Sunday, 20 April 2014

'14 Playoffs Game 3: Canadiens 3, Lightning 2

I don't want to characterize the Canadiens 3-2 win in Game 3 of the series as lucky, but let's allow that it's inconclusive, gracieuseté of Tampa goalie Anders Lindback.  The Canadiens played well, but benefited from an early goal by René Bourque on which the Lightning goalie was not sharp.

From there, the Canadiens essentially battled the Lightning to a draw, scoring two more goals to match Tampa's two, and being favoured by referee decisions that in the past have tended to go against our boys.  Especially when playing against the Bruins or the Leafs, or when Chris Lee or Tim Peel are in the building.  In such a tight game, lucky bounces could go either way, a few posts were struck by either side.

It remains for Tampa coach Jon Cooper to bemoan the refereeing without falling afoul of NHL discipline.  Because in the NHL, you can pitchfork someone in the nuts, with malice and forethought, and do so repeatedly, with little consequence, but beware calling into question the rulemaking or refereeing.  That the league doesn't take kindly to.

René Bourque was bitten by a Bizarro-world tsetse fly which gave him anti-sleeping sickness, or something like that.  He's energized, playing with a purpose, using his size and speed.  He acts like he wants the puck and knows where he's going with it, whereas for much of the season he hesitated and fumbled.  Gaston Therrien wondered on l'Antichambre whether General Manager Marc Bergevin had made up his mind to unload him during the off-season but might now be reconsidering.  It's only three games, but they offer a glimpse of what René can be, of what has always been envisioned in his case.

Apparently Marc Bergevin told him around the trade deadline that he wasn't going to trade him because he didn't want him to land somewhere else and immediately pot twenty goals.  But even if he wasn't so productive right now, I kind of think that Marc Bergevin's hands are tied, seeing as René's trade value was so low, it didn't make sense to just dump him for no return, unless there were character issues, which has never been a problem for the big winger.  By all accounts he's not a problem with the coaches or his teammates, he's well-liked.

So as an alternative, it's not unlikely that the Canadiens might have held on to René as a virtual penny stock, a longshot who could pay off huge.  A $3.3M cap hit is not inconsiderable, and Marc Bergevin has proven to be decisive, in dealing with Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle and Erik Cole, for example, but he might have wanted/been forced to stand pat in this case, and hope it turns out.  We can hope that René has turned a corner, his confidence has returned, any lingering effects from his concussion last season have dissipated, and he's able to produce in a manner commensurate with his skill and potential for the remainder of his contract.

His linemate, centre Lars Eller, may be feeding off René's surge, he also seems more focused, driven, taking a couple of good shots with the puck today, and we didn't see any of his puckhandling exhibitions that take the puck away from the slot to the periphery.  Together with Brian Gionta, they're forming a reliable, effective second/third line that Michel Therrien can ice in most situations.

It's amazing how much two players rounding into form can change a lineup.  We worried about secondary scoring at the onset of the playoffs, and looked at the lineup and wondered who was going to contribute beyond the Desharnais trio.  Having René Bourque and Lars Eller rolling, suddenly, is having the effect of adding two more effective forwards at the trade deadline.

P.K. played a solid game, and was rewarded with lots of ice along with his partner Josh Gorges.  He kept things simple, played hard, and turned it on at an opportune moment, when he stickhandled around the Lightning zone when playing 4-on-4, confusing their defensive coverage and setting up Brendan Gallagher's goal.  Creating a goal out of thin air, to give his team the lead, this is the P.K. Subban who is invaluable to our organization.  P.K. picked up two assists, and the second star of the night for his troubles.

So it's Jon Cooper's job now to try to turn the tide, to jumpstart his team to eke out at least one win, and to do so another way than the clumsy, snide remark from earlier in the day when he alluded to the Canadiens' history recently when jumping out to a 2-0 series lead.  The thing is, he didn't have the courage to let fly, he kind of mumbled and butchered the statement, and his sly kid look didn't wear well.  And it blew up in his face anyway.  He looked petulant and at a loss for word during his post-game presser.

The Canadiens are sitting pretty, clearly bound for the second round, but I worry.  As much as we repeat to each other that playoff hockey is a different beast, that the refs will let things slide, it's been taken to a shocking extent so far.

The Milan Lucic pitchfork to the groin.  Everything that Duncan Keith has been lowlighted doing with his stick against the Blues, especially with the mindless goonery he's demonstrated in the past, notably against the Sedin brothers as a backdrop.  Brent Seabrook's charge against David Backes, which is noteworthy only because the Blues' captain was knocked out, not because it was particularly egregious, given the tolerance shown repeatedly by refs in similar instances of players 'finishing their checks'.  Everything that's been happening between the Sharks and the Kings, which is more of a war of attrition than a hockey series.  Brandon Dubinsky's calculated, blatant muggings of Sidney Crosby, under the indulgent nose of the referees.

And talking heads wring their hands and speak about this as if it's an intractable, pervasive problem, something that's bigger than we are, that has so many causes and so few easy solutions that we feel powerless.  Which it isn't.  All that has to happen is for the league to realize that Sidney Crosby is a treasure who must be allowed to thrive, as opposed to torn down.  All that has to happen is for the refs to call the penalties as they happen.  You see a slash, call it.  You see a double-check, don't fret about the repercussions of a penalty during the playoffs, call the penalty.  Duncan Keith threatening Vladimir Tarasenko with his stick before a faceoff?  Misconduct his ass off the ice.

Milan Lucic not getting suspended because no one from the Department of Player Safety thought to call him after his braindead spear of Alexei Emelin a couple weeks back, which make him, technically, a first-time offender?  Gimme a frigging break.  Use your power to discipline players, point out the fact that it's not a 'hockey play' perpetrated in the heat of battle, as the hit on David Backes' was, but rather a deliberate attempt to hurt or injure.  It's an attack on the fabric of the game itself, as intolerable as Sean Avery's antics against Martin Brodeur a few years back.

Show some decisiveness.  Protect your game.  Convince fearful mothers that their precious little boys and girls will be safe taking up the sport of hockey.  The goonery will rapidly be stamped out.

Earlier in the day, I tuned in to the Bruins-Red Wings game, hoping for good news, but found that the bad guys were already leading 2-0.  As I vacillated between watching this game or enjoying the sunshine outdoors, a play developed in which Pavel Datsyuk raced to the Boston net, checked closely by Designated Rat Brad Marchand.  They jostled as they came to a stop, wrestling with their sticks, and Mr. Datsyuk got the better of his adversary, dumping him to the ground.  The ref blew his whistle, the play over.  Brad Marchand got up, skated to Pavel Datsyuk, and, as the ref watched them, and only them from two metres away, crosschecked Mr. Datsyuk a few times, violently.  And the referee kept watching.  He didn't see an infraction in this.  A scrum ensued, lots of milling around, and the ref continued watching.

No penalty was called by the apparently myopic ref.  Either that or he's getting a  swimming pool put in this summer at his house by noted contractor and philanthropist Jeremy Jacobs.

I turned off the TV and went outside.

CBC should think of spoiler-proofing its HNIC on-demand menu

I had the Blue Jackets-Penguins game on PVR, but I’m more of a casual fan with that one obviously, so I didn’t think to allow for overtime. So after the third, with my recording running out, and being too late to catch up to the live game, I tell myself maybe I can watch the overtime on on their ‘On Demand’ service.

Now, I was as careful as I could to not see a score or news headline telling me who won, shielding my screen with my hand to block out any potential spoilers. I keep clicking until I get to the menu screen, where you can choose which game you want to watch. Here is the way they labeled the game:

Columbus 4 at Pittsburgh 3 (2OT)

Wouldn’t it make sense, for the first 24 hours maybe, to title the game as “Game 2″ or with the date or something?

There’s a serious disconnect between the administrators of that site and the goals and needs of their potential clients. Which I am no longer,since now that I know the score, I’ll just watch the highlights on SportsCentre.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Hockey Night in Canada invites Nazem Kadri as guest host, turns its back on all Canadian hockey fans outside Toronto

A thought about the revolting decision of Hockey Night in Canada to have Nazem Kadri sitting in on their panel tomorrow night. Why they would ask that cheating dirty punk to be a part of their show demonstrates how far out of touch they are, how they think their market consists of Toronto and the irrelevant boonies.

Why not a Jet like Andrew Ladd or a Canuck like Kevin Bieksa, a Senator like Chris Phillips? Why does it have to be a frigging Leaf, like we don’t already suffer from overexposure on those guys?

Is it the Team Canada at the World Championships angle? Like I said, there are other Canadian boys out there who’ll be on that team and who we barely ever hear from on HNIC or TSN. Mark Giordano had a tremendous season for the gutty Flames, yet we don’t know anything about him. Let’s get him in the studio.

Do you want to dissect the soap opera that was the Leafs this season? Well how about a young Oiler, a Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, they’re camera-friendly and well-spoken, and can touch on the tumult at Northlands this winter, if it’s the drama you’re after.

But no, again with the Nazem Kadri, I bet Don Cherry is already salivating.

HNIC is circling the drain, but is determined to go down in a blaze of suckiness, and wrap itself in the most mediocre hockey team in the nation, resolute to abdicate its role as a national broadcaster.

Milan Lucic is an irredeemable thug, who epitomizes the dirty Bruins' 'style'.

Milan Lucic is a craven thug, who runs amok in the National Hockey League because of incompetent refereeing, and an impotent Department of Player Safety.  The League is run by former thugs such as Colin Campbell, and by an ignorant troll who knows spreadsheets more than he does hockey.  The league is proselytized by blood-thirsty former goons such as Mike Milbury, P.J. Stock and Don Cherry, who equivocate and dissemble, and trumpet a 'style' of play that validates their shameful playing careers.

So what did he do now, our black-and-diarrhea-yellow-clad orangutan?  He did this.

Irked at having been cleanly bodychecked by Danny Dekeyser, he responded in a dirty, underhanded way, spearing him from behind in the groin.  Which is shocking, but not really surprising, seeing as he already pulled the same dirty deed on Alexei Emelin a couple weeks prior to this.  And, in the grand tradition of the Bruins, or Andrew Ference and Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien, lied about it afterwards, denying he'd speared Alexei.  No way no how.

Like when he ran 170 lbs. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, then lied how he only had time "to brace himself" before contact, pretending he didn't take two extra steps to deliberately knock him out of the game.

Some analysts will slurp Milan Lucic, about how tough he is and what a good player he is, but that's just the twisted narrative of the NHL, where great transgressions are glossed over, and Zdeno Chara is a 'leader'.  Tough is one thing.  Tough is Jarome Iginla, or Scott Stevens, or Larry Robinson.  Tough is Chris Chelios, playing hard in every rink, against every opponent, all the time.

Milan Lucic fakes being tough.  He's mean, he's nasty, he's big and strong, but he's not tough.  He's a bully.  He cheapshots, he picks his targets, but he doesn't play tough.

Milan Lucic will run away from Georges Laraque, claiming that his coach told him not to fight with him.  So Milan scrupulously follows his coach's instructions.  When it means not having to take on someone at least as big or strong as he is.

Which leads us to believe that Claude Julien never specifically told him not to crosscheck Dominic Moore in the face.  He was free to do that.  Go for it Milan.  Don't mind the fact that you outweigh him by fifty pounds.  All's fair and all that jive.  You don't want to mess with a fourth-liner like Georges Laraque, don't waste your time, but go ahead, mess up a fourth-liner Dominic, fill your boots.  Eric Brewer, size him up, make sure you're not taking on someone you can't handle, but if it's to your advantage, make juvenile mouthpiece Jack Edwards so happy he wets his pants.

But when you bite off more than you can chew, when Zdeno Chara isn't around to save your bacon, and you have your hands full, as when you foolishly took on Colton Orr and it wasn't to your liking, by all means, run away from him, and hide behind the referee.

I've had it with the faux-tough Bruins, who beat on Jaroslav Spacek and Raphaël Diaz, but are wittle purring kitty-cats when they're up against George Parros, Douglas Murray, Brandon Prust, Ryan White and Travis Moen.  They're opportunists who gang up on hockey teams who want to play hockey, but cower when they're facing Chris Neil and Matt Kassian, or Colton Orr and Mark Fraser and Frazer McLaren.  Don't think we didn't notice how well-behaved you were during the playoffs last year, Milan.

Again, I'll call on the NHL to scrupulously enforce its own rules.  Spearing another player in the groin should be something that isn't tolerated, in terms of defending its image, in terms of player safety, and in terms of fair play.  Milan Lucic is a repeat offender, with no valid defence for his actions.  Just because the referees didn't call a penalty shouldn't whitewash his actions.  It's time the NHL entered the 21st century, made use of the video evidence, and threw the book at one of its most egregious cheaters.

Friday, 18 April 2014

'14 Playoffs Game 2: Canadiens 4, Lightning 1

This is the Tampa Bay Lightning you kind of expected at the start of the season, having lost their captain Vincent Lecavalier, and especially once they traded away Martin St. Louis.  A good young team, with two pillars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, relying on skating and youth, but which would need a couple of seasons to get back into contention realistically.

Except they had Ben Bishop in nets this season.  Whereas the atrocious goaltending in Tampa led to Guy Boucher being fired last year, it made Jon Cooper look like a genius this season, overcoming the loss of frontline players, injuries, and leadership to charge to second in the division.  We expected a fade in the standings when Steven Stamkos went down with a broken leg, but they kept it together, kept plugging along.  Much was made of their team spirit, how many of their rookies had played and won under Coach Cooper in Syracuse, and how that carried over to the NHL.

With Ben Bishop sidelined, the Lightning are showing cracks.  Their defencemen, who look good (read, 'big') on paper, are shown to be slow, inelegant, and poor in their decision making.  They made the same errors tonight that they did on Wednesday, allowing the Canadiens to gain position on them.  Putting a knee down to block a putative shot, and taking themselves out of the play.  

Their forwards are speedy, but may not be ready for the big leagues, at least not all at the same time.  Michaël Bournival is the only Canadiens rookie forward, and his icetime is judiciously managed, playing as he does on the fourth line, whereas the Lightning have Tyler Johnson on the first.  

Their offence is lagging.  The loss of Ondrej Palat, their leading scorer this season, certainly doesn't help in that regard.  Tonight, with the Canadiens committing to blanking Steven Stamkos, no one else was able to step up for the Lightning, who lost 4-1 and went down 0-2 in their series.

While Anders Lindback didn't play badly, exactly, he again had a poor outing, and didn't provide his team with the one or two extra saves that Ben Bishop has chipped in this season.  The RDS crew mentioned that this kind of performance affects everyone on the team: defencemen play more nervously, forwards can't take off on breakouts, fearful that any mistake will end up in their nets.  Everyone grips his stick a little too tightly, and rushes his play.

Meanwhile Carey Price was back to his usual form, after a shaky game Wednesday, in which he'd let four goals in on sixteen shots in regulation.  He made up for it with a strong overtime period to earn the win.  Tonight he built on that, and had a shutout going until late in the third, when he surrendered a meaningless powerplay goal.

There was much discussion after the first game about the importance of the save percentage statistic, specifically when it's looked at over a short time span.  The argument goes that it should only be considered when you have a significant data sample, namely twenty games or so at least, since there is too much variability from game to game.  Further, there's an argument that not all shots are equal, some are more difficult to stop than others, notably those on two-on-ones, or from the stick of Steven Stamkos.

While there's truth in that, I don't think it's correct to say that we shouldn't look at save percentage for a single game, in the same way that it would be incorrect to say a pitcher's ERA in a game of baseball is irrelevant.  These stats allow us to gauge how effective the player has been in the crucial, central matter of how well they did at preventing the other team from putting up points.  Sure, only one game isn't statistically significant over a season or career, but it does allow us to distinguish a good outing from a bad outing.

So Carey had a better game, and so did P.K. Subban, and I wasn't the only one to notice.  During the game, I unfortunately would become a little tense when P.K. had the puck on his stick.  I observed though that he would quickly move the puck, either to a teammate or off the boards.  He was making quick decisions, opting for the safe play more often than not, and he was rewarded for his steady game with two assists on the night.  

The CBC crew also praised P.K.'s game, but did show a couple of situations when he grew agitated at the referees, and where Assistant Coach Daigneault, as well as Alternate Captain Andrei Markov and veteran Francis Bouillon were taking turns talking to him on the bench, obviously trying to calm him down.  So not a flawless effort from our intrepid young defender, but a much more focused game, and we can hope that it's a portend of things to come, that he'll regain his focus and his touch as the playoffs advance.

Another instance of me being Captain Obvious was how often I noticed Alexei Emelin being outskated to the outside, and he having difficulty keeping up with the play.  It seemed glaring, and sure enough, the HNIC crew spent a good amount of time on this subject between periods, showing the 'lowlights', and even having P.J. Stock demonstrating in-studio the difficulty for a left-shooting defenceman having to play and defend onrushing forwards on the right side.  

It wasn't all bad though, Alexei played well with Andrei in terms of puck retrievals and zone clearances, and laid a crushing hit on J.T. Brown.  So he's contributing, and we can hope that this is a blip in performance.  He's been getting better as he recovers from his knee reconstruction, he'd played much more steady hockey in the last few games of the season.  Hopefully next season he'll be even further removed from the injury, and that much stronger and agile.

René Bourque had a strong game, and not just in terms of buzzing around the net this time, he actually produced some tangible offence.  He scored two goals on strong individual efforts.  Is this the dam breaking?  Because I've always thought that the effort was there for René, as far as that goes for him.  The problem has been confidence, he seems lost sometimes, like he's unsure what he should do.  

I can't remember what the situation was exactly, but as an example, there was a scrum after a hit, I think it was when Steven Stamkos went after Andrei due to his late, post-whistle hit on Ondrej Palat.  René was second on the scene, and could have tried to pull Mr. Stamkos off, but a linesman was kind of in the way, so he tried to go to his right around him, but that wasn't any better, so he kind of turned around and looked for someone to hang on to, but there were only smaller Tampa players around, so he tried to skate around the now rapidly growing pile, couldn't find anyone to rip out of there, ...

We can imagine how much different this would have gone had Brandon Prust or Brendan Gallagher or even Tomas Plekanec been in René's position.  They would have barged in and grabbed Steven Stamkos, or someone.  With René, there's lots of confusion, indecision.  We can hope that the two goals tonight give him confidence, give him wings, and he can contribute this post-season, and the next two years his contract runs.

Our top line scored a goal, on the powerplay no less, on a clean faceoff win by David Desharnais that went to P.K., who walked the line, waited for a lane to clear, and slap-passed to David for the tip-in.  Again, Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty and David have to contribute, and not just when they're rolling and getting hat-tricks in a 7-1 laugher, but also in closer games where they're being checked closely.  That line is stacked, by design, and they need to perform in proportion.  

Thomas Vanek also competed in other ways, by standing up to Lightning fourth-liner Cédric Paquette, who he thought was taking liberties.  Thomas isn't expected to goon it up, but he is a bigger forward, and it's entirely appropriate that he assert himself in these situation, show the opponent that we're not going to be ottawa'ed this series.

The Canadiens' powerplay itself was also a good sign, in that the previous game, they had trouble just setting up shop in the offensive zone, whereas tonight they were a constant threat, passing the puck at will and getting lots of shots and lots of chances to score.  

The Antichambre boys thought that Brandon Prust shouldn't have fought with Radko Gudas, to preserve his possibly fragile health, and also to not offer the Lightning a chance to spark things up.  Personally, I felt Brandon was sending a message to the Lightning's bruiser to not stray over the line, as he is wont to do.  The AC crew were fearful of the tactic, but I applaud the result.

So we do sweep the opening two games, and do get the opportunity to step on the Tampa team's collective throats this Sunday.  Let's be coldly efficient about it, and be in a position to dispatch them quickly, so we can get ready to face the Red Wings in the next series.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Francis Bouillon wants to play for the Canadiens next season

Interesting article on RDS, an interview with Francis Bouillon, who states that he still wants to play next season.  Which shouldn't be surprising, who would really want to walk away from a job like that, but I'd conditioned myself into thinking that everyone knew, the fans, the team, the coaches, the management team in the offices upstairs at the New Forum, that this was Francis' last season.

I kind of thought that he might play in Switzerland or elsewhere in Europe for a couple of seasons, to finish out his career, ease out of it with a nice experience.  When I learned that he has a son who plays minor hockey on a line with Mathieu Darche's twin boys, I realized that was less likely, that he'd uproot his family for a sinecure in Europe, but still, I thought the NHL was out of the question for him.

Personally, I want the Canadiens to refrain from re-signing Mike Weaver or Francis next season, we need to clear out the roster for the Magnus Nygrens, the Tinordi-Beaulieu-Pateryn triumvirate, whenever these guys are ready.  And if we find that we do need a veteran placeholder, let's sign up a Jeff Schultz or a Ryan O'Byrne, a big rightie to be the #6-7 d-man, not a smallish leftie.

So like I said, interesting, in that I thought this decision was already made, by mutual consent, but apparently not, the Bull would like to return.  If for no other reason, that may play in our hands, in that he'll be super-duper extra motivated these playoffs, to prove he's still got it, as he did on Saturday against Derek Dorsett.

'14 Playoffs Game 1: Canadiens 5, Lightning 4 (OT)

My PVR played a nasty trick on me.  I had set it up to record every program on RDS from "Hockey 360" until 0200 hr PDT, which I thought would be sufficient for any overtime, including a Capitals vs. Islanders-style marathon.  Somehow though, I got robbed of the entire overtime period, jumping straight from the end of the third period, to the next program when Jacques Demers and the rest of the crew on l'Antichambre were gladhanding and backslapping.  Odd, since I was expecting them to comment in between periods before resumption of play in overtime, but they were definitely in a celebratory mood.  I really thought there was no reason to celebrate at the end of the third.

So that blows, I didn't get to see the Canadiens win it 5-4 in OT.  I've seen the Dale Weise goal, but I'll definitely watch the end of the game on "Canadiens Express".  And I'll manually program my PVR the rest of these playoffs to prevent this from re-occurring.

What's even more odd, and blows much more, is how many Canadiens fans felt their lineup was inferior to the Lightning's prior to puck drop, and were somberly predicting doom for les Glorieux.  Which I absolutely don't get.  I think the Lightning are, like the Canadiens, a good but not flawless team, with strengths and weaknesses.  Further, I feel we match up quite well with them.  With rampaging rhino Ryan Malone on the sidelines for disciplinary issues, there's no monster player who'll bulldoze a swath through our lineup, we're facing a fast, skilled team that will try to skate with us, which we can handle.

One post on social media which made me gasp described the Tampa Bay defence corps as "pretty awesome" and containing "no weak links".  Now I have to differ on this, any team which puts out failed-Leaf Mike Kostka as their #6 defenceman ipso facto relinquishes any claim to awesomeness in any form.  Your weakest link is wearing #21, plainly, for everyone to see.  The brittle Sami Salo is 39 years old.  Radko Gudas is statuesque, but in his case it's not a flattering term.

RDS had a lowlight segment of Tampa Bay d-men gaffes, and it wasn't pretty.  Matt Carle getting down to block a shot and letting Lars Eller skate around him for a score.  Radko Gudas stumbling and, uh, letting Tomas Plekanec skate around him for a score.  Flubbed passes, for glaring giveaways.  Then the Dale Weise goal with both d-men wrestling behind the net with titanic Daniel Brière.  That's a lot of lowlights for one game.

I'm not saying that our defence is leaps and bounds better, we have our own issues, but there's no way that we should have d-corps envy when it comes to the Lightning.  Save that for when we're up against the Blackhawks in the finals and look upon their first pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, as big of a preck as the latter is.

No envy then, especially if P.K. can find his form.  He looked scattered again tonight.  Ineffective offensively, spraying passes, not reliably gaining the offensive zone on the powerplay, he was also out of sorts on defence.  He tried a few times in the second to deliver his 'bee sting' hip check, but mostly missed his man and had to scramble back.  At one point an opponent tried to retaliate with a hip check of his own, P.K. took offence and delivered a weak one-handed slash, and then faked an injury for a few seconds to try to draw an offsetting penalty.

I'll say it again.  I want P.K. to play tough, to play hard, but to stop with the cheap slashes and spears and slewfoots, to stop gaping at the refs, arms in the air, shrugging, while play continues around him.  I want him to stop the diving and the maudlin act for the refs.  I want him to be tough, to fight through checks and slashes and play with a purpose, not distracted by what the refs may decide.  Keep playing hard until the whistle blows, you'll get more calls that way.  I want him to stop trying to instigate, he's too good a player, too smart, too valuable, too likable to take the Brad Marchand path.  Play tough, play hard, and if you cause a fight, decline it, or finish it yourself, don't wait for Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, Brandon Prust, George Parros or Francis Bouillon to come in and save your bacon.

But this is a side rant, meant to clear the air, P.K. didn't win the game for us, but he certainly didn't nearly lose it for us.  There's plenty of blame to go around.  Mike Weaver for pinching, holding the blue line, when his team was up one goal, drew a lot of negative attention.  If we were trying to tie up the game late in the third, the risk would have been justified, but as it was, he sprang the Lightning for a two-on-one that Steven Stamkos cashed in for his second goal of the game.  Andrei Markov didn't cover himself in glory on that one either, his slide was mistimed and ineffective.  And I hate that play anyway.  He focused on the puck carrier instead of blocking the pass and letting Carey worry about the shooter.

Carey had an awful game in terms of his results going into overtime, stopping 12 of 16 shots.  Pierre Houde during the game idly wondered whether Carey was suffering from the lack of work, whether more shots might have been better for him, and it's hard to argue against that hypothesis.  The Antichambre crew assure me that he made up for this with his play in overtime, keeping the boys in the game until Dale Weise ended it.

One other goat who jumped out at me, and everybody else on RDS, was Brandon Prust on the third goal against, when he had the puck on his stick in the defensive zone, with a slim one-goal lead.  This is the kind of situation of which coaches will plead requires a 'strong play', meaning banging it off the boards, clearing the zone, not messing around.  But Brandon tried to finesse the puck, to stickhandle his way out of danger, and he coughed it up and it ended in his net.

He was properly contrite, immediately, and we'll have to give him a pardon on this, seeing as it's his first game back in a month, but I'd like to caution Brandon that when he plays on a line other than the fourth, he gets too fancy.  He seems to think that he needs to match pretty plays with his linemates, whereas all he needs to do is skate hard, gain possession of the puck, and the opposition zone, bang and crash, be physical and a handful in front of the net.  Let your linemates do the embroidery Brandon, you just be yourself, do your job, move the furniture around, that's all that's required of you, and you'll do fine just doing that.

It's worthwhile to go over the contributions of our fourth line, and the greater depth of the Canadiens at forward.  From the lowpoint of two seasons ago when we had the likes of Aaron Palushaj, Mathieu Darche, Yannick Weber, and Mike Blunden among others filling in on the fourth line, and bleeding up into the third, we now have a comparative embarrassment of riches.  Making lemonade, Michel Therrien played Daniel Brière at centre on the fourth line, between two fast young wingers Dale Weise and Michaël Bournival, who have the ability to cause havoc in the offensive zone.  Against a tougher, more physical team, Ryan White might make more sense on the fourth line, but this combo was the right choice to counter Tampa's speed.  They spent a large part of their shifts in the offensive zone, sending pucks skittering across their crease, and had them on their heels for a large portion of the evening.

With Travis Moen coming back from injury soon, Michel Therrien will have lots of options to mix and match youth or experience, speed and offence or defensive reliability, scoring or grit, when he makes up his lines.

So we've wrested home-ice advantage from the Lightning, even if it wasn't pretty or decisive.  "They found a way to win", on a night when Carey was off and every mistake ended up in his net.  Let's hope for a better result from him on Friday, so we can go home up 2-0 in the series, and step on their neck on Sunday.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Daniel Sedin gets rammed into the boards from behind, NHL impotent to fix itself.

So I just saw the hit on Daniel Sedin that required him to be fitted with a neck collar and stretchered off.  A fairly routine hit/shove from behind in the NHL, in terms of its perfidy and intensity, but the result was anything but routine.

And that's another in a long list of problems with the NHL.  People are always getting hit from behind, constantly, thirty or fourty times a game.  Hockey players are gamers though, they absorb the contact, smear their snot on the glass, shake off the cobwebs for a second, then keep playing.  They keep grinding, and cycling, and finishing their checks.

Unless you get a dirty Bruin, one of Don Cherry's noble warriors, one of those guys will give you the mother of all fake dives.

I'll ask again: why is hitting anyone in the back, permissible, or tolerated, in any circumstances, at all?  Why is it just penalized when a victim's head is projected into the boards, but not the rest of the time?

In football, you can't block from behind.  If you're behind someone, he has the advantage on you, plain and simple.  He's faster than you, quicker than you, closer to the play, and that's just too bad for you.  Run faster if you want to make the play.

Why can't we make that very simple change to the game, that would benefit the skill players, would increase scoring, and improve player safety?  Because it makes too much sense?  Let's give the player with the puck the advantage, he can't be hit from behind, ever, in whatever manner or with any level of force.  No tolerance.

If Sidney Crosby has the puck and you want to hit him, and he turns his back to you, that's fair game for him.  He has the puck, he has the advantage.  Be quicker, more agile.  He's allowed to protect the puck from you, to play keepaway.

Currently, you can push, shove, crosscheck, crosscheck harder, slash, spear, you name it, whatever you want to do to someone in the back is fine, unless that person falls or dives, and what the state of accounts is currently in the game/series.  If you've already had a couple of powerplays in the game, be careful, since the refs will want to even things up.  A penalty is not a penalty unless a debit exists somewhere.

Yesterday, Kris Letang, freshly back from a stroke and a thirty-game absence, while trying to get a shot off on net from the slot, was crosschecked from behind by Scott Hartnell, who then proceeded to fall on top of the Penguin defender.  After the resultant scuffle, both were sent to the penalty box for a minor roughing penalty.

What absolute madness is this?  Why is a thug like Scott Hartnell allowed to bludgeon a player trying to play hockey.  Why didn't he get six or seven penalties, a mix of minor and majors and misconducts and 'attempts to injure'?

Hey, Gary Bettman, you mendacious fool, I'm talking to you!  Stop peering at spreadsheets and fix your broken league.  Stop paying lip service to player safety and do something tangible about it.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Game 82: Canadiens 1, Rangers 0 (OT)

A feelgood win for les Glorieux, with Brian Gionta scoring on a penalty shot in overtime to beat the Rangers 1-0.  Lots of smiles and happy faces in the New Forum, amongst fans and players, very nice.

We have to worry though whether this just wallpapers some fundamental issues with our team as we enter the playoffs.  We had a streak recently in which we won 10 out of 12 games, we were counter-Leafing, as it were, but since the win against the Panthers, things have been more difficult.  In six games, we have three wins, including one against dispirited Ottawa and tonight's unconvincing affair.  We lost in overtime against the Blackhawks, which is forgivable, but also against the AHL squad iced by the Islanders, and against our rivals the Lightning.  

All in all, it's not as bleak as it looked last season going into the playoffs.  We're healthier, and more importantly, Carey Price looks as good as he ever has.  But there are important areas of concern.  The powerplay has died.  Team defence has suffered also, surrendering way too many shots, certainly compared to earlier this season.  P.K. Subban looks confused out there, and compensates by trying harder, and making more mistakes.  Our #1 line has stopped gushing goals.  

We saw some boneheaded play out of Ranger Derek Dorsett, who stuck a knee out when beaten on a play, twice in one game.  This is the type of player that needs to be removed from the NHL.  He only has a job because of his knuckles, and has to scramble to keep up with the play.  His reaction, his response to his lack of hockey talent, could have led to a serious injury tonight.  Hey Gary Bettman, get these goons out of your league, if you really care about player safety!

Francis Bouillon, who has become a whipping boy for the intolerant on social media, showed his mettle by taking on Mr. Dorsett to make him account for his cheap, dangerous knee on David Desharnais.  The tale of the tape might have showed that this would be mismatch, but Francis got in some good shots and had Mr. Dorsett in trouble the whole fight.  Maybe it was his sheepishness at being such a bonehead that got in his way.

P.K. Subban was subjected to a thorough dissection on l'Antichambre, for his scattered play, but also for his response to Derek Dorsett's initial knee on David Desharnais.  P.K. charged at Derek Dorsett and swerved by, but didn't engage.  I think everyone is unanimous, if P.K. wants to be a tough guy, a Chris Chelios or a Lyle Odelein, that's fine.  Be tough.  If he's not going to be tough though, he shouldn't act tough.  He shouldn't accost Derek Dorsett if he's not going to stand up to him.  

The game ended on a spectacular note, with the Canadiens captain being awarded his penalty shot for being tripped while on a clear breakaway chance.  He deked out  and put the puck in on the backhand on Cam Talbot, who was subbing in for Henrik Lundqvist tonight to give the latter a rest before the playoffs.  

So a 100 point season, a very good result for our boys.  I have to tip my hat, I had them pegged for an 80-90 point year, and to be in a dogfight to even make the playoffs.  So more than mission accomplished for the Habs, but then again not really, all this can be completed obscured by a poor showing in the playoffs.  So rest up boys, practice hard, and let's start strong on Wednesday night.

Hamilton Bulldogs 3, Rochester Americans 4 (SO)

Notes on tonight's Bulldogs game against the Rochester Americans:

Connor Crisp "best player on the ice for the Bulldogs" according to the radio broadcast team.

Brady Vail didn't play, apparently injured, Morgan Ellis a healthy scratch, among others.

Darren Dietz still has an injured hamstring, out for the season.

Jack Nevins first point as pro, picked up in a goalmouth scramble that Nattinen cashed in.

Gabriel Dumont scores on a 2-on-1 with Justin Courtnall, he uses the latter as a decoy and shoots, beats the Americans' goalie, ties it up at 3-3.  Louis Leblanc picks up on assist.

Mr. Dumont went up against Don Cherry wet dream subject Mike Zygomanis, trying to get him to atone for spearing Sven Andrighetto.  The 6 foot 200 pounder refused Gabriel's invitation to fight.  The Bulldog, uh, bulldog picked up a double minor in the deal.

I think Gabriel Dumont can play the role of a cost-effective Brian Gionta next season.  Half the point production, all the effort and determination, more toughness, at 10% of the cost.

Nathan Beaulieu playing on a pair with Davis Drewiske.  Both are lefties, yet they seem to be a pairing that the Bulldogs plays regularly.  Nathan has the puck on his stick a lot, draws a tripping penalty midway through the third.

"Crisp and Sorkin have been eye-openers tonight Derek (Wills)!"

Nick Sorkin had a good late shift in the third with Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, wheeling around the opposition zone with the puck, dekeing out defenders and taking the puck to the net for a close call.

Game goes to overtime.  Good end-to-end action, good chances to end the game on both sides.


Sven Andrighetto shoots, glove save.  Americans score, nice deke.

Gabriel Dumont races in, brakes, saved five-hole.  Joel Armia scores.

Patrick Holland dekes, saved by Andrei Makarov.  Americans score again, no need for the next two round of shootout.

Americans win 4-3.  Apparently they scored a couple of flukey goals after the Bulldogs had opened the score, and went out to a 3-1 lead.