, but his clean win on the powerplay lead to the Shea Weber goal which pretty much iced the game at 3-0 as the first period was coming to a close.

--Everyone by now has probably seen the Paul Byron breakaway video on YouTube, which unspools to the sound of "Yakety Sax", and shows him failing to score again and again.  It might be time now to update it, or start a new video of his breakaways since he's been a Canadien, with a new soundtrack, maybe the theme from "Jaws"?

--Max got a lucky-ish goal tonight, that bounced off an opposition defenceman's skate, but then again it happened because he did the right thing, putting a puck in the slot to a teammate.  Let's hope it gets him rolling again.

--David Desharnais, who made a return due to a Brian Flynn injury, after being left off the lineup on Thursday against the Kings, didn't quite convince anyone that he should be bumping the likes of Charles Hudon and Mike McCarron.  He got little ice time, but made no impact at all.  On a break towards the net he got the puck with a clear shot at the net, but he tried to feed the puck back, and the play aborted.  David should change it up, tell himself that he needs to be a little more greedy, put three pucks on net every game.  While he still can.

--Andrew Shaw got some puck luck tonight, let's hope that it gets him back on track.  With Torrey Mitchell and Phillip Danault and Paul Byron all at 5 goals on the season, the spotlight didn't fall on him too much, but he must feel better about himself, getting the first star.

--Daniel Carr got an assist, and he and Sven Andrighetto both stood out at times with their effort and effective play.  They must smell blood in the water, know that there's an opportunity for them to stick if they don't mess it up.

--A Carey Price shutout.  Ho-hum...

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Game 14: Canadiens 4, Kings 1

With Gary Bettman's efforts to grow our game, I was relegated to RDS' 'Canadiens Express' to see in what manner exactly how our boys were going to be run out of the rink by the big mean tough Kings.

Instead, the Canadiens dominated the game and won 4-1, and withstood the Kings' bodycheck, late-check, and checks-in-the-back assault.

From my vantage point and my Bettman-enforced tunnel vision, it seemed the Kings were constantly interfering, if not outright wrestling our guys, even when they were nowhere near the puck.  I'm pretty sure at one point for all the world that I saw Matt Green apply a Camel Clutch on Brendan Gallagher.

We talk about how the game is changing, that it's more about speed than size these days in the NHL, but I won't believe it until I see it in the playoffs.  If the refs myope their way through the post-season like they did tonight, we don't stand a chance.

The big change for the Canadiens, one that many will believe was overdue, was the removal of David Desharnais from the lineup.  He's been in a profound torpor for the last ten games or so, despite getting icetime with Max Pacioretty and some powerplay time.  So David needed to step aside, and Phillip Danault got promoted to pivot his line with Max and Andrew Shaw.

One of the reasons I believe that David and Tomas Plekanec were tolerated for so long while producing no tangible results was that there was no obvious replacement.  The boys in St. John's probably need to spend more time in the AHL.  Top 6 centres don't grow on trees, don't come cheap on the trade market.

Well if Phillip Danault plays like he did tonight, he might be a short-term solution.  While he doesn't have a history or pedigree as a point producer, tonight his speed and assurance handling the puck at least gave the impression that this could work.  Even Andrew Shaw seemed vivified, and came close to potting a couple goals due to Phillip's passing and skating contributions.

And Michel Therrien will never get credit for playing a hunch and coming up aces with his decision to affix Paul Byron to Alex Galchenyuk's left wing.  The online experts wailed that he's a fourth-liner and has no business in the Top 6, as they rent their Jiri Sekac jerseys.

Well, Paul's quickness and indefatigability seems to aid Alex & Alex, Inc., providing a bit of dash in their stickhandling wizardry.  Paul also has two goals in two games, on the top line.  We'll see if he's shut out on Saturday, and if the doubting Thomases shriek "Slump!" as they rend their Halak sweaters.

The Kings' fourth line, for which we jonesed not more than a couple years ago, looked moribund tonight, mastodons in the tar pit, with the same agility and future prospects.

Mathieu Darche on L'Antichambre noted that the Canadiens did much better in the faceoff dot, especially early in the game.  We can hope that it's due to some hard work in practice with Kirk Muller, but you have to think that putting Phillip Danault out there also helped.  He's a deluxe backup centre on the fourth line, but that means that he or Torrey Mitchell, two of our better faceoff men, are sitting out the draw when they play together.

Meanwhile, Alex Galchenyuk still has a lot to work on in this area.  It blunts the teeth of their attack if he and Alex Radulov have to start every shift chasing the puck, instead of controlling it right off the bat.

A great win, another two points in the bank, and another masterful performance by Carey Price, who quarterbacked a multitude of breakouts with his vision and deft puckhandling.  That boy's a keeper.