Saturday, 22 November 2014

Game 22: Canadiens 2, Bruins 0

Ho hum, these routine defeat of the Bruins are beginning to feel stale.  At least if they pushed back a little, gave us a game, we could get excited about these, but whatever, Carey Price gets another shutout, betters his 'rival' Tuukka Rask, and the good guys leave Boston with a 2-0 win.

Hockey Night in Canada tried its hardest to make me feel sorry for the poor Bruins, missing injured players Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and other assorted rodents, how it just wasn't fair that they had to play so shorthanded, but if this is part of a karmic readjustment, they're not more than a couple of steps into their marathon.  A lot more bad luck has to befall these cheapshot artists, unrepentant liars and cheaters, and muck dwellers before we have rectified this koyaanisqatsi.

The Canadiens took a 2-0 lead into the third period, after a first period powerplay goal by Andrei Markov, and a second period goal scored on a four-on-two break led by Brendan Gallagher and finished by Tomas Plekanec.  Andrei Markov's goal was the 100th of his career, joining the members of the Big Three as the only defencemen to reach that total for the Canadiens.

Once the Canadiens had that lead, the refs set about equalizing the teams' opportunities, put their whistles away, and let the Bruins hack and slash to their black hearts' content.  I thought of writing down every infraction, for posterity, but then elected to get some sleep instead of tackling that herculean task.  The litany of infractions reels the mind.  

David Desharnais in the offensive zone, skittering two steps ahead of Dennis Seidenberg in clear possession of the puck and curling in towards the net is taken down with a flagrant trip, under the indulgent nose of the refs.

A backchecking Milan Lucic takes a wicked slash at an onrushing Max Pacioretty.

Dougie Hamilton takes another two-hander at the back of Brendan Gallagher's leg, in the calf where there's no padding, because he's a big bad Bruin don't you know.  Jim Hughson euphemizes that he "tapped at" him.  He actually hit him so hard that he pushed Brendan's leg forward, and thus spun his entire body around, so that Brendan's stick flailed backward and hit Hamilton's arm.  Jim Hughson was very concerned that poor Dougie seemed hurt on the play.  What a shame if another Bruin was injured and sent to the infirmary he intoned, never mind that he was the author of his own misfortune?  

The worst incident was when the Bruins were being washingtongeneraled in their own zone by the Tomas Plekanec line.  Torey Krug, little old him, served up a buffet of slashes and crosschecks and interference, as well as an outrageous, spectacular trip of Alex Galchenyuk during which he lifted the Hab's skate up to his eye level with his stick.  Not one whistle from the refs, until the players' shoving and crosschecking degenerated into a fight.  At that point, both got offsetting five-minute majors for fighting.  It was theatre of the absurd night in Boston, with Tim Peel as the deaf, dumb and blind monkey officiating.  

The shot totals seem to indicate that the Bruins had the better game, but that's misleading.  Whatever chances they had seemed to get snuffed out by Carey Price.  Meanwhile, the Canadiens were outskating the Bruins all game and pressuring them with their speed.  One notable sequence in the third period saw the Habs bottle up the Bruins in their own zone for more than two minutes, with Patrice Bergeron hampered by having broken his stick and reduced to trying to kick at pucks.  He eventually took a penalty when in desperation he fell on a puck and closed his hand on it, something the refs reluctantly decided they couldn't pretend not to have seen.

Oh hum.  Up next, the Rangers.

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 4: Notes

This episode deals with the games against the Wings and Rangers before the trip out West.  A large chunk of it shows the marketing and community/charity-based efforts of the team.

00:30  Team photographers past and present discuss the techniques and problems they face when taking the team photo.  Sample tactic to get everyone to beam on cue: "I need everyone to smile again.  Including Andrei..."  Tomas, Max and P.K. crack up in the front row.  Andrei condescendscooperates with a faint smirk.

"P.K., if you could just concentrate here..."

00:50  Smack talk between Tomas and Alex Galchenyuk.  Tomas starts off with:

"For your age, you're way too confident."

Later, Alex tells Tomas "You should go work out.  To handle my passes."

It goes on from there.  During practice, they're doing line rushes, and Tomas tells Alex "You see that?  You give me a horrible pass and I still put it in the net."

Being on a team playing hockey for a living must be fun.  I talk like that to a coworker who takes it the wrong way, I get a written warning.

02:30  Brandon Prust giving the refs advice on a missed call from his vantage point on the bench.  We saw him do this also in Episode 2.  You get a sense that Brandon has to modulate that, not yap too much in case he antagonizes the refs.

Later in the room between periods, we see a different dynamic between Tomas and Alex, with the veteran giving direction to his younger linemate, who is attentive and amenable, on how to deal with Pavel Datsyuk.  Again, strictly based on this access, we can see great dynamics in this team, loose and fraternal during practice, but all business during a game, and everyone assuming a proper role.

And we can see how players like Alex and Tomas are coaches delights, 'set 'em and forget 'em' types who almost invariably do the right thing, the little things that matter.  They're the players who, when it's said that you spend 90% of your time with 10% of your players, they're not part of the 10%, but rather the 90% of players who you don't have to micromanage.

Compare if you will to Phil Kessel or Nazem Kadri or Cody Hodgson.

03:15  Second period break, and Manny Malhotra encourages the boys, dealing with specifics about not worrying about the refs, about forcing the play with their defencemen, etc.  Again, a couple of notches above the fan-derided rah-rah stuff that Josh Gorges would use in his patter, in terms of the usefulness of the content.  He speaks well to the group, takes command of the room by standing when speaking, and other players pay attention.  We get a shot of Max focused on what he's saying.

I'm really liking what I'm seeing from Manny in this area, didn't pay attention to it when he was in Vancouver and the media guys said as much about him.  Now I get their love for him.  I can easily see a future in coaching for Manny.

03:45  Neat sequence wrapping a story together.  We're shown Tomas being strong on the puck in the offensive zone, and setting up the neat wraparound goal by Alex after outmuscling Kyle Quincey, and then both celebrating together.

04:30  David Desharnais' OT goal.  Andrei doesn't have to be told to smile as he celebrates with P.K.  Later, Michel Therrien ruins P.K. with an enthusiastic shove on the shoulder when greeting him at the dressing room entrance.

David gets the boxer's robe from prior recipient and equipment manager Pierre Gervais.

09:15  Team gala dinner for major sponsors of the club I guess.  Every table has a Canadien player or alumnus seated with a group from the companies' lucky representatives.  I'm torn between being delighted for the kids who get to have dinner at ice level of the New Forum with their heroes, and being jealous of those rich spoiled brats.  I never got no dinner with no Habs when I was a young punk.

It brings into focus again what the off-ice demands are on Canadiens players, how much that might drag on a more private person like Andrei or Carey Price.  Brandon Prust or P.K., those guys will love the spotlight and the opportunity to bathe in the adoration, but how much of a deterrent will it be for a player like Phil Kessel or Nathan Horton to ever sign a deal in Montréal?  Come to think of it though, maybe it's a useful filter, that these guys who just want to do their thing aren't really the type of player we want anyway.

A very nice lady explains what a privilege it is for her and her daughter to be seated with "Monsieur Price."  Just sayin'...

Shots of Mike Weaver and Brendan Gallagher animatedly chatting with their table seatmates.  An old-timer pats Alex Galchenyuk on the shoulder and gives him props for his goal the previous night.

10:50  The Canadiens pressing their advantage of being the most prestigious hockey franchise in a hockey hotbed.  They hold a clinic for minor hockey coaches, with some demos on the ice with Stéphane Waite among others, then a lecture and Q&A with Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault, who's in town with the Rangers.

This is exactly what the Canadiens have to do, stock the Québec pond with ever-more great hockey players who will grow up to be Canadiens fans.  Sure, some will turn out like Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Brière and shun Montréal, but a significant portion will be like Francis Bouillon or Dale Weise or P.K. Subban, in disbelief that they get to play for their favourite team.  This is something that the Coyotes or the Predators will have trouble ever matching, and every advantage counts in a salary cap system.

I'm surprised to discover that even at the Bantam BB level, for example, there are dedicated goalie coaches, which didn't happen in my day.

13:50  Yet more asked of the players as Leucan and the Canadiens host an evening at the New Forum for young patients.  And what a gut punch that is.  So proud of the guys for the way they interact with the kids at the end of the episode.  The players' wives pitch in as well.  And what a great boost it must be for those parents.

15:45  Notorious sequence during the game against the Rangers when P.K. leaves the ice after getting struck in the throat, even though it's an icing situation and he's not supposed to be allowed to change.  Later, he's discussing this with a ref, who's having trouble getting a word in edgewise, and finally says to P.K. "Just listen to me and then say 'Thank you'."  P.K. gets it and pipes down, says thanks, but it's emblematic of some of his character quirks, how desperately sometimes he needs to get his point across, instead of just listening and then saying "Got it."

This bleeds into his game, when during play he looks at the refs and pleads innocence, sometimes before a call is actually made, while play is going on.  P.K. needs to tone that down, but it will be a struggle for him to change that significantly now that he's an adult.  He'll still need to rein it in, be more Brian Gionta than Theo Fleury now that he's acting as an Assistant.

16:50  This summer when getting a tour of the facilities in Brossard from Pierre Gervais, P.A. Parenteau lobbied him to have his seat in the dressing room 'not too far' from David Desharnais, a friend of his.  We see here that he got his wish, he's sitting right next to him.

17:15  After a Brandon Prust vs. Kevin Klein tilt, P.K. and Martin St. Louis are picking up the equipment of their teammate, and P.K. says to Martin to take it easy, that "I'm still giving you free passes."  The Rangers vet lets that go with a smirk.

18:30  Brandon and Max being all Chip and Dale on the bench, making sure there's no ruffled feathers after a play on the ice.

"Sorry, I was just trying to get it to you, just to like..." Brandon tells Max.

"No no, I was just trying to get it too, I wasn't trying to sewer you," Max replies.

Not a bad thing when two players are hungry for the puck, as opposed to the reverse.  Within limits.  Most of the time.

18:45  Brendan Gallagher struggles to get off the ice after a collision/bodycheck/interference by Tanner Glass.  "Who was it?" Tomas asks him.

Max scores on a pass from super-sub linemate Dale Weise while Brendan is walking it off.  That should make ti all better.

19:15  After the win, David passes on the cape to Brandon Prust, although as the narrator says he neither scored or assisted on a goal.

More thoughts on the Maple Leafs fan snub.

I'm seeing various reactions to the Leafs fan-snub incident, with some commenting that it's no big deal, that the salute is no great tradition, and that fans should respect their team and players if they expect the same in return.  I get what they’re saying in the general sense. Specifically, this 'no big deal' approach breaks down for a number of reasons for me though.

1) The non-salute is not really the issue. The Canucks don’t salute after wins, they never took up the practice, and no one here feels slighted. It’s the specific decision by Leaf players to stop the practice, at that particular time, that caught everyone’s attention. It’s like Elaine Benes when she’s outraged that some acquaintance of hers has stopped greeting her with a nod. She barely knows the guy, didn’t really want to talk to him, but now that he ignores her in the halls, after their greetings lost their force and petered out, she notices it.

2) Phil Kessel not speaking to the media is another issue that is being defended. The thing is, all reports explain that Phil Kessel is given a lot of latitude by the Toronto media, they understand who he is, and don’t press the issue. It’s probably the same treatment Andrei Markov gets from the Montréal press corps, they only talk to him when the PR guy says it’s okay, occasionally. What the uproar is about is Mr. Kessel telling the reporter “Get away from me now”, with an aggressive, imperious, disrespectful tone, that crosses the line.

Phil Kessel is paid an obscene amount of money by the fans, and the media he faces only enhances the product he’s selling. They’re the conduit through which the fans can exchange with Phil, and he needs to understand that.

3) To treat all their fans as if they all tossed a jersey on the ice is beyond stupid and reprehensible. It is not justification for their boorish behaviour after the win against Tampa. The players don’t complain when a hat trick is saluted with a hail storm of ball caps. When they play well, they don’t mind the Leafs hats touching the ice. When they stink up the joint, they need to take it in stride that one or two fans throw a jersey on the ice.

Watch the video of the Leafs leaving the rink after the win, and you’ll see three youngsters behind the glass to the right of the players exit from our perspective. It only lasts a couple of seconds, but you can see they’re so excited/deflated at having stood so close to their heroes. They probably banged on the glass and waved, wanting some fleeting contact with their players, and based on their reaction, they’re dumbfounded, crestfallen, it doesn’t seem like they got the thrill of a lifetime their choice tickets promised to be. If I’m Brendan Shanahan, that’s the two seconds of video I’m showing my players.

4) About reporters asking the same dumb questions over and over, there was discussion recently on how that’s the reporters’ job, to ask the players a question point blank so as to get their response on the record.

“Are you playing to get your coach fired?”

“No.”

Now that’s in the public domain, and you can compare that verbal answer to behaviour in the past or future. You’re giving the players a chance to express themselves on a question that the fans are probably asking themselves. It’s the same as asking a politician a ‘yes-no’ question on a subject, it provides them a chance to tell the voters where they stand, even if most times they’ll refuse to be pinned down, or at least leave themselves some wriggle room.

And, there are the 0.0001% of the time when a player will say something noteworthy, like when Joe Thornton interjected in a scrum involving Thomas Hertl, that if he’d scored the same type of goal that he’d be “stroking it”. Sometimes you hit the lottery.

It may all seem like a stilted dance, but it’s part of the process, and NHL’ers get paid very well to take part in it. As Michel Bergeron says, he used to steel himself before difficult press scrums by repeating to himself, much like he would before the dentist: “Ça va prendre dix minutes… Ça va prendre dix minutes…”

5) About jersey tossing, I’ve said this before, and I would be aghast if a fan threw a tricolore jersey on the New Forum ice, but it’s the ultimate, most democratic protest a fan can have. He or she has paid a lot of coin for that jersey, to wear it proudly and associate with the team and its players, and to attend the game. If they are performing in a shameful manner, if it’s embarrassing to wear that jersey, what a way to send a message.

There’s a risk it becomes overused, but I don’t think we’re there yet, not by a long shot. We’ve only seen it at Oilers and Leafs games if I’m not mistaken, and it can be argued that the fans have good reason to react in that manner there. If ever it got to the point that after routine losses fans of teams with average or respectable records were chucking jerseys, then I’d agree that it’s a meaningless, self-aggrandizing gesture by a few clueless fans. In Edmonton, and recently in Toronto, that’s entirely apt, however.

Marc Bergevin turns water into wine, René Bourque into Bryan Allen.

First, Marc Bergevin flipped extra, plodding, square peg veteran forward, who has trouble contributing in the physical arena due to multiple concussions, and who was blocking the way for promising young forwards Jiri Sekac and Michaël Bournival, for Dallas' Sergei Gonchar.  The latter comes with a much bigger cap hit, but his contract runs out this year, whereas we had another year beyond this one on Travis'.

Now, suddenly, without any previous rumblings, he's transmuted René Bourque, who mere days before had passed through waivers with no claimants, into huge, tough, stay-at-home defenceman Bryan Allen.  Which is kind of the role we were hoping Jarred Tinordi would play this season.

So instead of Jarred and Nathan Beaulieu learning the ropes in the NHL and making mistakes, we now have veterans Bryan Allen and Sergei Gonchar, and a team that is obviously going to try to make a run for the playoffs.

Nathan Beaulieu has probably sealed his fate and bought his ticket back to Hamilton with that brain-dead pass across the middle of the defensive zone to Dale Weise, which was intercepted and ended up in his own net.  It was even more troubling when seen from the endzone camera, since it showed that Nate had an alley wide open to Drayson Bowman in the neutral zone if he'd chosen to go off the boards, as he's been taught to do his whole life, along with every other defenceman who ever played.  Instead, he tried to go against the grain, to be creative, he tried the dangerous play, and it bit him, hard.

Some will grumble that Michel Therrien isn't patient enough with youngsters, that he staples them to the bench after a mistake, but there are different degrees of mistakes.  I'm willing to bet that the coaches, Jean-Jacques Daigneault most notably, but also Sylvain Lefebvre and Donald Dufresne in Hamilton, have hammered the point home to him to take what the opposition gives him, to choose the safe play, to move the puck up and good things will happen, not to make risky plays unless he's in a desperate situation, etc.  I bet that Michel Therrien in his pre-game video and meetings emphasized again and again to his team that the Penguins were dangerous, to not try anything fancy, to work as a team and support each other, etc.  And then Nathan went and did the exact opposite.

There are different kinds of mistakes.  Fanning on a shot is one kind of a mistake, an error of execution, like a goalie getting beat by a soft shot through the legs.  You can take those as long as they don't happen too often.

There are mistakes when the player misses an assignment, blows a coverage, messes up a line change.  That's an error of focus, of concentration.  Those are a little more frustrating, but again, they happen.

Nathan's mistake was one of obstinance.  He did what he knew he wasn't supposed to do, because he thought he knew better, that he was better than that, that he thought the safe play was too predictable, so he should surprise the Penguins with a dashing breakout pass up the middle.

So the brain trust decided that they couldn't ride their young ponies this season, they needed some trusty Clydesdales instead, and we have an instant transformation of the back end, with a solid third pairing rough-and-tumble guy in Bryan Allen, and a borderline second-pairing guy in Sergei Gonchar if his minutes are carefully managed.

I’ve sometimes thought that Marc Bergevin did take the job in 2012 thinking that while he had a good core to work with, some good pieces, that he had a rebuild on his hands, although not one reflective of a team that should have been in last place in the conference. I think when play finally resumed, he was pleasantly surprised at the results, two seasons in a row, and decided not to go all Sabres on us, go scorched-earth, and adjusted his plan to win rather than swap assets for futures.

This season also, he may have been, as he stated, ready for a step backward in the standings, but again, solid goaltending and a resilient team that fights for every point may be causing him to rethink that. Surveying the landscape, he may have switched gears again, and decided that with a Carey Price at the height of his powers, there was no better time than the present to go for the Cup.

At no great cost he obtained patch-job defencemen that enhance the roster, sending away pieces that was more superfluous than useful this season. And his organizational plan that Jarred and Nathan would experience their growing pains on the big league roster gave way to one where, in light of the journeymen results of Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert among others, he modified to one where the youngsters got more miles in the AHL, since they are waiver-exempt this season anyway.

One thing about watching 24CH, or the press conferences at the trade deadline or the end of the season, is that it shows these gentlemen are all aware of the issues we rail about on HIO, they have a little more info than we do let’s admit, and they make the best decision they can. They’d love it if Jarred and Nathan were the second coming of Rod Langway and Tom Kurvers this early in their pro career, that’d make things easy, but since they’re not quite there, they have to make a decision.

Friday, 21 November 2014

NHL responsible for on-ice violence, not the NHLPA.

I'm coming across on social media the notion that the NHL Players Association is mostly responsible for the endemic violence and use of intimidation as a tactic in pro hockey, that they're the ones standing in the way of progress.

Relying on the NHLPA to agree that its members should bear the brunt of harsher discipline so as to eradicate fighting is unrealistic, and flies in the face of a union’s duty to represent its members. Why would the NHLPA, which has had to retreat significantly in hugely important areas of its CBA the last couple of rounds of negotiation, give a freebie to NHL owners, without getting anything in return?

There was a comic who once observed that the birth control pill was the wrong way to go about contraception, since if you want to keep everyone safe you take the bullets out of the gun, you don’t make everyone wear kevlar vests.

Same with the NHL. If it wants to make the game safer, instead of relying on tough guys to prevent other tough guys from being overly tough on that elastic toughness scale that’s so hard to quantify, why don’t they just remove the tough guys from the environment? And punish the teams that insist on employing such hazardous players? Which it could easily do, with fines and suspensions for coaches or GM’s, loss of draft picks or draft position, or salary-cap penalty.

Thought experiment: Chris Neil dummies rookie forward Filip Forsberg with a flying elbow, and Shea Weber responds as tradition wants and as he’s been encultured to do. He goes up to Chris Neil and tries to avenge his teammate by engaging him in a fight. Now the NHLPA should willingly agree that Shea Weber should bear the brunt of the blame for this situation?

I worked at a company where, despite what we thought were our best efforts, worker injuries occurred too often, and we even had fatalities. What caused even greater attention to safety in our workplace, about which some managers would shrug and sincerely think and say: “What more can we do?”, was the Worker’s Compensation Boards hammering us with punishingly high rates, and threats of doubling or tripling these, and even more draconian measures, if we didn’t shape up.

This caused a crisis at the very highest levels in our company, but suddenly the heat was on, and major changes occurred. Traditional work practices that caused high injury rates but were previously thought to be unavoidable were abandoned. Mandatory, documented ‘tailgate meetings’ at the start of shift to go over safety considerations were introduced, with great scrutiny on foremen and supervisors that these not be slacked on. Rigid adherence to the ‘New and Young Workers’ safety/initiation training, an province-wide initiative by WCB, again with documentation, and General Managers accountable for completion rates to be at 100% and remain there, was another method used. A safety awareness campaign through HR, featuring our own employees was a visible sign that we had to double down on this.

And what do you know, these and many other changes and initiatives had a positive effect, and the injury rate started creeping down. It wouldn’t have happened however without external pressure to do better, and a focus by the Directors to ensure that we did do better.

What we didn’t do, however, was threaten our employees that they’d face penalties if they got injured. But that’s the sole method the NHL relies on. John Moore elbows another player into next week? Three games suspension for you. Chris Kreider barrels into his fourth goalie in less than a year? You’re on a watchlist, buddy boy!

It’s absolutely crazy. If the Rangers were now facing a drop of ten positions in their draft position for the second round, and the next infraction would start messing with their first-rounder, and if Alain Vigneault and Glen Sather were just back from suspension and facing longer ones for the next infraction, there’d be real change in New York. They’d take players aside and coach them on how they want them to play. Players who are borderline maniacs would play less or not at all, and players who can actually play with the puck would find their way into the lineup. Danny Kristo wouldn’t be immediately described as slender or undersized, but rather as a scorer. He’d be playing in the NHL, and Tanner Glass and Ryan Malone wouldn’t.

Brian Burke and Marc Bergevin riff on player selection and development.

Here's a great passage in a TSN article about Marc Bergevin and Brian Burke speaking at an analytics conference in Toronto, in advance of the Hall of Fame ceremony and GM meetings:
“(Brian Burke) said they start every year’s scouting meetings discussing mistakes that they have made.

The specific example he cited was Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, who wasn’t drafted until the fifth round of his final draft-eligible season, yet has played an important role for the Blackhawks over the past couple seasons.

Burke said what stood out in their evaluation was that Shaw was too small, with the problem being that, “He doesn’t realize he’s too small.”

Which could apply to Brendan Gallagher as well.

Also, before we get carried away with this quote about Marc Bergevin liking Morgan Rielly but deferring to Trevor Timmins’ judgment, there’s clearer context in this article. It’s more a case that he got to see Morgan Rielly play, but not Alex Galchenyuk, who was injured his draft year. So it’s understandable that he ‘liked’ Morgan Rielly.  It's not a case that he preferred him to Alex, like Brian Burke said he did, that if he'd had the #1 pick, he would have chosen Morgan Rielly first overall.

Another interesting point is made by the Canadiens GM, and aligns perfectly with his oft-stated philosophy about letting young players learn their trade in the minors:
Miller also asked about player development, and whether teams should send teens back to junior for further development.
"I'm convinced some teams keep kids as a marketing tool," Burke said. "I told Sean Monahan he was going back to junior, but he forced us to keep him."
Bergevin added, "The players make the decision, but the road to Montreal goes through Hamilton."
Bergevin comes to this decision with perspective, having played in the NHL as a 19-year-old himself. "I played in the NHL at 19, and what happens is that, because you want to stay in the league, you change your game, and maybe not for the best in terms of overall development."
That last sentence tells us everything we need regarding his hesitation to bring up young defencemen from Hamilton before he feels they're ready, and his recent trades for Sergei Gonchar and now Bryan Allen.

Finally, this is relevant when we make our line combinations, or cobble together trade proposals, or argue about bringing up a certain player from Hamilton and playing him instead of an incumbent:
Burke: “I don’t pay attention to anything anyone says in media. If someone in media makes a suggestion and you haven’t thought of it, then you should resign.”

Manny Malhotra leads Canadiens to league-leading faceoff percentage.

As of this writing, the Montréal Canadiens are leading the NHL in faceoff percentage, with a 54.7% win rate.  Last season they finished 17th overall at 49.6%, and recently, this has been the trend for the team, to be average at best.

Amazing the change in one season. Fans used to say we should hire Yanic Perreault as the faceoff coach, but instead the acquisition of unrestricted free agent Manny Malhotra apparently has done the trick.  His steady veteran presence and leadership, his speed and size, his superb defensive play were all thought to be an upgrade on last year's incumbents at fourth-line centre Ryan White and Daniel Brière.  It was also thought that he'd relieve some of the responsibilities and corresponding wear and tear on Tomas Plekanec.

Oh, and we thought he might help on faceoffs too.  Has he ever.  He leads the NHL with a 61.6%, nearly two points clear of Patrice Bergeron and the rest of the field.  And his injection into the Habs' centre corps has played a large role in changing the Canadiens' fortune in the faceoff dot.

One obvious way he may be helping is by giving the guys tips and advice. One thing he said so far this season is that strategy, how you approach them is very important. In some situations he says that he’s not necessarily trying to win the draw, but ensuring that he doesn’t lose it clean. If the other guy has a greater chance of winning, but very little of having a clean draw back to a d-man, he feels that’s preferable, and if it goes that way he’s done his job.

The latest 24CH showed him in the dressing room between periods, as they’re about to head back out on the ice, doing a demonstration of a technique, exaggerated for effect.

Another reason I thought might be involved, and maybe anyone with more expertise on this may chime in, is that now Manny is taking the important faceoffs against the best guy on the other team, it’s not Tomas who gets those all the time now, and there’s a cascade effect. Manny is a beast and he gets a 60% taking on the best in the biz in crucial situations. Tomas now gets many more faceoffs against the #2 or #3 guy on the other side, and his percentage improves by 10 or 12 points against reletively weaker opposition. Same for David and Lars, they’re now going up against comparatively less accomplished faceoff men, and their average has shot up.

So yeah, better info, and more focus on this area, and a domino effect where with Manny our other centres aren’t facing competition as tough as last season, and voilà, we’re strong on the dot now.

NHL can't get out of its own way, enforce its own rules written black on white, to protect its own stars, interests.

Nicolas Deslauriers got a match penalty for spearing Vladimir Tarasenko, as he should have, during the November 11 game between the Sabres and the Blues.

Spearing is considered so abhorrent, so against the spirit of the game and fair play, that the rules call for a very strict interpretation of the offence, and the penalties are very harsh.
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

The thing is, this rulemaking should have taken care of the issue, except the league acted like it painted itself into a corner, like a parent who threatens to send a child to bed without supper, but then relents.  The league and its referees rarely interpret this rule as it's written, so we've been seeing spearing run rampant, despite measures being available to deal with this subject decisively.

Last season, we saw Corey Perry and certainly Milan Lucic among others get away with spears, repeatedly, and it ballooned and mutated until we now get a situation where a worthless plug like Nicolas Deslauriers, who doesn't belong on the same ice as Vladimir Tarasenko, is somehow charged with covering him on a faceoff, and gives him the North American-game, Nick Kypreos-approved 'shot to let him know you're there', and then another, then more, until he's trying to apendectomicize him with his VaporLite.

This is what fighting begets.  Goons run roughshod over smaller players, who are deemed not be 'an NHL'er', like David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, because they're violence-averse.  Instead of having guys who can play hockey, we get to watch Nicolas Deslauriers, with his 'big body', and a 35 goal 4-year junior career under his belt, ply his trade for the Sabres.

Schadenfreude: Ron Hextall, Dallas Eakins and Vince Carter

Interesting night in the NHL Wednesday.

After a 2-0 loss to the Rangers, Flyers GM Ron ‘Helter Skelter’ Hextall loses it on his team in the dressing room, which the reporters outside can hear, and the players subsequently confirm. Yet Pokerface Ron lies like a Bruin, saying he didn’t, pleading ignorance, and then weakly backtracking that he wouldn’t confirm or deny that he did or didn’t. Delectable stuff.

In Edmonton, the Canucks beat the Oilers, with Radim Vrbata scoring two awesome powerplay goals, and Yannick Weber getting a goal and an assist. Highlight of the night was Kevin Bieksa filling in Andrew Ference after the Oilers, ahem, ‘captain‘, pushed him right into Ben Scrivens. Somehow taking exception to that, Intrepid Andrew decided to avenge his goalie’s honour, and laid a generous beating on Kevin Bieksa’s fists with his chin.

After, Dallas Eakins spoke.

And in Toronto, there was a love-in with Vince Carter, just like Vancouver recently had with Pavel Bure. Sure Vince, get all weepy and stuff, everyone forgot how you dogged it for entire seasons while trying to force a trade out of town.

Gary Bettman, Dion Phaneuf are big fat idiots.

Gary Bettman is a nincompoop.

With that out of the way, I'm catching up to some PVR'ed stuff, and on ESPN's "Around the Horn", they have a segment on the Leafs snubbing their fans yesterday.  Now ESPN has little time for hockey or the NHL, they'll usually stoop to dealing with it only when there's nothing NFL or NBA going on,  or when some truly outrageous and violent incident occurs.  "Pardon the Interruption"'s Tony Kornheiser's shtick includes a plea to viewers not to switch the channel when he announces they'll soon talk hockey.

This is what happens when you ghetto-ize your league by giving one network monopoly on your product, thus giving others the green light to safely ignore it, actually make it in their best interests to.  ESPN will give a short snippet of attention to an unbelievable Tarasenk-goal, or an entire segment to a team embarrassing itself, because it's outside the norm and conversation-worthy, but refrain from doing too much to drum up a league and drive ratings for NBC.

And yeah Dion, nice moves there, you got on ESPN for being a mendacious, capricious puckhead.