Monday, 17 November 2014

Game 19: Canadiens 4, Red Wings 1

Thanks to Gary Bettman, RDS's broadcast was blacked out for me, so I thought I'd be forced to watch the game against the Red Wings on Sportsnet, but then realized I could try to sync Pierre Houde's and Marc Denis' call from a feed, and just get the image from Sportsnet.  This way I'd see the game, except for when the director cuts to a shot of Roger Millions itching a testicle, and when they splash a graphic on the screen selling me that I can play scratch’n’sniff along with the Sportsnet gang and have a chance to win a meelion dollars, or a toaster from the Try’n’Save, blocking my view of the initial faceoff kicking off a powerplay.

And it was so much better listening to Pierre Houde and Marc Denis, instead of Dave Randorff, as hard as the gentleman tries, I find his calls annoying.  The Sportsnet image and my feed were perfectly synched, I didn’t even need to finagle it.  Of course, I had to put up with all the screen splashes touting the quality programming available for viewing on other channels in the Ted Rogers family. All of them imports from American networks, but still…

All in all, it was an adequate response to the situation, and an enjoyable way to view the Canadiens 4-1 win.

Following along Mike Boone's Liveblog on Hockey Inside Out, I was amused by his witticism:
That's cool: the Joe (Louis Arena) has a Gordie Howe Entrance.  The Bell Centre should have a René Bourque Exit.
"Only if Tomas Kaberle and Scott Gomez get bigger, more luxurious exits dedicated to them," I posted in response.

Before the game, talk was still on the Sergei Gonchar for Travis Moen trade, and the current unwieldy 11 forwards and 7 defencemen lineup the Canadiens have been icing.  A lot of it fretted about the effect on P.K. Subban.

One big consideration is that we now don’t need to ‘save’ P.K. so he can play 100 seconds of PP. If the pairings concocted recently split the duties on the man-advantage, P.K. doesn’t get into an anaerobic state five or six times a game, and doesn’t need to recover for long stretches. A minute at a time, he can play every second shift and not break a sweat that kid, so hell yeah this can actually help him rather than hurt his development.

Hopefully things shake out, the pairings solidify, and P.K. settles down after an uneven start to the season, and starts eating minutes like a hungry hungry hippo.  Heck, he can now even kill penalties.

And sure enough, while killing a penalty, P.K. gets the assist on Brandon Prust's opening goal early in the second period.  This was aided in large part by confusion by the Red Wings during a line change as the penalty ended, and Danny DeKeyser had to rush to his bench and avoid playing a loose puck that went right by him.

Coming in on a two-on-one rush, the goal was a very nice snipe by Brandon. He faked the pass, or rather 'showed' pass for a whole second, like a quarterback looking off the safety, then went glove side. Almost a no-look shot. Amazing what a little confidence can do for a guy.

Michel Bergeron used to say on L’Antichambre that you can’t ask a guy like Brandon who’s the stereotypical ‘heart and soul’ player, who sacrifices and leads by example, to play eight minutes a night and square off against the other team’s tough guy. You have to reward a guy like that. His icetime, by playing on the third line, with talented player who aren’t just checkers, and by killing penalties, is more reflective of the service he provides the team.  It's also not over his head in terms of his ability and hockey sense, Brandon isn't John Scott or Colton Orr.

As far as salary cap considerations, one of the concerns is that you can’t pay a fourth-liner what he gets paid, the current 'model', the new way to go is to have young players on Entry Level Contracts, or cheap vets on short term deals to fill out your roster.  Maybe if he can continue to click with Lars Eller and Jiri Sekac, even if it’s off and on through the season, it goes partway to quell that concern. Even so, taking into account the impact he’s had on the roster and team chemistry, and factoring in the mandatory overpay for a high-tax, high-pressure destination like Montréal, and for a July 1 UFA signing, his compensation is completely reasonable.

Brandon's linemates also got some positive feedback, with RDS' Vincent Damphousse showing Jiri Sekac the love with the following observation between periods:
“On a enlevé un boulet à Eller en envoyant Bourque à Hamilton et en ajoutant Sekac.”
Translated: We removed Lars Eller’s ball and chain by sending René Bourque to Hamilton and playing Jiri Sekac.

I don’t know who likes that kid more, Mario Tremblay or Vinny.  Mario touted this kid so much at the start of the season, it was sounding like a fisherman's story, he had the kid at 6'3" and 220 lbs at one point.

Soon after Brandon, P.K. scored a goal off a seeing-eye slapper that bounced off Kyle Quincey's groinal area.  Ouch.  Big ups to the man for not flopping around like a soccer player, but rather wincing and limping his way to his bench.

In the third, it was the Brendan Gallagher show.  He picked up an assist by passing on a 2-on-1 to Tomas Plekanec, and then a goal to put the game away after the Wings had made it 3-1 on a mildly controversial score.

First, to deal with the Red Wings goal on a powerplay by Riley Sheahan, the problem is that on a shot that occurred earlier in the sequence, he was hit in the mask and it unsnapped one of the straps on his mask.  He could be seen motioning twice to the refs, and we can assume he was yelling at them at the same time to get their attention and a stoppage in play, to no avail.

Interestingly, in a similar situation earlier this season, Carey Price shook off his own mask with a vigorous shake of his head to get a whistle, since once a goalie's mask comes completely off the play is immediately blown dead.  Maybe Carey can show Tikker that trick.

Never fear though, Brendan then scored to ice the win, after battling behind the net with the much bigger Joakim Andersson and falling to the ice.  Alex Galchenyuk, also down low and battling for the puck along the boards, pushed the puck back to him, and Brendan, on his knees and behind the goal line, made a bank shot off Jimmy Howard, who didn't have a great night all in all.

There's been some worry about Brendan Gallagher and the punishment he takes, whether he can sustainably play the game this way and still have a long career. Some suggest he should play more like a sniper, and rely on his point totals in the WHL to support this.

I only saw him play live a couple of times in Junior, but Brendan played the same way for the Vancouver Giants as he does now, always digging for pucks, taking it to the net, getting crosschecked and abused in the process. While he did snipe pucks often, it may have been more due to the lower talent level of the players he was competing with. He doesn’t have a lethal shot from the slot, he’s more of an average shooter that way. So to think he can play more like Mike Bossy or Mike Cammalleri is not realistic, he’s not that type of player.

What will prolong his career will be having a tougher player on his line, in the mold of a Connor Crisp or Michael McCarron, who will be able to tamp down the regular assaults he faces after whistles, to the powerless, speechless, whistle-less, sentience-less gaze of the referees. If they can’t teach other players that Brendan is allowed to stand near the net, that his being there doesn’t mean they’re allowed, or even necessitated, to put him in a headlock, maybe a snarling Jack Nevins can perform this function.

At 4-1, a lot of Wings fans called it a night, leaving the rink to a significant number of fans in bleu-blanc-rouge.  It was a pleasant surprise to hear the very loud “Olé” song in Detroit’s own rink.

Now to pull that in Boston this week…

The rest of the way, there was only one fly in the ointment, and it was this: Are the Canadiens the team with the worst shooting-percentage when facing an empty net?  The Wings pulled their goalie with something like five minutes remaining, but the Habs couldn't manage to nail down the coffin's lid.  Instead, they kept icing the puck and facing defensive zone faceoffs.

What's it going to take to score some empty-netters?  Andrei Markov can sharpshoot the crossbar from his defensive zone, but no one can put it in the frigging empty net for five minutes straight?

Again, minor foibles, having to criticize the lack of empty-net scoring prowess shows how well things are rolling for the Habs, with a 6th straight win in the bank, acquired on the road on the back half of a back-to-back.  Not too shabby.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Game 18: Canadiens 6, Flyers 3

You know that dude who wanted to 'go steady' with your older sister in high school and got shot down, and tried to push you around because of that, and then you run into him later on when you're full grown, and you look at him and think: "Well what now, tough guy?"  That's the same thing as the Habs playing the Philadelphia Flyers now.

They're faintly ridiculous, with Vincent Lecavalier and his anchor contract being unmovable from the "good sports town" he crowed Philadelphia was.  Their tough guy is Zach Rinaldo, and Brandon Prust did him a favour and let him have a go.  He beat him so handily that at the end I half-expected Brandon to give him a noogie and pinch his cheeks.  They have an elephant graveyard of a defence corps, with at the top of that dung heap failed Leafs Carlo Colaiacovo and Luke Schenn, who were great-white-hyped before being dumped for the next flavour-of-the-season. 

(Did you hear that Morgan Rielly was a healthy scratch?  Did you hear that Jake Gardiner was a healthy scratch?  Did you hear that Mike Kostka was put on waivers by the Rangers?  Because they may need the room for Tomas Kaberle?)

The story of this game is the resuscitation of the Canadiens' powerplay, which had been ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of efficiency, but went 3-for-3 tonight, including two early ones.  At 3-0, the game was essentially over, although the Flyers and the refs conspired to make it interesting, but the Canadiens won going away, with a final score of 6-3.

So all you naysayers who castigated Marc Bergevin for the Sergei Gonchar trade, time to self-flagellate.  You were wrong.  I believed in him all along, and said as much, I'm on the record.  I think I posted on this somewhere.  Or said something to someone at the pub.

In any case, while Mr. Gonchar had two assists, he didn't do anything remarkable, he just was effective with his passes, and when he shot the puck it got to the net.  The main contribution he brought was a change in the setup and execution of our powerplay.  He is the catalyst for a change in philosophy, by which instead of having P.K. and Andrei Markov playing most of the time on the first wave of the powerplay, and having a second pair do mop-up duty with the remaining twenty seconds or so, we now have two equally balanced pairings splitting up the time.

Further, instead of having a Mike Babcock-approved left-right combo for each pairing, we're now using two lefties, Andrei and Sergei, and two righties, P.K. and Tom Gilbert, as pairings.  What this does is it allows one player to be on his strong side and pass from his forehand, and the other to be set up for one-timer slapshots.  

Last season, P.K. and Andrei would often switch sides after a faceoff and thus were both ready to unleash one-timers, but penalty killers figured this out and squeezed them tight against the blue line and got into the shooting lane, so this method was scrapped, but I always thought we should revert to it once in a while, for variety, and especially since the 'one d-man/shooter, three forwards and Andrei goes in for a wander' strategy wasn't getting us results either, after a while.

Regardless of the preceding, I think the main effect this is having is by giving the powerplay a changed look, it changes the luck, and is a break with the system that brought on this streak of futility.  Sometimes that's all that's needed.  It's as if the Canadiens man-advantage team got a placebo effect from Sergei Gonchar.

Another point, and I think the boys on L'Antichambre discussed this also, is that it removes some pressure from P.K. to do it all himself.  Sometimes I sensed a lassitude in him, physical and mental, when he went back to retrieve a zone clear.  It's like he wondered what he could try next, nothing was working.  I was afraid he might be pacing himself too, so he'd coast up with the puck rather than race with it up to the offensive zone.  

Now, there's another pairing that's on the ice, getting results, it's not all on his shoulders, it relieves some pressure, but also kind of lights a fire, he's not getting 90 seconds of automatic PP time by default.  He has to earn it. 

Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau has received grudging assent on social media, but he continues to produce, and it's hard to argue that the Canadiens are getting the better of this trade.  While Daniel Brière didn't work out at right wing, and was miscast as a fourth-line centre, but couldn't dislodge David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec or Lars Eller, P.A. is a very good addition to our roster.  He is a natural, effective right-winger, has played up and down the lines in the Top 9, and has worked hard.  We could wish that he was bigger or tougher or better in his own zone or that he was more of a sniper, but with two more goals tonight, and some big shootout goals this season among other highlights, he's a puzzle piece that fits very well in the overall picture.

His linemates also picked up two points each, so David and Max are busting their mini-slump.  If the powerplay continues to click they should get their fair share of points, and will relieve some of the pressure for Carey to, uh, carry the team.

Carey Price wasn't spectacular stats-wise, or compared to his lofty standards, he just made all the saves he needed to make.  Which is more than Flyer goalie Ray Emery can say.  Carey fell victim to some bad bounces and scrums in front of his net, but it's good when he can rack up a 'W' without being miraculous.

Dale Weise, after a start to the season that more closely resembled his tenure in Vancouver, in that he generated a lot of heat but little light, hitting posts and flubbing shots, has seemingly found his range.  He potted two goals tonight after his Gordie Howe hat trick the previous game against Boston.  Again, when he's fired up and skating with abandon, that big boy can do some damage, and not just with his fists as the Canucks thought he should focus on.

The only discordant note about the game was the predictable horrid work by the referees.  Now, I may not be the most objective observer, but after les Glorieux notched two quick powerplay goals, I said to myself: "Self, get ready, the refs will now try to even things up."  Which they did.  A blatant trip of Alex Galchenyuk right in front the referee?  Nope, he didn't see it.  

On the other hand, a Flyer defender holds Brendan Gallagher's stick in front of the Flyer net, has it nice and tucked in his armpit?  Yes, let's call Brendan for a penalty on that, and wave off a Habs goal while we're at it.

It's ridiculous how referees officiate based on the score.  You wanted to scream at this crew "All the penalties you called on the Flyers early were deserved!  They've got horrible defencemen, you can expect them to trip and hook and slash, they're outmanned!"  

In football, when an offensive lineman false starts, holds, false starts again, then holds again, he'll get penalized, four times, on four successive plays.  The referees won't think to themselves "Hey, let's give that guy a break, we'll pretend we didn't see that hold.  And let's call penalties on that other team, fair is fair, gotta keep the game close."  Instead, it will be up to the lineman's coaches to make adjustments, call plays that limit his exposure, get him a tight end to help with the blocking.  At the end of the game, if one team has had twelve penalties and the other two, nobody will blink.  It will make sense to anyone reading a recap of the game that one team was outclassed or undisciplined, not that the referees goofed by picking on one team.

So despite the refs' best efforts, the Canadiens still won, and now sit at the top of the NHL standings.  Since the swoon that started with the trip out West, the Canadiens have won five in a row, starting with that halting win against the Sabres, and they're picking up speed.  Next up, Dustin Tokarski takes on the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Canadiens vs. Bruins, P.K. vs. Milan Lucic, Nathan Beaulieu vs. Matt Fraser.

I have to disagree with this passage in a Dave Stubbs article in the Montréal Gazette about the Habs' 5-1 win against the Bruins:
Lucic managed to do that all night Thursday, and he resisted the overture — foolhardy if courageous that it was — of P.K. Subban, who hacked and cross-checked him following the Bruin’s skeleton-rattling open-ice hit of Habs’ Jiri Sekac.

He faked chucking his gloves with Subban but in the end, his team down 3-1, Lucic chose the route of discipline.

I don't think that's what happened. Milan was probably surprised that P.K. fronted him, but was also licking his chops at the prospect. He shook his gloves to invite P.K., but didn’t want to drop them unilaterally, and get an instigator penalty. He was waiting for P.K. to reciprocate.

P.K. we could say wisely didn’t follow through on his threat, but he didn’t cover himself in glory either. He’s famously strong, it wasn’t a terrible mismatch, he just chose to not risk it.

When Mr. Stubbs says that Milan Lucic was "fake chucking" his gloves, I think we’re making allowances for P.K. here. Usually, when two guys want to fight, one guy makes a motion with his hands, a show of shaking his gloves, and will say something like “You wanna go?” The other player can then drop his gloves, the first player drops his, and the fight is on.

Sometimes the second player can choose to respond with shaking his gloves and the same phrase, “Do YOU wanna go?”  Both shake but no gloves are dropped and nobody makes the first move. The refs usually move in and separate them and get an eardrum workout as both players jaw at each other.

In this specific case, Milan Lucic shook his gloves, asked P.K. if he wanted to drop them, but P.K. studiously avoided that, kept a death grip on his stick, and gave a theatrical crosscheck to the Bruin before spending two minutes in the box.

Point Lucic.

Now it’s not P.K.’s job to tangle with Mr. Lucic, but that’s the second fricking time he’s pulled that garbage recently. Last season, when Derek Dorsett tried to amputate David Desharnais’ leg in a knee-on-knee, P.K. rushed to the scene, full of piss and vinegar, and didn’t go through with it, just did a fly-by. Francis Bouillon, who’s much smaller than P.K., took the Ranger to task, and gave him all he could handle.

If P.K. wants to lead, and wants to redress wrongs, he can’t do those crosscheck-scowl jobbies, he has to be ready to follow through. I’d prefer he not get involved in those at all, he gets enough abuse already, I don’t want him getting injured in a meaningless tilt, but if he walks right up to that line, he can’t be unwilling to cross it.

The post-game chatter, from both teams' sides, or at least the media charged with covering them, centred on the role toughness and fighting play in the NHL, whether it's an advantageous stratagem, or an antiquated practice that's irrelevant to the final score.  The Canadiens side is emboldened by decisive pugilistic wins by Dale Weise and Nathan Beaulieu, while the Bruins lament the loss of their toughness, of their Big Bad Bruins.

We’ve had discussions off and on lately about intimidation, about whether an NHL player can be scared off his game, and many assert that it’s impossible, these guys are playing at too high a level for that to happen.  They've been through the wars in Junior, in the AHL, they wouldn't be in the NHL if they could be intimidated, the thinking goes.

I however think that some players do get intimidated, some teams do, and it’s a range, a spectrum where some are more than others, in certain situations. The Habs of the seventies would beat any team anywhere no matter the style of play. Yet the vets still chuckle over how tense everyone was before a game against the Flyers and the Bruins. They tell tales of unnamed players who would come down with the ‘Philly flu’ and not be able to play.

Another illustration of intimidation affecting a team's play is last spring in the playoffs.  Former Habs member of the seventies Cup-winning teams and subsequent head coach Mario Tremblay of RDS was disgusted, outraged after a couple of periods where the Canadiens were playing “du bout de la palette”, meaning from the tip of their stick, they weren’t getting into scrums in the corners or in front of the net, but gingerly poking at the puck from a safer distance. The Canadiens’ smaller players were essentially playing scared, avoiding contact. Yet they got it back under control, turned things around, ‘paid the price’, and ultimately won the series.

Former Bruins player and noted pest P.J. Stock of Sportsnet was ranting on the same issue post-game, that the Bruins aren’t playing Bruins hockey, they’re not hitting, fighting, etc. He obviously thought that intimidation was a useful tool for the Bruins, at least in the past.

The thing is, it’s all dependent on the refereeing, how the rules are made and called. If the refs adopt a Colin Campbell-mandated, Don Cherry rubber-stamped 'anything goes' attitude, and put the whistles away, then yes the Bruins should definitely play the Bruins way, and profit from their thuggery, which will mean rushed passes, and anxious opponents hampered in their efforts to play hockey as they swivel their heads looking for any check-finishers coming their way.

If the Bruins play their way and the refs call all the hooking and elbowing and interference, and the Canadiens’ powerplay is clicking, then they’ll get buried, and the next day the talk won’t be about the ‘Bruins model’, as it was here in Vancouver last summer, but of the ‘Canadiens model’, and how the Bruins need to get better skaters, players who are better at actually playing hockey instead of shawnthortoning, and to avoid the penalty box.

So yeah, the Bruins way, intimidation, it does work, but only if the refs and the league are complicit. If fouls are called, the Bruins are dodos.  And the Big Bad Bruins will have to remold themselves, since every slash and elbow that used to add up to their mystique and tilt the ice in their favour will now play against them.

Meanwhile, Marc Bergevin and his brain trust have been going against type for the Canadiens, trying to make the team bigger and tougher to play against, more resistant to intimidation.  One of his best coups was to attract Brandon Prust in free agency.  Last season he grafted George Parros and Douglas Murray onto the roster.  He's drafted huge, tough players like Michael McCarron, Connor Crisp, and Brett Lernout.  He signed potential fourth-liners Stéfan Fournier and Jack Nevins not for their high skill but rather their 'high will' to do anything it takes to defend their teammates.

Meanwhile, the NHL roster that we thought might, especially with Jarred Tinordi sent down to the AHL, be susceptible to intimidation, ripe for getting sand kicked in their face, has instead mostly skated away from trouble, and stood up for itself when it needed to.

Nathan Beaulieu’s fight with Steve Veilleux of the Wild and Dale Weise’s fight with Gregory Campbell are surprising in that they didn’t have to be backed into a corner to drop the gloves, which is often the case with the Canadiens, Brandon Prust and/or Jarred Tinordi excepted. You’ll sometimes see a Josh Gorges or a Max Pacioretty joust and repel crosschecks and facewashes for a few seconds before gloves come off and a true-blue fight occurs, a fight of last resort.

Instead, both Nate and Dale saw a guy coming in and they didn’t hesitate, they figured they were in a fight and they were willing to join in, they wouldn’t have to be goaded into it. Steve Veilleux especially may have been surprised, he might have been thinking he’d just go up to Nate and yell at him a bit, but he never got the chance.

As some have pointed out, Milan Lucic could easily have done the same thing Thursday night when he was being crosschecked, dropped the gloves and grabbed P.K., popped him a few before our boy was ready. Yet he relented, possibly afraid of an instigator penalty.

I also think that he may now be walking on eggshells, unsure of how to proceed; the Habs are in his head. He’s constantly being told by the coaches and the media to “play your game”, and to “not get drawn into silly stuff”, and really, those statements are as contradictory as can be. If Milan Lucic plays his game, he’ll crosscheck and facewash and hit from behind and run into a goalie, and the refs will let him get away with it and waltz to a pre-destined Stanley Cup, gift-wrapped by Daddy Campbell. His entire game is “silly stuff”.

After the handshake line fiasco, all of his bluster about not apologizing, and then on October 16 giving the game away with a late penalty, being fined for his obscene gesture, and offering a half-hearted faux apology to a Boston media type, but not directly to the Canadiens or their fans, he’s under the spotlight and he knows it. His crooked smile and equivocation shows that he’s tying himself into logical knots with his “I won’t apologize but I’m sorry it happened and if I offended anyone I’m just emotional and hate losing but I shouldn’t have done it” shtick.

And on the ice now, he’s not playing and reacting, but second-guessing every move. He’s going to soft-pedal every bodycheck, be cautious around Alexei Emelin, but then rough him up to show him that nothing’s changed, but take ten percent off just in case, as he did last night in a goal-mouth altercation that ended behind the net. It only lasted a second, and at the end he gave a punch-swipe to Alexei that didn’t connect, and he didn’t press the issue, and I thought “We have him. He’s done.”

Zdeno Chara is also not the same player against the Canadiens ever since his Immaculate Assassination on Max Pacioretty, from which he was given an Indulgence by Pope Gary the Ignoble. Since then, he’s been ceaselessly booed by Montréal fans, and he has had to answer questions from the media, and you can see how it affects him in how he sometimes could cream a Canadien, cleanly and legally, but he pokechecks instead or just bodies them against the boards, like he would in practice against a teammate.

Some in the media have explained that Zdeno Chara never really wanted to be a villain, that it weighs on him, the constant booing and vilification.  Deep down, he just wants to be loved, so he's been taking it easy, allowing David Desharnais to remain capitated.

So it’s kind of funny that Milan Lucic’s ballyhooed passion and competitiveness have caused him to rein that in so that he’s no longer very passionate or competitive. He’s eunuched himself, with his own petard.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Game 17: Canadiens 5, Bruins 1

The Canadiens won a game tonight that they were supposed to win, against a depleted Bruins team missing notable players Zdeno Chara and David Krejci, fatigued after playing the previous night in Toronto and traveling to Montréal, and led by an excitable, exasperated Claude Julien.  So they went out and beat the Bruins resoundingly, pulling away with a 5-1 rout.

For once Carey Price didn't have to be heroic, just solid in the first, until his teammates found their range.  In the meantime, he was only beaten by a flutterpuck by Dougie Hamilton that dipped and swooned on the way to the net.  After that, he barred the door and wasn't helped by a couple of posts and crossbars, it's like the Bruins never came close afterwards.

The real star of the game was Dale Weise, who picked up a Gordie Howe hat-trick and a couple of pats on the back from Michel Therrien on the bench.  He crunched Gregory 'Sonny Boy' Campbell along the boards, who objected to this treatment and came seeking redress, but instead got what-for.  He scored on a penalty shot, sniping between the legs of Niklas Svedberg, who was spelling a grateful Tuukka Rask.  To finish off, he set up Max Pacioretty's first goal with a nice back pass on a rush in the Bruins zone.

Jiri Sekac is a revelation, almost playing too well to believe.  We all want to keep our expectations in check, Fabian Brunnström being forefront in our minds, but the results he's getting, both personally and in his linemates Lars Eller and Brandon Prust's improved performance, are undeniable.  Mr. Sekac scored again tonight, on the rush, while walking around a hapless Bruin defenceman, and sniping the inside of the far post. 

L'Antichambre host Stéphane Langdeau said after the game that Lars Eller is playing like the ceding of René Bourque to Hamilton had removed a piano off his back.  I would have gone with an anchor around his neck as the analogy, but it's such a change in his game now that he's buzzing all over the ice with Brandon Prust and Jiri Sekac.  He's doing less fancy stickhandling and charging the net more.  When he has the puck he shoots more, and goldarn it, it's going in.  Good for him

Nathan Beaulieu scored another knockout, against Matt Fraser, a player in a similar weight class, so it should have been an even matchup.  Instead, Nate hit him right on the button and dropped him.  I was skeptical of the reports of Nathan as a gritty, tough player, due mainly to his problems with conditioning.  I thought maybe he was tough when playing against junior players, but as a Bulldog I'd see only indiscipline, penalties when he lost his cool and would crosscheck or slash, but not many bodychecks or fights.  Well, once is an incident, twice is a coincidence, will a third time turn it into a trend?  Nate, who was slotted in the Yannick Weber-memorial position, the hallowed twelth-forward/seventh defenceman, got little ice time at first but more at the end, maybe as a 'REE-ward!' from Boss Hogg.  He put it to good use and set up Jiri Sekac's goal.

Max, who sometimes launches lots of shots at the net and is frustrated at coming close but not converting, notched two tonight, one of which on a lucky bounce from a nice play from David Desharnais.  These things will tend to even out over a season.  If he goes through dry spells once in a while, but pots two against the Bruins every time, I'll take that.

Sergei Gonchar played well.  He seemed to settle things down on the powerplay, although he didn't connect on anything.  Much was made on Sportsnet that he had coffee with Michel Therrien this morning to feel things out, and that these two have a good rapport from their Penguins days.  It dawned on me that Sergei may be a Francis Bouillon equivalent, a security blanket for Michel Therrien, a veteran on the blue line he can trust.  As a fan and draft nerd who wanted the kids to get more icetime, this is a little frustrating, but Marc Bergevin insists you can never have too many defencemen.  We may be happy about this acquisition when the injuries inevitably hit.  Right now though, I'm not happy.  I wants my rookie defencemen, and I wants them now!

What can we say about P.K.?  He's so smooth and polished in front of the cameras, says that he wants to be team captain, but tonight played like a punk.  He slewfoots a Bruin, interferes with a Bruin when he commits a turnover, and then fronts Milan Lucic after the latter delivers a bodycheck.  P.K. jawed at him, crosschecked him fully in the chest, with the refs very nearby, and deftly avoided Mr. Lucic's invitations to drop the gloves and have a go.  For $9M P.K., and since you're not exactly filling the net, and since you painted yourself in that corner, you kind of had to dance there.  Just grab the guy, try to get inside, wrestle him to the ground, do something for heaven's sake.  I hate when you get booed as a rule in opposition rinks, but with a showing like tonight's, I can see why a Bruins fan would boo.

But not too many flies in the ointment in this great win, which brings our record to 12-4-1.  We spend a lot of time looking for warts and picking at scabs, but les boys keep winning, which is kinda nice, when we take a step back.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Canadiens deal away Travis Moen, acquire defenceman Sergei Gonchar.

I'm not doing handsprings over the Moen-Gonchar trade, but I admit the logical cool-headed types who point out we're freaking out over a swap of spare parts have talked me down off the ledge.  Yesterday, when I found out Marc Bergevin had unloaded Travis Moen's contract, a day after making a decision on René Bourque, I was overjoyed.  Only, I then took the gift horse to the dentist and started nitpicking.  So yeah, I'll take this as a tweak, another step forward.

About the Montreal Gazette's Stu Cowan's article in which he mentions that Alexei Emelin and P.K. don't communicate, it's not necessarily a language barrier issue, although that probably plays a role also.  The important communication between defencemen who play well together isn't so much lengthy palavers in the dressing room, or one of those discussions on the bench when dmen motion with their hands and point and nod a lot.  What's most important is the on-ice communication at crucial times so that both work as an effective pair, as a unit.

This will be Defenceman 101 for those who have played or coached, but maybe it will clarify the matter for some.  Let's say I've hit someone in the neutral zone but now the puck is being dumped behind me in my corner, with opponent forwards racing after it.  It's on my side of the ice, normally it would be my responsibility to go in the corner and retrieve it, while my partner covers anyone going to our net for a pass, and will stay in front of our net to defend.  In this case though, I'm flatfooted, and there's no way I'll get there first, while my partner was hanging a little further back and already has a head of steam, so he'll make the right decision and yell out: "I got it!", and race to my corner.  We now both know what the other is doing.  He's getting the puck and trying to pass or skate it out of our zone, and I'll take the front of the net.

Once the crisis is over and our forwards are racing out of our zone, and we're lazily following after them, we'll assess that they have the puck well in hand, and decide to revert to our preferred position, me on the left, he on the right, so one of us will yell out "Switch!" and we'll swap sides as we skate up to their blue line.  We can also use 'switch' if we're on our natural side on the blue line, but I'm with a partner who feels more comfortable on his opposite side because it allows him to set up for one-timers, and we feel it's the right time and situation to set up for one of those.

Other calls we may use are when we're being swarmed in our zone and I'm headed to the corner to dig for a puck.  I'll probably have a second before I get tattooed into the boards by an opponent, so I won't have time to frantically swivel my head left and right and hem and haw and ponder the situation.  Meanwhile my partner has a better overall view of the situation, and can make that decision for me, like an infielder can help a teammate camped under a pop-up by telling him where to fire the ball when he catches it, whether "Home!" or "Second!" is the best option.  In our case, my partner will tell me "Par la bande!" to bang it off the boards or glass and hopefully out of our zone, or "En arrière!" if the choice is pass it to him or the centre behind our net.

Once I've played with a partner or a couple of different partners for a while, I'll know their tendencies, where they'll head in certain situations, how they'll tend to be aggressive or conservative in certain situations.  I'll certainly recognize their voice, so if they're behind me and I need to make a quick decision with the puck, he'll yell "Ici!" so I know that he wants the puck, he's a good option for a pass, and the sound of his voice will tell me if he's just beside me, or right behind the net, or all the way in the other corner, and I'll pass the puck with the appropriate amount of force.

These are some of the basic calls we'd use on the ice at my very basic level, I'm sure there are others and more advanced ones in the pros, even set plays for breakouts that they've practiced.  The communication isn't that language dependent, we'd use French in minor hockey, but in my adult rec league we'd tend to use English, although the two D partners I'd play most often with were francophones so we'd lapse into French sometimes.

The thing that's more important is actually using the calls, talking to each other all the time.  Letting your partner know that he's being forechecked hard ("On you!") or that he's got time to be fancy with the puck ("You have lots of time to be fancy with the puck!").  Your partner letting you know that someone is sneaking in behind you when you're defending the front of the net.  Your coach will tell you on the bench or in the room if you're doing a good job ("Way to talk to each other on the ice") or remind you to do more of it ("Let's get some chatter going, talk to each other").

So P.K. and Alexei have to build an understanding of each other's styles and tendencies, a repertoire of callouts for their own use and situations, to cover for example the fact that in the offensive zone, they may defer to P.K. to shoot, except in these circumstances, etc.  Alexei and Andrei Markov seemed to do this well, and it may have to do with the comfort level of the language being the same, and also that Andrei is steady as they come, and the unquestioned leader on that pairing, what he said goes.

For example, Andrei tends to be aggressive in the offensive zone to pinch in to support and maintain the attack, and in the neutral zone, he has a great sense of passing lanes and will lurk, goading an opponent into making a pass, then spring forward and cut it off, almost like a safety hanging back to fool a quarterback and then jumping a route for an interception.  When it works out it's great, but when it didn't it meant that Andrei was often caught at a standstill in the neutral zone and in a poor position to go retrieve a puck in his own corner.  What developed a couple of seasons ago was that Alexei invariably was the one who would retrieve the puck, I don't think they even called "Switch!", they just did it routinely, based on Andrei declining speed, his reluctance to crash and bang in the corners with his wonky knee, and Alexei greater size and toughness.  They were sympatico, working as a unit.

P.K. has a more shall we say unorthodox style, he's a more difficult player to find a partner for.  The Senators had this issue with Erik Karlsson, and went out and acquired Marc Méthot at the cost of a big young winger, just to provide him with a big, tough, steady-eddie partner to fill in the gaps.  Apparently that worked out great the first year, but they've struggled a bit since, and now Chris Phillips is the player called upon to complement Erik Karlsson.  The thing is, the Sens' captain is a great talent, but he's not easy to play with.  As unpredictable as he is to opponents, he may be the same to his partner, and so may P.K. be.

Josh Gorges and Hal Gill were decent partners for P.K., they came with flaws but there was a clear delineation of duties, they took care of the stay-at-home stuff, and P.K. could roam wild and free.  Alexei may be having trouble adapting to that, his style was supposedly more aggressive in the KHL.

What Sergei Gonchar brings is a bit of a headscratcher.  Does he get a tryout on P.K.'s flank, in the hope that he's the puzzle piece that fits, the patch job that will hold for now?  Does Nathan Beaulieu get to stay on the second pairing, which Éric Desjardins opined might be the better situation for him, compared to the third pairing that tends to see more crash and bang?  Does Jarred Tinordi ever become the ideal partner for P.K., the Hal Gill 2.0, "now with added punchiness"?  Can he do so while playing in Hamilton, does Magnus Nygren serve as the 'scout team' P.K.?

Until the experiments cease and we have more set pairings, it will be even more important that the defencemen talk to each other on the ice, to let each other know where they are, what they intend to do.  It's not going to be a telepathic link between them, they need to play years together to get to that point.

Monday, 10 November 2014

René Bourque, mercifully, is assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs

So after being placed on waivers on Sunday by the Canadiens, René Bourque has cleared through waivers, with no team deigning to claim his services, at a cap hit of $3.3M for this season and next.  With rumblings that the salary cap may not rise next season, and René nearing 33 years old and being on the downslope of his career, and taking into account this tweet by Arpon Basu
Rene Bourque in a uniform (reg. season only): 141 GP, 21 G, 18 A, 39 pts, 15:35 TOI/game.
I guess it shouldn't be a surprise to us.

René has been assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs, with Michel Therrien assuring everyone that no further decision has been taken in his case, that no doors have been closed, and that it's important he report with the right attitude.  Again, Arpon Basu quipped that it's not as if attitude has been a problem in his case, no sirree...

I’ll say one thing for René, he got Marc Bergevin to be patient, to give him every chance. In any other case, Marc Bergevin has been decisive, he cuts the cord when it’s time. When dealing with Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle, the coaching staff when he took over, he was respectful, but didn’t mess around. Last summer when doing the post-mortem press conference at the end of the season, he held out hope that Brian Gionta could be re-signed, but was quite clear that others wouldn’t be back, including Thomas Vanek. So he wasn’t waffling based on how much they would want, hesitating, he had a clear path in mind and took it.

In René’s case, he and Michel Therrien gave him all the time in the world. I think that speaks to the fact that he wasn’t a dressing room cancer, that he must have been a good teammate to be around. I think Marc Bergevin and Rick Dudley may have had some insights on him from the Blackhawks organization, and it caused them to take their time, it contributed to their approach. Last season around playoff time, he offered up the anecdote that he’d told René he didn’t want to trade him and see him score thirty goals for another team.

So we have to assume that they exhausted every avenue, and tried every way they could to get him going, or to obtain something in return, like they did for Louis Leblanc, another player whose situation they didn’t allow to fester. Like Yannick Weber a couple of summers ago, they offered him up to any team that might want him, then let him go. That is, they tried to let him go, if another team had claimed him.

It was hard to imagine a team claiming him based on his potential and physical tools. Contenders are all pretty close to the cap, and can’t blow any cap room on a project. Teams that do have the cap room do so for a reason: they’re cheap. They won’t waste their precious revenue on a flyer.  Try explaining that to Charles Wang.  Actually, bad example, but the point remains.

The fact that he did get assigned to Hamilton rather than a more draconian solution, as was concocted for Scott Gomez, is another indication that the brain trust doesn’t ‘hate’ René, they don’t feel as if he’d pollute the atmosphere down there, as they may have feared with other players or malcontents. So maybe there’s the glimmer of hope that the demotion spurs René to give full effort to come back to the NHL, that he does work hard and just deals out hits and shoots pucks at the net. Instead of remaining in the perplexing fog he’s mired in right now.

Because he seems to strike me as a decent guy, not a preck or anything. For some reason he lacks the focus or confidence to really give 100%, but he seems like a good, popular teammate, has a cool story of growing up on a small native reserve. I’ve always pulled for René, but can’t disagree that it was time to make a decision, to try another avenue with him.

One more thing that is puzzling about René is that he didn’t need to re-invent the wheel, or go all John LeClair on us. He just needed to play a simple game, be sound positionally, cover his man on the wing, and lurk around the net, block the goalie’s view occasionally, pot a couple of goals, and dish out a couple of hits a game to be an exceedingly valuable player who’d earn himself a Shane Doan-type deal two summers from now.

It’s not like he has to be Jarred Tinordi, play tough and mean, but don’t take stupid penalties, especially during close games, which they all are. And play your position, stay back, but close the gap mind you, and pinch in the offensive zone to support the forwards, but don’t caught. Lay out some big hits, but don’t get suspended. And the penalties, careful, now we’re down to 5 d-men with you in the box for 5 minutes. And make the simple play, but get the puck out of the zone with a good first pass. Play hard, but pace yourself, don’t wilt in the third period.

What’s a bewildering array of choices and traps for a rookie like Jarred is comparatively so easy for a veteran winger like René. All he has to do is skate and use his shoulders and lurk around the net, hope that one in ten shots get through.  We weren’t asking him to be Jarome Iginla, just somewhere around Ryane Clowe or R.J. Umberger would have been more than enough.

I think most of us tread lightly on this issue, but agree that René’s problem isn’t fading skills as much as a mental, dare we say psychological block. The Canadiens have Docteur Sylvain Guimond on staff to deal with the sports and performance psychology angle, which a lot of athletes need and find helpful.

Trouble is, some people don’t click with everyone of their coaches and trainers, and maybe Dr. Guimond couldn’t reach René. Maybe there’s a sports psychology specialist in Hamilton who can work with René on a new process to get ready for games, to eliminate negative self-talk, to increase focus and reduce background noise, etc. Just as Carey Price seems to have found a better match working with Stéphane Waite than with his predecessor Pierre Groulx, maybe so can René with a different specialist.

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of Dr. Guimond, I don’t like his too-frequent appearances on RDS, he’s verging on media-whore territory. A lot of his comments are trite and very few provide insight, I now fast-forward when he’s on L’Antichambre.

So in a way, René not getting claimed by another team can be good news.  In a month or so after a couple of season-ending injuries strike around the league, all of a sudden a couple of desperate teams may ante up for him.

For example, Vancouver's 'third goalie' Jakob Markstrom cleared waivers early in camp, the Canucks gambling that other teams would feel comfortable with their own players, so that they wouldn’t take on his one-way contract. They won their wager. If the Canucks tried that today, five teams would snap him up.

So we could moan that we didn't get a clean break from this situation, and that we didn't rid ourselves of his cap hit, but come the trade deadline, René could be an asset who can be flipped for a draft pick, or, glass two-thirds full, comes back to Montréal re-focused and re-energized.  Fingers crossed.  Clutching our collective rabbit's foot.  Standing in line to buy a bridge from a Nigerian prince.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Game 14: Canadiens 4, Wild 1

Last year during the playoffs, I realized that the Canadiens were no longer just the plucky team that halaked its way past stronger opponents, that knew just the way to beat the Bruins, but was actually formidable, when Lars Eller and René Bourque were playing like the big skilled players they can be, and when Alex Galchenyuk was finding increased confidence in his abilities.

Last month I felt when watching the Habs against the Oilers that we were the clearly better team, and it gave me pause, since I couldn't remember the last time I felt we were dominant, on paper and on the ice.  Was it back when Chris Chelios was on defence and Patrick Roy was in goal?

During the first period, I didn't feel that sense of superiority.  Les boys were tight, probably feeling pressure due to their recent insuccess.  Again, as they've done so often this season, they found their legs as the game progressed and the shots and the goals came, later, in a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild.

A great example of this was P.K. early in the second period getting a pass from David Desharnais in the offensive zone inside the blue line, and nothing in front of him except for a dogpile right in front of the Minny goal.  Instead of walking the puck in and making something happen, P.K. just cranked it from there.  Not a bad play, but suboptimal, and probably precipitated in part by the antsy crowd at the New Forum lately.

P.K. did show good awareness on this sequence though, holding off on his shot for a second while P.A. Parenteau picked himself up off the ice.  It gave him time to get in position for a deflection or rebound, and more crucially, to get his noggin out of the line of fire.

The revelation tonight was the play of the Sekac-Eller-Prust line.  Jiri Sekac and Lars Eller both scored, and all three had two points on the night.  On both goals, they set themselves up with some strong play along the boards, digging for the puck and cycling it among themselves until they could make a strong play on net.

Lars' goal came when the puck came to him in the slot, and I wondered whether he shot instantly because he was too tired to try anything fancy.  And I hoped that the lesson would sink in, to take the puck towards the net is more likely to turn out well for him than his stickhandling escapades.  Sure enough, in the third he had a relapse, taking the puck along the boards away from the net, and dangerously along the blue line.  Nothing catastrophic ensued, but I guess Lars is into progressive rather than epiphanic learning.

So when Jiri was left out of the lineup, Habs fans were patient at first, then anxious to see him back playing as the healthy scratches accumulated.  We can guess that he'll now be in the lineup for the foreseeable future.  He drew compliments from analyst Greg Millen, who noted what we all see, that he is a big guy who skates well and has a nose for the net.  So we won't get carried away with this latest Lars Eller line, it may be a flash-in-the-pan like Dale Weise on the #1 line, but let's ride this pony and see how far it takes us.

And while I've brought up Greg Millen, I have to note how annoying Bob Cole is, an incessant drone of sentence fragments and bafflegab.  "Oooooh, and it was too long, ...  this opportunity,... the pass from Eller, couldn't...  be completed.  By Prust."  His excited nonsensical patter made me realize another reason why Pierre Houde is so good: he speaks in complete sentences.

Another gem, after the Jason Pominville goal to make it 1-1:  "The game started as a tie.  Scoreless... then Gallagher scored..., and now..."

And this one: "The pace continues at a brisk pace."

As for a brisk pace, David Desharnais was at it tonight, skating well and making plays, dishing off to his teammates for scoring opportunities, and even ringing a shot off the crossbar on a 2-on-1, probably freezing the astonished goalie by not choosing to pass.  Later on, he created the fourth goal, scored by Max Pacioretty, with a behind-the-back blind drop pass to P.A. Parenteau.

Which led me to wonder, how does a David Desharnais-denier celebrate such a goal?  Is it like the Wicked Stepmother would celebrate an achievement by Cinderella?  Like I would a meaningless late touchdown by the Chargers if it meant that frigging guy won the office pool?  Like a CEO attending the Christmas party at a branch he's going to close in the new year?

Generally, do you root against the player specifically, but for the team to do well, or for the team to fail so as to prove your point about the player?

Nathan Beaulieu had a good night, in that I didn't notice him except when I really paid attention, and he and Tom Gilbert seemed to play well together.  On one sequence, he had the puck behind his net, no one was rushing him, and he took a couple of seconds to survey the scene.  David Desharnais wheeled around behind the net to 'launch' the play, faked picking up the puck but left it for Nathan, who then didn't hesitate and fired the puck to his right where Tom Gilbert was waiting in the corner, and they were off out of the zone.  And I couldn't help but think that Jarred Tinordi would have overthought that, he would have looked for a stretch pass for some reason, and hesitated, and eventually would have caused a turnover.

Another thing Nathan didn't overthink was when Stéphane Veilleux came poking his nose in his business, after Nate cleared the front of Carey's net after a whistle with an enthusiastic crosscheck.  Mr. Veilleux approached as if to obtain more information on the matter, and Nate shook his gloves once, quickly dropped them, then dropped the Minnesota forward with an emphatic right, and then added a couple more for good measure.

Now, much like Homer Simpson evaluating mayoral candidate Sideshow Bob in the voting booth, I went through a mental arithmetic: "Hmm...I don't agree with his Wild-maiming policy, but I do approve of his net-clearing policy." [votes for Nate]

So a big win, one we were meant to have, at home against a Zach Parisé-less team that Ottawa had just easily handled.  We can hope it rights the ship and we accumulate the points during the rest of this homestand.

Friday, 7 November 2014

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 3: Notes

Good episode dealing, briefly, with the 7-1 shellacking in Tampa, but also with the big win against the Bruins in the home opener, and the win against Colorado after the celebration of equipment manager Pierre Gervais' 2500th NHL game worked.

02:00  Shot of Manny Malhotra and P.A. Parenteau sitting on the bench observing the game, taken from the inside front of the boards facing in, that weird perspective a water bottle would have.  Suddenly, as if cattle-prodded, P.A. is up and over the boards, it takes a fraction of a second, when it's his turn to hop on for a change.  Quite the contrast with the lazy changes at a drop-in game, where a guy will lazily skate up hoping you're ready to get back on the ice, and you shut him down.  "Too soon buddy, I just got off.  Give me a minute."

08:00  Hall of Fame Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden passes the torch to Carey Price during the home-opener pre-game ceremony.  Very appropriate choice of players, certainly compared to last season, when Daniel Brière ended up being involved.

Great seeing Ken Dryden in the bleu-blanc-rouge again.  I forgive him his Maple Leaf divagation.  Good seeing Guy Lafleur offering his thoughts on a big game against the Bruins, and managing to keep his foot clear of his buccal orifice.

09:25  Two titans shaking hands when Ken Dryden greets anthem chanteuse Ginette Reno.  The cool thing is, being a curious and open-minded sort, I have no doubt that Mr. Dryden knows exactly who she is.  They were both mega-stars in Québec in the seventies.

09:45  Another angle of the Alexei Emelin hit on Milan Lucic.  Awesome.  I'll look at that over and over again, and not tire of it.  Clean shoulder check that dumps the Boston loose cannon on his keister.

The actual game against the Bruins is given relatively short shrift.  Maybe the producers felt that everything has already been said and written about it.

10:35  Montréal mayor Denis Coderre interviewed on the game between periods.  He takes care to predict that David Desharnais will score, which feels forced.

11:20  Jiri Sekac's first NHL goal, with shots of his happy family in the stands.  Couldn't help but notice that it's Jarred Tinordi who gathers the puck and flips it to a Canadiens staffer for safekeeping.  It further confirms his team-player status.

13:15  Classic Claude Julien head-shake and facepalm combo after a Brendan Gallagher goal.  Priceless.

14:30  P.A. Parenteau is the player of the game for his two-goal night.  Instead of the puck ceremony we've seen so far, they've come up with a red and blue satiny robe like boxers wear before bouts.  Dan Lacroix still handles the camera work though.  Good shot of Andrei handing off the honours.

15:00  Travis Moen presents Pierre Gervais with a gift from the players in honour of his 2500th game played, he gets a case of wine, and probably not the cheap stuff I give when I'm invited to dinner somewheres.

Lots of testimonials follow.  He used to be the equipment manager for the Sherbrooke Canadiens when Michel Therrien was a player (something we forget about), they won the Calder Cup together.  Tomas Plekanec reveals that even though he was at the Olympics as a Team Canada staffer, he sharpened Tomas' skates there too.

19:05  In the Colorado game, a microcosm of P.K.'s season so far.  He takes a needless penalty, and compounds it in my eyes with a simulacrum of innocence for the referees' benefit, who don't buy it.  Then, stepping out of the box, he scores that sublime, laughter-inducing goal of his, where he veers around the net and then dekes out the goalie.  What can you say?  Sure, he's taking too big a bite out of our salary cap, but what can you say after that goal?

19:50  Former teammates P.A. Parenteau and Alex Tanguay line up next to each other for the opening faceoff of the third period.

"What's up Tangs?"

"Ça va bien, toi?"

"Ça va, ça va."

"Ç'tun peu tough avec une hanche de bois..."

"It's a little hard to do this with a wooden hip", Alex Tanguay says, cracking up P.A.

21:15  After the win, P.A. Parenteau passes on the robe to Pierre Gervais in honour of his milestone, and he gets to sit in the middle of the team photo commemorating the win.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Game 13: Canadiens 0, Blackhawks 5

Remember last season when Marc Bergevin went into the dressing room after the horrible game against the Capitals, and told every player they had to be there to answer questions from the journalists, that there would be no hiding from the cameras in the physio room?  I guess tonight they will receive the same treatment, because it was the same kind of effort, a lackadaisical, uncoordinated 5-0 loss against the Blackhawks.

Before the game, Vincent Damphousse returned to the subject of Alex Galchenyuk at centre versus on left wing.  He again used himself as an example, seeing how he was a high-scoring centre in junior but started his pro career as a winger, and did quite well there.  He explained that as a twenty-year-old, Alex could focus on developing his game without worrying about defensive responsibilities, a Tomas Plekanec could handle that aspect.  He mentioned how Alex was explosive as a winger so far this season, and even lead the team in hits, but when asked to play centre against the Flames played his worst game of the season.

Mario Tremblay chimed in to support Vincent's analysis, saying that when the team put Alex at centre and Lars Eller at left wing, it was weakening itself at both positions.

During the four-on-four in the first, Lars earned kudos from Pierre Houde for his work in front of Corey Crawford's net.  Mr. Houde asked whether this would be a constant for the Canadiens going forward, that it was a sorely lacking component on this team, and that Lars has "le physique de l'emploi", the size for it.

Second period sees some back and forth, lots of icings.  On one sequence, Nathan Beaulieu tries an overly ambitious pass out of his zone, when he had two very easy options I could see right on the screen.  As a result, Mike Weaver has to make a great play to thwart a 2-on-1.  Maybe Nathan is feeling the pressure, thinking he has to rack up points, instead of just playing safe, dependable hockey.

René Bourque streaking into the opposition zone, but putting on the brakes and trying a centering pass instead of driving to the net with that big body and skating ability of his, kind of created that situation that almost trapped Nate.  His centering pass didn't connect, and the Hawks went the other way on a zone break with it.  Later, René was unlucky, returning deep into his zone to support the 'D', and partially blocking the pass from the corner by Kris Versteeg, but it still bounced up so that Krueger could bat it into the net.

Another isolated moment that goes unnoticed, David Desharnais winning a puck battle against Ben Smith in the corner.  He used his stick a couple of times but soft-pedaled it and avoided the hooking penalty.  Instead, he gained positional advantage and squatted down low and dug the puck out.

P.K. Subban pushing/tripping a Blackhawk in front of his net, while Chicago is globetrottering in our zone, then taking a look at the refs to see if he's earned a minor.  During the whistle, we see him talking to a ref, who tells him to pipe down and get back to the faceoff circle, in clear terms.  Not a lot of love for P.K. from this ref, and seemingly most others.  P.K., stop arguing, campaigning, lobbying, stop looking for a ref's decision during play.  Play the game, play hard, and stop looking so damn guilty.  And hush.  Let your play do the talking.

I'll say this for P.K., he delivered a hard shoulder check that stopped a Blackhawk in his tracks.  It was a nice change from one of his bee-sting butt checks that often miss and leave the opponent free and clear.

But then again...

On Chicago's third goal earlyish in the third, P.K. was kind of aimless on the play, hanging in the corner behind the goal line, and left Brad Richards unattended, unfettered in front of Carey Price, from where he deflected Patrick Sharp's shot.

I often say that the coaching I received playing hockey is obsolete nowadays, things like “don’t try to block shots, you’ll only tip it past the goalie, let him make the saves.” One thing that still applies though is “That guy in front of the net? That’s your guy. Don’t leave him an inch of room.”  Brad Richards must have been wondering where everybody was, he was so lonely all alone out there by his lonesome.

P.K. did better later on, leaving Jonathan Toews little room in front of the net, being all over him until the whistle went.  That's great, but we shouldn't be applauding instances of solid basic plays from P.K.  With the amount of cap space he is taking up, he needs to be the absolute stud defenceman who plays thirty minutes and barely breaks a sweat, makes everything look easy.  With the amount of the budget he eats up, he doesn't allow us to have a Kevin Bieksa or Jay Bouwmeester on our second pair.  He needs to eat up the lion's share of icetime while being error-free and producing points.

And I won't break down the fourth goal by the Hawks, other than to mention that it was scored by Patrick Kane on a Jonathan Toews assist.  There's no real defence on that pair, they're going to get their share eventually.

As for the fifth, well the boys are just axing for a bag skate now....

After the game, Vincent Damphousse was saying the team and the young veterans gave up in the third period, that Carey Price gave René Bourque a stare after the Patrick Kane goal for his lack of effort, and that P.K. is -7 over the last couple of games.  He and Mario Tremblay couldn't settle on who to blame, the offence which can't score or the defence which can't stop anyone, allowing 11 goals in two games, and now ranking as the worst in the league.  Mario Tremblay rattled off that Alex Galchenyuk has one point in five games, Tomas Plekanec has none in eight.  Alain Crète helped him along: "Desharnais, Pacioretty, Gallagher, ..."

Monday, 3 November 2014

Game 12: Canadiens 2, Flames 6

Michel Therrien has tinkered with his lineup during the great start to the season, stating that he didn't want to wait for things to go wrong before he made adjustments.  It's hard to argue this general point, tuneups are necessary to prevent complete breakdowns.  So on the first game back at home after a three-game road trip which saw the team gather three points out of a possible six, and the team score only three goals, he jumbled up his lines to try to spark the offence.

So Dale Weise jumped up to the first line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk moved to centre with René Bourque and Brendan Gallagher on his wings, and Tomas Plekanec continued with P.A. Parenteau, but inherited dispossessed centreman Lars Eller on his left wing.  To finish off, Jarred Tinordi sat out in favour of Nathan Beaulieu on the third defence pair.

We've talked about how Michel Therrien very often during the last two seasons took what were at first glance debatable decisions, but which almost invariably would turn in his favour.  The obvious example was his surprising use of Peter Budaj, starting him against tough opponents, against the Bruins, and getting wins out of it.  Tonight though, his bold line shuffling produced nothing, aside from a listless, asynchronous lineup, and a 6-2 defeat at the hand of the little-engine-that-could Flames.

Flames defenceman T.J. Brodie was signed to a five-year contract last month worth $4.65M annually, which raised some eyebrows.  He showed Canadiens fans tonight that he is very much deserving of such treatment, that he is a rising star who doesn't get much press playing in Calgary, but would be hyped like a Michael del Zotto or more if he played in a large media centre like New York.  He had three assists and was named the game's third star, but in my book was the first.

Meanwhile, P.K. Subban is not nearly playing to the level of his $9M/year deal.  He's certainly not the goat of the loss tonight, but he needs to be the best Canadien night in night out.  Instead, he's the most mercurial player, capable of brilliant and boneheaded play from one period to the next.  And that's unacceptable at his pay grade.  He needs to be Larry Robinson, the guy who when he's on the ice, the other team doesn't have a chance.

Instead, the boys on L'Antichambre discussed how P.K. is the most penalized player in the league in terms of two-minute minors.  If he accumulated these by crunching guys with bodychecks, I wouldn't mind, but the embellishment penalties, the lazy trippings, the inopportune slashing penalty he got tonight are an indication of a player who's not fully into the game, who's not giving everything he has to win.

I'll say it again:  I want P.K. to stop worrying about the refs while play is underway.  Stop looking at the ref after every hook and every hit you dish out.  Play the game until the whistle blows.  Every time you look at the ref, you're giving the impression that you're guilty of something, that you should be penalized.   Conversely, when someone hooks or trips you, stop gesturing at the refs hoping for a call.  The other team hasn't stopped playing, they're still trying to score on you.  Ignore the hook you're victim of, fight through it.

Play hard.  You've got a couple years of playing hard ahead of you, and of not diving ahead of you, before the refs lose the bad impression they have of you.  Might as well start now.

Alex Galchenyuk got hit in the mouth with a high stick early in the game, and got a fat lip out of it.  He seemed stunned on the bench afterwards, like he wasn't having a great day, and in hindsight that moment might have been a snapshot of what the whole team was about to go through.

On the first goal scored by the Flames, we saw Max and Nathan zero in on Johnny Gaudreau in the corner, eager to deliver a hit, and I thought that maybe they thought he was an inviting target, or a player who should be checked hard to counter his speed, but also that they might be trying to avenge Alex's cut lip.  In any case, the kid was dangerous all night, picked up two assists and was named the second star.

Dale Weise did quite well on the first line, but the other line changes weren't as fruitful.  If anything, the boys seemed confused, and this may have been the reason for the too-many-men penalty, that they didn't know which line, or which incarnation of which line, was supposed to be on the ice.

So not a great night for the boys, after a difficult road trip, and they're still not finding the net.  I don't know if Michel Therrien will continue with the lines he tried tonight, or if he'll go back to a more conventional lineup, but we have to wonder when Jiri Sekac and Michaël Bournival will find their way onto the lineup.  If we're not scoring, it would seem that such an injection of speed could only help right?