Friday, 25 October 2013

Game 10: Canadiens 4, Ducks 1

Everything seems better when the team is winning.  What appears as a giant lacuna after a loss is a mere foible when digesting a win.

Take Josh Gorges' giveaway midway through the third that led to the Ducks' only goal.  If that had been the winning or clinching goal, we wouldn't be so sanguine, but in this case, we can look at it as a prime example of what happens when a defenceman has to play on his off-side.  Josh, who's usually reliant on the safe play, opted on this one not to make a quick safe pass or to bang it off the glass, but rather to skate it out on the breakout.  Trouble was, he was on the right side of the ice, by happenstance and not necessity, since he was paired with rightie Raphaël Diaz.  But that's how it happened, he corralled the puck while wheeling around the net, and as he approached his blue line and felt the pressure from forechecking Duck, had to play the puck on his backhand.  He bobbled it to a pair of Ducks, and it ended up in the back of the net.

If Josh had been skating on the left side, he would have had the puck on his forehand, from which it would have been much easier to saucer a pass or deke or bang the puck up the boards.  He could have faked, delayed, withdrawn the puck away from the forecheckers, away from the centre ice and closer to the boards, and shielded it with his body, protected it.  This situation is one of the countless reasons that it's better to play a defenceman on his side rather than the opposite.  Sometimes you can't help it, but in this case, Josh put himself there, and then made a higher-risk play rather than a safe dump out of the zone, so he bears responsibility.

The mistakes didn't end with Josh though, since Raphaël Diaz, who was defending the resultant 2-on-1, messed up one of the most basic plays a defenceman has to make.  In this situation, defencemen are taught from a very young age that their main job is to take away the passing lane, prevent the puck carrier from passing the puck.  The idea is that a goalie, squared up and ready to stop a shooter, has a good chance to be successful, but not so much if he has to slide over to another angle to make that save.  So defencemen routinely try to stay between the attackers, his stick ready to intercept a pass, positioning to apply a modicum of pressure on the puck carrier, but really cheating over to the other guy to defend the pass.  A good result is a broken pass, or even making it so the carrier has no option but to shoot.  In these instances, the defenceman did his job.  Even if the shot eludes the goalie, the d-man did his job, he did what he could.

Mr. Diaz did anything but that though, he kind of cheated over to the puck carrier and left the eventual pass recipient uncovered.  Further, when the time came for the carrier to either pass or shoot, Raphaël apparently tried to slide to intercept the pass, but he ended pitching forward awkwardly and accomplishing nothing.  Patrick Maroon easily converted the Nick Bonino pass, which is saying something, since the former is known more for his fists than his hands.  

So, dispassionately, both Josh Gorges and Raphaël Diaz goofed on this play, but in the grand scheme of things, their error will be more quickly forgotten, and we'll focus on the positives.

On René Bourque, for example, who was starting to attract some negative attention.  He's not involved enough, some thought, he's not physical enough, he should bang more, even fight.  Which reminded me of what Gaston Therrien said about Michael Ryder, that as long as he's scoring, you can accept the rest of his game; he's not hurting you when he's scoring.  It's when he's not that you worry.

In a somewhat similar fashion, if René Bourque is skating and creating chances, and taking a couple of good shots at the net, and he's diligent in his defensive game, he's not hurting you.  He's a big guy who, even if he's not crashing and banging and dropping the gloves, still instills some respect in opponents, when he's cruising around their net or going up against them in the corners.  The coaches feel confident enough in him to send him on the powerplay, he has killed penalties in the past, he's a cost-effective player who brings a skillset, the big winger who can play in traffic or when the going gets tough and who can put the puck in the net.

Tonight, we saw him take a pass in the offensive zone, skate through a busted Anaheim defensive zone coverage, and roof a backhand shot for his third goal of the season.  At this pace, he'll bag twenty-four this season, and that's a great contribution from him.  He comes to us as advertised from Calgary, a big speedy winger who can snipe but can be streaky and moody.  So far, he's been generally much more good than bad.

Another player who was the target of mutterings was Tomas Plekanec, who had a quiet start to the season offensively, but tonight continued on his streak, adding a goal and two assists to his recent haul.  He was superb in all three zones, shone on a backcheck, and won 56% of his draws, an area of focus for him.

His linemate Michaël Bournival continues to live the dream, skating hard all over the ice and upsetting opponents' plans.  We tend to think that Tomas and Brian Gionta need a bigger body, a thumping winger to shield them from the atrocities the Bruins and Leafs regularly perpetrate, but recently their young winger has shown that another dose of pure speed makes this line lethal.  At least until the playoffs start.  Mr. Bournival added a goal and an assist to his tally, and a wag tweeted that Marc Bergevin has now given him the go-ahead to buy a house and enter a twenty-year mortgage.

The third linemate, Brian Gionta, also scored a goal and an assist, and quelled the rumours that his arm injuries had finished him.  At least for now.  The Captain is regularly asked to answer to charges that he's 5'8".

And we can't overlook Carey Price's performance, which has ranged from strong to excellent early this season.  He stopped 31 of 32 shots, some of them difficult, and we didn't have to explain away a couple of goals due to a putative screen or slight deflection or poor defensive coverage, or ...

As we've discussed, he's in a business that measures productivity in various ways, but the main stat we look at for him is wins and save percentage.  He raised his save percentage to .936, tied for fourth-best among starting goaltenders.  There's a lot of hockey yet to be played, but so far he's piling up the wins and the saves, and that's all we can ask of him.

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