Saturday, 20 December 2014

Clayton Stoner doesn't face supplemental discipline for his hit on Max Pacioretty. Of course.

News item:  Report: No hearing for Stoner’s Pacioretty hit

How many ways could a referee have called the Clayton Stoner hit a penalty?

1) Interference. Max didn’t have the puck, wasn’t eligible to be checked. That rules and application have mutated to the point where a player now has an official, objective 0.8 seconds to ‘finish his check’ is deplorable. I understand the concern that a player may be in the process of checking an opponent a split second before he releases the puck, and in such a case the hit is unavoidable. In Mr. Stoner’s case, however, he took two extra steps to get there.

In the NFL, there was a lot of handwringing about this fact, how Mean Joe Green or Jack Youngblood, when they were about to hit the quarterback, couldn’t halt their momentum suddenly, that some collisions were unavoidable. This turned out to be a non-issue.

The standard now is that if the quarterback has the ball you can hit him. Even if you hit him as he releases the ball, you can hit him as long as it’s simultaneous. If you get there a split second late though, you’re expected as a defensive player to hold up, to ease off so as to minimize the collision. The more time you have, the more you’re expected to do this, to the point where defensive players now kind of bear-hug and hold up the QB when they’re late, and prevent him from falling to the turf. If you’re very late, like more than a step, it gives you time to avoid any contact whatsoever.

There’s no objective time measure of this, it’s obvious when watching the game, as the refs see it, and as it’s recorded on video. The onus is on the defensive player to get there on time, or to not hit the QB. In that grey area, the defensive player does his best to not give the QB an extra shot, to err on the side of caution, since the refs will definitely have an itchy flag itching to fly out.

2) Hit in the back. We can get into an ‘angels on the head of a pin’ argument here, but I’ll submit that Max was hit in the back. I’ll understand a Ducks fan for countering that the hit was on the side 7/8ths or whatever.

To say that Max was “admiring his pass” is the ludicrous stance of the truculence brigade. Max just made a pass to a teammate and wants to know if it’s coming back to him, if it’s going to the other point, so he can react accordingly. If he constantly has to have his head on a swivel to prevent getting mugged by Mark Stuart or Eric Gryba with a claymore, then we might as well dig foxholes in the ice and bring in the armour. Max was trying to make a play with the puck, the Ducks defenceman was scrambling to lay the lumber.

3) Crosschecking.
Rule 59 – Cross-checking

59.1 Cross-checking – The action of using the shaft of the stick between the two hands to forcefully check an opponent.

59.2 Minor Penalty – A minor penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who “cross checks” an opponent.

59.3 Major Penalty – A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who “cross checks” an opponent (see 59.5).

59.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by cross-checking.

59.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – When a major penalty is assessed for cross-checking, an automatic game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on the offending player.

59.6 Fines and Suspensions – When a major penalty is imposed under this rule, an automatic fine of one hundred dollars ($100) shall also be imposed.

If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

4) Boarding. What Clayton Stoner did easily qualifies as boarding.
 A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

Some will say that I’m living in a dreamworld if I think hockey will be refereed the way I describe it should be. And I am. I do dream of an NHL which features skill and speed and offence and spectacular tic-tac-toe goals, while still providing lots of contact and thrills. But it won’t happen until the NHL GM’s and the head office relax their stranglehold on the neck of the sport they purport to love.

An apologia for Manny Malhotra.

Habs fans were over the moon with Manny Malhotra early this season as he lightened the load on Tomas Plekanec, played superb defensive hockey and penalty kill minutes, and had a significant positive effect on the team's faceoff prowess.

As the season proceeds though, his non-existent offensive production has drawn more critical attention.  The very reasonable question is posed whether the team would be better off taking him out of the lineup entirely and replacing him with someone else, anyone who can chip in a goal now and then.

I don’t denounce ‘advanced stats’, or claim that I find all I need to know ‘just by watching the game’, but something that seems immediately apparent to me is that the Canadiens are a much stronger team this season, and a lot of that seems to derive from the strong faceoff performance the team has demonstrated.

A few years ago during the Gomez era, we’d lose lots and lots of draws and collapse into a shell, it was our M.O., with Hal Gill and Josh Gorges blocking shots, it was like the Alamo after every faceoff it seemed. We could rely on losing the draw and then ‘defending’. A faceoff win was a refreshing surprise.

This season, amazingly, we’re winning a lot of faceoffs, some games we’re downright dominant. Some of that can be attributed to our centremen growing more mature. There was a chart or article linked to on here that showed that centremen improve their FO% as they age generally, even well into their thirties, that as they accumulate experience and grow stronger physically they win more and more on average compared to their younger counterparts.

A lot of that success in my calculation is also due to Manny taking on the toughest assignments, and Tomas and David and Lars and Alex facing relatively easier competition compared to last season. It’s a cascade effect. Our centres from last season have climbed down a notch in the degree of difficulty of draws they face, and have shown consequent dramatic improvement, more than can be shown by a simple age progression according to the charts.

So yeah, to my layman’s eyes, the Canadiens are quantitatively better at faceoffs, but also qualitatively better as a whole, we go on the attack rather than chase the puck and get banged up in the corners and block slapshots and get injured, etc. And it’s hard to tease apart the cost-benefit of the addition of Manny to our roster, but I would say it’s hard whichever way you want to make the argument, good or bad.

We have to fold in his other contributions, his size and physical assets, his leadership and experience, his dressing room presence, the domino effect he has on other centreman in terms of their improved faceoff performance, among others, and subtract his abysmal production thus far, to get a full picture of his value to the team. To reduce him to only his faceoff prowess, and say that's all he brings, is to caricature him as a player.

Game 34: Canadiens 4, Senators 1

Random thoughts on the Canadiens' 4-1 win against the Senators.

1)  I really enjoy watching Jiri Sekac play.  He acts like he wants the puck and when he has it he takes it to the net with authority.  He's big and rangy and swoopy when he skates.  Eye candy.  

In the '80's we went away from the Flying Frenchmen days, we had a bunch of big thumpers on our roster, Steve Rooney and Dave Maley and Ryan Walter and Lucien DeBlois, and they weren't the most exciting team to watch objectively.  Sure we rooted for them, cheered them on, it was great to see them beat the Nordiques and the Bruins, but after our game we'd get to see the Oilers take on the Canucks or the Jets or Flames, and it was end-to-end hockey, fast-paced and high-test adrenaline stuff.  And I caught myself wondering if I didn't enjoy watching those games rather than watching my team play.

I'd resigned myself after the Bruins' tainted finals win and our debacle against the Senators in 2013 that if we wanted to win, we needed to size up, at the expense of skill and our viewing pleasure.  But watching our team now, I'm not sure that'll be the case, that I'll have to endure some snoozers like when we'd pound the Whalers into submission.  Not when we size up with the likes of Alex Galchenyuk, Dale Weise, Max Pacioretty, and the aforementioned Jiri Sekac.  

Maybe we can measure up to the big teams and win, but still play an exciting brand of hockey.  Maybe we don't need to turn heel to win, to adopt the tactics of Abdullah the Butcher or Michel 'Justtice' Dubois.  We can remain as pure as the Frères Rougeau if we watch each other's backs, and triumph in the end.

2)  I'm having trouble keeping up with the lines we're putting on the ice.  Now Brandon Prust is on the Tomas Plekanec line?  Was it Christopher Curtis who first coined the phrase "Michel Therrien's blender"?  I don't know how much latitude he'll have to play mixmaster for the next few games, since he committed to the Alex Galchenyuk transition to #1 centre and stated that they'd need to be patient with him, and the Lars Eller centering David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau also needs to be evaluated on a somewhat extended term.  

3)  Not too much spark coming from that Lars Eller line tonight though.  It's not an immediate success, like the Two and a Half Men line, or the kid line of Alex, Lars and Gally from last season, combos that seemed like winners from the first game they were put together.

4)  "...Karlsson with the puck, being perniciously pursued..."

"...a Subbanian spinerama..."

Is Paul Romaniuk getting into a rhythm, finding his groove?  Never had a problem with his delivery, his intonation, but he was halting at the beginning of the season, a little rusty, hesitant when trying to identify players.  Tonight's effort was pretty good, with no glaring errors.

5)  Gary Galley however, had this clunker: "Maybe he re-aggravated an ongoing injury..."

Ugh.  Re-aggravate.  Always loved that redundancy.  You can aggravate an injury.  You can re-injure something.  But to re-aggravate an injury means something pretty specific.  That you got injured, then you aggravated it, meaning you made it worse, and then later on aggravated it again.

And don't get me started on the much overused techno-babble flavour-du-jour word 'ongoing'.  

Or the inherent contradiction in that phrase.

6)  I figure Alex Galchenyuk gets all the chicks, but not if he keeps getting high-sticked in the kisser like that, pretty soon he'll look like Réjean Houle.

7)  The Sens aren't so easy to hate when Chris Neil and Matt Kassian and Zenon Konopka aren't on their roster.  It makes even cementally-shod Eric Gryba kind of adorable, trying to keep up to the play, getting all winded from the slashing and the hooking and franticing.

8)  I liked the sober goal celebration by Tomas Plekanec to make it 3-1 and put the game away.  Not too much to get excited about when you beat a clearly inferior team that played the previous night and three games in four nights.  You took care of business, but nothing to do cartwheels about.  Nice.

9)  Also liked that Michel Therrien put out the fourth line for the last powerplay to end the game.  No sense getting the Sens all riled up by rubbing it in at that point, and it was a good opportunity for Manny Malhotra to pad his point totals.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Game 33: Canadiens 1, Anaheim 2

Canadiens Express thoughts on the Canadiens 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, I had to pirate the Saku Koivu ceremony on a stream that was difficult to find, with popups and delays, etc.

Thank you Gary Bettman.

Right at puck drop, I heard some low boos when Ryan Getzlaf was on the ice, and I was puzzled as to why.  I guessed that he was getting the business from the fans since he's the best player on the Ducks team.

Now, I dislike the practice of booing the opposition's best player as a matter of course, putatively to get them off their game.  I don't think Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or Erik Karlsson deserve this treatment, we should appreciate their effort and artistry, as hockey fans.

Then I realized that the New Forum crowd was booing René Bourque, and to me that was just as dumb.  René underperformed for most of his stay here, he on some nights, and even some long stretches of games seemed to be sleepwalking, but I think it was beyond his control, it wasn't a conscious decision to play soft, uninspired hockey.  Certainly compared to Michael Ryder or Andrei Kostitsyn or Thomas Vanek it didn't seem so.  Those guys seemed to not care whether the team won or lost on some nights.  René was just lost in a fog in my opinion, and not to get too technical.

So yeah, disappointing showing for René while he was here, but he did have these enticing peaks in performance, when he dominated games.  The Tampa Bay series last spring for example.  He can still get it done under the right conditions.  So why would we do anything to add any further motivation, on his return to Montréal?  Why not let sleeping dogs lie?

It's not as if René was not likable as a person.  He was a popular teammate, thoughtful and humble when cornered by the press, we can wish he could have done more, but I don't think he did anything to draw the average Hab fan's enmity.

Speaking of big forwards who underwhelm, Eric Tangradi, who some may have thought could perform the role that Travis Moen did lately with the team, and I may have verged on that position myself, showed tonight definitively that he's not at all at that level.  During a sequence that Pierre Houde said lasted almost three minutes, he and Manny Malhotra and Michaël Bournival were backed up in their zone, unable to clear out.

Mr. Tangradi at first looked like he wasn't playing smart, by just staying in his position rather than pressuring the puck, and letting the Ducks cycle it easily along the boards.  Then I realized that it wasn't a tactical mistake, he's just immobile.  And on top of being slow, he was gassed early on in that sequence.  It seemed inevitable that the Ducks would burst through and they did taking a 1-0 lead.

After the game, Guy Carbonneau and Benoit Brunet both discussed the wisdom of having him in the lineup, and sending down Sven Andrighetto to the Bulldogs.

Based on my edited viewing of the game, Nathan Beaulieu and Tom Gilbert were effective and are rounding into form as a pairing.  One situation I noticed was when Andrew Cogliano was skating the puck out of his zone, trying to get it under control.  Instead of backing off, both defencemen stayed close, and Nathan actually skated right up to him and pokechecked the puck off him before he could get his wits about him.  All that was left was for Tom to skate after the puck in his zone and calmly retrieve it.

Our ideal partner for Nathan would have been a big tough defensively-oriented steady-eddie type who would stay back and cover for him while he charged to the attack, kind of what the Senators had in mind when they traded for Marc Methot so he could play alongside Erik Karlsson and mind the store.  We don't really have that guy in our arsenal right now, so maybe Tom Gilbert is a good option.  Together they're going to be mobile and effective in puck retrieval situations, and to make that proverbial first pass out of our zone.

The game, and a good chunk of our season potentially, turned on a typical NHL play, one where an undertalented player "finishes his check" against a more skilled opponent.  Clayton Stoner, who was in the Ducks' lineup because Sheldon Souray, François Beauchemin and Eric Brewer were on the injured list, hit Max Pacioretty in the back, a full two strides after Max had passed the puck, projecting him awkwardly into the boards.  Max left the game and didn't return.  No penalty was called on the play.

This is the kind of suicidal thinking that is keeping the NHL from taking flight, the idea that a Clayton Stoner must be allowed to do this, to equalize things a bit, or else he's going to get eaten alive, like Tim Gleason did on Tuesday when the Hurricanes were in town.  Somehow, Colin Campbell and Don Cherry and Mike Milbury, guys who hung on to an NHL career because they were allowed to live in the margins of lax refereeing, now set the agenda, and hammer the point ceaselessly that hockey is a rough and tumble game, that bad things are going to happen, that you need to keep your head up.

This is how an Antoine Roussel and a Jordin Tootoo has a career in the NHL.  Somehow the game is tilted towards them and away from the Max Paciorettys and the Teemu Selannes.  Hockey is the only game that does that.  Basketball, baseball, football, all foster a more offensive game with their rule-making to make the sport more exciting and fan-friendly, and as a corollary safer for the players.  This is how a Clayton Stoner, a fringe player who has four goals to his credit in 255 games in the NHL, has a more important effect on the game than a young star like Max Pacioretty.

After the it's-all-good business as usual non-call, Dale Weise tried to get some retribution by throwing a few hits, and drew a penalty from Patrick Maroon when the latter pushed Dale in the back, with the puck nowhere near.  Of course, Bruce Boudreau was incensed at the call.  I guess he would have been arguing that Dale dived on that call, and I have to wonder how it wasn't clearly, obviously a case of interference, in anyone's eyes, how this was up to debate from any observer, regardless of whether Dale had fallen or not.

David Desharnais tied the game up during the ensuing powerplay, he had to play sniper with Max unavailable, and he demonstrated again on that play that his shot is effective from in close.  We all know this, he just needs to believe it.

Unfortunately, the Ducks took the lead again soon after, on a nice shot by Matt Beleskey from the slot.  At first I thought Carey went down early, but on replay saw that he was in the Reverse VH position and guarding the post against Richard Rakell, who was coming in along the goal line.  Carey had to be up tight against his post and low, so the quick pass in the slot gave him no chance.

Down 2-1, the Canadiens tried to take the advantage, but any last gasp chance was nullified by a P.K. Subban interference penalty with two and a half minutes to go.  P.K. didn't play it smart on this one, Pierre Houde had remarked that he was lucky to not have received a penalty on a slashing he dished out seconds before.  We can guess that the refs were loath to hand out a late penalty, as is the custom in the NHL, but that their attention was drawn to P.K. on that play, that he was on super-duper double probation for the rest of his shift.

Instead of playing it cool and being a good boy, of capitalizing on this indulgence, he doubled down and threw a pick on Devante Smith-Pelley, a player he'd clashed with all game long.  P.K. tried to act nonchalant, as if they'd just happened to collide in the neutral zone while his teammate tried to skate away with the puck, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Again we have to call into question P.K.'s situational awareness.  Down one goal, late in the third, it wasn't the time to continue his little battle with Mr. Smith-Pelley.  This is the kind of dumb penalty that was completely avoidable.  He should have been concentrating on getting the puck into the Ducks zone, on getting his shot to the net, instead of his in-game rivalry.

The RDS boys were discussing other elite NHL defencemen, and explained how guys like Shea Weber and Drew Doughty are in the vast majority of cases the reason you win a game, while P.K. this year has often had at best a neutral influence, if not being the reason we lose.  It's one step forward, one step back with our boy this year.

The Sven Andrighetto decision may be reversed almost as soon as it was taken.  Apparently Max was taken to hospital after the game, so we'll have a big, big hole on our Top 6, one that Lars Eller's return will not start to fill.  Maybe Sven doesn't get to unpack and comes right back to Montréal.  Or would it be Charles Hudon who gets a kick at the can next?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Predator James Neal first player to receive NHL's slap on the wrist for embellishment.

So the National Hockey League got tough on diving, and announced that it fined James Neal $2 000 for a shameful, transparent flop against the San Jose Sharks.  Barclay Goodrow had just given him a relatively innocuous tap on the pants, which is par for the course in the NHL.

Instead of having this labyrinthine system of warnings and inconsequential fines and public shamings, wouldn’t it easier for the NHL to declare that diving is an attack on the integrity of the game, like spitting at an opponent, or doctoring the ball or corking your bat in baseball? That this is an infraction that is grounds for a major penalty and an immediate expulsion from the game, and further suspensions?  It would clean it up overnight.

There might be some actors out there who’ve made a few incidents look very natural, but how many more are so transparent they leap right off the video for you? Think about the Bruins diving video, every single one of these dives is as clear as the day is long, there is no debate about these. So you hit those incidents, just like when you catch a pitcher red-handed with the nail file in his pocket.

The thing is, when a player dives, he’s trying his best to make it look good, and doesn’t really know how it looks outwardly. So the players have no way of telling which dive they’ll pull off, which they won’t. With a substantial penalty, with consequences, with the fact that they may hurt their team by doing so entering their mental equation, I think 90% of dives are eliminated, at least.

Further, to assist referees, let’s use video, like in instances when a player is not penalized for an action on the ice, but can still be punished later by the league. Do the same with diving. If the refs can’t make the call instantly, but it can be seen clearly on video, the player will be disciplined.

Another change would be to discard the section in the rules that states that non-aggressive slashing isn’t really slashing, and just tell the players that you can only play the puck with your stick. That would help the referees to not have to evaluate how much slashing, in what situation, under which circumstances, and at which point in the game or season does it take to actually constitute slashing.
Rule 61 – Slashing
61.1 Slashing – Slashing is the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made or not. Non-aggressive stick contact to the pant or front of the shin pads, should not be penalized as slashing. Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the Referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.
61.2 Minor Penalty – A minor penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who slashes an opponent.
61.3 Major Penalty – A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who slashes an opponent. When injury occurs, a major penalty must be assessed under this rule (see 61.5).
61.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by slashing.
61.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – Whenever a major penalty is assessed for slashing, a game misconduct penalty must also be imposed.
61.6 Penalty Shot – refer to Rule 57.3 – Tripping.
61.7 Awarded Goal – refer to Rule 57.4 – Tripping.
61.8 Fines and Suspensions – There are no specified fines or suspensions for slashing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Game 32: Canadiens 4, Hurricanes 1

These are my Canadiens Express thoughts on the Canadiens' win, I had to resort to the condensed RDS version of the game, since I was blacked out of the game by the new whiz-bang TV deal that's going to last 12 years and is going to serve me so much better as a hockey fan.

Thank you Gary Bettman.

"Y'en aura pas d'faciles", as Claude Ruel used to say.  I tempted fate after the Kings game when I wrote that this next game against Carolina should/would be an easy two-pointer.  The Canadiens let them hang around instead of finishing them off when they were down, and in the third I started having a bad feeling about how it would all go down.  We had the makings of a Buffalo Sabres situation, again.

The Brandon Prust, David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau line seemed to have a great start to the game, unless the Canadiens Express editors had an agenda and cut out all the sequences where they struggled.  The trio was dangerous, buzzing around the Hurricane zone.

On the Canadiens' first goal, P.A. made a good cross-ice pass giving David a great look at the net, and forcing Cam Ward to push out and challenge him.  David showed patience, skated around to behind the net while the 'Canes goalie slid far out of his net, helpless to stop himself.  From then it was a simple matter to slip the puck to Brandon Prust who tapped it into the empty net.

This misstep by Cam Ward is reminiscent of situations Carey Price would get himself into a few years ago, how he'd end up far, far out of his net on goals against.  He never, ever does that anymore, since Stéphane Waite has become the goalie coach.  We can guess that there was some communication between the brass and the goalie, and he'd explain that he was doing what he's coached to do, what he's been practicing, and that this may have among other factors triggered the coaching change from Pierre Groulx to Mr. Waite.

During the game we saw various examples of 'strong plays' on the puck, and not so strong plays that drive coaches crazy.  This is hockey newspeak, and a strong play simply means being decisive and safe with the puck, especially in your own zone, rather than making a fancy stickhandling play in your zone that is riskier.

One example of a not-strong play was when P.K. deftly intercepted a Zach Boychuk pass in front of his own net, and ended up with the puck right at his feet.  He tried to take a moment, a mere second to reposition so he could pass the puck and start the breakout, but he didn't have the 'time and space' (another buzzword) and got pushed off the puck from behind by Mr. Boychuk, which created a scoring chance for the Hurricanes.

This is one of those plays that gets evaluated based on the result.  If as a result of his hesitation he'd made a nifty pass out of the zone he'd have gotten a pat on the back.  Since he got burned, it looked bad on him, he didn't make a strong play, which in this case would have been a quick wild stab at the puck as soon as he possibly could to sweep it into the corner or bang it off the boards.  Josh Gorges and Hal Gill were great at those.

Another not-strong play by P.K. happened during a four-on-four in the second period when, on the offensive blue line with the puck, he was being pressured by Eric Staal, and instead of flipping the puck in the corner and out of harm's way, where one of his forwards could go retrieve it, he tried to stickhandle and protect the puck, with no one backing him up.  Mr. Staal stole the puck and skated off on a partial break.  Again, no harm done, so no spotlight on this poor decision by P.K., there was no need to try the impossible when his team was already ahead 2-0, and he was in such a precarious position.

Another example of a player failing to make a strong play was Tom Gilbert with the puck behind his net, covered by a Hurricane forward, during the second period.  He'd been given the puck to allow a line change, so he was on his own and in a bit of a bind, and when he bobbled the puck and the Hurricane closed the distance, he gave the puck away and caused a half-minute of panic in his zone.  The easy Don Cherry play would have been to bang it out of his zone off the glass, a strong play, instead of the fancy whatever he was attempting.

The thing is, if a team or a defensive squad does nothing but strong plays all game long, it will in effect be a succession of giveaways, and these will come back to haunt a team as surely as a gaffe in front of one's net.  So the hallowed safe play is almost akin to putting off the inevitable.  Which is why a defenceman is forced to make decisions based on the risk and reward of his options.  A flip pass out his zone to a streaking Tomas Plekanec to potentially send him on a breakaway is low risk-high reward, while a cross-ice pass from his own zone to Dale Weise blanketed by forecheckers is high risk-low reward.

Sven Andrighetto fell off his expected scoring pace by 100%.  Playing with Manny Malhotra and Michaël Bournival for part of the game instead of Tomas and Jiri Sekac may have played a role.  With Lars Eller about to return to action, Sven can't mess around.  We'll be wanting two goals out of him against the Ducks Thursday.

Alex Galchenyuk on the other hand did meet expectations, bagging his first career hat trick, with all three goals featuring a sweet pass from Max Pacioretty.  This is similar to last season when Thomas Vanek played on Max's line, and his role wasn't so clearly defined anymore, he wasn't solely the sniper on the trio, but rather could pass Thomas the puck for good scoring chances.  So that may be a benefit of the switch at centre, Alex is a dangerous sniper too, he and Max can play off each other, at times playing the setup man, at times the triggerman.

Alex's first goal came in the second period, on an odd-man rush created by Andrei Markov, who skated up the middle and dished off to Max to his left, who spotted Alex trailing up the middle and slipped him the puck.  Alex had a wide open net to shoot at, Cam Ward having committed to Max's side.

The Hurricanes made it closer in the third with a goal that trickled in on Carey Price.  Jeff Skinner got the puck over Carey's left shoulder, it rolled down his back and landed on his leg pad, pressed against the post.  Victor Rask came in and poked at the puck, dislodging it so that it ended up in the net.  David Desharnais did what he could to prevent Mr. Rask from doing this, trying to tie up his stick to no avail, and I thought how a Bryan Allen or Douglas Murray or Craig Ludwig would have simply barred his way to Carey, and never allowed this goal to happen.

Carey was otherwise solid, notably stopping Nathan Gerbe on two rushes to the net, when he beat Andrei and then P.K. on the left side and wheeled to the net.  Meanwhile I wasn't so solid, fearing déja vu.

Alex put the game away with two more beauties, and comforted my fretful self, short-term and long-term.  He's going to be a good one.  I don't have buyer's remorse, or long for Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray or Mikhail Grigorenko.  Or even Filip Forsberg.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Charles Hudon, an undervalued fifth-rounder.

So Charles Hudon picked up another goal and assist in his team’s overtime loss against the Amerks Sunday, and is four point clear in the AHL scoring race.

One thing which I’ve been thinking of is how we describe him as a “fifth-rounder”, usually to feel good about our prospects, and to congratulate Trevor Timmins and the rest of the brain trust. But we use the tag as an absolute, as when we deem him to be an Alma native. As if 122nd overall was his place in line, and justly so.  He always was meant to be a fifth-rounder, and always shall be.

So that a fifth-rounder is leading the AHL in scoring in his rookie year seems spectacular. It indicates a player who’s made tremendous strides in his development, a diamond in the rough who was overlooked, whose brilliance wasn’t perceived by other myopic scouts.

The thing is, he was drafted in 2012, the year after the Bruins had swept to a tainted Stanley Cup victory, aided and abetted by NHL refereeing and Daddy Campbell. Every team at that draft was looking for thumpers, for Milan Lucices and Shawn Thorntons, the ‘Boston Model’ was all the rage. Truculence ruled that day.

But, like at every draft, there were disagreement on rankings, on ‘upside’, about this prospect’s value compared to that one. Various scouts argued for their boy. And Serge Boisvert started advocating for Charles Hudon starting in the second round, but didn’t win over Marc Bergevin and/or Trevor Timmins until Dalton Thrower, Tim Bozon, and Brady Vail were drafted.

So maybe we shouldn’t view Charles as a fifth-rounder, but rather as a second-rounder who got caught in the rip tide of idiocy that gripped the league at that time, and which may be petering out. Just last month, Brian Burke and Marc Bergevin spoke at a conference, and Burkie was explaining how before every year they start scouting meetings by going over previous drafts to see where they might have made mistakes. He spoke of how Blackhawk Andrew Shaw, another fifth-rounder, is one player who’s stood out, one who they’d decided was too small.

The thing is, as Burkie cracked, “He doesn’t realize he’s too small.”

Other examples abound.  Dustin Byfuglien was a project, a player with a few great tools like size and strength and a great shot, but was far from a total package. So that the ‘Hawks took a flyer on him in the eighth round makes sense. That’s an appropriate round to take a chance on a longshot to ever make it.

Charles Hudon in comparison was already a frontline player who’d dominate games in junior, the only real knock against him was his size, and whether he’d expire when exposed to the pro game.

Conversely, a player like Keegan Kanzig of the Victoria Cougars was picked in the third round by the Flames strictly for his great size, his zero goal, seven assists season does not justify that high a draft status. In his case, he was an eighth-rounder who was also affected by the NHL zeitgeist, and Burkie’s predilection for brawlers, but for him it played in his favour and moved him up in the draft, as opposed to Charles.

If we really are in the throes of a puck possession era and moving away from intimidation as a tactic and dump and chase hockey, and if the 2012 draft were held in similar conditions, Charles Hudon would never have slipped all the way to the fifth round, but might have been on most teams’ radars by the time the second round rolled around. So maybe we should see Charles as a second-rounder who we bought when his stock was low, as opposed to a true-blue fifth-rounder.

The mumps, hockey players and water bottles.

Regarding the mumps epidemic sweeping the NHL right now, with 14 players stricken officially, including the game's brightest star Sidney Crosby, medical experts explain that a dressing room is a perfect environment to spread this disease.  Beyond the fact that this may be a new strain of the disease the regular MMR vaccine doesn't quite protect you from, and the disheartening fact that many of these players may not have been immunized to begin with, doctors explain that the mode of transmission is through saliva.

Hockey players are forever spitting, on the ice, on the bench, there's spray everywhere.  They use towels, they're always handling their mouthguard, taking it out, putting it back in, and then touching everything with their contaminated fingers.

I wonder if we'll get enough players to fall ill that we'll have a large enough sample size to check if centres will be more likely to be infected.  I would think their close quarters battles during faceoffs might make it easier for the virus to jump from one team to another.  Idle thought.

One of the methods which seems obvious to me is water bottles, how teams will share bottles and drink from the same ones, how that would be an easy way for the virus to hopscotch from one player to another.

I remember a movement a few years ago, when a minor hockey player died from meningitis, and I think it was traced back to sharing water bottles. Anyway, all of a sudden instead of having team bottles, as we did when I was a kid, now every player’s parent was expected to buy his child a bottle and label it with his name clearly, so there would be a much lower risk of contamination.

To give credit where it’s due, Don Cherry did a lot of work on that issue, spent a few minutes on Coach’s Corner encouraging parents to equip their kid appropriately.

Also, at the Rugby World Cup in 2011, the water bottles had these raised plastic pieces guarding the spout so no one could put their mouth on it, you had to squirt, but couldn’t suck. These were meant to dramatically reduce the chance of contamination from one player to another. I thought these would become the way of the future, but I haven’t seen these types of bottles used since then.

Nowadays, especially in football, we see staff on the sidelines running around squirting water or Gatorade at players during breaks. I still don’t have a handle on this, I thought that the main reason was to ensure proper hydration, since during exercise we forget to drink, we don’t feel thirsty, and when we do, it’s too late, we’re low on fluids and can’t replenish fast enough at that point.

Anyway, I wonder if the risk of disease transmission also plays a role, we don’t want players’ spit on the bottles.  Actually, anyone wouldn't want someone else's spit on their water bottle.  Or, that’s what I thought.

On a road trip a couple of summers ago a friend and colleague was sitting in the passenger seat, and I had my water bottle in the holder on the middle arm rest. It’s a Camelback fancy bottle that’s spill-proof, you can use it at your computer, but you do have to suck from a straw through a mouthpiece.

So we’re driving and we’re having a good time, until he reaches and grabs my bottle and takes a big chew on the mouthpiece and a big swig of water. I’m uncomfortable for a second, he caught me off-guard, but then I realize he must have thought it was his own, since he has the same exact model.

“Uh, that’s my bottle,” I stammer out, “did you think it was yours?”

“Nah, I knew it was yours, I didn’t think that was a problem.”

And we were silent for a while, and I couldn’t read the couple in the back, how they’d read the situation. But I didn’t think I was off-base. Regular squirt bottle, have at it, sip of a drink out of my cup, maybe in some specific situations, but not out of this kind of bottle I thought. Right?

Shortly thereafter, I lost that bottle and was forced to purchase a brand new, squeaky clean, untainted bottle.

David Desharnais trying to find a new role after demotion from #1 line.

A new role for David Desharnais, now that he's been taken off the #1 line with Max Pacioretty, and put on a third line with P.A. Parenteau and Michaël Bournival and/or Brandon Prust.

Things change.  David Desharnais played his way off the #1 line, he can play his way back onto it.  It's not immutable.  It may be a little premature to pen his obituary.

The way he is a little bit rueful and introspective shows what a humble, character kid he is.  He's self-effacing, a good teammate, modest, a hard worker who's proven himself at every level, with an extra dollop of production to overcome doubt due to his size.  His light-hearted comments when Max was placed on a line with Alex that it was similar to a breakup with a girlfriend, when at first you think you'll never find anyone else, were clearly a joking allusion to illustrate that it's not that big a deal, that things work out.

But some posters were oh-so ready to twist that into a dark Freudian tangle of jealousy and bitterness, a campaign to reverse the change.  Some specifically stated they hadn't seen the video, but forged on anyway, and spouted more conspiracy theories.

Just as he's popular on RDS and with franco-phone fans due to his heritage, he's a favourite target on HIO because of it also.  His utility as a player is even more under the microscope because there is a significant segment of members on here who will attribute such a player's presence on the roster and icetime solely due to marketing reasons.

Offered by analysts after Mike Cammalleri was traded to Calgary was the fact that he was a bit of a malcontent, always in the coach's office, with one of his demands that grated being that he wanted to play with David, not Tomas or some other centre.  Same with Erik Cole, who had a great season in 2011-12, but cooled off the next season after Gary Bettman's Third Lockout, and apparently resisted any discussion of how he should be used, including on another line.

Thomas Vanek upon his arrival in Montréal stated clearly that he was a left wing and much preferred that to right wing.  Michel Therrien had that discussion with him and accommodated him by putting him on the left with Tomas and Brian Gionta on the right, and gave them a few games to hit their stride.  Then, clearly thinking that time was of the essence, that "on a pas l'temps d'niaiser", he abandoned that experiment and put him on right wing with Max and David, and it took a couple of games, but they took off.  The line only was dismantled when Thomas Vanek's performance grew more muted against the Big Bad Bruins.  After the Habs were eliminated, he was forthright in explaining that he wished he'd been left on that line, that he thought they worked well together, even though that went against his stated preference to play left wing.

There must be some value to playing with David, or else these players wouldn't want to, wouldn't have reacted the way they did.  It seems they impute a greater benefit to it than many of David's doubters.

David is a player who I've compared to a scrappy scrum half in rugby, one who isn't a physical specimen with great wheels, but who always does the right thing with the ball and plays smart, or a wide receiver who doesn't wow you when running a fourty-yard dash, but during the game runs impeccable routes and becomes the quarterback's most trusted target, his go-to guy.  David is not Ryan Getzlaf, he's not the prototypical #1 centre, he is a player with many strengths and a few blind spots.  He's a puck distributor who makes superb, inventive passes, and works hard fearlessly.  We can wish he was tough and stout like Bryan Trottier or more productive like Adam Oates, but he is who he is, a player who if used correctly can be very effective.

As Michel Therrien said, “David knows exactly what we expect from him. He’s having trouble producing, just looking at his goal totals for example. But in the past, he’s always worked very hard to bust out of these slumps and I’m confident that he’ll do so again.”

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 6: Notes

I'm falling behind on these.  This one deals with Guy Lapointe's jersey retirement ceremony.

02:00  We see the elbow/high-stick on Alex Galchenyuk by Brandon Bollig, sending him back to the bench with a fat lip and groaning in pain.  After a couple of minutes, one of the trainers is telling him he needs to leave the bench and go to the quiet room, which Alex spontaneously resists.

"You don't have a choice, you got hit in the face."

"Yeah, but it's only my lip," Alex protests.

"Just go and come back," Manny Malhotra cuts in, and Alex gets up and walks off.  Good leadership by Manny being demonstrated, again.

What we did see though is how refs are loath to 'inject themselves in the game', how they want to allow the players to decide the outcome of the game, how they 'let them play'.  In this case, by not intervening in the proceedings, they allowed a plug like Brandon Bollig to definitely have an effect on the game, by removing a talented young player from the play, and it was fortunate it was only to miss a few shifts, and then be 'off' for the rest of the game due to the pain and stitches.

05:15  Carey's superman-type save of a carom that was headed in the net, but he knocked out of the air and over his net.  Such an unorthodox save, I don't know that it'll make it in any year-end lists, but seeing that one during the game, I had to rewind on the PVR a few times to understand what happened, and appreciate it.  The boys on the bench sure do.

08:00  We see a small glimpse of Stéphane Waite's work with his goalies, in this case Dustin Tokarski preparing to start against the Sabres in Buffalo.  They work on some specific situations with shooters, talk about specifics with regard to mental prep before the game.

I don't understand goalies.

08:40  An Yvon Lambert sighting, he's solidifying his reputation as a bon vivant, acting as MC for a game night at a Montréal brasserie.  We sure could use one of him right now, to tack onto the David Desharnais line with P.A. Parenteau, for example, a big guy who can occupy opposing defencemen in front of their net, and deflect a few pucks.  Yvon was really good to have on the team in the seventies, with Mario Tremblay and Doug Risebrough they were quite a good line.

09:55  Michaël Bournival's shoulder injury.  What a difference a year makes.  Last season he started as if shot out of a cannon, scoring big goals and being a factor throughout exhibition season and early on, earning a spot with le Grand Club.  This year, circumstances have conspired against him.

10:15  Max Pacioretty getting the boys up between periods, laying it on thick.  First he targets Brandon Prust.

"Go north.  They can't contain you.  You think Georgy's going to contain you?", referring to Josh, before turning his witty banter to Lars Eller.

"Your skin's too sensitive," he tells the Great Dane, "you can't go south."  Classic.

11:45  P.A. Parenteau scores in the shootout to seal the win, as Dale Weise, who was miked up, predicted earlier on the bench.  P.A. has picked up a nickname, they call him Master P.  Not bad.  Could be worse.

Tomas Plekanec inherits the boxer cape from Carey.

12:40  We see preparations at the New Forum for Guy Lapointe's jersey retirement ceremony.  During this segment, there's talk of how well the Canadiens pull these off, and some mentions of Jean Béliveau, some eerie foreshadowing there.

Guy Lapointe tells the story of how he was invited from the Junior Canadiens to attend the Canadiens camp, and he had made up his mind not to attend, since he thought he was just being asked to fill out one of the four teams they make up at camp for scrimmaging, that he was just going to be a body for the real team to sharpen their skills against.  In his mind, his career was going to be as a policeman, and he didn't want to 'waste' his time going to camp.  It's only due to his father telling him to take advantage of this invite, that these don't come around again, and that at the very least he'll be able to say years later that he skated with Jean Béliveau, that he decided to attend.

It's shocking to me that an eventual Hall of Famer, a player good enough to be on the powerhouse Canadiens Junior, didn't think he seriously had a shot to make the Habs.  That his career hinged on this, that we almost never got to see him play makes me wonder how many other players fell off the treadmill, never to be heard from again, accidents of history.

I imagine also how great the Police de Montréal hockey team would have been with Guy on their blue line, they'd have been unbeatable.

15:10  Media briefing on the day of the ceremony, with Serge Savard and Larry Robinson flanking him.  Then, Michel Therrien meets Guy Lapointe and congratulates him, there's a great camera shot again with the Big Three re-united.  Michel Therrien is asked by someone if he'll put them in the lineup that night.

I miss those guys.

Guy, ever the prankster, creates a mini-crisis when he dons the jersey he'll wear for the ceremony, and struggles to get his arm in, complaining to everyone that it's too small.  After a few seconds of this he cracks a smile and pulls it on smoothly, ceasing his O.J.'esque 'It doesn't fit' shtick.  Amusing to see that his wife and daughter, who've known him all this time, still fell for it, and now cluck their disapproval at his attempt at comedy.

Larry being interviewed in an aside says that Guy is using humour to decrease the tension, but that he's underneath a very emotional guy, and that he probably doesn't understand what a big deal it's going to be going through the ceremony.

16:50  Still think it's a great idea to involve Andrei and P.K. in the ceremony, have them bring the #5 banner to Guy.  Great way to plant that seed.

18:50  Jean-Jacques Daigneault to Nathan Beaulieu on the bench:  "Are you all right Nate?  What are you pissed off about?  No shot?  Yeah, all right.  Just relax," and then taps him on the shoulder.

Jean-Jacques Daigneault to Nathan Beaulieu and P.K. on the bench: "Time and space on the puck carrier, time and space."

"I was going to," P.K. replies, "but I thought it was an odd-man rush, that's why."

P.K. is definitely not a 'Sir, yes sir!' guy, he needs to get his two-cents in, needs to be heard.  For some old-school coaches that will rub them the wrong way, definitely.

This is one of those areas where I hope P.K. can develop the self-confidence to just accept the coach's patter, nod, and let it go, instead of having to discuss and explain his side of the story to everyone, the coaches, the refs, the media, etc.  Like I've said before, I'm sure there's a background there, there are reasons he wants to explain his viewpoint, but it's a waste of his energy, his focus.  Not everything he's told needs to be discussed or refuted.

19:40  Thomas Vanek's assist on his crazy no-look pass that he's patented, like a quarterback looking off a safety before throwing a pass.  No look is actually not quite the right description, it's a 'see the pass and the passing lane, then look away in another direction to fool the defender before making that pass' pass.

20:00  A couple of cool goals against Minny, one where Brandon goes face first into the post, but the refs clearly see that he's being pushed and goalie interference isn't called.  Then it's David Desharnais one-upping Thomas Vanek with his no-look behind the back drop pass to Master P to Max for the clinching goal that makes it 4-1.

20:30  Another look at the Nathan Beaulieu KO of Stéphane Veilleux.  Again, it's clear that Mr. Veilleux was approaching Nate, who was trying to back off, but doesn't hesitate to start the fight when he realizes that it's on.

Later in the dressing room, he explains to a trainer that he "missed him", that he punched him in the neck rather than the head.  That explains why Mr. Veilleux dropped like he did, getting hit in the right area in the neck is essentially the same as being subjected to a Lateral Neck Restraint, the mis-named 'choke hold'.

For his trouble, Nate receives the boxer cape from Pleky.