Monday, 28 December 2015

Game 38: Canadiens 4, Lightning 3 (SO)

A game that was in turn a soothing balm on a Canadiens fan sick and tired of this losing streak, and then a kick in the guts when the Lightning took the lead after scoring twice in 21 seconds in the third, finished as a possible turning point in the season, and in preparation for a meeting with the Bruins on January 1.  The Canadiens needed a shootout to get it done, but they beat the Lightning 4-3 to put a stop to the mob clamour.  For now.  Possibly.

The RDS play-by-play team opined during the game that the acquisition of Ben Scrivens might have given backup goalie Mike Condon a source of motivation, might have put on a little pressure on him to perform.  That may be, but I'm thinking the other way, that it actually removed some pressure, gave the kid a bit of confidence, that he won't have to carry the load all by himself, or with another youngster in Dustin Tokarski.  Maybe having Ben Scrivens next to him in the dressing room, a guy who's seen it rain, will calm the kid and make it easier to focus on the job at hand.

He let in some groaners again tonight, but he got the job done.  He stopped 36 out of 39 shots, and for the second game in a row put up a save percentage above .900, after roughly a dozen games under that benchmark.  He battled, fought hard, made some key saves.  He wasn't perfect, but neither were his teammates.  And he can rest easy now, knowing that a veteran will take the crease against the Panthers, and he can have a day off and not be on the edge of his seat, trepidating that he'll have to sub in during the game.

The veterans stood up and were counted tonight, after being AWOL for a few games.  Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Plekanec all got on the scoresheet.  Max got the game-winning goal in the shootout.  There were a few stumbles, a few glaring giveaways, but this was a step in the right direction.

Three situations were reviewed by the game officials.  The first, on a goal by Ryan Callahan to make it 3-2 for Tampa, looked at whether Jonathan Marchessault interfered with Mike Condon.  I thought it was clear that he did, effectively shoving him to one side and preventing him from sliding to his left to make a save.  The Toronto bias against the Habs struck again, and the goal was declared valid.

The second was a play on which Dale Weise had clearly scored but the officials hadn't seen it.  Play went on, the broadcast went to commercials, and we came back to the review and the replays that showed the puck over the line before Ben Bishop's pad shoved it out.

Jon Cooper immediately asked for a review on whether Dale had interfered with the goalie.  The Canadiens forward had made contact with the Lightning keeper's stick, but he had been pushed in the back by Anton Stralman, and the officials let it stand, to my surprise.

We talked about how the Canadiens were often dominating in the shots and/or possession departments but losing games during this streak, and how they had to find a way to win, so we'll allow them this one without looking for too many warts.  The minutiae would give us many reasons to nitpick, but we'll sharpen the knives another day.

It wouldn't do however to not mention the good showing of the Greg Pateryn and Mark Barberio, who played his first game as a Canadien.  They both contributed according to their talent, their expected player profile.  Greg was stout, dependable, and tough, and Mark Barberio was imaginative, free-wheeling with the puck and surgical with his passes, springing Paul Byron loose on a breakaway, even though he was closely checked by the two Tampa Bay defencemen.  His pass was that accurate.

So we're on to Sunrise tomorrow, to play the Panthers, and gather momentum.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Noah Juulsen cut from the Team Canada World Junior roster.

Surprising, disappointing to me that Noah Juulsen isn't part of the WJC Team Canada roster.  I have lost a lot of my interest for the tournament, I certainly won't watch religiously all our competitors' prospects.  Sorry, that's just my fan bias at work.

I was interested/concerned with how Jérémy Roy would do early this season, whether he and Noah would end up competing for the same rightie spot on the roster.  The Sherbrooke player fell off the pace really early, due mostly to injuries I would say.

Meanwhile, Noah seemed assured of a spot.  During the training camp and exhibitions this summer, Noah seemed assured, and was being used as such by the coaches, on high pairings, on special teams, with other players who were assured of a spot themselves.  And he delivered, playing with maturity, energy and assurance.

He got off to a good start this season, despite having his Canadiens camp interrupted by a concussion incurred in WHL pre-season games.  The writeups were positive, about his leadership and contribution as a Silvertip, but the points didn't quite pile up as fast as I would have liked, to my biased, perpetually unsatisfied-fan perspective.

Then at the selection camp in Toronto a couple weeks back, he was being batted around as a sure thing, but it wasn't based on his WHL performance solely.  The talking heads (Bob McKenzie and Stéphane Leroux, mostly) said that as one of only two righties on the blue line, that made him a virtual lock to be on the team.

Then, against the CIS All-Star team at that camp, Stéphane Leroux said he wouldn't draw in the lineup the first game, which is actually a good thing, he explained.  The coaches don't play the players they've seen enough from to include them in their final roster.  I think the other guys who didn't play that night were the Mitch Marners and Dylan Stromes, the guys who'd have to lose a limb in a skate-sharpening accident to be left off the team.

Except that another defenceman who was supposed to play suffered a last minute injury, couldn't play, so Noah was put out there almost as an afterthought, as a lineup filler.  And then he played in the next game as well.  I watched both, and certainly didn't come away as impressed with his performance as I had during the summer, when he was all over the ice.

And now the reports that mentioned him now said that he was only a probable lock, and relied mostly on his right shot, the lack of other righties in the mix, rather than his great play.

And during the training camp in Finland, during the exhibitions, I again didn't see the strong, fan-friendly two-way game that I saw this summer.

So we've come to this.  Like others have said, it's not that big a deal that Noah didn't make Team Canada as an 18-year-old, he'll have another crack at it next year.  It's a 'nineteen-year-old's tournament' after all.  Except that other team's prospects, like Ottawa's Thomas Chabot, they made it as an 18-year-old.  Monsieur Chabot continued his strong play from this summer, he was all over the ice, tall and graceful and surehanded with the puck.

So a kick to the fan jewels.  A fishtail end, after a strong start, and getting my hopes up after good early showings, kind of like an NDP supporter this summer I guess, looking at the early polling and thinking this was as good as in the bag.

And yeah I'm bitter.  It'll be hard to cheer on all the other teams' prospects.  Hmmphfff.  Maybe the gold medal game, but that's about it.

Did Lukas Vejdemo make Team Sweden?...

Monday, 21 December 2015

Game 35: Canadiens 1, Predators 5

Notes on the Canadiens 5-1 loss to the Nashville Predators tonight.

--Continuing on a theme:

DUSTIN TOKARSKI   SA: 14    Saves: 11   SV%: .786

MIKE CONDON   SA: 4   Saves: 3         SV%: .750

PEKKA RINNE   SA: 36   Saves: 35 SV%: .972


--Pierre Houde of RDS explained after the Predators went up 1-0 on a Shea Weber blast, a shot on which Dustin Tokarski was screened and probably helpless, that the Canadiens were repeating the same patterns as in previous games, swarming the opposition net and doing everything but scoring, and falling behind early.

Marc Denis went further and explained that it's not that the goalie(s) can be blamed for individual goals, but that they're not able to chip in some big timely saves like Carey Price can.

--As a fan, I'd love to say that Jarred Tinordi did well out there, and he did kind of look good, all rangy and surprisingly mobile, sometimes pinching in, sometimes thwarting a Preds chance.  I liked the concept of Jarred Tinordi and Mike McCarron being in uniform at the same time.

As a cold-eyed realist though, it's hard to overlook that he was on the ice for three Nashville goals.  On one of them, through no fault of his own, he kind of rubbed against Dustin who then couldn't move laterally and make a save when the puck ticked off Lars Eller's interception attempt and bounced into the net.

On the others, he didn't do anything wrong, anything glaring you could point to, but then you start to wonder, would Jeff Petry or Nathan Beaulieu have had slightly better anticipation, puck handling skills, passing acumen, and would they have cleared the puck earlier, before the scramble began, before the threat even materialized?

--That disallowed Daniel Carr goal is symptomatic of the rot at the NHL's core.  Brendan Gallagher has already spoken on this, and predicted that defenders will voluntarily bump opponents into their own goalies to create the 'incidental contact' that negates goals.

And that's precisely what happened.  Shea Weber took Alex Galchenyuk and pushed him through the crease and into his goalie.  If anything should have rightfully resulted from that review, it should have been that She Weber get an interference penalty.  It was clear as day, Alex didn't have the puck, Shea Weber wasn't allowed to touch him or impede his movement.  He certainly wasn't allowed to hook/shove him.

But that's the NHL for you.  Creating its own system of video review, vastly flawed, that is now expanded to watch for offsides, that most trivial, inconsequential of infractions.  If you need a HD slow-mo to detect the offside, obviously no advantage was gained, it was a question of a few millimetres.

Punches to the head behind the play, slewfoots, spears in the groin, those are 'judgment calls', and cannot be reviewed though.  We wouldn't want to muddle the picture.  The ref didn't see it, what can we do?

Plus, revenues are growing.  Gary Bettman's and his cronies' savant strategy of charging more for everything is just a stroke of genius.  Give that boy-wonder a raise.

The Daniel Carr goal should have counted.  The Predators caused their own misfortune, they shouldn't benefit from that.

And the day will come when a player will tear his own goalie's ACL by using this little tactic.  It's only a matter of time until one gets kypreosed by his own teammate.  Department of Player Safety, indeed.

--Pulling Dustin Tokarski after the third goal, especially one as unlucky and unblameworthy as that, seemed like an impulsive, unwise move to me.  It's not like Dustin looked particularly bad on any one goal.  Sure, he didn't make any big saves, but relatively speaking, Dustin was doing as well as can be expected.  We should have rested Mike Condon for the next night.  This game was already lost, we should have saved our bullets for Minny.

--We could riff on the point that the Canadiens essentially doubled the Preds' shot totals, 36-19.  But I'm not taking as much comfort from that anymore.  I won't harp on shot quality or anything, stats show that the old gripe that the Canadiens' shots come from the periphery isn't correct, the Canadiens shots break down pretty much along league average in terms of location.  We get as many scrambly battles with a skittering puck in front of the net as we should.

What we don't do is finish those, or finish on the powerplay.  Sportsnet showed a graphic during the game that the Canadiens were shooting at an 11% clip early in the season, when every trio was producing, and the Fleischmann-Desharnais-Weise line was a gift from the gods.  Now, since the losing streak began, they're at less than half that success rate.  Combined with the .880 save percentage, that's some fall from grace.

How long before the need to change things up becomes too great to resist, and we see David Perron or Jordan Eberle land here, at much too great a cost?

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Fundaments of a losing streak, Part 2.

Update on a previous post on the effect goaltending has had on the Canadiens' recent losing streak.

DUSTIN TOKARSKI  SA: 29  Saves: 26  SV%: .897

PETR MRAZEK  SA: 25 Saves: 23 SV%: .920

Red Wings 3, Canadiens 2


CHRIS DRIEDGER  SA: 11 Saves: 11   SV%: 1.000

CRAIG ANDERSON  SA: 31  Saves: 28  SV%: .903

DUSTIN TOKARSKI   SA: 26   Saves: 25   SV%: .962

Canadiens 3, Senators 1


MARTIN JONES  SA: 27 Saves: 26  SV%: .963

DUSTIN TOKARSKI   SA: 12  Saves: 9  SV%: .750

MIKE CONDON    SA: 6   Saves: 6 SV%: 1.000

Canadiens 1, Sharks 3


JONATHAN QUICK   SA: 45  Saves: 45   SV%: 1.000

MIKE CONDON    SA: 19   Saves: 17    SV%: .895

Canadiens 0, Kings 3


DUSTIN TOKARSKI   SA: 4  Saves: 4    SV%: 1.000

MIKE CONDON    SA: 23   Saves: 17    SV%: .739

ANTTI NIEMI   SA: 23     Saves: 21  SV%: .913

Canadiens 2, Stars 6


Continuing with the thesis I made a couple weeks ago, the real problem with the Canadiens right now is goaltending.  Not the theory that losing Carey Price emasculated the team, that we're a one-player team like those meanies at Sportsnet keep saying.  The problem is that our backup goaltenders are simply not doing the job.

Since Carey has left us for a second, longer convalescence, we have had only two games when our backups gave a save percentage above .900, which is the Mendoza Line when it comes to NHL goaltending.  Some would argue it's actually .910, but in any case, our backups have only managed that twice in our recent losing streak.  And not coincidentally, we won both of those games.

I've played with a bad goalie behind me, and I know the effect it had on our team.  It just deflates you when he lets in another bad goal.  Again.  Like last week, and the week before. And you were kind of expecting it anyway.  You kind of started to have hope when he made those two good saves in the first period, things were almost going your way, but now it's the same old, same old, you're going to lose this frigging game.

The first time I played with a great goalie on my team, I couldn't believe the difference it made.  He was athletic and a popular guy, always talking.  He'd let out a swear when a puck went by him ("'Stie!"), I didn't even have to turn around to see it or see the other team celebrating, my signal was Stéphane letting out a curse and then skating off to the corner, refusing to fish the puck out of his net, we had to do it for him.  It was amazing when he'd make a split and another save, how competent he looked, instead of the usual little soft-spoken guys I'd played with before.

Same effect in a different sport, the first time I ever played with a great fullback on a rugby team, one who could kick, handle the ball, pass it, make good decisions.  But mainly kick, wow, was that ever great, the way he'd get us out of trouble, how now it was them scrambling.  "Oh, a fullback isn't back there to mess up huge and give up easy tries, he's actually a machine who hoovers up balls and goes on the attack?  He's actually a weapon?  Awesome..."

That's what is going on with the Canadiens.  Beyond the fact that the goalies aren't doing the job on the scoreboard, they're not making the extra one or two saves a game that would make the difference between a win and a loss, they're actually letting the air out of the balloon.

And that in my mind goes at least partway in explaining the offensive drought we're experiencing.  The team doesn't have the confidence, the enthusiasm they had early on, when they were forechecking like heck and pouncing on mistakes.

But yeah, when the Rangers lost Henrik Lundqvist for a while last season, Cam Talbot stepped up, and solidified his NHL career.  The Rangers didn't miss a beat.  Same with Martin Jones in L.A., and now both these guys got starting gigs this season.

Meanwhile, our boys are booting their opportunity, and putting some serious damage on our place in the standings.  And Marc Bergevin's decision in this area looks worse every game.  He rolled the dice and came up snake eyes.  We give him props for his great moves, but this one is a demerit.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Michael McCarron called up by the Canadiens.

I'm excited that Mike McCarron gets a crack at the NHL, after watching him as a Knight, General and this season as an IceCap.  As a fan, I can't wait.

He does bring some of the elements that I listed in a post earlier this week about what Zack Kassian can/could contribute: size, strength, a right shot, some offence, some use on the power play, and the ability to stand in front of the net and create a screen for goalies and a headache for opposite defenceman.

Yet my cautious nature makes me fret that bringing him up now is probably against plan if we go by how Marc Bergevin has dealt with other minor leaguers in their first season, like Charles Hudon and Sven Andrighetto notably.  Both of them were having strong first seasons in the pros, could have contributed in the NHL, but our GM followed his trusty maxim that you often regret bringing up players too soon, but rarely regret bringing them up too late.  Charles Hudon said that he was told by Marc Bergevin not to worry about a callup his first season, that it wouldn't happen, that he should just focus on his game and getting better.

Mike's kind of like that roast that you bring out of the oven and are told to wait 15 minutes before you carve into it, to let the meat set, and ensure that the juices don't all run out.  But who can wait that long, when the mashed potatoes are ready and cooling, when the asparagus (asparagi?  asparaguses?) in lemon butter are done?  Who can resist carving into that perfectly seasoned and crusted dinner right away?

Fingers crossed, he gives us a jolt, gives the team an injection of youthful energy and brings the forward lines back to a more harmonious whole, so they're not all in a drought at the same time.  And either he's a) ready, or b) sent back to the IceCaps after a while, with a measure of what the NHL demands and energized that he's so close, motivated to keep working hard with an eye to the near future.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Milan Lucic sticking to hockey as a King?

As I thought/predicted/hoped, Milan Lucic, unburdened of the need to be a Big Bad Bruin, and to sate the bloodlust of Jackass Edwards, pretty much stuck to hockey last night. He was a beast on the boards and in front of the net, but when the whistle blew he stopped playing, didn’t try to push anything.

Pierre Houde noted with some surprise how his first collision with Alexei Emelin didn’t come before the third period. In previous games, he sought out Alexei to lay a beating on him, and it got him off his game, made him take stupid penalties.

Also in the third, Dale Weise hit him from 3/4 behind, pushing him down at the foot of the boards. He got up and turned around to see who’d hit him, with murder in his eyes, and saw it was Dale. After a second or so, you could see him make the decision to keep playing, and at worst file this away for future reference, instead of trying, as he did before as a Bruin, to avenge an affront to his toughness and manliness.

So it’s as I thought, and have posted before. If Milan Lucic had been a Canadien, and had had guys like John Ferguson and Larry Robinson as paragons of toughness to emulate, he would have been a very tough and mean player who concentrated on hockey. His worst impulses would have been quelled, discouraged, instead of fanned into a brighter, hotter flame. He would have been idolized as much as P.K. if he wore bleu-blanc-rouge.

Instead, he landed in Boston, a marriage seemingly made in heaven, but it’s actually the opposite, like your buddy who loves the bar scene and partying and ends up being a bartender. What looks like the perfect job is the top of a slippery slope.

Game 33: Canadiens 0, Kings 3

Notes on the 3-0 loss to the Kings, based on my Canadiens Express viewing, the 1 hour condensed version by RDS.  I was blacked out, couldn't watch the regular game, like a human being.  Thank you, Gary Bettman.

--The edited version skipped over a lot of the first 10 minutes, just showed a few sequences, during which the Canadiens were bottled up by the Kings, and struggled to leave their zone.  Yet PIerre Houde informed me that so far the shots were 6-5 in favour of the Canadiens.

Were the editors trying to editorialize?  Not show the Canadiens' shots to impress upon the viewers how dominant the Kings were?  Or were the Canadiens shots little flips from afar, of no great consequence, or risk to Jonathan Quick?

--Amazing how much obstruction the Kings are getting away with.  When the Canadiens try to chip the puck behind their defencemen and give chase, they unfailingly put up their stick and raise a barrier, forcing the Hab to go around them, to fight through a block, as an offensive lineman would set up on a passing play, trying to prevent a pass rusher from getting home.

Offand, I saw a d-man do it on an onrushing Alex Galchenyuk, with the puck well behind him, and later on Andrei Markov as he tried to support Max on his shorthanded partial breakaway.

Yet the refs allow it.  It's that NHL tolerance.  It's the Kings'  style, so you can't call them on it, right?  Like you wouldn't call the Bruins for finishing a check right?  Or for flipping the bird at the crowd, or spearing someone in the nuts, or barreling into the Sabres' goalie?  I mean, if you did, they'd spend the entire game shorthanded, and that's not fair, right?

--And don't get me started on all the axe-chop slashing.  Let them play, indeed.

--Sure enough, P.K. gets called in the second period for interference though, for obstructing the path of a King to the puck.  Sometimes, I just don't know...

And the Kings capitalize for the 1-0 lead.

--Pierre Houde described the change in momentum halfway through the first period in favour of the Canadiens as a 'chavirement', a capsizing of the advantage in territory and possession.  Before they gave up the lead, they were leading 26-10 in shots, something like that.

After the goal, he observed that the game was unfolding as they have lately, with the Canadiens controlling the play yet not able to take a lead, to show that control on the scoreboard.

And that was before the Kings scored again.  His voice dropped an octave or two.

And the crowd, which had tried to fire up the building with an "Olé!  Olé!" chant earlier, started moaning and muttering.

--It's open season on red jerseys when they have the puck near the Kings net.  Slashes, holds, crosschecks, anything goes.

--Hard to not respect the honest work being done by Jonathan Quick though.  Some quality saves, and then a couple miracles thrown in, which is what you need from your superstar goalie.

--It's not so much that the Kings are so physical and big, although they are that, but more that they are hermetical in their defensive coverage.  A Canadien tries to gain the zone, and without fail, he looks up there are three white jerseys in his face.

--Completely disagree with the few fans who booed the team near the end.  You can boo when the boys don't work hard, when they're being dominated, but this is a case of poor puck luck.  They barraged the Kings net with rubber, but couldn't get lucky.

--Actually, scratch that.  At the price they pay for tickets, those good folks can do whatever they want.

--Since the slide started, it's been fashionable to say that the Canadiens are missing 'just' Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price.  But really, when we think about it, it's the entire right side, the right wing that's missing.

Last summer, when we were doing up our line combos, when Michel Therrien was moving his magnetic name tags on the dry erase board, we all had Gally and Alex Semin in the Top 6, depending on who centred who, how that fell.  Then we had Zack Kassian on the third line, Dale Weise on the fourth.  Some of us flipped Devante Smith-Pelly over to the left by necessity, some had him being waivered to the AHL (honest, check the tape).  And we all discounted any possible contribution by Brian Flynn, but that's a different story.

But anyway, out of our five right wingers, only one is playing right now, good ole Weissy.  Devo should come back soon.  But we're still short Brendan, and the two acquisitions brought in to solidify the right wing and chip in some offence.

So four out of five RW's aren't there to play.  Which is how you get a lineup with Paul Byron on the Top 6.

We can blame Marc Bergevin for miscalculating on Alex Semin and Zack Kassian, but the mood was generally positive this summer that at least one of those two would work out.  Those were pretty good odds.

I had Zack penciled in for fifteen goals, and Alex Semin twenty-five, easy.  I'm a glass two-thirds full kind of guy.  I was counting those fourty goals as hatched, and was already spending the bonus that was sure to come on top of that.

But yeah, that's a lot of NHL talent our lineup is devoid of right now.  And we're having to rely on AHL'ers to pick up the slack, instead of being complementary, secondary pieces.

--Still, it's hard to get mad when you're the victim of a 45 shot shutout.  We careypriced opponents last year, tonight they did it to us.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

If the Rangers play Dylan McIlrath, and the Stars play Jamie Oleksiak, the Canadiens should play Jarred Tinordi.

A game against the big physical roster the Kings present would seem to me to be the ideal time to give Jarred Tinordi a start.  I don't claim to be a genius, to know the internal workings of the team, but as a fan I want Jarred to play, and succeed as a Canadien.  If the future of the team is to be fast and speedy and hudoned and andrighettoed, then I want a few Tinordis, McCarrons and Kassians on the roster, to act as a counterbalance, as insurance against the Mark Stuarts of the world.

For context, I checked on some other defencemen who have been kept on the NHL roster of their teams, mostly because they couldn't be exposed to waivers.

In Dallas, after a very slow start, Jamie Oleksiak has now played in 10 games.

For the Rangers, Dylan McIlrath scored his first NHL goal last night, and has 13 games played.

The Leafs' Mike Babcock sat out Frank Corrado, a player they scooped up on waivers from the Canucks, for something like 30 games before he played his first one this week.

I don't know what the injury situation was for these teams, whether an injury to a regular defenceman facilitated some starts from their young development d-man, but early on they'd managed to squeeze in a game or two for each of Jamie Oleksiak and Dylan McIlrath in the first dozen games of the season.

It bears mentioning that the latter two defencemen are similar to Jarred in that they're big tall defencemen who both teams claim will play a big part of their future, but need time to develop.  They both play a physical style, also like Jarred.

So without trying to figure out who's to 'blame', who to hold accountable (Marc Bergevin, Michel Therrien, Jean-Jacques Daigneault, Bob Gainey, Pierre Gauthier, Mark Tinordi, Andrey Pedan), the Canadiens should find a way to squeeze him in there for a game or two.  Sit out Tom Gilbert, or Nathan, or Alexei Emelin, rest up Andrei on back-to-backs, figure it out, but play the kid.

Pas d'excuses.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Christian Thomas and his party habits traded for Lucas Lessio.

For me, this is the trade that should have been the original Danny Kristo trade, one where you trade something you have a lot of for something else that you're short of, that you need.  In the Danny Kristo deal, we traded a slender offensively-inclined forward, for another offensively-inclined forward of smaller stature.  That left me perplexed at the time.

In trading Christian Thomas for Lucas Lessio, we unload a small shifty scorer, of which we have plenty in the system, for a left winger who's got some size and decent hands, but also some wheels, which will allow him to play the Canadiens' game.  This is a trade that I can give thumbs up to, trading our surplus to shore up an area of need.

Practically, we'd seen what Christian Thomas could do, with two stints in the NHL.  He would have needed to progress much more than he did to hope for an NHL career.  He might bloom late, but we couldn't wait.

As far as the late-night party video, I won't discount that it had an effect.  Some comment that he's a young man and is allowed to go out and party like anyone else.  Jacques Demers said as much on L'Antichambre a few nights back, he was blaming those who put up that video on the web for breaching his privacy.

That may be the case, that Christian can make acquaintances in the bar and further that acquaintance after hours as much as any welder or financial analyst his age, but it ignores the current reality of the NHL, of Montréal, of smartphones and social media.  I'm sure the guys get lots of training and warnings in these areas.  If you want to party like a plebe and be unrecognized, be a welder.

But if you want to be an NHL star now, and make the big bucks, you'll get the spotlight on you.  That's the name of the game.  Ask Julian Edelman.

So NHL'ers nowadays may not live the Hugh Hefner lifestyle they thought they'd be entitled to, they may have to take more precautions than they'd like, but they can't refuse to accept their situation.  You can't be partying with a group of strangers in full confidence.

And yes, Nathan got a pass because he's more talented, and more valuable.  That's also a pro sports reality.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Fundaments of a losing streak

MIKE CONDON 25 saves 27 shots SV%: .926

Cory Schneider SA: 25 saves 27 shots SV%: .926

Canadiens 3, Devils 2 (SO)


CORY SCHNEIDER SA: 32 Saves: 30 SV%: .938

MIKE CONDON SA: 31 Saves: 28 SV%: .903

Canadiens 2, Devils 3 (OT)


SERGEI BOBROVSKY SA: 26 Saves: 24 SV%: .923

MIKE CONDON SA: 23 Saves: 22 SV%: .957

Canadiens 2, Blue Jackets 1


BRADEN HOLTBY SA: 35 Saves: 33 SV%: .943

MIKE CONDON SA: 19 Saves: 16 SV%: .842

Canadiens 2, Capitals 3


MIKE CONDON SA: 29 Saves: 26 SV%: .897

CAM WARD SA: 38 Saves: 36 SV%: .947

Canadiens 2, Hurricanes 3


TUUKKA RASK SA: 33 Saves: 32 SV%: .970

MIKE CONDON SA: 23 Saves: 20 SV%: .870

Canadiens 1, Bruins 3


I think these are the important stats that are overlooked or underdiscussed.

I’m not pointing fingers or expecting too much out of a rookie NHL goalie like Mike Condon, just stating a fact, that our goalie is not giving us good or great performances right now. If he makes one extra save every couple of games, we’re not going through this rough patch. The squib goals that he allows now and then aren’t of the Ken Dryden or Grant Fuhr flavour, they’re not forgivable given the circumstances. He’s giving them up when the game is very much on the line.

Our roster was built a certain way, and we’ve been running with rookie backup goalies for two seasons now, instead of a trusty vet or a whiz kid destined for great things. We saved a few bucks on the salary cap, but were exposed if an injury occurred to our star netminder.

In the NFL, there’s a debate on how to go about building your roster when it comes to the quarterback position. Some teams buy insurance with a talented veteran who can play three or four games and provide quality starts, who’ll ‘manage the game’. Others scrimp by getting someone off the scrap heap, or a young kid drafted late and trying to develop him during the season, and then cross their fingers that their starter remains healthy. They then can turn around and spend the extra dough they saved on a veteran offensive lineman to protect the star quarterback against injury, or to get depth in the defensive backfield.

This is filtered through the acknowledgement that there aren’t enough quality QB’s to give every team a dependable starter, there are maybe 12 or 15 teams who are comfortable with their starter and aren’t actively looking for an upgrade. So the rationale is that if your starter goes down, your season is shot anyway, you don’t have a chance, so why bother searching for a backup, build around your starter and keep your fingers crossed, some analysts advocate.

In the NHL though, that’s not really the case. The dropoff from a starter to a backup goalie is much smaller than is the case for NFL QB’s. You can invest in a quality backup at a very affordable price.

So the brain trust kind of rolled the dice when they decided to start the season with Mike Condon as the backup. He’s big and athletic and improving by leaps and bounds every season, but he still has a ways to go. He’d have been adequate as a backup getting 12-15 starts, but is now wilting under the workload, the pressure. He may return to form, but it might be wise to look for help, unless the brain trust is content to let the team work through this adversity.

In the meantime, as a fanbase, what we can do is not lose our marbles and start blaming Max Pacioretty and demean his captaincy, or assume that everything will be okay once Torrey Mitchell returns. Our team is playing a little tighter with Mike Condon allowing a deflating goal here and there. They’re not flying all over the ice with confidence, as they would if Carey was back there.


St. John's IceCaps 1, Rochester Americans 3

Notes on the IceCaps 3-1 loss to the Rochester Americans.

--Lots of callups in Montréal (Andrighetto, Thomas, Carr, Hudon), so as the RDS boys point out, lots of offence, lots of goal scoring missing from the IceCaps' roster.

--The positive is the return to action of Michaël Bournival for his first game since last spring, and of Jacob de la Rose after a few weeks due to a lower body injury.

--Right off the bat, the Amerks get two minor penalties in quick succession, but the IceCaps can't convert the opportunity.  For a long while, the powerplay is static, keeping the puck on the periphery.  Parent-club disease?

--Are the refs working hard to even up the chances?  Now the IceCaps are in danger, with two minors taken on two successive shifts by Michael McCarron.  Best scoring chance on the second penalty was actually by Jacob de la Rose on a shorthanded breakaway.

--Patrick Kaleta up to his old tricks, desperately trying to get back to the NHL, picks a fight with Josiah Didier.  I was hoping that he'd bitten off more than he could chew, since Josiah is a huge beast.  There was a picture of him at the golf course a few summers back and he's massive, more than is conveyed by just his height and weight measurements.

When he was drafted, Josiah was described as being really big and strong and mobile, but his stats didn't really bear that out, not the way that a Stéphane Morin or a Jamie Oleksiak is big.  And especially when you compared him to Colin Sullivan, who was drafted a couple rounds later.  Why was Mr. Sullivan described mostly as a great skater when he's only listed as being 5-10 pounds lighter at most?  Well, seeing Josiah in street clothes explained why, he's all chest and shoulders and traps. 

It's kind of like at the World Cup of Hockey in 1996, during training camp, getting to see the players up close.  Based on listings in yearbooks, and seeing them on TV, I got the sense that Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens were kind of the same size, roughly, with the former being a little more mobile and the latter playing a little tougher.  But again, seeing them in person, you realize how ten pounds on paper, if that number is to be believed, can make a tremendous difference in person.  Scott Niedermayer was all lean and angular, and Scott Stevens was just a tree trunk, as movable as a fire hydrant.  

--So yeah, I rubbed my hands in glee, hoping that Josiah would consume the former Sabre rat, but it was a clear decision for the bad guy.  Josiah took some jersey shoves/jabs early to instigate the fight, and once the gloves came off, Patrick Kaleta landed all the punches, a lot of them.  Luckily they were all to the helmet, he had Josiah all off balance and all turned around the whole way.  You could hear the sound of his knuckles hitting plastic the whole time, over the hushed crowd.

Some college players get to the pros and can fight naturally, I remember Kent Carlson was a sensation in the early eighties when he came to camp and wiped the floor with a few tough guys on other teams.  George Parros, John Scott, there's a long list of them who never fought in the NCAA, but picked up the trade and built a career in the pros.

So that's another facet Josiah needs to polish up in the AHL, if he wants a shot at the NHL.

--Lots of big and strong Canadiens weren't great fighters.  Craig Ludwig, Mark Hunter, Gilbert Delorme, we had great hope that they'd be purveyors of Justice, but they struggled in that area.

I remember one game against the Nordiques when Gilbert Delorme finally got his hands on Dale Hunter and got him to drop the gloves, I was ready for The Rapture.  That slimemold knew that his days were numbered with the 'style' of hockey he played and all the dirty deeds he did, so he was famous for holding on to his stick and slashing and crosschecking at anyone who tried to get him to fight.  But now we had him.  Gilbert was going to rebalance the Universe.  The Archangel Gabriel was readying to blow his horn.

Crushingly, Dale Hunter kind of clutched and grabbed and jabbed and uppercutted a couple and mucked and wrestled and basically won the fight, although I'll never admit it and fight you if you ever dare bring this up again in my presence, the nerve of you.  There's no way that disgusting little shrimp won the fight.

Later, we read in the papers how, after practice the next day, Chris Nilan took Gilbert Delorme aside and gave him some pointers, kind of like Brandon Prust did with Gally and Chucky and P.K., but with more urgency.  This was a national crisis.  We'd spent a first round pick on Gilbert, and he'd come with reports that he didn't fight much in the LHJMQ, he was just too strong, no one wanted to take him on.  Now he's not able to take care, finally and forever, of Dale Hunter, when given the chance?  Fire Ronald Caron!

--Seeing the Amerks roster in action, and looking at their scoring totals so far, a lot of my Sabres anxiety is quelled.  Sure, they picked up a lot of prospects recently in the draft, who all had great writeups and bios, but a few of them got traded away, a few more are not setting the AHL afire.  We may survive this yet.

--Impressed with the play of Jacob de la Rose.  Last season in Montréal, despite all the praise he got for his defensive play, I was left wanting more.  Tonight, he seems like one of the best IceCaps, showing real leadership.  His #20 seems to be everywhere on the ice, having an effect on the game, aside from scoring the first goal of the game.

--The balance righted somewhat in the second period.  Rochester, outshot 22 to 4 in the first, turned the table and outshot St. John's 15-11.  1-1 after 2 periods.

--Have to admit, I snoozed during the third period.  The telecast format is a little hard to enjoy, with Michel Lacroix and Norman Flynn a little hard on the ears, even though they try their best calling the game off a feed from a remote studio, instead of being there and being able to see the ice and play develop.

And let's talk about this feed.  Some really rough camera work, panning ahead or behind the play, zooming in at the wrong moment and making you miss the action.  Replays that just show the original shot in slow-mo.  The image, while better than the first couple of times RDS broadcast a game, is still far from the crystal clear picture we're used to these HD days.

--So I woke up when they announced the winning goal by Rochester.  Too bad, I thought we were headed to overtime there, that the IceCaps would continue their regulation undefeated streak at home.

Woe.  But I didn't rewind to see what I'd missed, I'd had enough.  I watched to the end, and saw the empty-net goal to seal it.

--Promising return to action by Michaël Bournival, didn't detect any hesitation or skittishness, he played with speed and energy, was dangerous on offence.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Game 30: Canadiens 2, Red Wings 3

The Canadiens seemed to be in good position to win a game, end a three-game losing streak, until they gave up two quick goals in the third and fell 3-2 to the Red Wings.

Nice start to the game, the first period had lots of flow, back and forth action.  We sometimes argue whether the NHL needs more scoring, but this opening frame shows that as long as the players can skate and generate breakouts, as long as the hooking and slashing can be limited, we can enjoy exciting hockey without needing lots of goals.  Which would normally come under these free-flowing conditions anyway.

The coaches may not appreciate the show as much as I did though, they must have picked up a few more grey hairs, seeing all these partial breaks and outright breakaways.

Which led to quite a few open looks for Detroit at the Canadiens net.  And I winced everytime, expecting the worst.  I don't think I'm being uncharitable, it's just that Dustin has had a few rough outings the last few times we saw him, we wondered if he was up to the job.

Ah, who'm I kidding, I wince when they shoot at Carey too.  Although maybe not with so much  body english, with so much vigor.

Speaking of vigor, good to see Brad Richards performing well, after being thought at the end of his rope in New York.  Always liked to see him skate, he's not a speedster or anything, just a really pleasant skating stride, and fun to watch with the puck.

Speaking of speedsters, that Darren Helm guy, wow.  Any chance he lands on waivers?  'Cause I'd take him aboard too.

Chances are slim though, after seeing him score the opening goal of the game, on another break.  Of which there were many again in the second period.  The pace slowed down somewhat, but there were still end-to-end rushes, lots of breaks, lots of defencemen overwhelmed by opponents and their speed.

Never fear though, the IceCaps come to the rescue again, with Sven Andrighetto scoring to even up the game.  Charles Hudon is another rookie who picked up a point in his first game, after Daniel Carr a couple games ago.

When I saw the fourth line, with Sven and Charles on the wings with Brian Flynn at centre, I wondered if the veteran talked to them and told them to play like they do in the AHL, to rely on each other and look for each other since they know each other, and not defer to him as the NHL regular.  Flynn is playing a strong game again tonight, giving the club as much as as it can expect out of him.

Dustin Tokarski made a Fleury-in-the-Cup-final-in-the-dying-seconds type save, throwing his entire upper body at an incoming puck/wide open side of the net.  I was prepared to say he did the job tonight, except that by the time the dust settled he'd let in 3 pucks on 29 shots.  Again, it's hard to fault him on any individual goal, but he needed to make one more save.

Or maybe, the Canadiens needed to score a couple more goals?  Pierre Houde spoke about how the game had the same fishtail ending as last night's against the Bruins.  I had a good feeling tonight, that if we kept at it eventually the dam would break, except it broke in our own end.

Some brain cramps from the defencemen didn't help.  Greg Pateryn will rue his failure to make a 'strong play' on his giveaway that led to the third goal, they'll show him that in the video room over and over.  His attempted pass or clear flubbed weakly off his backhand, while he should have boomed it off the boards off his forehand.

Of course, it's easy to say that when you're siting on your couch and you don't have two Red Wings on top of you committed to taking away your 'time and space'.

And P.K. Subban put the final nail in the coffin by shooting a puck in the stands with less than two minutes to go, earning a delay of game penalty and dashing any reasonable hope at a comeback.  P.K. could be excused by his strongest supporters, who'll argue a bad bounce, but, even with my vow to this season take it easy on him and enjoy him for who he is, I can't be lenient on this.

This is when he, as a leader, alternate captain and the highest-paid player on the team, has to bear down, focus.  This isn't a good time for an 'aw-shucks' screwup.  You have to think of the situation, and act accordingly.  This was going to be the last storming of the ramparts, the last shot at a win, and it was stillborn, because he again tried a risky play, trying to bank a puck high off the glass, instead of choosing a safer option.

So four losses in a row, with the team playing decently, all things considered, but injuries and cold streaks combining to halt our early-season momentum and making us come out on the short end of the squeakers.

As Pierre Houde said, it's encouraging that the kids from the AHL are chipping in and showing they aren't cowed by the opportunity, but now the veterans have to take a step forward and carry the load.

Canadiens divorce with Alex Semin is easier than the Oilers' with Mark Fayne.

The Canadiens made a clean break with Alex Semin when he cleared waivers and instead of accepting an assignment to St. John's, he chose to terminate his contract and sign with Magnitogorsk of the KHL.

In contrast, Edmonton currently has an anchor of a contract on its hand that it wishes it could dispose of as easily.

It’s easy to rag on the Oilers, but they have some fundamental problems in building a roster, due to their locale which lands them on most free agents’ no-fly list, and on most NHL players’ limited No Trade Clause list of teams they can’t be sent to.

Two summers ago, the Oilers targeted and landed two UFA’s, and kind of snapped their suspenders at this feat. They explained that their data showed these two players were undervalued and were poised for bigger and better things. They weren’t quite the belles of the ball, but rather under-the-radar free agents, second-tier types who they trumpeted were poised for a step forward. I remember a few articles pointing out how the Oilers’ (new) reliance on advanced stats had a lot to do with these acquisitions.

One of these players was Benoit Pouliot, a player we know quite well in Montréal, who’d just had a strong season on the Rangers’ third line. The other was Mark Fayne, a player I still know nothing about, I always have to catch myself not to write or say ‘Frayne’. No, that’s Trent Frayne, the sportswriter, I tell myself.

For both of these players, it was accepted that Edmonton had to overpay, go high on salary/term to get these guys to sign on July 1, rather than a more glitzy Original 6 or California destination.

Well, Mark Fayne just got put on waivers by the Oilers, who want to send him to the AHL.

There were a couple of comments on social media after Alex Semin was waived stating that Marc Bergevin made a mistake signing him in the first place.

I’ll repeat that it wasn’t a mistake, it was a low cost risk with a potential for a high return that didn’t pan out, and will now be no skin off our nose.

You want to talk about mistakes, talk about Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin and Ben Scrivens in the AHL, all on multi-year, mult-million dollar contracts.

In an article on Rick Dudley in Le Journal de Montréal, he described one of Marc Bergevin’s strengths as not being overwhelmed by the fear of making a mistake. He talks of other GM’s who are paralyzed by indecision and can’t pull the trigger on trades.

In this light, I’ll maintain that to call the acquisitions of Alex Semin and Zack Kassian, which were made at a low cost and are easy to get out of, mistakes is the wrong word to choose, it has the wrong connotation.

A mistake isn’t putting a quarter in the slot machine and not hitting the jackpot. You expected not to win the jackpot, you can carry on without it. A mistake is taking the down payment on your first house to the blackjack table and losing it all.

I think of either of these acquisitions as a Hail Mary attempt that falls incomplete. It would have been awesome if it connected, but there’s almost no risk if it doesn’t. No big deal, you get the ball back on your next down and decide what you want to do. You always have the safe option of punting.

It’s not a mistake like fumbling the ball away, or mismanaging a fourth-down situation when you should have gone for the first down but chose to kick the field goal, and see the other team drain the clock on its next possession.

The Oilers though, it does look like they just fumbled inside their own 20 again.

Game 29: Canadiens 1, Bruins 3

Observations on tonight's 3-1 loss to the Bruins.

--Dave Randorf and, ugh, Gary Galley on the call.

--Sven Andrighetto on a great backcheck to contain Brad Marchand very early in the game, nullifying what could have been a dangerous breakout for the Bruins.

Michel Therrien, in his press conference discussing Alex Semin, talked about how his addition to the lineup at least allowed some youngsters to spend another couple of months in the AHL polishing their game.  Sven Andrighetto had perhaps the best performance of a bleak season overall for the Bulldogs in 2013-14, but didn't progress as expected last year, even being a healthy scratch a couple of times, with head coach Sylvain Lefebvre speaking of him needing to be more consistent.

Those extra couple of months, the fact that he wasn't handed an NHL job after an up-and-down season last year, and his strong start to the season in St. John's, may have shone through in that attention to detail and effort on defence.

--The scariest thing about Zdeno Chara these days is his physiognomy, and for Bruins fans, the turnover machine he has become.

--I hate the phrase 'good goal'.  It's unnecessary.  Why not say a 'goal' if it's legitimate, and not a 'goal' if it's not scored legally.

--Gary Galley speaking of Jeff Petry and Alexei Emelin playing on their off side for a sequence on one shift as if it's customary, by design, instead of something that happened during that specific shift, two partners switching sides because of the way play developed.

So obviously Hab-hater Gary Galley didn't do any preparation for the game, doesn't know that there are three established, stable defencemen on each side, and they don't play on their off-side, like Sergei Gonchar did last season, by choice, by preference.

--Dennis Seidenberg giving Tomas Plekanec a brazen crosscheck late in the period, well after Tomas had released a shot on net.  No possible explanation why that wasn't a crosscheck or interference penalty, except for Daddy Campbell explaining that the NHL"sells hate".

--What's more despicable, Brad Marchand's guilty scan around the ice to see if any refs saw his two-handed whack at P.K. Subban, or P.K.'s attempt to embellish the severity of the infraction?  I think the answer is obvious, but Don Cherry would disagree with me on what's plaguing the league.

--Adam McQuaid selling hate on Daniel Carr well after a whistle, being very brave against a player fifty pounds lighter than he is.

--Bruins looking around in disbelief when they're whistled for a penalty.  Shocked.  C'mon boys, it's in your DNA, that's what you Boston brutes do, is break the rules constantly.  Daddy Campbell can't give you a Get Out of Jail Free card for every situation.

--Lars Eller contributing to the cause, to the Greater Good by dishing out a hard hit on David Krejci.  Clean but effective, knocking him off the puck and maybe out of the game.

Maybe Lars is smarter than I am, concentrating on their frontline players, instead of worrying about the dregs like McQuaid or Dan Carcillo.

--Torey Krug is the poster boy for facilitated aggression, a yappy little dog who agitates and trusts that the goons on his team will prevent his assassination.

--I may have snorted dismissively when the Canadiens snapped up Paul Byron on waivers, after checking his measurables on HockeyDB, but I give, I give...  Heck of a good young player.  I appreciate him beyond the grudging "He's fitting well on the team" and "He's having a good start" I was willing to concede at first.  I like the kid outright, without need for context and qualifiers.

--Claude Julien stalking off the ice at the end of the second, irked.  Complaining about something.

--I often marvel at how P.K. and Andrei Markov especially are magicians with the puck, how they can walk the blue line with it, let a forechecker draw ever closer, sucker them in before dishing off to a teammate.  Andrei will feint this way and that, look at one teammate and target him with a pass on the forehand, get his shadower to lean that way, and then dish off on the backhand through his skates.

On the shorthanded goal, Jeff Petry got bit, being at a standstill and having his desperate pass cut off by Zdeno Chara.  I guess you get burned sometimes.

--And Loui Eriksson might have had the slowest breakaway I've ever seen.  Good job by him protecting the puck.

--Mike Condon has to make at least one of those two saves.

--It's ugly when Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara rejoice together.

--Beating the Bruins isn't so easy when Tuukka Rask doesn't implode spontaneously.

--I'm thinking Charles Hudon gets in the game tomorrow, if scoring is becoming an issue?

Monday, 7 December 2015

Ron Rivera, Michel Therrien on concussions and a coach's integrity.

Ron Rivera, the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, channeling Michel Therrien in a very similar incident with the press corps, passionately defended himself and warned them not to question his integrity following questions around Cam Newton's apparent concussion symptoms.

What both Mr. Rivera and Mr. Therrien seem to not understand is that no one is insulting them, calling them a bad person or anything, but rather they are questioning whether they are fully cognizant of their league's concussion protocol, and whether their respective leagues trumpet the high standard of care and caution they uphold, but then fall glaringly short sometimes.

In Michel Therrien's case, what the journos were questioning was why Nathan Beaulieu, after being clearly, evidently staggered by a punch during a fight, to the point that he lost his balance and his knees were rubbery, was allowed to sit in the penalty box and be subjected to the bright lights and deafening screechy rock music of the New Forum, instead of the much-ballyhooed Quiet Room.  The coach misunderstood the question and took offence, hammering the fact that he doesn't make the decisions, the doctors do, that what they say goes.  And that wasn't the issue being investigated by the press corps, it was strictly about Nathan being in the penalty box after head trauma and symptoms of a possible concussion, when he should have been in the quiet room.

What seems clear though is that Michel Therrien doesn't understand the purpose of the Quiet Room, how the harsh lights and loud noises of the rink can worsen the symptoms of an injury, and make diagnosis problematic, with his response that "There's not a lot of difference between sitting down in the penalty box and sitting in the rocking chair back there."  It's an indication of an old-school coach who thinks athletes today are a little pampered compared to when he used to play.

For Ron Rivera yesterday, the journos were after the same thing, trying to clear up how things fell through the cracks, how Cam Newton was allowed to play after being visibly staggered following a helmet-to-helmet hit, how come the medics on the sidelines, the on-field officials, the concussion spotters in the press gallery, no one intervened and made him get examined.

Again, although I hold Ron Rivera in high esteem, from his days at Cal and of the '86 Super Bowl Bears, and as an Assistant Coach with the Chargers, I question whether he has a full grasp of the concussion mechanism.  When he was quizzed about why no one on his team saw that Cam was in trouble, he took it personally, as if he was being insulted, defending himself that from his vantage point on the sidelines, he couldn't see what happened.

And he's missing the point.  After the Kris Dielman incident, NFL medical personnel were enjoined to always have at least one person surveying the field of play, to not have everyone focusing on taping ankles and massaging cramps, and miss one of their players in apparent distress on the field.  This measure, along with referees empowered to call for a medical timeout if, in their judgment, a player needed immediate attention, was supposed to prevent incidents where players are out on their feet but continue to play.  Shortly after, the concussion spotters were added to mix, so that nothing would get missed.

Somehow Cam Newton's symptoms were not caught by any of these safety checks.  And that's what the journalists were asking of Ron Rivera, who I have to guess through ignorance of the protocol assumed they were questioning his integrity, and whether he'd forced Cam to play over the objections of the team docs, which is entirely not what they were getting at.

So there's still a lot of work to do, if the coaches are still not quite up to speed on the nuts and bolts, never mind buffoon owners like the Bengals' Mike Brown.

Canadiens waive Alex Semin.

So the hammer has come down, and the Canadiens have waived Alex Semin.  I don't think it's so that they can send him to the IceCaps either.

I'm always willing to give a guy a chance, wasn't sore at all with the Alex Semin signing and his slow start.  At the price he cost the organization, I was willing to experiment, wait for him to get in gear, to adapt to our system and our pace, to gel with his teammates, even if it doesn't turn out to be Lars and Alex Galchenyuk.

The instant beneficial effect that Sven Andrighetto had on that line tempered that feeling somewhat.  It wasn't just a case of two players trying to find their way in a new position, and Alex Semin getting the short end of the stick while they figured it out.  It really was Alex being an anchor on his two younger linemates, a square peg in a round hole team.

I was intrigued and positively inclined when Marc Bergevin announced the signing, so I won't back away from that now.  I thought if he got his head screwed on straight, with the support of a better team dynamic and a few fellow Russians, and with a strong coaching staff, he could produce, contribute.  A twenty goal season was a realistic aspiration, I thought.  If he was healthy and fit, the talent would shine through.

It didn't happen soon enough is the best spin we can put on this.  As Michel Therrien said after the first game in 2013, "On a pas l'temps d'niaiser".  There's no time to mess around.  If we had a lot of history with Alex, an investment, emotional or otherwise, we'd be tempted as fans to think we should stick this out, give the guy more rope.  Mollycoddle away at him.  But we have a darn Cup to win, we're not building a culture like the Sabres are.

This might be a case of a guy who didn't quite get it.  The RDS guys who cover the team and are in contact with the actors were getting more snide by the week about his chances to make it, about his value to the team.  The pivotal point may have been when he was a healthy scratch for nine games or so, drew back into the lineup, then missed the optional skate either that day or the next.  That raised eyebrows.  'It wasn't really optional for you Alex', seemed to be the feeling around the team.

So Marc Bergevin, getting some strong performances from Paul Byron and the yoots from St. John's, decided to cut the cord, and we can't really blame him.  And I don't really see St. John's as a likely landing spot if he clears waivers.  There's no way the GM will want to expose his prospects to what could degenerate into a toxic situation.  If he clears waivers, I expect they'll come to some agreement where he finds his way to Europe.

And I wouldn't be shocked if he was claimed by another team, again with the understanding that he can be had essentially for free.  Would Alex Ovechkin militate for his return?  Would Barry Trotz stand for that?  How about the Ducks, could they put him on left wing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry?  They've been looking for a left winger for those two forever, famously dealing for Jiri Sekac in the hope there'd be a 'click'.

How about one of the bottom feeders?  Would the Oilers, thinking they have nothing to lose, take a flyer on a veteran and send a youngster back to the AHL where he belongs?  Another team thinking that maybe he was a poor fit for the system in Montréal, but maybe would be better in theirs?

So I don't expect that he'll ever play again in the NHL, but there's a slim chance that the quest for goal scoring will spur a team to give him another final chance.  More likely though, he's taken the Andrei Kostitsyn Express to the KHL.

Dean Spanos, partnering with the Raiders, robbing me of my team.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Brandon Prust spears Brad Marchand in the groin. Cue the applause.

Now's when my elastic ethics and retractable sense of moral outrage serves me well, when Brandon Prust spears Brad Marchand right in the nuts.

Attaboy Prusty!  That hideous rat had it coming, if not for a specific incident in this game (I didn't watch), for the entirety of his oeuvre.

And spare me the howls from Jackass Edwards, and the calls for further discipline.  Former Bruin and League protégé Milan Lucic did it not once, not twice, but thrice in a couple of weeks, in three separate games, against Alexei Emelin and Danny DeKeyser, and it was explained away as highjinks and love taps, not 'real' spearing.  Despite the fact that there's not this grey area to be found in the rulebook, spearing is strictly forbidden, even an attempt or simulated spearing, it's crystal clear.

Rule 62 – Spearing

62.1 Spearing - Spearing shall mean stabbing an opponent with the point
of the stick blade, whether contact is made or not.

62.2 Double-minor Penalty - A double-minor penalty will be imposed on a
player who spears an opponent and does not make contact.

62.3 Major Penalty - A major penalty shall be imposed on a player who
spears an opponent (see 62.5).

62.4 Match Penalty - A match penalty shall be imposed on a player who
injures an opponent as a result of a spear.

62.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - Whenever a major penalty is assessed
for spearing, a game misconduct penalty must also be imposed.

62.6 Fines and Suspensions - There are no specified fines or
suspensions for spearing, however, supplementary discipline can be
applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

So what's good for the goose is good for gander, Colin Campbell.  Your Bruins skated on this before, Brandon should also.  If he had wanted to really spear Mr. Marchand, he would have buried the blade of his stick right to the shaft, the Bruin would have been picking hockey tape out of his colon after the game.

I'll be watching this episode very closely, and expecting that nothing befall Brandon, since Big Bad Milan got away with it, and since Brandon "isn't that type of player", he didn't 'mean' to spear Brad in the nuts.  It's something that happens in the heat of the moment.  Brandon's a proud, emotional guy, he competes really hard.  Nothing more.

(EDITED):  Brad Marchand, cornered in by his own paint-job, makes a case for Brandon Prust spearing Brad Marchand in the nuts.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Jarred Tinordi views conditioning stint in a positive light.

Here's a really good article in La Presse, which answers a few questions I've had about Jarred Tinordi's state of mind these days.

A few quotes from Jarred, re-translated back into English:
«J'essaie de jouer à un rythme élevé. Je passe la rondelle dès que je vois une ouverture. Ce sont des choses qui vont m'aider dans la Ligue nationale. Je ne dois pas en faire trop. Je dois jouer ici comme je le ferais dans la LNH», a-t-il confié à La Presse, dans un corridor de l'aréna.
"I'm trying to play at a high pace.  I pass the puck as soon as I see an opening.  These are things which will help me in the NHL.  I can't try to do too much.  I have to play here as a I would in the NHL."

From Sylvain Lefebvre, head coach of the IceCaps:
«Dans la LNH, tu dois passer la rondelle plus rapidement, a rappelé son entraîneur-chef, Sylvain Lefebvre. Il a travaillé là-dessus, il a fait des jeux simples. Il a aussi joué physiquement, a bien utilisé son bâton, a bloqué des tirs en désavantage numérique. Il a fait de bonnes choses. Tu vois que sa confiance s'améliore d'une présence à l'autre.»

"In the NHL, you have to pass the puck quickly.  Hes worked on that, hes made simple plays.  He's played physically, used his stick well, he's blocked shots on the penalty kill.  He's done good things.  You can see his confidence growing from one shift to the next."

Jarred again:
«Oui, j'en entends parler, mais je n'y peux rien, a reconnu l'Américain. Je me concentre sur mon travail, surtout ces temps-ci, je me remets en forme. Je dois montrer aux dirigeants du Canadien que je peux jouer dans la LNH, et ensuite, ils prendront la décision qui leur convient.

«Je suis bien conscient de ma situation: je suis un jeune qui n'a pas joué cette saison. Évidemment, les rumeurs vont se propager. Mais je n'ai jamais voulu quitter Montréal, j'ai toujours voulu jouer ici. J'aime l'équipe, la ville et les partisans.»

Malgré cette déclaration d'amour envers le Canadien, croit-il que son avenir passe toujours par Montréal?

«Je veux que mon avenir soit à Montréal et je travaille fort pour y rester! Évidemment, en raison des chiffres, c'est difficile, car il y a plusieurs bons défenseurs, il y a de la profondeur. C'est le prix à payer quand tu appartiens à une aussi bonne organisation. En attendant, je veux juste m'améliorer, et si je suis rappelé, je vais travailler fort. Sinon, je m'adapterai à la situation.»

"I hear the rumours, but that's not something I control.  I'm concentrating on my job, especially these days, I'm getting back in game shape.  I have to show to management that I can play in the NHL, and theyll make the decisions.

"I aware of my situation: I'm a young player who hasn't played this season.  Obviously there will be rumours.  But I've never asked to leave Montréal, I always wanted to play here.  I like the team, the city, the fans.

"I want my future to be in Montréal and I'm working hard to stay.  Obviously, it's a numbers game, it's difficult since there are a few good defencemen, there's a lot of depth.  It's the price you pay when you belong to a good organization.  In the meantime, I just want to improve, and if I get the nod, I'll work hard.  If not, I'll adjust to the situation."

About his father not attending the Dad trip recently, Jarred laughs it off, and says his father had a doctor's appointment that week and couldn't attend.

So outwardly at least, Jarred seems to be in the right headspace, to be taking his hurdles in stride, which is great, great news.

Game 28: Canadiens 2, Hurricanes 3

Notes on the Canadiens' 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes.

--Paul Byron not going for the easy bodycheck but rather the puck against Ron Hainsey in the first period, surprising the heck out of him.  The Carolina defender had the puck behind his goal line and a second to prepare for an onrushing Canadien.  He turned his back to him to protect the puck and brace for the bodycheck, but instead of bruinsing him Paul skirted between him and the back of the net, and attacked the puck.

We've talked before about how Michel Therrien advises his troops not to search for the big hit, the huge bodycheck, that those will happen organically during the game.  Instead he wants his players to focus on the puck, on getting it and turning the play from defence to offence.  Paul Byron did that on that play.

--Good save by Mike Condon on Justin Faulk in the first, moved to his right to block it easily, à la Carey Price.  I've been fretting, with Carey absent, of the increasing number of iffy goals Mike has been allowing, and I should focus on his strong plays and good saves at least as much as I do those softies that squeak through.

--Max Pacioretty racing in on Cam Ward, bowling over Jacob Slavin à la Erik Cole.  Good to see Max using his strength on the rush along with his speed.

--What were John Michael Liles and Brett Pesce doing leaving Sven Andrighetto unattended in front of the net?  It was off a faceoff too, a couple of seconds after a set play, not as a result of a scrambly free-for-all.  The puck was dropped, and both guys failed to cover the front of the net, even as Sven headed there.

There's open, there's wide-open, and then there's what the 'Canes defencemen perpetrated on this play.

--Paul Byron wearing number 41 is appropriate, it fits.  When I see number 41, my brain spits out "Brent Gilchrist!", and that's roughly the same type of player as the incumbent #41, an undersized Bottom 6 forward who'll pot timely goals.

Compared to Devante Smith-Pelly, who wears #21 while my brain screams "JarvisCarbonneau!" and experiences cognitive dissonance, I can totally deal with Paul Byron with le quarante-et-un.

--John Bartlett and Jason York showed three instances of Mike Condon being cavalier with his puck handling, the third leading to Eric Staal's disallowed goal.  Mike, keep it simple, slide the puck to your open d-man.  If you have any doubt, freeze it and let's get set up again.  Don't try to get too fancy, you're not Mike Smith out there.

--P.K. Subban cancelling out an onrushing Elias Lindholm with a strong bodycheck along the boards.  Nothing fancy, no bee-sting with mustard on it, just a strong safe play that neutered a Carolina rush and got the puck going the other way.  Nice job P.K.

--With 43 (Carr) and 42 (Andrighetto) bagging goals so far, it's inevitable that 41 (Byron) will be next.

--Galchenyuk and Andrighetto out for a faceoff in the offensive zone with Max Pacioretty instead of Lars Eller on left wing.  Sure enough, Alex gets thrown out of the faceoff circle, and Max is forced to take the draw and loses it.  Lars would have come in handy on that one.

--Just as I was thinking I haven't seen Tom Gilbert much tonight, I should focus in on him, he trips Eric Staal and takes a penalty.  Seconds into the powerplay, Jeff Skinner scores his second goal and the Hurricanes take the 3-2 lead.

--The reunited Fleischmann-Desharnais-Weise line globetrottering the Hurricanes for a long, long shift, with many nifty passes and plays, and good shots on net, good chances, but not striking oil.

--My sense of the game is that the Canadiens felt the game was theirs, it would come to them in due time, while the Carolina skaters slowly gained confidence as it progressed and started believing they had a chance.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Game 26: Canadiens 2, Blue Jackets 1

The Canadiens beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 tonight, diffusing the bad vibes after a disappointing loss to the Devils on Saturday.

The game had its controversial moments, mostly centred on Nick Foligno's flagrant knee-on-knee on Tomas Fleischmann, and Alexei Emelin's major and game misconduct penalties which were debatable.

About the latter, I’m not against the NHL cracking down on obstruction, hampering the efforts of the slow guys who can’t get there before the puck leaves. The NFL manages to police that, you can’t hit the QB once he releases the ball, or the WR before the ball gets there, it’s pretty cut and dried, and overall it’s managed effectively, and errs on the side of safety.

But the NHL is all bound up in its ‘tradition’ of toughness, it’s all campbellized, and they view the whole finishing-your-check issue as a moral, ethical, existential quandary, instead of being decisive and realizing that forbidding it will favour the Sidney Crosbys over the Alexei Emelins and the Brandon Dubinskys, it will produce more goals, which they claim they want.

And yeah, how a crosscheck in the back of a player, one that was aimed shoulder-high and unfortunately slipped higher if the perpetrator is to be believed, and which so frustrated him that he just had to let off some steam and deliver another crosscheck in the back of his now prone target, hard enough to break the shaft of his stick, how that is conceivably within the bounds of acceptability, says everything we need to know about the NHL with its band of nincompoops running the show, led by a Napoleon-complexed frustrated basketball fan.

About the butchered call on the Brandon Dubinsky knee-on-knee, I’ll say it again, a Television Match Official like seen at the Rugby World Cup would have made short work of this mess. I don’t fault referees for missing plays, for not seeing infractions, but I can’t accept that the fact of ‘not seeing’ determines so much that follows, when it’s unnecessary in this day and age. It’s not like this is the ’40’s, and we’re still using chain-link fencing over the endboards, and the only hope for replay is a half-dozen photogs with flashbulbs and a trip to the darkroom followed by 12 hours of waiting and crossing your fingers.

In this sequence of events, the TMO would have buzzed down to the hapless, overmatched on-ice referee and said, over their two-way radio link, “I have a sequence to replay for you, possible knee-on-knee by 71 white”. Both teams would have heard this over the P.A. system in the rink, as well as the fans, and the audience at home.

So everyone would have held off, watched the same video on the same screens in the rink, it would have been plain that Nick Foligno is a P.O.S. who committed to a face-to-face check that never works and always leads to the target veering away, and a knee-on-knee. Because the NHL tolerates them, there’s no repercussion, no deterrence, so the perpetrator would rather blow out his opponent’s knee than let him skate by unimpeded, and have to face his coach after.

But in my world, Nick Foligno is thrown out of the game for attempt to injure, it’s a strict liability issue, nobody cares about intent or whether it was a reflex. Nobody considers if he’s ‘that kind of player’. Or whether he’d send a text to his victim in hospital, to reach out, because this was such an unfortunate accident.

No, he’s out of the game, because he deserves to be tossed, and because we have an easy way to determine that he’s a moron, the technology is there, we don’t need to shrug and wring our hands that the ref ‘missed it’. The cameras didn’t, and we can use them, since you crowned me as your Commissioner.

And Nathan Beaulieu had no need to try to exact some street justice, because of the myopic refs and buffoonish campbells, we got the call right. No quiet room time for Nathan. And no need for the refs to bend over backwards and pretend, fully knowing they blew the call, that Nate didn’t instigate this fight, because they blew the call.

But Gary Bettman is too busy trying to foist a baloney ad on a Maple Leaf jersey to worry about the state of the game, or brain injuries to the players he professes to love.

And Michel Therrien is showing a glaring lack of understanding, or at least a lack of candor in his press conference while being grilled about Nathan’s wobbly knees. And I wouldn’t mind so much, if the Canadiens hadn’t butchered the Dale Weise concussion a couple of seasons ago in the playoffs, and if the coach and Marc Bergevin hadn’t been so ham-handed and defensive in their responses back then too.

I think that they both try to do their best, but they don’t understand the basics about concussions, how they happen, how they can best be treated and their after-effects minimized.

When asked why the Canadiens didn’t immediately initiate the concussion protocol when he seemed woozy after his brief fight with Nick Foligno, he snorted, derisively stating that “there’s not much difference between sitting down in the quiet room and sitting in the penalty box.” Which is completely wrong. The whole point of the immediate consultation in the quiet room is to better assess the player shortly after the trauma, and to possibly reduce the after-effects by limiting exposure to noise and bright lights, among other harmful stimuli.

If I know this as a casual fan, from reading a few articles, Michel Therrien, as a professional hockey coach who should be concerned with his players’ well-being, should know as much also, if not more. He shouldn’t be that confused or outright mistaken on the basics.

P.K. said that he wasn’t surprised to see Nate out on the ice afterwards, since ‘he seemed fine’. But that’s not the baseline, the standard, that a player look fine before he be sent out there, that’s actually what the concussion protocol guards against, that players be sent out in that condition. Generations of football players were fine, played games in a mental fog, and are now coming down with CTE.

Every guideline I’ve read states that when a player exhibits symptoms like lack of balance, confusion, blacking out, he has suffered a concussion, by definition, and should be taken out of the game or the competition. The diagnosis is not dependent on being examined by a doctor and feeling fine. The objective criteria, the behavioural symptoms, those are the deciding factors, not a player seeming fine. But maybe the internet is wrong.

The only factor that reduced my anxiety level is that Nate took one ‘on the button’, rather than bouncing his head off a knee or the ice. If my hazy physiology and boxing knowledge are to be trusted, those right-on-the-chin K.O.’s aren’t caused by the brain smashing against the skull, but by the jaw being pushed back and hitting some ganglia behind it, which ‘short-circuits’ the brain. So while there was a K.O., maybe there wasn’t a concussion, a brain injury.

The panel on L’Antichambre tried to explain away Michel Therrien’s actions by saying he listens to his doctors and doesn’t interfere in their decision-making, that he relies on them to tell him if a player is okay to continue. That’s a fair statement to make, but I’d feel a lot more confident if the Head Coach was actively aware and trained on this issue, and erred on the side of caution when he saw one of his players get his bell runged.