Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Canadiens' succession plan

After some thought, here is my best guess/birthday wish of what the Canadiens' management team should be going into the draft.

1) Director of Player Recruitment and Development: No change in this position, as far as I can tell Trevor Timmins is doing a good job and should continue in his post.

2) Head Coach: Patrick Roy is a fiery, sometimes hotheaded individual, but my hunch is that we need some passion and leadership behind the bench. Mr. Roy will provide this, he has a big personality and will inspire his charges to fight and win. Officials will be put on notice when they miss calls, we won't be doormats and easy marks in this respect.

Additionally, he is a former player with impeccable credentials who will command respect from everyone but especially from his players, and won't brook anyone not bending to the team program. All these considerations would be a welcome change from the current coaching régime.

Mr. Roy also has shown that he has the desire and skill for coaching. He could have sat at home living off his earnings and being a retired gentleman star, but he demonstrated he still has the competitive fire by purchasing the Québec Remparts and serving as the head coach. He also is the General Manager of the team, and while there isn't complete correspondence between being a NHL and LHJMQ GM, it will be good exposure for him and he will tend to have a better grasp of the issues facing the Canadiens' GM and will allow him to better participate in meetings and decisions.

Finally, Patrick is independent, financially and otherwise. He will be coaching not to hang on for another contract, but to win, and will not be meek and timid, but rather proud and unrelenting.

3) Assistant Coaches: This is a very iffy area to make predictions on, since these nominations are really the purview of the Head Coach. My first and most fervent wish is that he be able to choose people he will feel comfortable with, rather than being assigned his assistants. Practically, there is no chance of this happening, as Mr. Roy would not accept this, and it wouldn't make sense for the team to start this relationship on a disagreement.

Having said that, I would like it if we could repatriate Larry Robinson to coach the defencemen. Larry was a noble warrior and is a role model for our younger players. He established himself in Montréal and became an important member of the community, he can provide good direction to our players on how to deal with the 'pressure' of playing in Montréal and how to maximize the benefits. He now has decades of NHL coaching experience and can help Mr. Roy in terms of scouting notably.

For the forwards, I wouldn't be averse to having Guy Carbonneau back, and for him to also be in charge of the special teams. I wouldn't give him the head coaching position, since I'm worried about his reaction when he hit the wall in his first stint with the team. He is quoted as saying, when Bob Gainey was asking him what his next move would be to deal with an underperforming team rife with dissension, that he was "out of ideas" and "didn't know what to do". So while he may not have been ready to be an NHL head coach, and while I don't see it favourably that he is working with RDS rather than coaching in junior or minor-league hockey, I do think he would be a good fit with this coaching team. He, like Mr. Robinson, played with Patrick Roy and they won Stanley Cups together. He had good results with the special teams of the Canadiens while he was coaching, and his team played an uptempo, offensive brand of hockey, which would be a great change from Jacques Martin's 'Système'.

For a goalie coach, we can retain Mr. Groulx, but the overriding concern for the next ten years is that the coach be the one who works best with Carey.

4) Vice-President and General Manager: Julien Brisebois has gone through all the steps and is ready to assume the role of an NHL General Manager. He is obviously intelligent and educated having earned his law degree and having practiced briefly with Heenan Blaikie. He then joined the Canadiens and was in charge of legal affairs before moving into the hockey side of the operations. He moved up in the organization and was notably in charge of the Hamilton Bulldogs as their GM, and the Canadiens Vice-President of Hockey Operations. He is currently the Assistant GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning and GM of their AHL affiliate.

With his background and training, Mr. Brisebois is eminently qualified to take the reins of the Canadiens. He has shown talent and produced results at every position he has filled. While he may not be a former NHL player, which some may think is absolutely necessary (I don't), he has an educational and vocational background that few other aspiring GM's can match, and the ability to wrestle with contracts and the salary cap. He is familiar with the organization, its people and culture, and the market it serves.

A great asset is that he is young and energetic, and could be the GM for a long long time. The Canadiens have had a revolving door in their management and ownership teams, something which we thought was going to end with the Bob Gainey-Guy Carbonneau team. While that didn't work out, we have to strive to put in place a team that will inspire confidence and ensure stability.

He would also take over at a time when fans would be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. They won't be expecting a Stanley Cup in 2013, so he will have the luxury of time to put his plan in action. He can make long-term decisions and build a deep and competent organization on a foundation of intensive scouting and diligent player development, instead of knee-jerk free agent spending and turnstile-spinning coaches.

5) President: I would respectfully recommend that Geoff Molson does not need to be the President of the team. He can act as the Chairman of the Board, and take another step back from day-to-day operations.

For President, I would like someone who has credibility and respect in the league and embodies the Canadiens organization. This individual would need to advocate on our behalf against some of the more bizarre decisions the NHL takes on a day-to-day basis, as well as steering the Good (?) Ship NHL in the right direction, basically counteracting the effect of the Jeremy Jacobs, Mike Milbury and Don Cherry. My best guess of who could fill this role is, wait for it, Bob Gainey. He is already employed by the team, has a lot of hockey knowledge and can command respect around the league, in a way that Mr. Molson may find it hard to do for at least a number of years. He can act as a sounding board for Mr. Brisebois when needed. Others who could fill this role might be Jacques Lemaire, Ken Dryden or Serge Savard, although there are issues with each of these candidates as well. We can maybe also draft a dark horse such as Bobby Smith or Doug Risebrough.

Another benefit of having a 'hockey man' as President is that he would be able to take some of the load off Mr. Brisebois and allow him to concentrate on day-to-day operations. The President would relieve some of the press and PR duties that might fall on the GM's shoulders, and to a smaller degree, the head coach.

Tomas Kaberle's stick

Interesting analysis from Michel Bergeron last night about the length of Tomas Kaberle’s hockey stick, or lack thereof. A shorter hockey stick promotes puck handling and a quick shot, but a longer one is better for defensive hockey as it increases your reach. Most players will modify an inch or two max in each direction to suit their tastes, but Mr. Kaberle has a significantly shorter stick than usual. The stick is usually meant, when held straight up in front of a player with skates on, to reach between the chin and the nose, but Mr. Kaberle’s stick is well short of his chin.

Michel Bergeron explained yesterday that not only does it handicap him when he’s playing defence, but it also causes him to stoop over when he carries the puck, which brings his head down and doesn’t allow him to see up-ice as easily as if he had a normal-length stick. This might explain the bungling with the puck and the passes to nowhere or icings he causes, especially from a veteran putative puck-carrying quarterback d-man.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Game 64: Montréal 1, Tampa Bay 2

It's hard to believe, but the Canadiens haven't hit bottom yet. While they gave a fair effort, the Good Guys weren't able to beat a Lightning lineup riddled with injuries and diluted with illness. They have now lost five straight, and their lineup has more holes than a Brad Marchand excuse.

Our lineup does little to impress or inspire fear in the opposition. In the third period, the Lightning's one goal lead seemed safe as houses. While the Canadiens weren't an offensive juggernaut under Jacques Martin, at the start of the season we could count on Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn among others to pot a goal when we needed it. Tonight, beyond the David Desharnais line, the only potential offensive threat for the Canadiens was Tomas Plekanec, who was saddled with unproductive wingers again. René Bourque came here with a reputation and history as a twenty-five goal scorer, but has been lethargic since his first three games with the team.

Lars Eller showed flashes again tonight, controlling the puck and skating effectively. With the season no longer in the balance, it is imperative that he get lots of icetime, both at even-strength and on special teams. To spell it out, this icetime should come from Scott Gomez' allotment. We have a twenty-game training camp opportunity to play the heck out of our youngsters, and we shouldn't waste it on players who no longer figure in our plans.

Blake Geoffrion also must get lots of minutes, let's coach the heck out of him, and work on his skating that he needs to improve. At this point, we can't miss on him, we're devoid of NHL'ers in our organization. He must at least fill the role of a third-liner next year, since we're not going to find that kind of help from Hamilton, and it would be beneficial to not have to rush one of our juniors or graduating college players into that role. We could always find help on the free agent market this summer, but we're in salary cap jail right now and overspending on July 1 is what will keep us there.

Alexei Emelin was solid again tonight, and seems to be rounding out into a reliable top 4 defenceman, one we can put on next year's roster in ink. He ran into trouble a little bit tonight when he tried to avenge an unpenalized hit from behind by Ryan Malone. Shortly after, Mr. Emelin caught up with him as Malone was waiting to enter without going offside. Alexei caught him with a good clean shoulder hit and dropped him on his ignorant backside, but unfortunately Ryan Malone wasn't holding the puck and it was justly whistled as an interference penalty. Alexei served this penalty, but immediately after was jumped by Ryan Malone who wanted to settle accounts with his fists. He declined to fight, and the refs, stunningly, got the call right and gave Mr. Malone the instigator penalty and tossed him from the game. While Alexei has the right to not fight, and the NHL has to address this problem of clean bodychecks being responded to by an almost obligatory fight, he has to be responsible for his actions. He will have the colour of right whenever he hits hard but cleanly and fairly and then chooses to decline invitations to fight, but it will get more dicey and his teammates will endure the repercussions if he hits in a dirty or illegal manner. He must stay above the fray and play cleanly between the whistles to be most effective and productive. Tonight, his option would have been to wait until an opportunity presented itself to jack Mr. Malone legally, instead of taking the obvious interference penalty.

We saw Brad Staubitz fight, which will be his role for the rest of the season. Let's hope that he fills it well and effectively, in that he may neutralize the more hotheaded of opponents or temper their enthusiasm. If we are going to play out the string, we should protect our best players and prevent the opposition from taking free runs at them. While I wish the NHL would own up to its responsibility as a corporate citizen and eliminate this nonsense from our game, we can't afford to ignore our current reality or Chris Neil.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Andrei is hittin' the road to Nashville

There's a puzzling reaction to the Andrei Kostitsyn trade on this fine trade deadline day. There are some who are outraged about the meager returns, and posit that General Manager Pierre Gauthier didn't shop him effectively. I ask myself whether they really think that Pierre Gauthier took a lesser offer from the Predators than what was out there. The word was out about Andrei Kostitsyn, many analysts have stated before today that there was no interest at all for him. Darren Dreger quipped that the Canadiens held on to him for a season too long in terms of his trade value.

What did we expect to reap from a lazy, moody, streaky, underachieving winger who is free to walk at the end of the season? The points comparison with Paul Gaustad is inept. Mr. Gaustad is signed beyond this July, is effective in the defensive zone, and appears at times to give a damn.

By trading him to Nashville, we dealt with the best partner possible. They are gearing up for a playoff run, needed scoring and wanted to prove to Shea Weber and Ryan Suter that they are serious about winning. Andrei comes with low risk, they test-drive him for two months and decide if they want to re-sign him in July. His brother Sergei also made them a more likely environment for him to succeed. Finally, the coach and GM are experienced and secure, and could assume the risk of this experiment. The Preds were the team who were the most likely to be intrigued by his potential and thus give us the most in return.

As far as the fact that we are getting a 2013 second-rounder, some posters have stated that it is equivalent to a 2012 third-rounder, that that is the formula used in trades. This may be the fact during the draft when a team finds that one of the players it likes has 'fallen', and it is desperate to pick up an additional draft pick to scoop him, it has a gun to its head and usually swaps a higher pick in a later draft for an immediate one. These conditions don't exist in the middle of the season though. While a future pick isn't as valuable as a current one, since you have to go a whole year or more without an asset, any team would trade a later 2nd for a current 3rd any day.

This applies even more to our Canadiens, since next year's draft is thought to be deeper than this year's. Also, if you have too many picks in one year, as would have been the case if they had stockpiled another 2012 2nd rounder, it is harder for your organization to absorb all these youngsters, and some may fall through the cracks. The Canadiens, by getting Nashville's 2013 2nd-rounder, are also now in good shape if they feel they want to take a run at Nathan MacKinnon.

Instead of viewing Andrei as a #10 overall draft pick with size and a wicked shot, the rest of the league saw him as a fringe player who could barely help the last-place Eastern Conference team and hadn't scored a goal in a month. Let's understand the situation, accept it, agree that we got as much as was possible in these circumstances, and feel good about getting a second round pick for a player who was most likely to leave without compensation in July.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Game 63: Montréal 2, Florida 4

Before I fault the Canadiens for being inattentive and lacking commitment for tonight's game, I have to look in the mirror and admit that I am guilty of the same offences. I didn't pay attention to the game, occupying myself with chores and making dinner. I didn't quite sleep during the game, but I did kind of go in a trance in the second period during which five or ten minutes of game time kind of slipped by, and I didn't bother rewinding the PVR.

While at work today, I'd remind myself that there was a rare Sunday game on later, and would start to fidget, pining for the day to end. I'd then remember the current vibe with this team, and realize, on repeated occasions, that the game didn't mean anything, and might very well be a dud. Immediately after, I'd remember how anxious I was for the season to start this summer, and tell myself I'm going to enjoy the last twenty games whether I like it or not.

So I tried to enjoy the game, and it was easier at first, seeing David Desharnais, slippery as an eel, again making a much bigger, stronger defenceman look silly on the Canadiens' first goal. We have been tub-thumping lately, as a fan base, that we must as a team get bigger, but we need to remind ourselves that bigger isn't invariably better. There is room on the team for different skillsets, such as Mr. Desharnais quickness, which he evidenced along with his determination and courage by skating around Ed Jovanovski and taking the puck to the net with authority.

I was also heartened that P.K. is finally listening to me, as shown by his goal when he did his big, big windup as a predictable prelude for his errant slapshot, but then reeled it back in and skated around the erstwhile shotblocker, who was down on one knee and had taken himself out of the equation. P.K. took two strides toward the middle and from there could see the whole glove-side top corner of the net wide open, but nothing of the goalie since he was being screened by Erik Cole. P.K. didn't miss, putting the puck top shelf as I cried "Hallelujah!"

Then came the unraveling. I don't have a clear narrative of what happened, or how or why, since I was averting my eyes for a large percentage of the remaining broadcast. There were flashes, glimpses. Yannick Weber, Raphaël Diaz and Tomas Kaberle being bottled in their own end for long periods of time. Andrei Kostitsyn receiving a pass while wide open at the top of the faceoff circle, unchecked and with the opposing defenceman in the process of stumbling backward on his skates. Andrei deciding that, since there was no one blocking his way to the net, a veritable boulevard inviting him to roll toward the goalie, who incidentally was not screened in the least, he was going to one-time an anodyne slapper at him. Decidedly, he is a slow learner. I salivate to think what Erik might have done with that chance, and how Andrei, sitting on the bench, would have learned nothing from that example either.

Now we wait for the trade deadline tomorrow. And adjust our expectations. Downward. When the Hal Gill trade was announced, we had dollar signs in our eyes, counting our figurative draft chickens way before they hatched. Since then, our UFA's seem to be have obliterated their own trade value with their spiritless play. No GM is watching Chris Campoli skate around and thinking that he's the missing piece. He's barely a pawn. Tomas Kaberle and Andrei Kostitsyn are covered in ten-foot pole marks. Scott Gomez is a leprous Typhoid Maria, steeped in PCB's and setting off Geiger counters at a thousand paces. We're reduced to hoping that we can trade Mathieu Darche for something worthwhile, but then sign him to a new contract this July 1st as if nothing happened, unopposed by his new team or the rest of the league. Grim.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Game 62: Montréal 1, Washington 4

When the Hal Gill trade was announced, I was happy with the fact that we had turned an expiring contract into assets for the future. I thought his contribution would have been important if not crucial for a post-season run, but as we were now eliminated, we had basically got three somethings for essentially nothing. Another plus was the opportunity for our youngsters to play more minutes in a penalty killing or shutdown role at the end of games. We had taken from the team a vestigial organ, like our appendix, which once had a useful function but now was at least superfluous, so no harm had been done, right?

One thing which I did not foresee was how much the trade would let the air out of the balloon for the team. We had crowed greatly about how Hal Gill provided leadership, and was good in the dressing room, we just never thought everyone would be so glum if he was to leave. For the last week, the Good Guys have been lethargic, apathetic. The night of the trade, they played hard against the Sabres, as if refusing to accept the message management was sending. Since then, they seemed resigned to their lot in life, and are playing out the string without direction or fire. The boys have capitulated.

I'm not saying that they have voluntarily decided to play with less effort. This is more of an unconscious reaction, the team as a group doesn't have a common goal. A few are on tenter hooks waiting for Monday's trade deadline, wondering if they'll have to pack their bags. Each player is looking at his neighbours and teammates and absorbing the malaise. Lame duck Randy Cunneyworth's good guy act is ill-suited for these conditions, he is powerless to reverse the tide.

The Canadiens' brand of hockey wasn't necessarily a wide-open game, but it was never boring. The players had passion and fought hard, and celebrated when they won and battled to the end when they didn't. Tonight, the game was downright soporific. Seeing players like Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle mailing it in was disheartening.

Our favourite whipping boys were down to their old tricks again. I never liked or respected Tomas Kaberle as a Leaf. I felt that if he was my teammate I would have a serious problem with his obvious lack of effort. His decisions and reactions to situations are appalling. I understand that Mr. Gauthier felt the risk we ran in acquiring him was acceptable if it allowed the powerplay to revive. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case, and his poor effort and exemplar for our younger players presently contaminate the team. He is the rotten apple, and must be taken out of the barrel.

A spirited debate on HIO today centred on Scott Gomez, and whether he deserved the opprobrium heaped on him for the last two seasons. A mention was made of stats and metrics, the Fenwick measurement was brandished. I'm still not sure what Fenwick is all about, and I'll delve into it now since the rest of this season is going to be dedicated to development. I do know that Mr. Gomez was on the ice for the first three Capitals goals. I'd like someone to cast this in a positive light. In the meantime, I believe that he is also an undesirable on the team, and must be excised and his minutes handed to our future players.

Also, we can hope that the recent signings of Tuomo Ruutu and Ales Hemsky shrink the pool of available scoring wingers, and that it firms up the demand for Andrei Kostitsyn. It would be great if an offence-starved team overpaid for our enigmatic Belarussian.

We could list the positives about tonight, as the new German managers listed the laid off workers of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant over the loudspeakers:
"Blake Geoffrion scored the winning goal for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the shootout. 
That is all."

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Should the Canadiens tank to get a higher draft pick?

I abhor the use of the word ‘tank’ in this context. No matter what, it conjures up the idea of throwing matches, of losing on purpose.

From Wikipedia:

“When a team intentionally loses a game, or does not score as high as it can, to obtain a perceived future competitive advantage (for instance, earning a high draft pick) rather than gamblers being involved, the team is often said to have tanked the game instead of having thrown it.”

I much prefer to think about it and refer to it as adopting a long-term strategy. In other words, coach and play every game to win, but manage the team’s assets so as to be in better shape for the next season and beyond.

As far as the Canadiens still not being mathematically eliminated, we have to understand that the team is being presently assessed a 3.9% chance of making the playoffs by . If this was a stock, we wouldn’t invest in it. Even if it paid off, and we overcame the 25 to 1 odds of making it, the payoff would be meager instead of a jackpot.

The last two Montreal teams who made the playoffs had a certain swagger, an inner strength that we don’t see in this team. We didn’t see it on the ice against New Jersey or tonight against the Stars. We certainly didn’t see it on the bench or on the coaches’ faces. If they miraculously made the playoffs, they would be cannon fodder to the actual Cup contender they would have to face.

Anyway, we don’t need to whip ourselves into a frenzy or get clinically depressed over it, it’s obvious to everyone, including management, what needs to be done. It’ll be hard to put down Old Yeller, what with the tears and the wracking sobs, but it must be done.

Game 61: Montréal 0, Dallas 3

Why is it that Adam Pardy, a 6'4" 220 lbs 'player' who has four goals in 172 NHL games is allowed to grab Aaron Palushaj by the head, with both hands, after the whistle, in full view of both officials, and wrench and twist him down to the ice, for the offence of being near the Stars goaltender, without a penalty? He barely got a reproving look from a referee, who gave him an equivocal shrug. What was he trying to communicate? "I already gave you a penalty for crosschecking Max Pacioretty from behind into the boards, and the Canadiens haven't had a penalty yet to your team's three, and there was a delayed penalty already called so I don't want to put you guys on a 5 on 3, but if you make it too obvious I may have to actually call it when you assault somebody."? Or was it: "Dude, on a takedown like that you run the risk of these fans calling 911 to report a crime"? Indeed, the only thing more WWE-worthy (I was reminded of the Iron Sheik or Abdullah the Butcher, or maybe Michel 'Justice' Dubois) than the grappling move was ineptitude of the referees. I was outraged; I almost defenestrated my plasma screen.

The good thing about my outrage over the officiating is that it kept me from focusing too much on the boys in bleu blanc et rouge, I might have been too harsh on them. They are, as we discussed after the last game, overmatched against most NHL clubs, and especially so tonight, with Tomas Plekanec unable to play with the flu. Added to the absence of Brian Gionta and Travis Moen, and with Mathieu Darche ailing, the Canadiens have two NHL-worthy lines and then a mishmash of AHL'ers rounding out the roster. For them to win, Carey has to be miraculous, which he certainly wasn't tonight. They have to play inspired, fervent hockey, which they must be finding hard to do as they realize that they must now play out the string.

The players seemed resigned to their fate on the bench. Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban, and maybe a couple more, fought to the end, and displayed obvious effort. René Bourque also was dangerous; maybe he realizes that unless he pots a few he will be sentenced to defensive duty with Scott Gomez for the rest of the season.

The upshot of today's loss is that, in light of the return the Tampa Bay Lightning received for Steve Downie, the Canadiens are having a giant clearance sale. All the usual suspects that have been blogged about in the last few months (Travis Moen, Andrei Kostitsyn, Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle, and maybe others if the price is right) will be following Hal Gill out of town. It's up to Pierre Gauthier to skilfully manoeuvre the bidding process to set the Canadiens up for years to come, if he wishes to remain in his post.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Hey sportswriter!

Hey James Mirtle, you're not the first one, but you're confusing the words 'core' and 'corps' when you write:

"Goaltenders James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson have become the most popular targets after a few tough outings, although head coach Ron Wilson and the team’s defence core are also drawing fire."

core (kôr, kr)
1. The hard or fibrous central part of certain fruits, such as the apple or pear, containing the seeds.
2. The central or innermost part: the hard elastic core of a baseball; a rod with a hollow core.
3. The basic or most important part; the essence: a small core of dedicated supporters; the core of the problem.

corps [kɔː]
n pl corps [kɔːz]
1. (Military) a military formation that comprises two or more divisions and additional support arms
2. (Military) a military body with a specific function intelligence corps medical corps
3. a body of people associated together the diplomatic corps

You may discuss a team's core, or the core forwards, for example, when referring to those most central to its success or future, its more trusted veterans or promising rookies. If you speak of the Canadiens' defensive core, you would be referring to Josh Gorges and P.K. Subban, maybe Alexei Emelin, and certainly Andrei Markov, whenever he returns from injury. The others (Yannick Weber, Raphaël Diaz, Tomas Kaberle, Chris Campoli) would be considered peripherals, not part of the core.

What you meant though is the Leafs defencemen as a whole, its defensive 'corps'.

Don't worry, you're not the first one to make this mistake, and your editors dropped the ball, they should have caught it too. Just get it right in the future.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Game 60: Montréal 1, New Jersey 3

We can talk all we want about the Canadiens being close and how if we squeak into the playoffs anything is possible, but looking at our lineup for today's game, even before puck drop we have to admit we just don't have the horses. We have a decent to good first line in Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole. Our second line has a good centre in Tomas Plekanec, a lethargic left winger in René Bourque and a right winger who is normally at best a fourth-liner in Mathieu Darche. Our third line is composed of a centre who should in good conscience retire, having spent a calendar year without scoring, Ryan White, who is barely back from a conditioning stint in the AHL and is a better fit on a fourth line, and Andrei Kostitsyn. We barely have a fourth line, it's a fourth line in name only, but doesn't serve as such. Lars Eller has been relegated to centre it, and Aaron Palushaj, a constantly ineffective and unproductive AHL'er, has been called up to plug a hole. That's it. We don't even have enough bodies to have a twelfth forward, and Coach Cunneyworth will resort to double-shifting his most effective forwards on the fourth line, and may give the seventh defenceman a shift of two in that spot.

Compare our situation with the Flyers', who started the season with Sean Couturier as their fourth line's centre, or the Bruins, who had Jordan Caron available to call up from the AHL when they started suffering from injuries. When Brian Gionta suffered his torn biceps, our already thin forwards roster became positively depleted, and our depth problem proven to be a glaring need. Calling up Louis Leblanc was rendered a necessity, and he has been a happy surprise everything considered, but he should be a workhorse in Hamilton instead of a leak-plugger in Montreal.

We have reinforcements coming in a couple of years, but until then, the Canadiens will not be a legitimate contender. In this latest surge to the playoffs, the Canadiens have been doing it with smoke and mirrors. They have the ingredients for two decent lines and maybe a fourth, and with three rookie defencemen on the back end, and a second-year defenceman logging first-pair minutes. Carey Price is an excellent franchise goalie, but is expected to be miraculous every night, like Ken Dryden in '71 or Patrick Roy in '93.

We saw tonight what happens when the bounces go the other team's way. Each team had its moments of dominance, but the Canadiens had the bad luck of muffing some chances while the Devils benefited from some flukey goals.

We're seeing also how this charge to the playoffs is a little bit of a case of running to stand still. The other teams standing between us and the eighth spot are also desperate to make it, and they will scratch and claw to get there. The Devils, Senators and Leafs will battle to remain where they are or improve their lot. For every win there'll be two teams ahead of us winning as well, and we'll end up in a NASCAR photo-finish: close, in the frame, but definitely out.

Zdeno Chara injured, shaken, stitched up. Montreal fans cheer.

The Kevin Paul Dupont article which bemoans the Habs fans cheering when Zdeno Chara took a puck to the chin and went down misses a crucial step in the equation. It’s not so much that they were cheering a Bruin player down, or an opponent injured, they were jeering one of the great villains in town

Zdeno Chara has to deal with some of the consequences of his actions. He held a grudge for Max Pacioretty’s shove in the back after a game-winning goal, one on which he again looked ungainly and inept on skates. He was embarrassed about his performance on that goal, was angry at Max for an admittedly stupid push when the game was over, and he filed it away for future reference. When he had a chance, he made Max pay by riding him hard into the boards/stanchion, an illegal play as Max wasn’t carrying the puck. I’ll allow that he didn’t intend to almost kill him, but he did want to hurt him and make him pay.

When the injury was revealed to be much greater than anything he actually wanted, he pretended that he didn’t know it was Max he was shoving into the boards, and that he didn’t know the stanchion was there, that he wasn’t aware where he was on the ice. These were all transparent lies that he had to spew to mollify the NHL’s discipline czar and hopefully soften the consequences, but it damaged his reputation as a spirited, tough but fair competitor. He is now seen as a craven cheap shot artist.

When he got away clean, benefiting from a ridiculous decision by the father of his teammate and a former player who was a no-talent scrub, it robbed him of an opportunity to expiate his crime and then come back having been suitably punished and entitled to a clean slate.

So when this player takes one on the chin at the very scene of the crime, let’s not pretend that 21000 fans are going to be Ghandis and Dalai Lamas about this, they’re not going to see this as an unhappy, unrelated accident. Our society is relatively irreligious these days, and popular culture has filled a vacuum with a pervasive sense that karma happens. Villains in movies get two in the head from Die Hard. Bernie Madoff goes to jail and his family is penniless. And, Zdeno Chara takes one on the chin, and hopefully has a concussion that keeps him out the rest of the season, fingers crossed.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Farewell Hal Gill

Wow, I thought we were optimistic on what we would get back for Hal Gill when some would float a possible second rounder. I think it was Bob McKenzie of TSN who a week ago said that the Penguins had given up a second rounder for him in 2008, and he had obviously helped them on their Stanley Cup run, but nowadays the Canadiens would be getting a fifth for him or thereabouts. It made sense that his potential trade value was diminished, since he is now about to turn 37, possibly set to retire this off-season, and had seen his icetime dwindle these last few weeks, to the point where the Canadiens used him on their first wave on the penalty kill, but sparingly any other time.

In fact, the Canadiens traded him to the Nashville Predators for an aforementioned second-round draft pick in 2012, plus a solid prospect in Blake Geoffrion, one who can play right now in the NHL, which we kind of need since we have no fourth line to speak of. We also get organizational depth in Robert Slaney, a big rugged winger who is playing in the East Coast League. Nashville will receive a conditional 5th round pick in 2013 if Mr. Geoffrion plays a minimum of 40 games in the NHL next season.

This is a great trade on many levels. In the recent past, the Canadiens have allowed too many unrestricted free agents to leave in the off-season without receiving any compensation in return. This is partly due to organizational philosophy, in that management sees negotiating contracts with its players in season as a distraction. It is also a product of being embroiled in playoff races to the bitter end of the season, whereby the team needs all hands on deck to squeak into the playoffs, followed by a quick exit in the first or second round. This situation didn't allow the team to evaluate its assets properly and maximize their value. As has been discussed ad nauseam, it's probably better, if you're not going to be a strong contender for the Stanley Cup, to be clearly out of the race, near the bottom of the standings, as the trade deadline approaches instead of hovering around 8th place. Being clearly out allows a team to shrewdly convert expiring contracts into future assets, be they draft picks or prospects.

With the Hal Gill trade, the Canadiens aren't losing anything, in that they're trading away a veteran defenceman who had no further value to the team. He wasn't expected to return to the team next fall; he had signed a one-year contract this summer that was widely expected to be his last, at least in Montreal. Further, his contribution the rest of this season would have mattered to a playoff team only, one where his defensive skills against the top offensive players of the other team would be crucial. His remaining on the Canadiens roster would have actually been a hindrance to the team, as he would have taken icetime away from some of the young defencemen the Canadiens are now trying to develop for next season and beyond.

So in a pure hockey sense, and with a view to the future, the Canadiens converted nothing into something. They and the Hamilton Bulldogs are now stronger. The Canadiens have a happy history with second-rounders, perhaps even more so than with first rounders, and they've come up with, among others, such players as P.K. Subban, Mike Ribeiro and José Théodore. We can hope for more of the same. Also, while Blake Geoffrion has not had an easy start to his NHL career, he is a big, strong, talented player who can play centre or wing, and who has won the Hobey Baker trophy in 2010 as the best collegiate player in the U.S.

The Hamilton angle is important, in that the farm team is overmatched this season and this can’t be good for the youngsters, to lose night after night. Next season is expected to be another difficult one for them as well, as there will be an onslaught of U.S. college, major junior and European players joining that team. There will be a lot of talent, and that bodes well for the future, but there will also be a lot of green, inexperienced players in the pro game. With Mr. Slaney and potentially Mr. Geoffrion, they get reinforcements, more mature guys with size, and that will help all the first-year players, they'll benefit from the more veteran leadership.

A very speculative angle is that we’ve possibly lubricated the way for further discussions with the Preds, if any other giant defencemen were available to be had at the right (steep) price.

It wouldn't be right not to examine the human side of this story. Mr. Gill adapted well to the Canadiens and Montréal, and seemed happy and provided good leadership. He was universally liked by the press and his teammates and coaches. Montreal fans, leery at first, soon adopted him as one of their own.

I had a great change in attitude regarding Mr. Gill during his tenure as a Canadien. I gagged when I first found out he had been signed to a contract, and couldn’t believe this clutch and grab artist, so big and so slow, and a former Bruin and Leaf to boot, was now on my team. Slowly, the stink wore off, he wore the uniform proudly and I learned to appreciate his game, especially since he wasn’t allowed to hook and hold anymore. I appreciated his sense of humour and was glad for his veteran presence on the bench and the dressing room. And now that he’s been traded away, and brought back this comparative bounty, I have nothing but respect and good feelings for this man. I wish him the best of luck.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Game 59: Montréal 4, Buffalo 3 (SO)

If the last game was a lose-lose, in that the Canadiens let the game slip to the hated Bruins, but they did pick up a draft-positioning killer loser point, this game was maybe a win-lose-lose: we won the game, but gave up an OT point to the Sabres, a team still, putatively, fighting for the last playoff spot against the Good Guys. And moved up from the cellar, making Nail Yakupov harder and harder to see from our vantage point.

P.K. Subban played big minutes due to Hal Gill's departure, and he was solid. He seems to be coming out of his season-long funk. Many theories are offered. There is the liberal application of tough love from coach Ladouceur, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. Some have mentioned that it is simple maturity and experience being gained by a young, promising defenceman who can't be shielded by older, more accomplished players higher up in the depth chart, 'cause we have none. An interesting point raised by the Antichambre trolls is that now that he's being used on the right point during the powerplay, instead of the left point to favour the one-timer, he's more comfortable and feels less pressure. It's the position he's played all his junior career, and it shows. Some defensemen like playing on the opposite side, but it's a relatively rare preference as it creates a bunch of problems you have to solve, notable gathering skittering pucks and clearing attempts against the boards on your backhand. Let's keep P.K. on the side he prefers for now, and wait for him to mature some more before we add complications and curlicues to his game.

P.K. also had some nice words to say about his mentor Hal Gill. He said all the right things, and it seemed heartfelt. It's good to see him comport himself with class and being humble. I hope it continues to seep in to his on-ice game.

Mr. Gill's departure will force us to play Yannick Weber and Raphaël Diaz more, which is good, but also Chris Campoli and Tomas Kaberle more, about which the jury is still, charitably, out. A hopeful sign is that both scored nice goals tonight. We may hope that the added responsibility on and off the ice for those veterans will cause them to step it up a notch.

An interesting aspect of the game was that the big Sabres forwards didn't take liberties with our players, as they have in the recent past. Again, Bob Gainey's Virage Vitesse was a noble experiment, but the size added to the roster recently has made the team not such an easy target anymore. The spunk of Ryan White is a welcome break from the usual seventh D as the 12th forward or Aaron Palushaj or Andreas Engqvist. As long as we don't add idiots like Chris Neil or bullies like pretty much everyone on the Bruins, I'll be okay with the size vs. speed tradeoff. Especially if our size comes with a healthy dollop of skating and skill as shown by Erik Cole and René Bourque.

Brad Marchand paints the league in a corner

The NHL head office reminds me of the great SCTV skit where the station was hosting The People's Golden Global Golden Choice Awards and had rigged the results so that it was winning in all categories. Of course, the other networks like NBC and CBS started to smell a rat and unleashed a Price Waterhouse goon, played by a bespectacled Rick Moranis, to poke his nose into the voting methodology and how the ballots were tallied, and he's seen berating the organizers: "Who's in charge of security? Where are the accounting representatives?..." To throw the investigator off the scent, SCTV president Guy Caballero and station manager Edith Prickley meet in a dark room and frantically switch the card in the envelope declaring the winning show in the 'Best Dramatic Series' category from 'Vikings and Beekeepers', the relentlessly promoted SCTV series, to 'Hill Street Blues'. The payoff was seeing a freakishly tall Betty Thomas lead the cast in a charge to the stage to accept the award, and in the ensuing mayhem award presenter Hervé Villechaise is trampled to death.

Why am I reminded of this? In deciding to not suspend Brad Marchand for two instances of lowbridging Canadiens players on Wednesday, the league has shown that their earlier decision to suspend him for five games for his similar act against Sami Salo was not a condemnation of the act as much as an admission that they needed to bleed off a little pressure before resuming crooked business as usual.

In the Sami Salo case, the background included the fact that Canuck Aaron Rome was previously suspended for the rest of the playoffs for a borderline late hit on Bruin Nathan Horton, while in the same series Bruin Johnny Boychuk skated away without a penalty for a hit that broke Vancouver forward Mason Raymond's back when they were nowhere near the puck. Brad Marchand had also been not penalized for repeatedly punching Daniel Sedin in the head, in full view of the referees, during a stoppage in play. Add in various other Bruin playoff transgressions which were not penalized, like Andrew Ference giving the finger to the Montreal fans during a previous series, and other notorious instances of violent actions that inexplicably escaped punishment, such as the Zdeno Chara mugging of Max Pacioretty, and Milan Lucic's charge at Ryan Miller, and there resulted a pervasive impression that the Bruins were getting the kid glove treatment from the NHL.

So when Brad Marchand lowbridged Sami Salo, during the highly mediatized rematch of the baleful 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the NHL felt obliged, by the act itself and by the sum of its atrocious previous non-calls against the Boston team, to impose a significant suspension. Some felt it was too harsh, some felt it didn't go far enough, since Mr. Salo ended missing as many games himself, so the feeling was that the league had probably hit the right number. Much pathos emanated from the Bruins camp about Mr. Marchand needing to 'protect' himself, the media responded by strongly condemning his actions and admonishing him to not perpetrate such a dangerous play again.

In any logically coherent organization, two subsequent instances of a repeat offence would have drawn a harsher sentence. Not in the NHL. Because Mr. Subban and Mr. Emelin didn't pop an ACL or Bo Jackson their hip, it was declared that these instances of clipping didn't deserve any further attention.

Let's think about this. Let's say that I'm a rowdy ten-year old boy and while throwing rocks I break Madame Piotte's living room window. I'm going to catch hell from my dad, probably get the strap and no dessert for a week and no TV for a week or so. Unfair, but fair enough. Message is clear from mom and dad: don't throw rocks. Period. They'll tell me when they've calmed down that I can hurt someone and it's not something you do around people or cars or houses. So let's say a month later my mom and dad see me throwing rocks again. When I come home, they sit me down and say: "Well, since you didn't break any windows this time, no harm done. Go watch "Bobino" while we get dinner ready. There's blueberry pie for dessert!"

This is the theatre of the absurd that is the NHL. Somehow Mr. Marchand is caught doing the same thing twice more that he has been previously punished for, yet this time the behaviour is not corrected. This would be like if Todd Bertuzzi again assaulted players he had issued threats against, sucker punching them from behind, but this time the players didn't receive life-altering injuries like Steve Moore did, so Mr. Bertuzzi would escape discipline. Replay this example with Wilf Paiement and Dennis Polonich, or Marty McSorley and Donald Brashear, and you get the idea.

I don't know why I'm still surprised at the inanity of the NHL, I'm so naive, like Charlie Brown trusting that this time Lucy will hold the football for him when he goes to kick it. Maybe I think that shrugging off the status quo and not decrying the hypocrisy will further enable the people who are slowly throttling the sport.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Game 58: Montréal 3, Boston 4 (SO)

The Bruins often accuse the Canadiens of being a chippy team, a yellow team that slashes and spears and hits with their stick but refuses to fight. They claim that they are more manly because they are willing to square up man to man and drop the gloves and settle things like men. This is a question of perception, however, since I see them as a team that beats up on Tom Pyatt and Jaroslav Spacek but runs away from Georges Laraque and hides behind the ref after receiving an attitude adjustment from Colton Orr.

Another meme propagated by the slimy Jack Edwards is that the Canadiens are a team that dives to draw penalties. Well tonight, we saw the mother of all dives by Sean Thorton, a player lionized as a warrior and a worker and who is currently ranked second behind Doug Gilmour on the list of NHL'ers most likely to be fellated by Don Cherry. Mr. Thornton got creamed in the first period by Alexei Emelin, splattered himself against the glass, turned to see if the refs were calling an infraction, went into a spasmodic collapse during which he, curiously enough, first rose on his feet and straightened, before he gently came down on the ice, carefully, on his hands and knees and then softly onto his elbows, before finally stretching out on his yellow belly. At which point, for a second looking for all the world as if he had been knocked out cold, he lifted his head to see if he had drawn a penalty for his Razzy-worthy performance, then got up and carried on, miraculously revived.

It was a dive of European League soccer quality, one for which he should be ashamed, and publicly humiliated and scorned from without. He should get a ten games suspension for undermining the integrity of the league, which can easily pick out these dives on HD slow-motion replay. The refs have a difficult job as it is, without having to worry about these crumplers. Also, they threaten to muddle the picture of what to do about concussions. If everyone who receives a bodycheck crumples to the ice and clutches at his face or head to draw a penalty on the other team, it will make the diagnosis of concussions that much more difficult.

The Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Erik Cole was again the best trio for the Canadiens, working hard and showing teeth all game. Max seems to be completely recovered from the injury he suffered last season, and the suspension he incurred for his head hit on Kris Letang. He's trying some Erik Cole moves and trying to muscle around defencemen on the rush, but his real ace in the hole is his shot, and the way he snaps it off quickly. David again showed how he plays bigger than his size. On their shift after the Mathieu Darche goal, he showed heart and intelligence, first by forechecking effectively against Jordan Caron and just bumping him off the puck, and then pursuing it to the other corner where he pressured Andrew Ference into a giveaway.

Speaking of giveaways, Hal Gill committed a doozy in the first which led to the first Bruins goal by Andrew Ference, who didn't have a problem with his finger getting stuck in his glove on that particular sequence. Mr. Gill can't make too many mistakes like that, or they'll depress his trade value. When playing against the Bruins, we can understand that a defenceman might be a little skittish when trying to retrieve the puck in the corner, but Mr. Gill's stock in trade is steady dependable play in his own zone, so we could have hoped for a little more concentration and determination on that play.

Brad Marchand again contaminated the game of hockey tonight, going low on a hit he delivered against Alexei Emelin, and on a hit delivered by P.K. Subban. We can dream that the NHL will be consistent and will hand down a ten-game suspension against Mr. Marchand, after dishing out five games in response to a similar infraction against Sami Salo of the Canucks. What's more likely is that Brendan Shanahan and Colin Campbell will feel they painted themselves into a corner and will contort themselves to rationalize why Mr. Marchand will walk scot free.

Overall, the game was enjoyable and entertaining, but finished with the worst result the Canadiens could have hoped for. The Bruins skate off with a win and two points on our ice, but we are saddled with a loser point that will hurt our chances at a high draft pick, a veritable lose-lose.

Scott Gomez gets chewed out by Randy Ladouceur

Scott Gomez’ body language and facial expressions while he answered questions from the press after getting chewed out by Coach Ladouceur speak more clearly than any of the rehearsed verses he doled out.

When answering tough questions like: “…is your heart still into it?”, or words to that effect, he touched his face a couple of times, a ‘tell’ that poker players and police officers use to determine if someone is being deceitful. His expression was also frozen. His speech was flat and monotone, no energy or emphasis on certain words or sentences. Further, he gave a 200 word circumlocution to that question, instead of a clear, straighforward: “Absolutely, yes.”

His explanation that the dustup was an indicator that there was still energy and passion and drive on the team is pure malarkey with respect to him. If he had fire and passion, he, a veteran, experienced player, the highest-paid on the team, would be focusing on the drill instead of messing it up. If a Russian rookie screws up, that’s understandable, but there is no excuse for Mr. Gomez to do so, regardless of his flippant approach that it’s not the first time and not the last that a coach will yell at a player.

Final point is that for a coach to dress down a veteran in front of everyone else takes a lot. Unless you’re dealing with Mike Keenan or Bill Parcells, the vets get a lot of leeway, they’ve built up a lot of credit over the years. Normally they don’t get publicly humiliated. Let’s think about our work places. While they are very different than a pro hockey team, what would it take for one of you, or if you’re relatively junior, one of the more senior, trusted employees to get screamed at? It would take a major mistake that came on the heels of many others.

So please, Mr. Gomez, instead of trying to brush it off, why don’t you take responsibility, stop being so glib, get the motor mouth back in first gear, state that you screwed up and that you’ll try harder, and then go ahead and do so.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Game 57: Montréal 3, Carolina 5

Some fans described tonight's game as a roller coaster, and I was on it. As soon as the Canadiens were down 2-0, I started thinking I should review Craig Button's list of the top draft prospects for this June. Then as the Canadiens stormed back in the second, I was jumping off my couch, arms in the air, loving life, my disdain for Tomas Kaberle almost mollified by his contribution to the power play. Then when he reverted back to abysmal, playing like the Tin Man he used to impersonate back in Toronto and allowing Eric Staal to waltz around him for a shorthanded goal, I went back to mentally reviewing the expiring contracts we can liquidate at the deadline and formulating a lineup for the 2012-13 Hamilton Bulldogs.

There are still a lot of positives, incredibly, in this loss to the cellar-dwelling team in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens do not need to be blown up this summer, just tweaked. Among the positives, the powerplay clicked and looked dangerous, René Bourque was flying and hitting everything that moved, the Desharnais line continued to produce and be dangerous. Raphaël Diaz and Alexei Emelin are picking up valuable minutes and improving every game. This team has heart and spirit, fights hard during most games, has excellent goaltending and a lot of solid veterans and promising youngsters.

There are some headscratchers as well. Chris Campoli and Tomas Kaberle, two players who will not figure in the Glorieux' future, log way too many minutes. Scott Gomez keeps popping on the powerplay, as welcome by fans as a cockroach on the dinner table. Andrei Kostitsyn is relegated to the fourth line and plays minimally, while Mathieu Darche gets a regular shift. Coach Cunneyworth is holding Andrei accountable for his many mental mistakes and lack of effort, but when the team is looking for a goal it takes stones to send on Mathieu instead.

The biggest puzzle for me was the Canadiens decision to call up Ian Schultz, a player who at least until recently had been a major disappointment in Hamilton, reputedly for being out of shape. His being brought up made me wonder why, if we were in need of his skillset, Pierre Gauthier hadn't put in a waiver claim for Anthony Stewart, a big winger for Carolina who didn't look out of place in an NHL game tonight. I thought that there really must be some skeletons in his closet for the Canadiens, along with 28 other teams, to pass on the opportunity to claim his very reasonable contract, yet feel the need to call up Mr. Schultz. Until that is, they decided to send him down after the game, right back to Hamilton. Maybe this means that Travis Moen is healthy enough to play on Wednesday, but since it is against the Bruins, and on Friday the Sabres, with Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta slashing, uh, leading the way, wouldn't it have made sense to keep him up for a couple of games and play him as the 12th forward instead of Mr. Campoli?

Tonight's game will not please TSN's 'TradeCentre' panel, as it only prolongs the indecision by a lot of teams as to whether they need reinforcements for this spring or assets for next season and beyond. Those guys are getting pretty anxious, they're been hyping what may turn out to be a whole lot of nothing.

Ian Schultz called up to, uh, play?

I’m conflicted over the callup of Ian Schultz. While guys like Ryan White, Travis Moen and Mike Blunden have a role to play, and while the trade of Mike Cammalleri for René Bourque is looking like a win for our team, I wonder if with the callup of Mr. Schultz we reach a tipping point where the Canadiens are like any other team.

The Gainey Gambit of building a team around speed and skill rather than size was a noble quest to purify the game. It provided us with plenty of thrills but also much heartache. The ‘winning conditions’ had to include an NHL head office that recognized that for the good of the game, it had to make the ESPN SportsCenter highlights and ‘Pardon The Interruption’ show for more than fights, goonery and suspensions, and punished these but rewarded teams that dazzled with artistry. Breathtaking goals and passing had to become the Prime Directive for Gary Bettman and his minions for the Canadiens to capture the Grael. Instead, the NHL is ruled by Jeremy Jacobs and his legions of Orcs, and Canadiens management had to face reality and join the arms race.

To what degree remains to be determined. If Mr. Schultz is brought up to substitute for an ailing Travis Moen and an impotent Aaron Palushaj, it can be allowed, but if he becomes a regular, what does that make our team? We’ve had bigger teams before, teams that weren’t necessarily in the mold of the Flying Frenchmen, teams that would pulverize the opposition with the likes of Dave Maley and Claude Lemieux and Craig Ludwig, and they were competitive and we could cheer for them, but they weren’t necessarily fun to watch, especially when the Oilers-Flames game was broadcast immediately after and featured end-to-end skating and non-stop action.

So I’m torn. I know the veteran players allegedly asked Mr. Gauthier last year to add some size and muscle to the lineup during the off-season. I know how much it must suck to have to face idiots like Andrew Ference and Paul Gaustad and take their crap while even stupider idiots in zebra stripes look on, their whistles evidently plugged up by their thick drool. I know Brendan Shanahan has either been NHL-ized and grown calluses on his sense of outrage, or simply been ordered to let the goon times roll. I know that players like Wayne Simmonds and Mike Brown will take runs at our best players if they know they will not face any opposition. I’m just not sure I want to give up and join the parade.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Game 56: Montréal 5, Toronto 0

Nothing's ever easy with this team, is it? Mr. Gauthier was getting ready to have a clearance sale, but now he's not sure if he wants to open the doors and let the shoppers run wild. And now I have to race other fickle fans to ensure I get my seat back on the bandwagon.

This is the kind of team we expected at the start of the season: disciplined, hard-working, fast, effective on special teams, blessed with elite goaltending. We thought they'd beat the cellar-dwellers, and put up a good fight against the powerhouses. The Leafs and Bruins would draw the best out of the Good Guys.

The game started late, due to a ceremony to honour the Nordiques-Leafs-Canucks great Mats Sundin. The great who never took them to a Cup or even a final, who never scored 50 goals or won a scoring championship or a Hart trophy or a Lady Bing or a First Team All-Star. Apparently the rift caused by Leaf management who had insisted that he waive his no-trade-clause for the last two seasons of his stay in Toronto was smoothed over. The Leaf fans also decided to forget about the scorn and vitriol they heaped on their captain for wanting to play in their city, as his contract guaranteed him the right to. It was a nice affair, everyone appeared to be smiling as I fast-forwarded my PVR.

The only thing more halting and ponderous than the first ten minutes of the game was the play-by-play from Bob Cole. You could hear him hesitating and slowing his delivery as he peered at the ice trying to differentiate between Raphaël Diaz and David Desharnais, shuffled through his notes, fumbled through his pockets for his glasses before realizing they were on top of his head, and grew more distracted as he tried to remember if he'd left the lawn sprinkler on. All the while, in his reserved parking stall in the bowels of the New Gardens, his car's left turn signal indicator blinked on and off. Mr. Cole has had a great career, and he will be missed when he retires, which should happen immediately. There are probably 20 play-by-play announcers in the country who are ready and able to replace him, and would jump at the opportunity, and they would provide the viewers with a better experience. I decided tonight that I'll watch RDS in standard definition rather than HNIC in HD in the future if I have to endure Mr. Cole.

At least Mr. Cole had the good sense to scrap his Leaf-centered script when things fishtailed on them. He was calling the game as if it was a Toronto local broadcast, but after a few goals by those guys in white he started to notice them and described what he saw.

Mathieu Darche attracted some positive feedback from Gary Galley and Glenn Healey, and he played another strong game. Midway through the first, as a Leaf found himself with the puck and no one in front to block a probable quality shot at the net, Mathieu reached in on a good backcheck effort and prevented the shot. He received less icetime than the last couple of games, but he put in 18 strong minutes, including six on the Canadiens flawless penalty kill. His breakaway goal in the third was the cherry on the sundae: provided with the puck thanks to two great passes, from Carey Price to Tomas Plekanec to him, he streaked in and didn't overthink, but just corralled the puck, looked at the net and sniped the top corner. Mathieu often tries too hard when he gets such a chance gift-wrapped on his stick. This time he reacted as a hockey player should.

There was much gnashing of teeth early on in the season when fans thought that Mr. Darche shouldn't be on the roster, especially since he didn't score for the first fifteen games or so. Cooler heads explained that he had a role to play on this team and would finish the season with 5 to 10 goals as expected for a player like him. It's good to see him back on track and contributing to the success of the team. He's one of the good guys and deserves our support.

As I've explained in the last few games, I've been encouraged by the change in attitude and the improvement in play from P.K. Subban. He seems to be trying to pattern his play after Chris Chelios rather than Claude Lemieux or Ken Linseman, and that's a big plus. Tonight he played a simple, physical, effective style. He didn't hog the puck, start fights he didn't finish, or mug for the referees or engage his coaches in a debate, all big pluses. About eight games ago I said I was giving up on him and wanted, like Selma Bouvier, a separation, but after watching the report on his younger brothers and seeing how he is with his whole family, if he bought me flowers I might fall in love all over again.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Stéphane Richer, and what fans expected when he was drafted.

Stéphane Richer is in the news again due to the increased media attention to the issue of depression among professional athletes, and the question is asked whether he was anointed as 'The Next One' by the Montreal press and fan base and whether that contributed to his bouts of depression.

When Stéphane was drafted by the Canadiens, the expectations were high but there were whispers that he was fragile. He was blessed with size, skating ability, a booming shot and a scorer’s nose. After the 1984-85 LHJMQ season there was a sense that he needed another year in juniors, that he wasn’t mature enough at least mentally, and the Chicoutimi Saguenéens traded for him during the season expecting that he’d return for the next season and fill their arena. The Canadiens brought him up though, partly to give him more structure and more of a challenge, and because it was thought that it wouldn’t be the right environment for an impressionable guy like him to be treated like a god in a small town.

I don’t think anyone really thought he was the ‘next’ one after Richard, Béliveau, Cournoyer and Lafleur, partly due to the fact that he was drafted in the second round. It was a pleasant surprise when he scored 50 goals, many thought he’d be a 30 goal guy in the NHL. After that, the pressure on him to produce was immense, and he became a butt of jokes for his awkward interviews and his mangled grammar, in English and French. The comedy troupe “Rock et Belles Oreilles” did a regular and devastating impression of him. This would have been hard for him to accept, given his emotional state. The trade to New Jersey might have been the best thing that happened to him, in hindsight.

A bonus for him at the time was that there were other young players with promising futures in the organization, guys like Petr Svoboda and Chris Chelios and Tom Kurvers, Sergio Momesso, Claude Lemieux, Brian Skrudland, Patrick Roy and Mike Lalor. There was also a lot of leadership on the team, with Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau, Chris Nilan, Bobby Smith, Craig Ludwig, Mats Naslund, Chris Nilan, Rick Green, Ryan Walter. So there were expectations, but he wasn’t seen as the Savior, and wasn’t the focus of the entire fan base, like P.K. and Carey and Max are today. He was insulated partially by the strength of the team and the belief that the future was in good hands. He was a big piece of the puzzle, but only one, so that gave him a little slack.

Game 55: Montréal 4, NY Islanders 2

If you had been held captive in a cave in the mountainous region of Swat for about a year, and were lucky enough to have been rescued by Seal Team 6 (a unit doing some fine work now that the Commander in Chief is keeping his eye on the ball as opposed to the previous incumbent) and you had watched the Canadiens game against the Islanders tonight, you would have thought all is right in the world. The Canadiens had ably despatched a perennially weaker opponent on their home ice. Carey Price had been dominant and kept the young Islanders at bay. That young Max Pacioretty kid obviously was keeping on this rising trajectory he had established the previous season, tallying three goals and being dangerous all night. There would have been a few new faces, that Hab-slayer Erik Cole was now with the Forces of Good would have been a pleasant surprise. You might have noted that Scott Gomez played on the fourth line and had a couple of defensive lapses, but otherwise still skated effectively and scored an opportunistic goal. You wouldn't have noticed that Benoit Pouliot was nowhere to be seen, and you wouldn't have cared. Overall, the team skated hard and hit and competed as you would have expected they would.

It's a blessing for the Canadiens that Scott Gomez finally put an end to the streak. It is a distraction on top of all the other distractions that the Canadiens have endured this season, and obviously one they didn't need. Mr. Gomez reacted appropriately, celebrating soberly with a Mike Cammalleri fist pump.

In fact, it seemed as if Mr. Gomez channeled his inner Mike Cammalleri, circa April 2010, for more than the celebration. The goal itself was a Cammalleri special, a one-timer from the circle on the offwing. Scott did everything but touch his knee to the ice on the follow-through.

Speaking of Mr. Cammalleri, we may tentatively assert that the trade was a good one for the Canadiens. In terms of the players and assets involved, it seems relatively even. The cap space it affords the Canadiens is a great benefit. The production of the two main players is dead even, again a win when factored through the cap hits equation. Finally, it is becoming apparent that the Canadiens won by removing a distraction from the dressing room, a classic case of addition by subtraction.

Pierre Gauthier has been roundly criticized for perceived knee-jerk decisions this season, for being reactive as opposed to proactive, for not steering the good ship Glorieux but rather being haplessly buffeted by one storm after another and getting battered. We can look at it another way though: Mr. Gauthier, as he has stated repeatedly, believes in this team and acted decisively when he felt he needed to, rather than giving up on the season. The much-maligned trade for Tomas Kaberle, for example, was born of his desire to help the players, who he felt were getting discouraged with their lack of success on the powerplay and exhibited a defeated body language as they returned to the bench. You may argue the wisdom of acquiring the somnambulant Czech and his anchor contract, and I'll argue right along with you, but you can't fault Mr. Gauthier for giving up on the season.

Yet there is an obvious sign that the Canadiens, despite some encouraging wins, are setting up to sell off assets before the trade deadline, in the form of the decision to not pick up Anthony Stewart off waivers from Carolina. The fact that he was not claimed by any team is possible evidence that there are facets unknown to the general public at this point, since big strong forwards with a smattering of skill are always welcome on an NHL lineup, but I felt there was a great fit between his profile and the Canadiens' needs.

We are bereft of forward talent, to the point where we routinely dress seven defencemen and only 11 forwards. Hamilton cannot provide reinforcement, as has been demonstrated by the play of callups Andreas Engqvist and Aaron Palushaj. Louis Leblanc has been rushed up despite his lack of experience and the apparent initial desire to let him mature in the minors. The Canadiens have had trouble competing against the teams who play a more physical style, and Mr. Gauthier has stated after the acquisition of René Bourque that the team needs to get bigger. Anthony Stewart seemed like a slam dunk, a 225 lbs 27 year old homeboy from LaSalle who would be able to provide the insulation and even pushback against the Mark Stuarts and Paul Gaustads of this world. He was signed for another season at a very reasonable amount, the guy was totally 'plug and play'.

Yet Mr. Gauthier chose not to take him aboard. This is an indication that the rest of the season is an evaluation phase for the team, and that veterans useful to contenders will be auctioned off for picks and prospects. Judging from the mood of Canadiens fans these days, this is a positive development in their eyes.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Game 54: Montréal 3, Pittsburgh 2 (SO)

What an exciting game tonight for the fans of the Canadiens. While I've covered how the losses don't sting so much now in that they help the Canadiens' draft ranking for next June's draft, we all watch games to see them play hard and win. Halfway through the third period, I thought that there would be no shame in losing tonight since they battled hard and played well, as opposed to Saturday against the Capitals, but it was quite a thrill to see them prevail after eight rounds of the shootout.

For two games I've noticed P.K. Subban's play, and for a change in a good way. While he's not the P.K. from last year's playoffs, the guy with the Midas touch, he's playing solid, effective hockey. He's toned down the curlicues and mostly makes the right decisions, and uses his teammates effectively, instead of trying to do everything himself. He's staying out of the penalty box, but still playing hard and hitting the opposition. He won a clear decision in his fistfight on Sunday against Blake Wheeler when the latter objected to an attempted hit. Tonight, he battled hard at the end of overtime against Evgeni Malkin. While his stick was held high, so was Malkin's and as a matter of fact so was everyone's, as the refs decided everything goes, including Zbynek Michalek behind his net crosschecking David Desharnais five or six times around the head and shoulders, not fifteen feet away from a zebra.

I don't want P.K. to fight, he's too valuable to waste in that way, especially after a perfectly legal bodycheck attempt. What is positive however in his performance in the last couple of games is he kept the antics and instigation attempts and general buffoonery to a minimum, but stood up for himself instead of flopping and and turtling and mugging for the refs. He has attracted lots of attention in his short career and garnered a negative reputation, but if he keeps playing like he has in the last couple of games, he can shed that target on his back and affirm himself as one of the better young defencemen in the league.

Another interesting aspect of this game is the icetime afforded Mathieu Darche (17:12), especially when compared to, hmmm, I don't know.... let's say Andrei Kostitsyn (11:24). Like everyone I clamored for more Erik Cole and less Mathieu early on, and especially on the 'power' play, but lately Coach Cunneyworth has again started relying on the steady veteran to a curious degree. Tonight the phenomenon can be explained away by pointing to his checking assignment against the Malkin line, but it's sure to rile some of Mr. Darche's detractors.

We need to accept that coaches love Mathieu Darche, and players of his ilk. Every game he brings all of his limited skill and considerable desire to bear, he never takes a night or a shift off, and his coaches know what they're going to get from him and that they can rely on him. That's a considerable benefit for both parties.

Another thing about Mathieu is that he's not an elegant skater, and it almost spotlights his modest talent, when he is observed chugging up and down the ice. That is however another indication of his effort. He's often parked in front of the net, whiffing on pucks skittering by him, and that can be frustrating to observers, but the point is that he did stop in front of the net and absorbed a few crosschecks in exchange for a scoring chance, instead of veering off to the periphery.

Which brings us to Andrei Kostitsyn. Against Winnipeg, immediately after coming out of the penalty box in the first period, he again amply demonstrated his low hockey IQ and lack of drive and passion. In the Jets' zone, he pursued Mark Stuart who had the puck to the right of Ondrej Pavelec. Mr. Stuart faked to the right, as if he was going behind the net but went left instead to the corner, and Andrei bit and kept going around the net. What he should have done was brake and pursue Mr. Stuart, but he took the easy lazy way out. Coaches hate it when their players skate around in big circles, trying to conserve their momentum, instead of fighting and going for the puck, which means stops and starts and expending energy. Coaches also hate it when a sniper skates behind the net instead of fighting for position in front of it, where he can be an asset. Andrei is not Wayne Gretzky, he's not Henrik Sedin, he has no business going for a skate back there.

As play continued, Mr. Kostitsyn backchecked into the Canadiens' zone. I was tempted to fault him for not pressuring the puck carrier from behind, as he was held up by the Canadiens defencemen who held up at the blue line, but I'm ready to allow that he was following the system and refused to let himself be drawn out of position by the puck carrier. In any event, the puck ended up behind the net and after a puck battle, it squirted through a scrum to Andrei who was positioned in the slot right in front of the net. Andrei corralled it and had clear possession, wheeled around and was pressured by the Jets' defencemen as he tried to exit the zone. Andrei, inexplicably, instead of dumping the puck off the boards or clearing it up in the air through the middle, tried to stickhandle and veered to his left, started going laterally and then, still under pressure, carried the puck back towards the goal line behind his net, where a puck battle ensued.

And there is the difference between Mathieu Darche and Andrei Kostitsyn. Mathieu works hard and skates hard and routinely makes the right decision. Andrei can be compared to an idiot savant, a guy who does a few things astoundingly well, but has vast holes in his game, and who gives a coach cause to pause when considering which line to throw on the ice next.

Another player with more limited skill but high hockey IQ who saw seemingly more ice than what he was entitled to was Louis Leblanc. He plays as if he wants the puck, he doesn't wait for it to come to him, but instead goes to get it. He scored a beauty of a goal, and was dangerous all night as he buzzed around the net and had a few scoring chances that he played a large part in creating.

The power play was impotent again, and the penalty kill was perfect, in large part due to P.K. and Josh Gorges' stalwart efforts. Josh's efforts often go unnoticed by me, but he was highly visible tonight, battling the Penguins' big line and dishing out and taking a few hits. While he's not what most NHL teams would consider a top pairing defenceman, he's been faking it quite well all season.

Alexei Emelin is becoming as steady a defenceman as we can hope for this early in his career, you can plug him in and not worry about him. My campaign to give him more icetime early in the season has been crowned with success, and I can move on to other battles.

An odd pairing that had me quaking in my boots was Tomas Kaberle and Chris Campoli, but there weren't any obvious lapses in their work or epic fails. Maybe their combined experience works to their advantage, and their puck moving style complement each other's. If they can keep this up and showcase themselves with a few good games this may work to our team's advantage.

Hey sportscaster! (3)

Hey Woody Paige! There's no such thing as an Achilles' heel injury. An Achilles' heel is a literary allusion to a weak link in a chain or a chink in the armor. What you mean is an Achilles' tendon injury, or an Achilles' tendon rupture.

From Wikipedia:

"An Achilles’ heel is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, that can actually or potentially lead to downfall. While the mythological origin refers to a physical vulnerability, metaphorical references to other attributes or qualities that can lead to downfall are common."

as opposed to

"The Achilles tendon (or occasionally Achilles’ tendon), also known as the calcaneal tendon or the tendo calcaneus, is a tendon of the posterior leg. It serves to attach the plantaris, gastrocnemius (calf) and soleus muscles to the calcaneus (heel) bone."

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Game 52: Montréal 0, Washington 3

What a way to waste a Saturday in Whistler. The sun is shining, there's snow on the mountain, it's warm, people are tanning and skiing. Meanwhile I'm indoors watching the Canadiens trudging onward in their Bataan Death March to April ignominy.

When the Canadiens stumbled out of the gate early on, I thought I was prescient as I had predicted that they would battle to get into the playoffs. I was wrong on both counts. They're not in the playoff race, and they're not battling. The supremely motivated crew that fought tooth and nail for Jaroslav Halak and under Jacques Martin is now unrecognizable. It's hard to believe that Brian Gionta's injury and the loss of some pieces from that team has transformed them to such a degree.

The players seem to be resigned to their fate, and so am I. Again, the loss didn't sting, I was more interested in the fact that Alexander Semin got me a goal and an assist for my HIO Memorial league fantasy team, and that we're incrementally improving our draft position and status as a seller for the trade deadline.

Randy Cunneyworth, when asked during the post-game press conference if he imagined being in this position when he was offered the job by Pierre Gauthier, kind of shrugged and stated that every team has to go through this. It seems that he is also playing out the string, since I fully expected him to say that he was convinced the team was going to make the playoffs when he took over, and that there's still a chance.

Lots of talk about Andrei Kostitsyn on RDS, how he should get more icetime, and certainly should be on the power play ahead of Scott Gomez. Even though he disappears for games on end, and I have been critical of his lack of passion and effort, I agree that he should get more minutes. With Mr. Gionta, Moen and White absent, and since we have to call up Aaron Palushaj to be our 11th forward, there's no excuse or reason not to, let's work Andrei like a draft horse, maybe he'll pot a few and we can increase his trade value.

P.K. Subban had a good game, during which he worked hard, skated well, battled, didn't take a penalty, showed creativity and effort on offence, and kept his mouth in neutral. While this isn't the magic P.K. that we cheered late last season, and nowhere near the future Norris Trophy candidate some project him to be, it's a breath of fresh air that he won't be on TSN's highlight reel for the wrong reasons today.

Did I hear a smattering of boos for Roman Hamrlik when he handled the puck? If so, these are completely misdirected, as he served the team honourably during his stay here, and wanted to stay after his contract expired, but this off-season couldn't convince Mr. Gauthier to offer him a two year contract. It was time for Roman to go, I'm glad that we're playing the youngsters instead of he and Jaro Spacek, but he should receive nothing but respect and affection from Montreal fans.

Which brings us to the putrid Tomas Kaberle. I've kept my peace since he's been here, at least after bemoaning the trade in a lengthy post. I figure complaining about the ex-Leaf and ex-Bruin was crying over spilled milk, but his presence in the lineup is creating a positive feedback loop of apathy. I can't stand to see him, red-cheeked and emotionless on the bench, and I detest him even more on the ice. After his end-of-game gaffe against the Devils, when he iced the puck while we had an extra attacker on the ice, he was almost caught again doing so twice today, once on the power play, and only the leniency of the refs prevented the whistle. He was impotent on offence and while 'quarterbacking' the power play, and was awful on defence. He finished -2, and will make all the lowlight reels with his poor play that led to the Alex Semin penalty shot.

Pierre Gauthier explained the trade at the time as an attempt to help the team, and that he felt he needed to when seeing the players returning to the bench despondent at their lack of success on the power play. This may have been a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, he would have been pilloried for not making a move, but in my book if there's one thing he needs to answer for it's this trade. The loss of cap space and flexibility and the grafting of another small, soft puck-moving defenceman to a team already replete with them is a whopper of a bad decision.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Game 51: Montréal 3, New Jersey 5

I'm a little conflicted when watching Canadiens' games now. As much as I want them to skate and score and win, when it fishtails like tonight I'm not crestfallen. I'm comforted by the fact that while they're almost in freefall, they're solidifying an advantageous position for next June's draft. So when the Canadiens had the two goal lead, I was hopeful and cheering the good guys, and cursing the rotten luck when they missed chance after chance to put the Devils away. As the lead frittered away, and the momentum slowly faded, I looked on the bright side.

As usual Erik Cole was a rampaging buffalo, charging up and down the ice and creating chances for himself and his linemates. At the start of the season when he wasn't receiving the icetime he should have from coach Martin, I was vocal and advocated for him. As soon as this nonsense was rectified I moved on to other hot topics and let his stellar performances speak for themselves. There comes a time though when the star performers on a team go unheralded and we focus on the negatives, and this is unhealthy on any team, and I'm not just talking about sports teams. Too often, we deal with the problem children and in negative feedback, in constructive criticism. We forget about the positive feedback, the recognition.

So here goes: Erik, you're doing a great job. You are a warrior and constantly give 100% effort. You make your linemates better. Your manner of playing all out has the happy consequence of making you the most consistently exciting Canadien this season, you raise the fans out of their seats and off their couch. You play hard and tough, but fair. You are noble. Your penalties are not cheap or the result of a lack of discipline; rather, they are more an offshoot of your bull in a china shop approach to the game. You are fully earning every penny of the very generous contract you were awarded.

One reason I have been stingy with my hosannas for Mr. Cole is that his performance was as I expected it to be, possibly even better than when he terrorized Canadiens goalies as a Hurricane. Another Canadien who is performing according to projections is Hal Gill. The veteran defenceman was offered a one-year contract, which some thought might be the last of his career. He was signed to provide a steady hand and experience on the back end, and leadership in the dressing room. Sure enough, he has provided solid defensive play, especially on the penalty kill, but tonight he committed two eye-popping giveaways in the defensive zone that luckily didn't lead to goals. On one early in the first period, a Devil was provided with a puck in the side slot and it appears the main reason he didn't score is because of his shock at receiving a pass from Mr. Gill. I accept that Hal will be slow, and have grown used to seeing him chug back to his zone as if in slow-mo. I also accept that he is not adept with the puck, although when he has it in the offensive zone he can be counted on to deliver a decent shot on goal. I'm okay with the fact that he plays a somewhat less than physical brand of hockey, especially considering his gigantic size. What I object to is that tonight I may have seen the first instances when he didn't battle hard against the opposition. The malaise which afflicts the team may be getting to the old warhorses. A change in scenery will be beneficial for Mr. Gill.

One player I have not shortchanged in my plaudits has been David Desharnais, and again tonight he drew my attention. He, despite his diminutive size, is one of the few Canadiens who is effective going to the net, and tonight he scored a goal by heading one in off his visor. Also, he was regularly found behind Carey Price's net digging for the puck and ably bodychecking Devils. He's a keeper.

Mr. Cunneyworth again put Scott Gomez on one of the Canadiens' top lines with Tomas Plekanec. This would be a travesty if our team had twelve NHL-quality forwards to throw on the ice. Especially with Brian Gionta, Ryan White and Travis Moen injured, Mr. Gomez has a role to play, I'm just sure that it's not on the second line and on the powerplay.

On the other hand, I like the way Mr. Cunneyworth uses his seven defencemen and double-shifts his more effective forwards. That is an appropriate response to the bind he's in.

After tonight's performance though, as fans, all that remains is for us to reacquaint ourselves with the minutiae of the NHL draft lottery.

Hey sportscaster! (2)

Hey Ron Jaworski, good job using the word 'resilience' instead of 'resiliency'. We hate the latter, it's not even a word, just corporate jargon, it's announcer double-speak. I guess bright minds figure if they add a syllable to a word it makes it even better, more cromulent. They did the same with the word 'competence', now all you hear is 'competency' this, 'competency' that. Props Jaws. Respect.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Game 50: Montréal 1, Buffalo 3

I haven't seen the Sabres-Canadiens game, just the final score on the giant screen at the Canucks rink. I was there to catch the Canucks against the Blackhawks, ready for another battle in the dirty little war these two teams have waged against each other for a couple seasons now. I was ready for an intense, emotional game, lots of hitting, a couple of fights, lots of bad blood, and endless skating, up and down the ice. We got none of that.

It seems like both teams were still on their All-Star break. The majority were still thinking of the beach they had just left, and those who were in Ottawa for the All-Star game continued in the the same vein, with no hitting or real effort. Both teams kept trying long stretch passes for breakaways or odd-man rush, and they missed with such regularity that the audience started to groan near the end when a forward would bobble another pass, or miss entirely and an icing infraction would result. Aside from the lack of flow, there was no emotion. Two minor penalties were called for the entire game, instead of the fight-filled grudge match the crowd was slavering for.

The overtime goal by Daniel Sedin, from a magic assist by Henrik, allowed us to go home somewhat happy, but there were precious few highlights. A breakaway goal by Cody Hodgson. A nice passing play in the first that ended up on Ryan Kesler's stick and which he buried, which at the time augured well for the home team. A flub of the puck behind the net by Cory Schneider, which forced him to dive back in front of the net and make a desperation save. The crowd was correspondingly quiet, we could hear the guys talking on the ice. A girl from Holland was with us to take in her first ever hockey game, and she remarked how silent it was in the arena, and she compared it to some soccer games she has attended, telling us it was night and day.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were dangerous and creative with the puck, manufacturing goals and chances when none should have existed, although they too seemed to be skating at half-speed for most of the game.

Overall, a boring game which made me seriously question the reasonableness of shelling out $125.00 for a 'premium' game. I understand pro sports team owners who fear that one's man cave with giant HD screen is more attractive than bothering to go to the game, once you factor in traffic, parking, loud drunk patrons, etc.