Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Game 42: Canadiens 7, Jets 4

Notes on the Canadiens 7-4 win against the Jets.

--I'm afraid of the Jets.  They're the big type of team that can hurt us, physically, as in injure us.

--Only one Mike McCarron is not enough on a night like this.  This is when you'd hope that Jacob de la Rose and Brett Lernout were ready.  And Connor Crisp.  And Jarred Tinordi.  And Jason Missiaen.

--I fear Mark Barberio and Ryan Johnston will expire, on some of those shifts they're trapped in their zone.

--Although the Jets seem to focus on Alexei Emelin, like they've got a score to settle, like they took his number for something that happened before.  He's taken a couple of big hits.

--Torrey Mitchell's delay of game penalty is a bad one.  He's taken some poor penalties lately, hooking and slashing calls, unnecessary.  That flip of the puck over the glass was careless, and it cost the team.  I wonder whether he still had in mind a previous shift when he backhanded a puck against the glass and caused an icing, and tried to finesse this one.

--That "hit" by Dustin Byfuglien on Daniel Carr wasn't a hit, it was an elbow to the face.  Of course, no penalty was called.

--Nikita Scherbak undoubtedly earned a ticket back to St. John's with his decision to take the puck, wheel around his net and try to rush the puck out of his own zone.  He got easily caught from behind, lost the puck, and almost cost us a goal.  I didn't realize he was that ponderous, I figured he could skate better than that.

--I'm glad I'm not the only one who caught that lazy half-hearted pokecheck by Dustin Byfuglien on Phillip Danault's end-to-end goal.  Jeff Petry, I absolve you of your sin on that goal by Evgeni Kuznetsov.

--Tomas Plekanec is sick of me ragging on him, of posting how I wish he'd been traded years ago.  He's doing something about it.

--Michael Hutchison?  When did the former lead singer of INXS start goaltending in the NHL?

--We're in awe of the stockpile of talented young players on the Jets, but comes at the cost of years of futility and high draft rankings.  We convince ourselves that they're a great organization that finds great talent, but when you're drafting ninth overall, you just bend down and pick up Nik Ehlers, it's not rocket science.

--At 6-3, I expect Big Buff or Adam Lowry or Chris Thorburn will decapitate someone.

--Someone remind me how goaltending is easy to find, and not crucial in the NHL?  Use the Jets in your answer, and be sure to discuss Ondrej Pavelec.

--I don't want to get carried away with Phillip Danault.  The kid is doing great now, but ultimately, our roster will be Cup-ready when he's (at best) our third-line centre.  I really liked when he and Torrey Mitchell were the left-right faceoff combination on our fourth line.

--Shawn Matthias is in Winnipeg?  After Vancouver and Toronto?  Is he on the Matt Stajan/Lee Stempniak career path?

--I'd put the over-under on the word 'foxhole' at 1 on Twitter tonight.

--Not that mad at the fourth Jet goal.  It may keep their focus on hockey, instead of their attempts at the dismemberment of Daniel Carr.

--We can't get Andrei Markov and Greg Pateryn back soon enough.

--Alright I give: keeping Artturi Lehkonen was the right call coming out of camp.  I worried we'd lose players on waivers as a result, and that he wasn't really superior to Sven Andrighetto, for one.  I may have misjudged that one.

--I'll say it again: I'm glad that Blake Wheeler blossomed once he was gone from Boston.  I'd hate to face him so often as a Bruin.  This way, the Bruins wasted a first-round pick on him, and didn't end up with the player.  Perfect.

--Good win by the boys, although Al Montoya's stats take it on the chin again.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Mark Barberio is a good organizational #7-8 defenceman.

The evidence is in on Mark Barberio, after a season and a half in the Canadiens organization. As some of us suspected, he’s a good organizational #7-8 defenceman, but if he’s a regular on your third pairing, you’re looking for an upgrade on your blueline. This is no surprise, for a player who the Lightning allowed to walk, rather than qualify as a RFA at nearly a million dollars.

We pulled the same stunt once with Yannick Weber, we preferred to allow him to go with no compensation rather than pay him a million dollars, and we never looked back. Yannick grimly hung on as the #7-8 defenceman in Vancouver, had stretches when he played well and vivified the powerplay, but again was allowed to walk after a couple of seasons. This year, he’s apparently caught on as a third-pairing guy in Nashville, he fits their ideal profile of the new NHL defenceman. He scored his first goal in two seasons this week.

Getting back to Mark, it’s funny that Steve Yzerman is lionized as the uber-GM, the wheeler and dealer and talent-finder that Marc Bergevin will never be, yet when it comes to Mark Barberio, a faction on social media thought he’d been a dunce, that he’d let a player who could replace Nathan Beaulieu or Andrei Markov eventually slip through his fingers.

The qualifying offer provision in the CBA is a great advantage to teams, they can retain RFA’s by giving them a token raise, yet Steve Yzerman didn’t think Mark was worth that. He didn’t mind losing him, preferred letting him walk rather than having to pay him…

[Checks CapFriendly]

…110% of $874,125 on a one-way deal. The Canadiens got him at $600 000, and $325 000 in the AHL.

Basically, Steve Yzerman established a ceiling on Mark Barberio, put a maximum dollar amount on that value, and walked away. And has been proven more right than wrong.

We were lectured by a more acidic commenter that Mark had nothing left to learn in the AHL, that he was a NHL defenceman, the new prototype who can skate and make passes and create offence. In fact, we’ve apparently reached the ceiling for Mark: first-pairing defenceman and leader in the AHL, bottom-pairing or #7 in the NHL. Steve Yzerman was right, not the ever-optimistic Canadiens fans.

There’s no need to get down on Mark though, he’s good to have in times like these, when two of the regular defencemen are injured. He won’t win you any games, but he won’t lose you some like Ryan Johnston and Joel Hanley can. He’s a local boy who can play a few seasons for the Canadiens and contribute, maybe having to start seasons in the AHL, but a great option to have when injuries strike and you need to call up someone.

Again, not saying Mark is horrible or worthless, but that we have to keep our expectations reasonable, especially considering his track record.

Should the Canadiens sign Alex Radulov to a long term contract?

Okay, I’ll say it. I don’t want Alex Radulov signed to a long-term deal.

Right now, he’s found money. What we’re getting out of him right now, at 30, as he’s trying to prove himself to the entire NHL and he’s on his best behaviour, putting out 110% effort most nights, is amazing, great value for the no-risk contract Marc Bergevin signed him to.

It’s a very short track record though, to entertain ideas of a 4 or 5 or 6 year deal. With a raise in salary.

That’s too much risk for me. I’d fold rather than keep anteing up into that pot.

The way to build is through the draft. I’d keep my powder dry, save those future dollars to pay for our own players that we develop. Patch on other reclamation projects on no-risk deals when we’re not using those dollars.

Slow and steady does it. It’s unwise to swing for the fences all the time. And as I said before, I don’t think this is really a window for the Cup for us, we’re not a deep and talented club. We still need to pack on players and prospects, and we don’t benefit by taking on a 30-year-old player on a large long-term deal.

I wanted Tomas Plekanec traded at the end of his last contract, at the deadline, before his play started to decline, when he still had value that would net us young players or prospects or draft picks. To turn around and advocate for a big UFA-type deal for Radu wouldn’t be consistent.

Plus, signing him now means we have to protect him in the expansion draft, and will lose an incrementally better player by consequence.

My ideal pie-in-the-sky scenario is for Radu to keep playing like he is, and if Marc Bergevin can’t get him to bite on a reasonable three-year deal, you flip him to a contender at the deadline for a young player and a first-round pick. I know this won’t happen, Marc Bergevin won’t unload players this year with our position in the standings, but long-term, this would be best for us.

Game 41: Canadiens 1, Capitals 4

A marooned viewer on Canadiens Express thanks to our Commissioner of our game Gary Bettman, I thought it was touch and go until the third period when the Capitals put it away 4-1.  The shots on goal don't quite tell the same story, maybe the edited broadcast gave me a false impression, that the game wasn't really that close, but it seemed like the Canadiens could hang on and maybe find a way to win this one.

1)  An oddity in this program was that a complete, entire, unabridged powerplay was edited out of the broadcast, the one early in the third on the Capitals' too-many-men penalty.  RDS has to cut out around five minutes of game action to fit the game into a one-hour program, with commercials and other breaks eating into that hour.  Usually, it's understood that they'll cut out stretches when neither team threatens the opponent's net, where nothing much exciting that happens.  Sometimes they'll cut out fisticuffs.  And I disagree with their decision in shootouts, when they usually only show the winning goal.

That they could hack out an entire powerplay from the telecast is a good indication of how much the Canadiens struggle setting up in the opponent's zone and getting to work.  Maybe Andrei Markov's return from injury will help in this area, but even when he's healthy, that's still a problem for our boys.

2)  We often talk about players playing their off-side, how some forward like being there to be able to protect the puck on rushes, like Erik Cole notably, and also to get off one-timers more easily.  Coaches these days are very leery of that arrangement, want their forward to work on defence and along the boards on their strong sides.  This allows them to make the proverbial 'strong play' with the puck, to bang it off the boards, or a good clean hard pass to a teammate that they might fail to do on their weaker backhands.

We saw an example of this during the game when Nikita Scherbak, on his off-wing deep in his zone, with his back to the opposition, got the puck on his stick with time to make a play near his own goalline.  Problem is, there was no open teammate nearby to progress the puck to, and he couldn't really tell what would happen if he shoveled the puck along the boards on his backhand, so he rimmed it around the boards to the other side of the ice.

This wasn't a more favourable option, it left the Canadiens scrambling in their own zone for a few more seconds and the Capitals got to bang and hack at the puck near Carey Price's net a few times.  No great scoring chances for them, but an opportunity that was created because Nikita wasn't in a position to make a strong play.

3)  Lars Eller with a slewfooty braincrampy tripping penalty on Artturi Lehkonen in the third, which allows the Canadiens to tie the game on Tomas Plekanec's powerplay goal?  Not really what Lars had in mind I'm sure, but we've grown accustomed over the years to his numerous minor penalties, often in the offensive zone away from danger.

He almost made up for it by scoring on a 2-on-1 break late in the third when the game was out of reach really, but Lars missed the net and failed to convert.  Again, expectations.

In keeping with these expectations, he didn't have a bad night, won 63% of his faceoffs and tallied one hit.  I didn't pay attention to matchups, but on L'Antichambre they mentioned a couple of times that the Pacioretty-Danault-Radulov line didn't have its best night.  Probably Lars played a role in that, by defending effectively.

And I still would feel better about our centre situation if we'd flipped Tomas Plekanec for draft picks and prospects as his contract was expiring, and kept Lars in the fold.

4)  Is Shea Weber healthy again?  Tonight he was using his wicked slapshot again, after a stretch of a few games in which he eschewed it.

5)  Watching Jeff Petry get posterized by Evgeny Kuznetsov, it's obvious from my couch and from the stands that he got caught looking at the puck and got fooled.  You get taught early on as a defenceman that on a two-on-two or similar situations, your job is to not let your guy get by you.  You're taught, again and again, because it's difficult to achieve, to not look at the onrushing forwards head or eyes, not to get hypnotized by the puck, but rather to focus on the crest of his jersey and bar his way to the net.  If you're looking at his chest, you're not going to bite on a head fake.  You close the distance towards him and hopefully force him to pass before he's ready.

Not that Jeff Petry is an All-Star who won't make mistakes and needs me to make excuses for him, but as I watched the replay, I wondered how the 'get the puck' focus of Michel Therrien's Canadiens contributed to Jeff's blunder.

If he played on the Bruins, he'd have to adopt their ethos of intimidation and physical dominance, that you guide and funnel the forward towards the boards where you finish your check no matter what, no matter how long the puck has been gone.  If you achieve that as a Bruins defenceman, you've done your job, that's a win, a checkmark in your smiley-face column.

Michel Therrien and Jean-Jacques Daigneault preach a different philosophy that we've discussed before.  They tell their defencemen, their players, to not worry about dishing out hits, that those will happen naturally, organically during the game.  What they want their defencemen to worry about is to strip the puck from their opponents, gain possession and get it going the other way, quickly.

We see how Andrei Markov is the master of this, he'll hang back, keep his stick close instead of outstretched, and fool a forward into thinking he has a passing lane.  Then, when the pass is attempted, Andrei's stick springs out like a scorpion's tail, snags the puck, and he catches the opposition flatfooted.  Andrei doesn't play the body, he plays the puck.

And in this instance, Jeff tried to play the puck, was looking for a pokecheck opportunity, and got hypnotized by it, got bamboozled by the wizardly Kuznetsov.

6)  Did everybody see how Bobby Farnham bounced off Karl Azner on his attempted bodycheck?  Get this useless stiff off my beloved Canadiens' roster, please, and pronto.

7)  Nathan Beaulieu got the most icetime of any Canadiens defencemen, even more than Shea Weber.  Pierre Houde and Marc Denis lauded him for a very good stretch of play by him lately.  I sometimes think that Nate just needs to understand that he doesn't need to do anything extraordinary.  He shouldn't try to pull a rabbit out of a hat every second shift.  Instead, if he realizes that his mobility and ability with the puck is an advantage to his team, and that if he just goes out there every shift and plays to the best of his ability, without needing to try a Hail Mary or three every game, that the Canadiens will come out ahead, and that he'll become and excellent defenceman.  With his skillset, if he plays hard and focused and cuts out mistakes, he'll easily be a Top 4 defenceman.

8)  Carey Price makes a puckhandling mistake that leads directly to a Capitals goal?  That's kind of jarring.  Carey's puckhandling is effortless and flawless.  Dependable.

Chantal Machabée of RDS was saying last week that Carey isn't his usual self, she says he's choleric instead of calm in practice, breaking sticks over the crossbar.  She says this has been going on for a few weeks, she's not sure if he's fighting through a minor injury, or what else may be bothering him.

He's certainly not been the dominant goalie we've come to expect, but maybe that's more of a issue with our expectations, since we can't rely on him to be otherworldly for entire seasons at a time.

9)  Very nice suit on a composed Michel Therrien during his post-game remarks.  He says the Caps played a good game and his charges didn't, that he noticed in the first they didn't have their usual spring to their step, that they were late getting to the puck, lost puck battles.  He was questioned about the first game back on home ice after a long road trip phenomenon, and allowed that it's difficult to explain, but it does exist.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Game 33: Canadiens 2, Wild 4

While Gary Bettman was balefully shushing kids playing mini-sticks in his hotel room corridor, since they were intruding on the sound of his cash-counting machine, I was watching the Canadiens game against the Wild, on RDS' 'Canadiens Express', a decisive 5-2 loss.

Some observations:

1)  Nathan Beaulieu has a chance to show his stuff with Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin out of the lineup.  What does he decide to do, in the first period, when Carey Price gives him a short pass in front of the net, with the Canadiens scrambling in their own end, and the entire left side of the zone free and clear of opponents?  He foregoes the path of least resistance, the option of wheeling to his right and going up the left side of the rink.

Instead, he doggedly, resolutely skates behind his net, on his backhand, with a forechecker in hot pursuit, and then stickhandles and fights his way up the right side along the boards, through every Wild player there is.

I understand that sometimes it's worth it to take a small risk to surprise your opponents, to zig when they're expecting you to zag.  Also though, like the KISS acronym enjoins us to do, it's not a bad plan to keep it simple, to take yes for an answer.  I'm sure the coaches were as uncomfortable, to put it mildly, as I was on my couch, as they watched the play unfold.  It didn't end badly, Nate ended up taking a good shot on the Minny net, but I think the coaches will go over the video with our boy and hope he sees the error of his ways.

Nate gets knocked by analysts for his inconsistency and decision-making, among other flaws.  Tonight I tried to watch his shifts as best I could, and this one, midway through the first period, may be a microcosm of Nate's issues.

2)  Tell me again how Max Pacioretty is soft and of little worth, how he should be traded since he doesn't muck and grind?  Seeing him in slow-mo swooping in on net on that shorthanded goal, the 'C' and the 'CH' proud on his chest, picking the blocker side effortlessly to give the team the lead, I'm really interested in your plan to trade him for Jordan Eberle.

Max is a weapon.  Having him as a constant threat on the penalty kill is a great luxury.  He's the last mohican of the Ryan McDonagh-Max Pacioretty-P.K. Subban 2007 draft year, how about we keep him?

3)  Seeing Artturi Lehkonen bearing down on Jared Spurgeon, who was racing back to his end to corral a puck, I fully expected a good bodycheck to be delivered.  And not a brainless finishing of a check, in the parlance, but rather a tactical bodycheck to separate the small defender from the puck.  Instead, Artturi tried a stickcheck and couldn't steal the puck away.

I was a little disappointed, even fully knowing that this is what Michel Therrien preaches, that you don't go looking for the big hit, that you chase and fight for the puck.  Surely in this case, this was an opportunity to deliver a good hit, to win the puck in this manner, to leave a calling card with a rattled defender, who'll feel the nervosity the next time he's chasing down a puck, preferably with Mike McCarron slavering at his heels.

I didn't quite have the time to finish this thought before Artturi, Brian Flynn, and Tomas Plekanec caught up to the play in the neutral zone, turned the puck over, and swooped in on Devan Dubnyk's net for a decent scoring chance.  I guess it serves them well to keep their speed up, instead of coming to a standstill after a hit.

Okay, okay, but still, come on, once in a while, just one bodycheck, here and there, you know, just to keep things enlivened?  In loving memory of Dave Maley?

4)  Shea Weber got off a half-slapper in the second period.  Not his usual rocket or anything, but maybe his (suspected) bum wing is feeling better.

5)  Carey Price, with his deft puckhandling, can't be perfect all the time.  No one will need to point out to him that the Jordan Shroeder goal, you know, it kind of happened because, well...  

Never mind.  We're good.

6)  Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Petry chatting after a whistle.  Those two went through the Edmonton wringer together.

7)  Will there be a race to Québec?  A bidding war to sell their franchise between the Islanders, beaten down by their recent UFA signings and their ill-advised move to the Brooklyn Arena, and pauper Peter Karmanos trying to unload his lifeless 'Canes?  I'd fear the latter, seeing the Nouveaux Nordiques take to the ice with 6'3" right-winger Julien Gauthier and 6'4" centre Nicolas Roy, facing off against Martin Reway and Daniel Audette.

8)  It's never good news when the Canadiens earn a powerplay, and RDS skips ahead in the game action.  Seeing the action start with 45 seconds left in the powerplay early in the third, you knew the Canadiens weren't offering much of a show with the man advantage.

Sure enough, they'd cut out the fumbling and bumbling (probably), and joined the action shortly before Eric Staal's shorthanded goal.

9)  So now we have five points out of a possible ten in this crucial stretch.  Still playing .500 hockey, according to the NHL's new math, where games variably are worth 2 or 3 points, depending.  

All we need is a convincing win against the Blue Jackets,  tomorrow night, on the road, against a team that just beat the Penguins 7-1, and beat the Canadiens 10-0 in November.  And they get to face Al Montoya again.  

"Oye oye oye," says Benoit Brunet, probably.

Philippe Myers turning heads as a Team Canada member, UFA signee by the Flyers.

Interesting case study about Philippe Myers, a 6'5" defenceman from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies who went undrafted this June, got an invitation to the Flyers rookie development camp, and impressed them enough that he was asked to attend their rookie camp in the fall.  He did well enough there and in the main camp that the Flyers signed him to an entry-level contract.

This is a success story for the kid, and maybe for the Flyers, but it always stings when another team, and especially Philly, finds a gem in our back yard.  The way the story is told, it seems things just clicked for him this summer, in terms of maybe getting his growth spurt under control, getting confidence in his ability, etc.  But let's be clear that, during their Memorial Cup chase in May and June, Phillipe Myers was seen as a steady-eddie, a dependable minute-muncher, but in no way was thought by the analysts, either on TVA Sports or Sportsnet or Stéphane Leroux on RDS, as a good pro prospect who'd go high in the draft.

He was a good player on a great junior team, and definitely not seen even as favourably as teammate Jérémy Lauzon was the previous season, one of a brace of good young LHJMQ defenceman from the 2015 draft.  Mr. Lauzon was seen as not in the class of Jakub Zboril, Thomas Chabot and Jérémy Roy, or even the next tier of Nicolas Meloche and Guillaume Brisebois.  Prognosticators saw him as almost as good as the latter two, that he was a third-rounder who might sneak into the late 2nd-round, based on a great second half of the season.  Eventually, the Bruins bought in to this line of thinking, and picked him mid-second round, ahead of Guillaume Brisebois, who 'fell' to the Canucks at the top of the third round.

Yet now, undrafted 18-year old Philippe Myers has leapfrogged his 19-year-old teammate Jérémy Lauzon on the Team Canada depth chart.  He's the one getting powerplay time, getting more minutes.

Something that sticks in my craw a little as a Canadiens fan is how Noah Juulsen is now the rightie on the second pairing, behind Philippe Myers, while he was thought in the run-up to the camp as a lock to partner with Thomas Chabot on the first pairing, and maybe to get powerplay time.  His role has been usurped.  Coach Dominique Ducharme has teamed up the two LHJMQ d-men, and put Noah with Jake Bean for a WHL second-pairing.

Looking at his point production last year, Philippe Myers put up 17 goals and 28 assists in 63 games.  I've posted before about an article written by a blogger who analyzed how point production related to success in the NHL.  He found that .6 pts/game in a CHL defenceman's draft year was the benchmark necessary for success in the NHL.  If a prospect didn't reach that level, the chance that he'd make it in the NHL was vanishingly small.

So when stories came out about the Flyers signing Philippe Myers, I wondered if he was one of the big but slow and ham-handed with the puck prototype that was falling out of favour in the league, after the relative flops last season of Jarred Tinordi, Jared Cowan, Dylan McIlrath and Jamie Oleksiak.  I immediately performed the PPG 'test', and found that he easily met that standard, he actually produced .71 pts/game.

It is puzzling then that Philippe Myers didn't garner more attention.  Did scouts believe he was a 'victim' of his team's success, that the great supporting cast around him explained in large part his point totals?  Taylor Raddysh, a 2016 second-round pick by Tampa Bay (them again...) was under the same scrutiny.  He was thought to be a good finisher with good size, but scouts wondered whether his point totals were inflated, due mostly to playing on the same team/line with Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat.  So far this season, Mr. Raddysh is proving the doubters wrong.

We can bang our heads against the wall about this, or maybe we can understand that this isn't so rare an occurrence that it constitutes malfeasance by the scouts.  It happened just recently, when Joe Hicketts, a smallish defenceman who was passed over in the 2014 draft, got an invitation to the Red Wings camp, and earned a contract based on his performance there.  He easily earned a spot on the WJC Team Canada roster two years running, ahead of more notorious prospects who got picked high in the 2014 and 2015 draft.

A similar story is Michael McNiven, who was passed over in the draft in 2015, came to the Canadiens' development camp as an invitee/roster filler, and did well enough to eventually earn a contract.  Mike was one of three invitees to the selection camp for Team Canada this year, and will be part of the team as an alternate, in case of injury.

There are also near-misses of this type.  The story goes that the Canadiens, devoid of a seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, considered offering Sven Andrighetto a contract as a UFA.  Sven had been passed up in the draft a second time, and the Canadiens apparently hemmed and hawed, and passed up the chance.  The next season, they had to spend a third-round pick to acquire him, and the rumblings were that Patrick Roy's Colorado Avalanche were about to do the same before being scooped.

And speaking of misses and puzzling decisions, the American team for the World Juniors, already stripped of Brock Boeser who'll be undergoing wrist surgery, have now cut Alex DeBrincat and Logan Brown.  The hosts of TSN 1040 Vancouver were wondering where the goals were going to come from, why they'd pass on these guys even if they had a disappointing selection camp.

So, in the final analysis, we could shake our heads and cluck and point fingers, or we could accept that evaluating 18-year-old hockey players is hard.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Game 32: Canadiens 5, Ducks 1

Gary Bettman shunted me onto "Canadiens Express" on RDS.  Despite the rough cuts and action left on the cutting room floor, with Pierre Houde and Marc Denis calling the action, it's still better than the HNIC version we get on Saturday nights, or the TVA Sports pale copy.  A quick bite-sized broadcast of the Canadiens 5-1 win against the Ducks.

Generalities:

--We felt that if the Canadiens could weather the storm the next little while, a tough stretch of games without Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais, if they could maintain a .500 record, that would be great, what with the strong start they had to the season, they could coast on that for a while.

Well, an OT loss to the Bruins, a loss to the Sharks, a win in Washington, and now a win against the Ducks, that's 5 points out of 8.  We're on track.

--We often bemoan that teams that played the previous night, usually on a road swing that takes them through Ottawa and Toronto, still get the jump on us on our home ice.  On this occasion though, it seems we caught the Ducks when they weren't their usual energetic, physical selves.  And that's great for us, we suffer on the West Coast trips, might as well feast on jetlagged barnstorming California teams when we get an opportunity.

Specificities:

--I always hated Korbinian Holzer, from when he and Mike Kostka were force fed to us by the toronational media as the second coming of Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull that one season with the Leafs, how they'd be the New Big Three, blah blah blah.  Well, it was good to see him take a dumb penalty, after having played Mr. Tough Guy against Brendan Gallagher.  I always appreciate when idiots cost their teams a goal and probably a win with their patented dumb moves.

--If teams fear our powerplay, maybe they won't be so liberterious with our smaller players, won't feel so free to expressionate their inner goon.  I imagine Mr. Holzer will try to avoid Randy Carlyle the next couple of days.

--Is it just me or has Alex Radulov slowed down a smidge or two lately?  I understand that he doesn't have Alex Galchenyuk to play with any more, but it would be nice if he'd still manage to be the offensive instigator for us.  Now is when we need him even more.

--This is the good Jeff Petry, the one we hope to see every game.  We don't necessarily expect a goal every game, but we do want to see him all swoopy and rangy and jumping into the attack, noticeable rather than invisible.

He's had these stretches before.  Last season he had a great start, then cooled off, and we found out later that he'd been playing hurt, so we gave him a mulligan.  This season, he's been off and on.  Let's hope he's just hitting cruising speed right now, that this is his baseline.

--Meanwhile, Shea Weber is ice-cold, hasn't scored in a dozen games or so.  Some are guessing that he's hurt, maybe a sore shoulder or sprained wrist that prevents him getting off his slapshot.  With his type of game, he could very well be dealing with a bum wing and still contribute, still provide strong defensive play in his own end, and a decoy on the attack.

--Jonathan Bernier is always good for what ails us.  With the one or two softies he always gifts us with, I find it hard to believe that he's not still a passionate Canadiens fan.

Or, he has Max Pacioretty on his fantasy hockey team this year.

--I never subscribed to the general discontent that the Canadiens had "too many Bottom-six forwards".  It's a simplistic view, which holds that acquiring Top 6 forwards is just as easy, you just shop on a different shelf.  This fretting also missed the point that Bottom 6 acquisitions Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn and Paul Byron were all signed to easily digestible contracts, they could always be traded in a firesale, or even waivered and sent to the AHL with little impact on our salary cap situation.

I have embraced Torrey Mitchell, Paul Byron and Phillip Danault as local boys who want to be Canadiens, who can easily exchange with French-Canadian fans.  Brian Flynn however, I've felt was superfluous, one too many of a type, and wanted him to be traded for draft picks, to replenish the bank.  I have to admit that having a veteran right-handed shot who can play centre or wing is pretty handy right now.

Maybe he's increasing his trade value during this stretch, and we can realize this asset nearer the trade deadline.  If Charles Hudon or Sven Andrighetto or Daniel Carr can ever get their game going and become NHL regulars, that is.

--Glad to see Chris Terry score his first as a Canadien, and the whole fourth line be rewarded.  I wasn't sure if it was the Canadiens Express effect, whether it was the edits that was skewing my opinion, or is it my inclination to want to see good things from Mike McCarron, but they seemed to be having good moments and increased icetime in the third period.

--Good to see the coaches shaking hands after a big win, specifically Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Kirk Muller.  I keep forgetting that these two won a Stanley Cup together in '93.

--Denis Gauthier on L'Antichambre offered up his headline ('La Manchette') that, 'Despite the Criticism', Michel Therrien must be commended for the way the Canadiens are responding to losing their #1 centre, and now their #2 defenceman.

--We've seen in the past during post-game press conferences a stone-faced Michel Therrien, after a loss, mutter that the problem was one of "execution".  He didn't/wouldn't blame the goalies or a lack of talent or his system or the failure to adjust tactics, he'd just say that the players didn't execute the system.  They 'didn't play the right way'.  We saw that a lot last season.

Tonight, we saw perhaps the exact opposite to this, when in response to a question from Chantal Machabée asking if he was satisfied that his system was working and the players were buying in, the coach praised the work ethic of the players as exceptional, their dedication to "structure", their preparation, their attention to detail, their leadership, their dedication, and called it a good "team win".

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Game 31: Canadiens 2, Capitals 1

Dave Randorf and Gary Galley on the call for Sportsnet, which is suboptimal, but certainly preferable to the meandering Bob Cole.  Meanwhile, Pierre Houde and Marc Denis are relegated to Antichambre duty.  Thank you Gary Bettman.

Last night, we observed after a disappointing effort against the Sharks that observers figured the Canadiens, after losing their #1 centre Alex Galchenyuk and centre David Desharnais, and after having won 'should-win' games against weak sisters New Jersey and Colorado, needed to maintain a .500 pace in the next 6 to 8 games against tougher opposition.  That should suffice to stay near the top the of the standings, with the healthy cushion built up early in the season.

Well, so far so good, despite the latest fanbase Chernobyl after the 4-2 loss against the Sharks.  The Canadiens have lost in OT against the Bruins, lost against the Sharks and tonight put up a 2-1 win against the powerhouse Capitals in their barn.  So 3 points in 3 games, that's .500 hockey according to my math.

It could be a costly victory though.  Andrei Markov left the game with a 'lower-body injury'.  Shea Weber took a slapshot to the knee, and had to leave the game for a while but managed to return.  If either or both miss time, it's going to be hard to replace them with AHL callups.

And it should serve to blunt any discipline headed Nathan Beaulieu's way.  He took a costly penalty in the second period, and when it turned into a two-man advantage for the Caps, they easily scored.  When Nathan was let out of the penalty box, he mockingly tapped his stick on the ice, and had a few choice words for the ref, 'congratulating' him for his efforts.  This landed Nathan back in the box with a ten-minute misconduct.  Nathan isn't secure enough in the Canadiens organization, in the NHL, to take these types of penalties.  He'll be lucky if he doesn't have to sit out a game.  And his luck could be due to Andrei and/or Shea being out action.

Mike McCarron and Chris Terry, who were lightly used early on, started logging heavier minutes as the game wore on and the coaches saw that they were being effective, while other more senior Canadiens weren't.  They had some noticeably effective shifts in the third period.

Lars Eller was basically invisible.  We saw an occasion when he tried to outstickhandle three Canadiens backcheckers in a corner, and promptly lost the puck.  He didn't quite put up a Desharnais-worthy night on the scoresheet, with his shot on goal and three hits marring the otherwise perfect string of zeroes.  He'll have to wait to savour his revenge.

Meanwhile I'm starting to worry a little about Brendan Gallagher.  We see the effort, but maybe not the swagger he used to have, the confidence verging on arrogance.  3 shots on goal in 15 minutes of action.  Maybe the dam just needs to break for everything to right itself?

Carey Price stopped 20 of 21 shots to earn his 250 career victory.  Fan-manufactured mini-noncrisis, averted.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Game 30: Canadiens 2, Sharks 4

I watched the Canadiens 4-2 loss against the Sharks in the condensed, one-hour 'Canadiens Express' program on RDS, thanks to the esteemed Gary Bettman, who loves our game almost as much as basketball, and not at all as much as he likes revenue stolen from the players who actually generate it.

I had a sinking feeling when I saw Tim Peel's movie villain face, and sure enough, the Canadiens incurred four minor penalties in the first period, with none going against the Sharks.  Now, this imbalance may occur once in a while, but it would be more believable if the Canadiens were a goonish team who feed on lots of penalties taken, like if we were the Broad Street Bullies, but this edition of the Canadiens is anything but.

A few years ago, Ron MacLean put his big fat foot in his big fat mouth when he said on air that Québec-born referees shouldn't officiate Montréal Canadiens games, and the spit hit the fan.  When this forced him to backpedal furiously, he lamely tried to explain that he just meant this would remove any appearance of conflict of interest or bias, not that a French-Canadian official couldn't work a game objectively.

Well now, the time has come to consider whether Toronto-born Tim Peel is able to officiate a Montréal Canadiens game objectively.  He's about my age, so he probably witnessed the Canadiens blowing through the awful Mike Palmateer teams in the Seventies, Tiger Williams and Lanny Macdonald and that gross mustache, sweeping them from the opening round of the playoffs two straight years, and it's obviously left a scar.  He's partial, plainly, he can't help trying to recapture his wasted years as a Leaf fan by rewriting history.  He sees himself as a biblical plague visited on Les Glorieux.

With that said, now is the time to be resolute for Canadiens fans, or at least the reasonable ones.  Upon the return from the West Coast with 5 points earned out of a possible 10, we decided that the Canadiens should win the next two games against the Devils and Avalanche, put those four points in the bank, and then, with a much more difficult schedule after that, do well to play .500 hockey until Christmas or thereabouts.  Missing Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais, we understood that the current stretch wouldn't be easy, we'd try to plug the holes with Phillip Danault, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn taking a bigger bite of the sandwich.

And this is where the rubber meets the road.  We're in the tough stretch.  We shouldn't be losing our excrement at the first reversal of fortune.  This was one of the tough games that we figured we wouldn't all win.  We're in the soup now.

With that in mind, those first two easy powerplay goals made me wonder if, in our obsession with fixing our powerplay, we maybe took our eye off the ball on the penalty kill.  Whatever improvements we made with the man advantage are wasted with the lack of effectiveness of our penalty kill, historically an area of strength.

In 2013-14, we finished fourth in the league in terms of penalty kill efficiency, ninth the season after that, and twelfth the following season.  This year, we're stumbling along with the eighteenth-best PK.

Kirk Muller and the boys need to tighten this up.  I'm not pining for the days of Josh Gorges and Hal Gill, but those boys could take a pounding on the powerplay and come out of it unscathed.  We need some of that magic on this team if we're going to contend.

More thoughts:

--I liked the adjustment by the coaches during the game, despite their reputation imputed by the naysayers that they're incapable of adapting.  The partnerships of Andrei Markov and Shea Weber, as well as Nathan Beaulieu and Jeff Petry, were able to apply pressure in the offensive zone.

As well as Alexei Emelin has played on the first pairing, it made sense to rely more on the offensive defencemen, sort of like a football coach moving away from his running backs and leaning more on the passing game when he needs to score points to tie up the game.

--Mike McCarron brings something different to our team.  I've groused lately that we're reaping what we sow, that the years of drafting smallish forwards stacked our organization with that prototype, and now when we need reinforcements, we're looking at a gaggle of similar types of players, Sven Andrighetto and Charles Hudon and Daniel Carr and the suchlike.

Mike, despite not having had the best start to his season in St. John's, can invigorate the Canadiens forwards with his size and toughness, with a willingness to mix it up in front of the opposite net and screen the goalie, with a deterrence factor when opponents make a decision whether to grab Brendan Gallagher's melon and take it home.

We thought Mike needed more time to work on his game in the AHL, until he started to tear up the league and showed he was too strong for it, or until injuries started to hit and we'd need callups.  That's where we are now.

--The quick hook Carey Price got in favour of Al Montoya after the fourth Sharks goal is not something I'd dispute, but I'll hold it up against the decision to leave Al hanging and take a ten-goal walloping in Columbus.  The explanation back then was that The Plan was to rest Carey that night so he could be available the next game, which is a fine plan, except that when circumstances change so should the plan.

For tonight and tomorrow against the Capitals, The Plan, announced to the public even, was that Carey would play tonight and Al would get the nod tomorrow.  Somehow, in this instance, because of exigencies, we deviated from The Plan.  And rightfully so.  But then, why was The Plan sacrosanct in Columbus?  Why was it okay for Al to be canon fodder then?  Why is The Plan etched in stone in one instance, and malleable the next?

If the coaches tell me they made a mistake back then, one they didn't want to repeat tonight, I'll accept that answer.

--Trade goal-scorer sniper Brian Flynn immediately.  To the Capitals.  For two second-rounders.  I hear they could use a third-line centre who can produce offence, despite unfavourable zone-starts and a revolving cast of linemates.

--Pierre Houde noted that early in the game, the fans grew impatient with their heroes, despite the fact that they'd witnessed only one loss so far this season at home.  I understand his reasoning, but also the fans' restlessness, and the way they verbally communicated that.  With no tickets affordable any longer, they are entitled to show their displeasure, especially when the team plays listlessly after four days off, against a West Coast team slogging through an Eastern road trip.

And, as the team perked up and showed effort and determination in the third, the smattering of boos was quelled, replaced by a thunder of cheers and support.  Canadiens fans will tolerate losses, but never a lack of passion or effort.

--After the game, when asked about Carey's long look in his direction after he was pulled, head coach Michel Therrien said he was unaware of this.  He explained that he pulled Carey for the good reasons that he didn't like the way the team was playing in front of him and it made no sense to leave him to the wolves like that, he wanted to send a message to the rest of the team.  He also stated that this will give Carey an opportunity, being more rested, to play against the Capitals tomorrow.

So The Plan has changed.




















Saturday, 10 December 2016

Game 28: Canadiens 10, Avalanche 1

I risked it this morning, setting my PVR to the Sportsnet broadcast instead of the TVA, at the risk of being saddled with Bob Cole for the whole game.  Luckily, we ended up with Paul Romanuk, who isn't in the top tier of announcers, but who we can abide, so I didn't have to scramble and switch to recording the TVA Sports edition.

Some thoughts on the Canadiens' 10-1 win:

1)  Tonight doesn't rinse out the 10-0 loss to Columbus bitter taste for me.  At least the Avalanche tried to change goalies, when they found their starter was having an off night.  They tried to avert disaster, which I'm not sure we did in the same situation, we just went down with the ship.

2)  Trade two-goal scorer Brian Flynn immediately.  Or, at most, in 6 to 8 weeks.  Strike while the iron is hot.  2nd-round pick OBO.  No tire-kickers, motivated buyers only.

3)  You got the sense that Alex Radulov was celebrating a little too hard out there, past a certain point.  I think Max almost shushed him on one occasion.  I wondered if it was just his natural exuberance, the fact that he's a frisky puppy that had him jumping around so, or maybe the fact that he probably tried to join the Avalanche and Patrick Roy and was rebuffed.

4)  On Max's third goal, he as usual found a dead area, a soft spot in the Colorado defence and was wide open for the Alex Radulov pass.  He often gets excoriated on social media for being soft, which is grossly unfair, considering his injury history and how he's always bounced back.  That's how he'll be successful, how he can best help us, is by lurking around the slot like a shark, instead of getting elbowed in the brain in front of the net.  We need Max to focus on what he does best, scoring goals, attracting defenders' attention, playing hard on defence and while killing penalties.  We won't be any further ahead if Max picks a fight against Derryck Engelland.

5)  There was some hand-wringing that Max was having a slow start to the season, that he might not bag 30 goals.  The more level-headed among us cautioned that Max is streaky, that he'll get back on track and resume scoring in bunches, while the insane contingent attacked him personally, advocated that we should trade him for Scott Hartnell.  His three, no four goals have him back on track for a thirty-goal season.  All is right in the world.  The booers will be silenced forevermore.

6)  The Canadiens had to engage in this precarious dance later in the game whereby they played hard, where they didn't ease up, yet also didn't overdo it on the forecheck and the scoring and the celebrating and the fiery puck battles.  It's a hard line to walk.  In the second I feared they might not manage it, but they got it right eventually, still skating and playing hard, in a muted way.

7)  I was happy to see Nathan Beaulieu and Zack Redmond get a lot of minutes, lots of assignments, as the game wore on.  This was a perfect game to modulate the use of Shea Weber and Andrei Markov.  The same goes for the fourth line, but we're used to seeing our coaching staff roll four lines, and trust them with late-game shifts.  The third pairing hasn't earned that latitude yet from them.

8)  I'm just glad that the Colorado roster doesn't contain a Steve Ott or a Chris Neil, or this game could have gotten ugly.

9)  The preceding thought was formulated before Alexei Emelin threw a hip check late in a laugher and upended Joe Colbourne.  Bad, bad form on Alexei here, very poor situational awareness.  That was the perfect time for a stick check, or just bodying the streaking forward onto the boards and closing off his avenue.

The Avalanche have conceded the game.  No one is running around finishing their checks, hacking at Carey Price, trying to instigate something Kypreos-style.  Sportsmanship demands that at this point, you be a gracious winner, accept the Avalanche's concession, and let them leave the building with their dignity.  You're still playing hockey, but that's all you're doing, you're not trying to dominate or out-tough anyone.

10)  The Canadiens did what they needed to do in this brief sequence after the West Coast trip.  They preyed on two poor teams and banked points.  The next five or so games, there's not a gimme among them.

11)  Watching l'Antichambre, I have to say that I much prefer how Pierre Houde treats P.J. Stock compared to Stéphane Langdeau.  Pierre asks P.J. questions, pumps up his opinions, acts properly, as you should for a guest on the panel.  Too often, if not unfailingly, Stéphane Langdeau sets up P.J. to fail, he interrupts him, doesn't let him get his point across, ridicules a tangential point he makes, it's embarrassing.  I'm no great fan of P.J. Stock, his views on hockey, his career and the 'style' of hockey he played, but if we invite him on the show to be on the panel, routine politeness should be the the minimum he should expect from the host.