Tuesday, 28 October 2014

RDS hockey telecasts are vastly superior to Sportsnet's

I watched the Canadiens-Oilers game last night on Sportsnet, and found the product less than ideal.  Here are some of what I perceived were the issues:
The Sportsnet broadcast team I was unfamiliar with, the onslaught of ads during the broadcast, during the action, with every line change having a sponsor, which had to be bloviated on by Gene Principe, usually running over the puck drop.  The tinny echo-ey classic schlock music in the arena, miked very loud, continuously during the timeouts.  The comparatively muted crowd noise.  The weird camera placement, which at Northlands are set up facing the penalty boxes instead of the players' benches.
For comparison's sake, I'm watching the condensed version of the game, a program that RDS calls "Canadiens Express", where they take the game and show an edited, one hour version.  And I have to say that RDS does a much, much better job than Sportsnet with the broadcast.

For starters, Pierre Houde and Marc Denis are unmatched as a broadcast team, no one in hockey is better.  You have to go to Al Michaels and Chris Collingsworth maybe, to find another team that works so brilliantly together, so effortlessly, the team being even better than the individual components, as great as they are.  The Sportsnet crew from last night wasn't bad, but Gene Principe kept barging in with his self-indulgent puns, they were heavy on the yuks and light on actual knowledge and info.

 The product placement is much more palatable.  The stats line which is shown when introducing the goalies has a carmaker logo contained in it, but it's not flashing and bouncing around.  It's actually integrated in the show, as opposed to clashing with it.

During the game, we could clearly hear the crowd noise, the "Let's go Oilers!" and "Go Habs Go!" chants, the oohs and ahs as the play went back and forth, it contributed to the excitement.  Conversely, during breaks in the action, the director turned down the arena mikes, so the screechy treble-y arena rock that grated on the ears on the Sportsnet broadcast wasn't omnipresent on RDS, just some innocuous background noise.

And am I dreaming, or is the camera work much better on RDS?  The placement is the same as with Sportsnet's, but it seems smoother, less jerky and confused.  I may be dreaming, but for me, the sign of good camera work is evident when watching a game by the fact that I don't notice it.  I see what I want to see and don't miss anything.  Sportsnet's work sometimes engender seasickness, but the RDS shots are silky smooth.

Again, it might just be confirmation bias, a case of me wanting the camera work to be better, and judging a shared camera feed as superior since it has the RDS logo on it, but that's the way it feels.

And how great is Pierre Houde?  In the first, he says "Là il y'a une mauvaise chute de Parenteau, mais l'arbitre a levé le bras.  On impute la responsabilité au défenseur des Oilers."

Translated:  "There is a bad fall by Parenteau, but the referee has raised his arm.  Responsibility is imputed to the Oilers' defenceman."

It's a joy to listen to him.  But now I have to make do with Paul Romanuk.  Thank you Gary Bettman.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Game 9: Canadiens 0, Oilers 2

For the first time in a long time, watching the game early on,  I thought the Canadiens were clearly better than the team they were up against on the ice.  The reason I haven't had that impression in ages is in large part due to the inferiority complex I've developed after years of organizational mediocrity, or worse.

In the seventies or eighties, I never doubted we were more powerful, more talented, and that we had a just cause, the favour of the gods on our side.  The seventies was easy, with the slew of Hall  of Famers on the roster.  Ken Dryden, the Big Three, Guy and Shutty, the opponents were beaten before the puck was dropped.

The eighties teams weren't quite so dominant, but had legions of thumpers to ice in front of Patrick Roy, an intimidating goalie if ever there was one.  Every season one or two or four more youngsters would come up from Sherbrooke to shore up the ranks, and we'd go into Philadelphia or Boston and make them lose their minds.  Someone told the story recently of how when General Manager Serge Savard walked into a rink huffing on a huge cigar, with Patrick Roy in tow, the opponents thought they were beat right then.

These days, my natural pessimism makes me cautious of supposed weaker teams, and wary of powerhouses.  I don't expect we'll lose, exactly, I think we have a good shot, but when it's happening I'm thankful for bounces, for chemistry, for momentum, for superior work ethic.  In my mind, it's not preordained.

The telecast itself was a bit jarring to watch.  The Sportsnet broadcast team I was unfamiliar with, the onslaught of ads during the broadcast, during the action, with every line change having a sponsor, which had to be bloviated on by Gene Principe, usually running over the puck drop.  The tinny echo-ey classic schlock music in the arena, miked very loud, continuously during the timeouts.  The comparatively muted crowd noise.  The weird camera placement, which at Northlands are set up facing the penalty boxes instead of the players' benches.

As far as the game itself, early on, if featured lots of skating, and not a lot of tedious crashing and banging and finishing your checks, just good exciting uptempo hockey.

And yeah, with the trademark skating style of the Canadiens in the first, the crisp, one-touch, smart passes, the numerous rushes on Ben Scrivens' net, I felt the result wasn't in doubt.  We were going to take these minor leaguers to the woodshed.  As soon as we buried one of these chances.  Any time now.  Whenever you're ready boys.

That advantage appeared to wane as the fancy plays didn't click, as they didn't get cashed in.  By the second period that clear superiority had vanished.  But we did have opportunities, close calls.

For example, the disallowed goal by Max Pacioretty, due to goaltender interference.  I want to argue this one a little bit.  Okay sure, Ben Scrivens didn't have a chance to make the save due to contact by Brendan Gallagher, but I have to ask: why was that not an interference call on Jeff Petry?  He clearly pushed Gally into Ben Scrivens.  Since Brendan didn't have the puck, Mr. Petry wasn't allowed to touch him.  So yeah, Ben Scrivens didn't have a chance to make a save, but Gally didn't have a chance to stop before making contact with the goalie, which he could/would have done, if he hadn't been shoved.

And what was with that David Desharnais massive crosscheck to the head of Andrew Ference, which negated a man advantage?  I don't think anyone should ever do that to another human being.  Now, to Andrew Ference, sure, fill your boots.  Except maybe wait until after we have a big fat lead before you get even for whatever unspeakable act he committed, back when he was a dirty Bruin or now that he's a dirty Oiler.

At the end of the first, the Oilers lucked into a lucky goal by Benoit Pouliot, who eventually picked up an assist on his team's second goal.  But I don't care.  He could score four goals, I'd still think it's good riddance for us to have let him go years ago, and a horrible signing for the Oilers.

The Oilers scored again in the second, and on that goal Nathan Beaulieu made a peewee mistake.  He was unfortunate to blow a tire in the neutral zone which precipitated the crisis, but he had time and the skill to recover, get back into position.  Still, a scramble was on, and Topic-of-the-week Nail Yakupov ended up standing off to the side of the net.  Somehow, Nathan found himself facing the net, standing in the crease, ineffectually trying to sweep the ice clear of any puck that might skitter by.  He was also leaving his guy alone off to the side, unchecked.  And it's not like he just didn't see him, he clearly knew he was there.  Mr. Yakupov potted an easy goal when the puck did in fact come right to him, while Dustin Tokarski was scrambling on the other side of the crease.

Often, there will be discussions on defensive systems, and which player is reliable or weak in defensive coverage.  These concepts are often too advanced for me, my coaching having consisted of very basic concepts, nothing too elaborate.  One of these fundamentals is that as a defenceman, you face the opposition, not your own net.  Basic stuff.  More importantly, you have to cover your man.  Anyone near the net in the wrong colour jersey, you stay close to them, tie up their stick, push them out of the area with fraternal crosschecks.  You don't leave someone uncovered like Nail Yakupov was, waiting for the puck.  Especially if you don't have anything more pressing to do.

I suspect that Jarred Tinordi will draw back in for a while, and Nathan will be asked to put in extra practice time with Jean-Jacques Daigneault in the near future.  He looked really bad on that one, and it wasn't a bobble, or a gamble that came back to bite him.  He broke one of the Commandments, that he's had drilled into him since he started playing.  Not good.

After the second goal, the boys seemed to tighten up.  They worked hard, tried to create something, to no avail.  Of note, mighty mites Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais were relentless in the offensive zones, digging and battling along the boards, taking the puck to the front of the net, digging and fighting the whole way.

An empty-net goal by Taylor Hall sealed our fate.

Stray observations:

I want P.K. to never look at the ref when he's playing.  Stop wondering if a penalty will be called, or appealing for clemency, or protesting your innocence prematurely.  Just frigging play hard, concentrate on the play, until the whistle goes.  The perception is, it's an admission of guilt when you look at the ref like that.

What are the chances that in the camera shot of Mads Eller sitting in the crowd, a stunning young blonde Valkyrie is seated next to him?

With Keith Acton and Craig Ramsey balding it up behind the bench, is that why Dallas Eakins has that ludicrous Flock of Seagulls hairdo, feeling he has to make up for it?

Further thoughts after watching 'Canadiens Express':

-René Bourque sure didn't play like he had multiples family members and friends in attendance at Northlands.

-P.K. got a little obstinate in trying to blast a puck through everyone past Ben Scrivens, but overall he's improved so much on that score.  Three years ago we despaired that he'd ever learn to just put the puck on the net instead of on the glass, or five feet wide.  He's now very consistent in that regard, maybe learned from watching Andrei how to fake and deke past defenders, and how to change his angles to find a lane.  Last night, maybe the whole team felt the pressure to score after a while, and he kept thinking "This one HAS to get through."

-Lars Eller forgot to "play like a big forward with skill, rather than a skilled forward with some size", as Marc Bergevin wants him to do.  On the two-on-one with Brandon Prust, he had a clear shot at the net, with lots of open mesh since Ben Scrivens had to play back.  He should have fired the puck on net and then driven the net, and hoped for a rebound for him and Brandon Prust to cash in.  Instead, he stickhandled, went east-west, and then used a wrist shot as he was about to be checked by a collapsing forward.  Not optimal play selection by him.  Gally would have taken the puck to the net, not tried to get fancy.  It's a process I guess.  Analog, not digital.

-I know there will be game to game variations in faceoff percentage, but I wonder what the Oilers did that tilted that stat so far in their favour, when the Canadiens were league-leaders in this area, and Edmonton is known to be weak at the centre position.

Is Brandon Prust overpaid?

Fans nowadays spend a lot of time going over player salaries, in the age of salary caps, when an overpay on a certain player hamstrings your team in another area.  In the old days, most of us didn't care really, it was the owner's money, we wanted management to spend our ticket revenue on retaining our players, and attracting new ones to help our team eventually win a championship.

The last few years have been difficult on Canadiens fans, as we ran out the clock on the contracts of Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Tomas Kaberle, Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik, most notably.  It was understood in 2010 that we had to purge these out of the system before we took another kick at the can.  The Bob Gainey gamble, his Virage Vitesse, was undone by Jeremy Jacobs and his band of thugs, with right-hand-man Colin Campbell helming the officiating for him the League.

Now that we've come through this fallow period, our salary structure is actually sound.  The big money is going to the player who are actually the best players on the team, if not the league.  It's going to the proven veterans.  Useful contributors are wrapped up on decent deals, or are still chewing their way through their Entry-Level deals.

In this advantageous position, perfectionist fans are sometimes driven to nitpick, and zero in on Travis Moen and Brandon Prust as their targets for discontent.  

Travis Moen has two more years to his contract, at a touch under $2M a season, and it's not a great situation to be in.  Travis was signed in 2012, on June 30, when team depth was at its nadir.  We had finished that season with Mathieu Darche in the Top 6, playing powerplay minutes.  In that context, it's understandable that Travis got the security he was seeking, and that the team, undersized and undermanned as it was, couldn't pass up his services.  

It's only the recent concussions, which have made him hesitant to face up to other teams' tough guys, that have made this deal more problematic.  At the time, it seemed reasonable to sign him for that amount.  On July 1, we patted each other on the back, seeing the contracts awarded to similar players around the league. 

We're often reminded how much Travis is respected, even loved by his teammates and coaches.  Michel Therrien has been benching younger players in his favour, using him on the powerplay.  Some surmise he's being showcased, but whatever the reason may be, we're far from a Tomas Kaberle situation with Travis.

Brandon Prust is another rugged forward who received a contract from the Canadiens during the summer of 2012.  He was one of the early UFA signees, the 'target' of Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien, who felt that his presence would play a large part in transforming the Canadiens.  He brought size, strength, and an ability to fight that eclipsed his more modest physical dimensions.  Marc Bergevin explained that he brought a whole lot of intangibles, in terms of what a great teammate he was, how his energy was contagious, how his fearlessness on the ice electrified a lineup.  He played 'the right way'.

They were so convinced of this that Michel Therrien and Director of Player Personnel Scott Mellanby visited him in person on July 1, at his house in London, on his doorstep with a lettered jersey in his name, as the clock struck twelve and the UFA festivities kicked off.  And they didn't show up with a linebacker number either, they gave him the '8'.  It was a significant sales pitch, and a smart one too, seeing as Brandon was known to be in a relationship with Québec media personality Mariepier Morin.  Her expression was priceless when she was interviewed and told how Brandon called her about the offer.  It's obvious he didn't have much of a choice any longer, to remain in NYC or go anywhere else.

The contract also needs to be taken in the context of how much in demand Brandon was.  The Leafs and Canucks were just two other teams who were thought to be chasing him, among many, for exactly the same reasons the Habs did, his toughness and energy, while still being able to contribute at actually playing hockey.  

The Maple Leafs, famously, took another run at this type of player when they, disastrously, signed Dave Clarkson to his crazy contract.  

Rangers followers bemoan his loss, and long explained the team's many woes as due to his departure.

Seeing Brandon running all over the ice, his ability to play fourth-line and move up the roster, his bromances with the kids and P.K. among others, his obviously being a 'glue guy', who's 'good in the room', based on what we see watching games and 24CH, his courage in taking on all comers, it's hard to believe that he might be overpaid.  We'd be mean to mentally chisel away a half mill from his contract, given all he gives of himself.

No, when we look at it, in terms of what it takes to sign a frontline player, one who's in demand, on July 1, and when we look at how he's played, how he's contributed to the dressing room that's the "happiest, tightest" P.A. Parenteau claims he has ever been a part of, Brandon Prust is a scream of a deal, worth every penny.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Game 8: Canadiens 3, Rangers 1

Watched the Canadiens 3-1 win on Sportsnet-City, and thank you for that Gary Bettman.  It was awesome being subjected to that amateurish direction during the anthems, going to a camera panning crazily from a closeup of a baby to the floor, to the stairs, to the whoops, that's not the shot we want...

Also great to be forced to deal with Paul Romanuk as he learns, or re-learns on the job.  Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk were two particular problems for him, with jerseys number 67 and 27 respectively, similar frames and the same position.  He misspoke, misidentified them a couple of times early, then decided to delay his call until he was sure, so in that regard, he reminded me of Bob Cole, peering over his tri-focals, trying to remember if #6 in red is Jim Roberts or that new Mondou kid.  Wait, he's wearing a beard...  No, it must be #8, that George Parrust guy.

We joined the game in progress, in time for the second faceoff fifteen seconds in, after the synchronized anthems.  Again, thank you Mr. Bettman.  The game didn't have much spark to it, despite the rivalries and enmities developed during last spring's playoffs.  At times, the rink felt as quiet as mine does on Monday morning drop-in sessions.  Or the Leafs barn on a Saturday night.

One aspect which Messrs. Romanuk and Johnson didn't comment on was how many players tripped or fell, for no apparent reason, all through the game.  I wondered if the ice was a problem, of poor quality, if there had been an event the day before and it was affecting the playing surface.  It sure seemed that way.

Things picked up midway through though when Tomas Plekanec on the penalty kill poked a puck past Ryan McDonagh at the blue line and streaked off on a breakaway.  Trouble for the Rangers was, Max Pacioretty also broke out, so it turned into a 2 on 0 break.  Tomas passed to Max, who passed back to Tomas, who passed it back to Max, who, I kid you not, passed it back to Tomas, who tucked it home past a discombobulated Henrik Lundqvist, who spent the next few minutes getting back into his jockstrap.

Also in the first, we saw a incident that possibly illustrated Andrei's hesitation when he was asked about the putative growing chemistry between him and his new partner Tom Gilbert.  Off a faceoff, Andrei was in the offensive zone with his back to the blue line, near the boards, when he faked one way and then fed the puck to a streaking Tom Gilbert who had a clear lane to the net.  The thing is, the pass ended up being behind Tom, and he couldn't gather it in.  It seemed like he wanted to take it right to the net, whereas Andrei had fed him a pass he could one-time.

The Rangers tied up the game late in the first, and local boy Anthony Duclair got an assist in his first game at the New Forum.  Much was made of the former Rempart during the broadcast, and of his parents being in the stands, it was good that he could get on the scoreboard.

Good also that Lars got a goal in the second period to break out of a slump, and we hope it's instructive that he scored by digging and causing havoc in front of the Ranger net, not by datsyiuking around the periphery.  Dale Weise got an assist on the play, and proved his coach right in his decision to start him and sit out Jiri Sekac.

Not that Mr. Sekac has been playing badly, this isn't really a benching as much as Head Coach Michel Therrien needing to find minutes for everyone.  Michaël Bournival has been sent to Hamilton a couple of times to play some games.  Jiri will get in lots of games this year, he's done very well so far.

Dale had been singled out by his coach as having an average start to the season, and needing to play with more commitment, and to be more physical.  He certainly delivered tonight, and his infectious, dog-in-a-bowling-alley style rubbed off on his linemates.  We saw René Bourque deal out a couple of hits, and when the dogpiles happened he was drawn in and pitched in.

The Canadiens didn't exactly sit on their lead, but it was touch-and-go for the next while, with pessimistic fans dreading a squib lucky goal from the visitors to tie things up, but Max put the game away early in the third with a shot right from the crease.  It came on a dandy pass from Johnny-on-the-spot Dale Weise, who was subbing in on the Desharnais line for a shaken up Brendan Gallagher.  Gally had earlier run into Tanner Glass and highsticked himself, with his own stick.  I bet the sound of the crowd roaring and the goal horn sounding helped him recover as he shook it off in the tunnel.

Carey made a lot of effortless stops, smooth as silk, the defencemen kept things under control, an almost uneventful two points then for les boys.  No fireworks, Chris Kreider escaped unscathed, and the Dale Weise-John Moore antagonism didn't boil over.  In fact, the refs may have kept things under wraps with a quick whistle and marginal call against Dale for interference against Mr. Moore early in the first, sending a message that they wanted things to run by the book, no funny business, capisce?

And at the start of l'Antichambre, Chantal Machabée went to the NHL points standings early, and sure enough the Canadiens are tied for first with their 7-1 record.  Funny thing is, I can't remember the last time I checked the standings to see where we were in reference to the top spot.  As a kid, to see how far ahead of the Flyers or Bruins or Islanders we were, sure, but not for decades it seemed.  Irregularly nowadays, I'll go see what our playoff seeding is at the moment, but that's about it.

But tonight, sheepishly, I admit I'd decided I should check the standings before Chantal beat me to it.  I know, I know, it's very early in the season...

Saturday, 25 October 2014

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 2: Notes

This episode is focused on the four-game road trip to start the season.  Nice montage to begin, with an essay narrated perfectly by Claude Quenneville.  So happy he's doing this again this year.

01:20  Closeup on Dustin Tokarski to start, with a slow-mo of him walking to Jarred Tinordi's skookum F-150, along with Jarred, Nathan Beaulieu sporting a red Expos hat (attaboy!) and Jacob de la Rose, it's very "Entourage"-ish.  Driving into town with the sun low in the sky, these guys have got life by the balls.

Dustin is very polished, both in his appearance and his demeanor, as well as how he expresses himself.  You can see how that might impress a coach, when he's trying to make a decision as to who to start.  The brain trust may have been influenced by his unflappable persona when they chose him to replace Carey in the playoffs.

03:20  Mild hiccup in the show: they give in to the Toronto-Montréal rivalry hype.  Mr. Quenneville should know better.  Our rivals are the Bruins, and the putative Québec Nordiques, whenever the Panthers or Coyotes decide to move.  I even feel the Senators are truer rivals, after the 2013 playoffs.

03:30  Interviews with fans at a Toronto pub called Shuey's, which is Ground Zero for local Habs fans.  Cool moment: fans singing the national anthem prior to puck drop, with a fan in a Leafs jersey singing in English, and his buddy in a Canadiens jersey singing in French.

05:45  Another, different look at Max Pacioretty blowing by Peelon Phaneuf and scoring on Jonathan Bernier.  The show lucked out with its camera placement.

06:00  Whenever I see a pretty girl in a Leafs jersey, I feel sad, like when coming across a three-legged dog, an old rusted wheel-less bike locked up in a snowbank somewhere, or a soccer fan.

06:10  A scene showing Nathan Beaulieu's shot off the crossbar.  It's a game of inches.  Would his season be going differently if that had gone in, right off the bat?  More confidence, more relaxed, coaches depending on him a little more, trusting him a little more?

06:25  A Subbanesque corral of the puck and sharp banked turn from Alexei Emelin, all that's missing is the inside-hand skimming the ice.  He turns a dump-in by the Leafs into a breakout in a hurry, and hits Tomas Plekanec in full flight for a breakaway goal.

P.K. was laudatory towards his new partner in interviews yesterday, taking time to point out that his offensive game is under-rated.  (Maybe P.K. can teach Andrei a couple of tricks when answering questions from the media)  We can see what he means here.

Brandon Prust is miked up for this game and is constantly chattering.  This should be an option when I'm viewing games, instead of Bob Cole, I should be able to listen in on Prusty's running commentary.  "Nice Yemmy!  Yah, yah!...  Woooo hooooo!"

06:50  More Prusty.  He's seated on the bench looking on when the puck comes right in front of him to Mike Weaver at the blue line, who keeps it in the zone and fires it back in deep.  "Yeah..." says Brandon.  The linesman, who is with his back to the boards right in front of Brandon, looks closely at the play, and gives the signal that it's onside.  "Good caaall!" Brandon says immediately, followed half a beat later by Max, who offers a "Good call!" in support.

The linesman doesn't react, but you gotta think he's got a little warm glow from the obvious attempt to butter him up.  These guys hear it so often when they screw up, and even when they make the right call, that it's got to be a balm when they get positive feedback, even when it's so blatantly transparent as this instance is.  Nice display of emotional intelligence here by Brandon, pre-dispose the ref to make a favourable call, then reward him for doing so.

Who'd have thought that Prusty was a Skinnerian behaviouralist?

08:15  After the win, a quick team shot in the dressing room, with Asst. Coach Dan Lacroix as the photog.  Apparently it's a new team ritual.

09:00  Short segment on the scrubs and how their day goes.  We see them going through some extra on-ice work, and then their workout under Conditioning Coach Pierre Allard.  It's unclear whether the dryland stuff is after practice, or during the first period while their teammates are on the ice.  I don't see Dustin Tokarski in the group, so it could be the latter.

Pierre Allard says he's focusing on power moves.  We see an ab wheel being used, some band work for rotational movements activating the core muscles, some high cleans, some dumbbell deadlifts.  A kettlebell in front of a ground mat is seen but not shown being used.  Isolation is dead, long live compound movements.

09:45  Ticker gets the start in D.C.  I don't know that I'm comfortable seeing him in Mike McPhee's #35 jersey.  Feels wrong.

10:15  We've talked about how at $9M per season, P.K. isn't allowed to make mistakes anymore.  Not like this one anyway.  He skates behind his net, and to fend off an opponent coming to check him, hurriedly tries to get the puck by him, and it ends up in his net, the mother of all turnovers.  P.K. looked bad on this one, skittish.  Sure, protect yourself, don't expose yourself to injury, but maybe then instead of trying to skate the puck out aggressively and then bailing out, maybe you could have banged it off the glass and made Don Cherry and Randy Ladouceur proud.

10:40  Brandon Prust is tougher than three-dollar steak.  That O'Brien kid he's tangling with looks twice as big as he is, and Brandon has a couple of opportunities to stop the fight quickly, notably at the start when he slips to the ice and could have just left it at that, but instead he takes the time to get up and continue, and wins the fight.  Great job.

11:10  "Here we go boys!  Here we (effing) go!"  P.K. takes care of the recently departed Josh Gorges' role, providing the rah-rah between periods.  Later in the show, we see Manny Malhotra stand up and harangue his teammates about passing up scoring opportunities in favour of fancy passes.

It looks like early on, and based on this scant evidence, that Marc Bergevin's wager will work out for him, that if some veterans who provided the leadership were let go, younger vets would organically, naturally assume these responsibilities.

P.K. as a frisky rookie was sometimes abrasively vocal, to the point that it irked some vets.  Since then, he's earned his stripes with his play and production, so he's earned the right to woof, why not have him take charge of this dressing room chatter?

Immediately after, we see Manny shouting at Gally to "jump up", so doing more chatter from the bench.

12:45  Carey Price gives Ticker the game puck for his first win of the season, a well-deserved honour.  The two then pose for a photo (Dan Lacroix seems big on photos).  They look like they'll get along just fine, despite our worries about ruffled feathers if Peter Budaj was let go earlier in camp.

13:15  Claude Quenneville discourses on the hated Flyers.  That's more like it.

14:15  Highjinks: At practice, Brandon Prust discusses a method to prevent getting the forklift in the crotch from an opponent, then sneaks up on an unsuspecting P.K. and applies such a move on him, Milan Lucic style.  P.K. pitches forward to the ice.

Brendan Gallagher takes a calculated slapshot across the ice that banks on the boards and ricochets past another player standing there, startling him.  Brendan turns to the camera and beams.  The picture doesn't allow me to tell who the victim was, but I'd bet good money it was Chucky.

Later, P.K. is discussing his fight with Ottawa goon Mark Borowiecki.  Brandon takes him on the ice to go over some moves, and in short order has him Nilan-ed, with his jersey over his head.  P.K. ends up on his butt on the ice, shrouded by his own practice jersey, getting used as a Zamboni by Brandon.

15:10  Focus on new Assistant Coach Dan Lacroix.

16:50  Jarred Tinordi is in tonight.  He has a calm, big-brotherey vibe off-ice, despite his rookie status.  It's easy to see how you'd want him as a teammate, even looking beyond his size and strength.  Guy Carbonneau coached against him in international tournaments when he was younger, and raves about his on-ice leadership.

17:15  Dan Lacroix is miked up for the Philly game, keeps chatting and encouraging constantly.

18:00  Money shot:  Alex Galchenyuk in a staring contest with Claude Giroux.  Alex's expression says it all about his competitiveness, his confidence and maturity, a cocky sneer at the Flyer captain.  It's so important to mention that he's skating forward during this, not shirking away, or backpedaling, or breaking off eye-contact.

18:15  I referred to it earlier, but the Manny Malhotra speech about getting pucks on net instead of making the extra pass occurs now, between the second and third periods.

19:10  "Can we get to fourty shots here?  Can we get to fourty shots?"  Dan Lacroix on the bench to his players, focusing on the effort, on the process, rather than the result.  If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you'll get there.  If you keep working and getting shots at the net, over the long haul it they'll go in.

Good of him to give his players a tangible, achievable goal.  Get to fourty shots, instead of 'tie up this game'.

20:10  Beaming René Bourque happy after the P.A. Parenteau shootout winner.  I'll say it again, René is not that much of a headache, he's not a malcontent, a griper.  Sure, often he's too much of a passenger, but he's happy to be there for the ride, not sour or backbiting.

20:15  Maybe this is the money shot.  In an ebullient dressing room, a manipulative Carey Price pipes up: "Subbie, give me a beat!"  P.K. shouts in his excitement, and races to the stereo to line up some tunes, as frisky and eager as a puppy asked to clean off a plate of table scraps, or as I was when my father would ask me as a teen to take the car out of the garage to warm it up.  "Sure thing, right away dad..."  Cue the Bugs Bunny bullet-whizzing-by sound.

20:30  P.A. Parenteau stated this week that this might be the happiest, tightest dressing room he's been a part of, and he's seen quite a few in his well-traveled career.  Sure, such a statement should be taken with a grain of salt, in line with the 'best shape of his career' pronouncements.  Talk to me after a five-game losing streak.

But seeing the boys celebrate another last-minute win in Philadelphia, always a tough road game, it'd be hard to argue with Pierre-Alexandre.  There sure weren't these same declarations made last season by the Canucks during the John Tortorella régime, and we're not hearing this coming out of Edmonton or Buffalo, or from the Sharks with their complicated relationship with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

We'll take it for now, for what it is, a good young team feeling itself growing and maturing and believing in itself more every day.

21:00  I guess the game puck and photo ceremony is another new thing this year.  Ticker awards the puck to Andrei Markov, who actually does look very happy for Dan Lacroix snapshot.

It beats the awkward traditional native cedar hat thing that the Canucks tried a couple seasons ago, and quickly abandoned, or the hard hat passed around by the Flames during the Darryl Sutter era.

Hamilton Bulldogs 4, Toronto Marlies 1

Some scattered thoughts about the Bulldogs' 4-1 win against the Marlies Friday night, gathered despite an indifferent focus on the game, mostly due to a jumpy stream of the scoreboard feed being all that was available for viewing.

--They rattled off those who don’t dress, I didn’t catch them all, some of them were Connor Crisp, Maxime Macenauer, Mac Bennett, Morgan Ellis. Joey McDonald is in nets.

--Frazer McLaren and Troy Bodie aren’t dressed for the Marlies.

--No score in the first. Hard to pay attention, listening to the Marlies play-by-play team, which is heavily slanted towards their players. It’s always their guys attacking with the puck, or making nice defensive plays, you rarely hear a Bulldog name.

--The other option is to listen to the Bulldog radio call, but they’re about one minute ahead of the picture, at least.

--Nathan Beaulieu just scored on the rush, from Sven Andrighetto.  1-0 Bulldogs. Grudging positive comments about Nathan from the broadcast team.

--Just saw big Joe Finley front Colton Orr in front of Joey McDonald’s net. Nice job.

--Marlies broadcasters very complimentary to Gabriel Dumont: “He’s a pitbull, he works hard, he’ll fight, he’ll score a goal, he sets the tone, he’s the hearbeat of the team, …”  Very nice.

--Made this attempt at comedy:

MEMO TO: Magnus Nygren
SUBJECT: Livability Index, Hamilton
TEXT: Things can’t be all bad, I just heard an ad for an $8.99 all-you-can-eat fish’n'chips sports bar in Hamilton. As Yakov Smirnov used to say: “What a country!”
 Of course, a wag on social media suggested that I use the Swedish word 'smorgasbord' instead.  Always great when someone tweaks your joke and makes it much funnier.  Really...

--Sven Andrighetto scores, 2-0 Bulldogs.

 --Twice now I’ve seen Joe Finley make things uncomfortable for Marlies in front of the net. I don’t necessarily want him to goon it up, but at 6’8″, 250 lbs., it’s good that he’s asserting himself, not taking the Hal Gill route.

--Funny moment: at one point the puck skittered by Darren Dietz at the offensive blue line, while the whistle went to blow the play dead, but according to the announcer it was this close to Colton Orr taking off on a breakaway, and that’s a thing, apparently.

--First wave of the powerplay had Nathan Beaulieu and Charles Hudon on the blue line.

--There are too many goons to count on the Marlies. I mentioned Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, Troy Bodie already, but wasn’t aware of David Broll and Jamie Devane, whatever those are.

--David Broll. Check out his ugly mug.  63 games for the Marlies last season, three goals, 120 penalty minutes.  Oh, truculent Leafs, please never change...

--David Broll almost picks up a misconduct for a shove well after the whistle.

--Colton Orr just pasted Darren Dietz, and then turned down an invite to fight from Joe Finley, apparently due to a previously injured shoulder.

--And Jamie Devane puts the Bulldogs on the powerplay again, Eric Tangradi scores to make it 3-0.  Oh, truculent Leafs, please never change...

--Sven Andrighetto looks determined, faintly heroic on the Bulldogs homepage.

--Bulldogs broadcast team:

“Nathan Beaulieu gave a real boost to the Bulldogs defence, he settled things down, kept them composed when there was pressure being applied.”

“That’s why he started the season in Montreal…”

--Michaël Bournival also gets some love, specifically for his work on the penalty kill.

--Some of these Marlies girls doing animation in the crowd, they almost hath the power to soothe the savage Hab fan.

--Eric Tangradi wraps it up with an empty-netter, 4-1 ‘Dogs.

--Promising start to the season, and with injured players Connor Crisp and Jack Nevins coming back to health, the toughness angle is now more in hand.  A little more depth and experience with the Dowells and the Bowmans, another infusion of talent with Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose and Mac Bennett, and Magnus Nygren back into the fold, things look good.

EDIT: More scattered thoughts on the game, courtesy of Sid Wood of All About the Habs.

Canuck blues.

I watched the first half of the Canucks-Avalanche game last night, then fast-forwarded through the rest, when the result seemed no longer in doubt.  A stinging loss after a good result in St-Louis, and a debacle in Dallas previous to that.

The Sedin line with Radim Vrbata will do some damage this year, they're really clicking.  Unless Duncan Keith elbows Daniel in the tonsils again.  Daniel seems to have found his scorer's touch again, after a couple of lost seasons probably due to the concussion he suffered from the Blackhawks blueliner.

The problem with the Canucks will be every other line.  Zach Kassian was undisciplined again last night, he puts out effort but takes dumb, non-competitive penalties.  He took a holding call in the offensive zone that was a headscratcher, a real "What were you thinking?" event.  So his promotion to the second line will not be easy.  Big huge kid with sweet hands, but having trouble putting the package together, kind of like a younger René Bourque.

As much as the trades they did over the summer were 'necessary', man do they miss Ryan Kesler's talent and snarl on the second line.  It's a much less formidable lineup without him there.  It's a case of hoping the first line wins the game for you, and that the other three lines hang on and don't lose it until the Sedins catch their breath and get out there again.  To the credit of Head Coach Willie Desjardins, he hasn't been overplaying his veteran stars, equalizing the work load throughout his forward lineup.

Same goes with the defence, as much as Jason Garrison never found his stride in Vancouver, they struggled to work in his left-handed slapshot on the powerplay (in the past Sami Salo's right shot worked well with the Sedins powerplay setup), his departure to Tampa has created a void which hasn't been filled.  He's a big, tough, capable defenceman, which we can't quite say about the current third pair of Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber.

Acquired from the Kings, Linden Vey, who has a relationship with Coach Willie Desjardins from their Medicine Hat days, and who it was thought was now ready for the NHL after a full AHL apprenticeship, was slotted hopefully at third-line center in camp.  He's for now been demoted to the wing on the fourth line.

Their faceoff percentage is frightful, 29th in the league.  It's so bad that some are banking on OHL rookie Bo Horvat to shore up the middle when he gets back from a conditioning stint in Utica, since he's strong on faceoffs.

Derek Dorsett is awful, a real thug.  He hit a smaller Av from behind into the boards last night, with a glaring knee-skate up, Matt Cooke-on-Erik-Karlsson style.  No damage done, but it was so cheaply transparent, a complete absence of care for a fellow player.

Tom Sestito isn't able to crack the lineup, and some think he'll hit waivers, despite the Canucks having to tangle with the bellicose Flames a few more times this season.

There were some optimists at the start of the season who thought the Canucks could improve this year since they shored up the talent on the third and fourth lines, which were black holes last season.  Trouble is, the second line has taken a serious hit with Ryan Kesler gone.  Same on D, it was hoped a return to form by Alex Edler would cure a lot of ills, but they can't make up the talent lost when Jason Garrison left.

The new system and coaching was also thought to be a factor, and the players seem to play with more conviction than they did last season under Torts, but it may be a long season for the Vancouver fans.

ATTN: Tom Gilbert >> Andrei Markov grapples with the 'Next Question'.

We haven't seen the Canadiens play a game since Tuesday, and things seem to be rolling smoothly, so maybe as a Team-Fan-Hype-Machine we needed a controversy, and the Beaulieu-Bournival-Bulldog-Beef doesn't seem to have legs, so we need to manufacture one.

On Thursday, a reporter asked Andrei Markov "What can you tell us about your partner, and how the chemistry is evolving with him?"

Cue the long, awkward pause.  He hemmed, he hawed, he grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck.  To some it seemed like quite the tell, as if he was looking at his deuce of clubs and his eight of diamonds, and wondered how he was going to bluff his way out of that.  He sighed dramatically, and looked at the reporter expressively, conveying a sense of "What do you want me to say?" back.

The reporter prompted him with a "It's a process...", as the throng chuckled nervously, and Andrei didn't quite take the proffered lifeline, mumbled about "getting to know each other", and finished with "I don't know what else to say" and shrugged.

It caused a minor sensation, as some took this as a definite vote-of-withheld-confidence in Tom Gilbert, his current regular partner.

Of course, this isn't the first time that Andrei's mediaphobic personality stirs things up.  We all remember his "Next question!" when presented with a P.K. Subban creampuff question at the end of the 2012 season.

Gaston Therrien of RDS tried to downplay the affair, calling ironically ‘du grand Markov’.  He says we shouldn't worry about it, Andrei is here to play, not talk about playing.  He also slipped in that Tom Gilbert was the first on the ice for the morning practice, and maybe was so because he got the message.

André Savard went further, agreeing that his play is the important consideration, but that he withholds answers even though he definitely has them.  About Tom Gilbert, Mr. Savard says that he saw him play lots last season in Florida, and his play is even better now than then, and doesn't know if it's related to the "structure" of the team, or directly because of being paired with Andrei.

In the same segment, Gaston Therrien stated that Tom Gilbert is an offensive player paired with another offensive player, and they need to work on their assignments, figure out who stays back to mind the store.

I wondered how much the language barrier may have played a role in the current tempest in our teapot.  The question was asked by a French-Canadian reporter to a Russian player, both operating in a second language, with an accent getting in the way of a halting query.

When interviewing people, a good rule of thumb to follow is not to ask leading questions of your subject. For example, don’t ask: “Tell me about how great you felt after the wonderful ovation you received before the game”, but rather “How did you react to the reception from the fans before the game?” Let the player choose to use words like ‘great’ and ‘wonderful’.

Dealing with a player like Andrei Markov, however, and especially for a Montréal journalist who should know better, that rule should be bent appreciably. Instead of saying “Tell me about how the chemistry is developing between you and your new partner”, ask “You and Tom Gilbert have been playing well together. Are you getting to know each other better, and playing better together?” Give Andrei a chance to say yes, give a rote pat on the back for his partner even if apparently he’s not fully convinced, and move on to something else.

John Tortorella was incensed when a reporter would say “Tell me about (your powerplay, your fourth line, your upcoming opponents,…)” He would snap at them and tell them “Ask me a question!” Evidently, he didn’t enjoy being asked to entertain the reporters, having to perform for them, like a bear riding a bicycle. If he got a question, and everyone’s cellphone was turned to silent, he’d gruffly answer, but he wouldn’t ‘talk about’ stuff.

Maybe that’s a good way to go for reporters dealing with Andrei.

In any case, Tom Gilbert took it in stride, laughing it off and agreeing that Andrei is a man of few words but gets his message across.  He seems to have the California surfer cool dude vibe, who lets things roll off his back, which will serve him well in Montréal.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Brandon Flowers, Jaleel Addae: The San Diego Chargers doctors fail the concussion protocol again.

Really scary moment last night in the Chargers-Broncos game, when safety Jaleel Addae ran into a pile at the line of scrimmage and then, uh, did the herky-jerky?  It was very strange his reaction, like he was having a seizure, while remaining upright.

Something I'd missed was that he got rocked in the very first play of the game, and lay motionless on the field for a while.  So it could very well be that he played essentially the entire game while already 'out on his feet'.

Again, we heard from Chargers doctors that they administered the concussion protocol and he passed it.  So he was okay to go back in.  Sure.

Last week, the buzz around the league was about Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, and how he claimed he avoided doctors after a collision with Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers in the end zone during the second half.  He suspected they might find something wrong with him, he'd seen light flashes after the collision, and didn't want to sit out the game.  It was discussed ad nauseam how you can't prevent grown men from doing as they want, but still the KC docs came in for a bit of heat.  It was generally agreed that they failed their duty by allowing a trainer to examine Mr. Charles superficially, rather than they doing the Full Monty.

What was missed in the discussion was how Brandon Flowers also was clearly knocked out momentarily on the play.  Interestingly, it was a referee who noticed this, and when Mr. Flowers staggered to his feet, took him by the arm and escorted him to the Chargers' bench and told the team's coaches that he needed attention.  This was a great example of the league's change in rules and procedures to allow for this to occur, in response to the Kris Dielman incident.

In that case, the Chargers Pro Bowl guard had been knocked out on a play and wobbled on his feet before the next snap, and was asked by the refs if he was okay, but he waved them off, assuring them he was fine.  At the time, it had to be the team's docs or trainers or players who called for an injured player timeout, the refs weren't allowed to stop play for these purposes.  So Mr. Dielman kept on playing, aware that he was the last man standing, with all the other offensive lineman subs already injured.  He subsequently suffered a severe seizure on the flight home, and never played again.

So fast-forward to last week, the refs made the right call with Brandon Flowers, proactively telling the Chargers "He's knocked out, make sure to get him some medical attention".

The Chargers medical staff still messed it up.  They, sigh, 'administered the protocol', he, surprise surprise, 'passed it', and got back in the game.  Eventually, he started feeling worse, and they took him out of the game for good.

How long before it's understood that once you get 'rocked', or 'get your bell rung', or 'see stars', those are unmistakable signs of a concussion, according to accepted guidelines.  When that happens, once you see the stars, you can't 'pass' the protocol after, you've already suffered the damage, you need to sit out the rest of the game and be re-evaluated the next day.

The protocol is only used to rule out a concussion when someone is hit hard, but doesn't have those objective symptoms of a concussion.   In those cases, the player still needs to be evaluated, in case one did occur, and that's where the protocol comes in handy.  If the player passes, and more importantly didn't lose consciousness or have ringing in his ears, etc. at first, then he can be cleared and return to action.

The Canadiens famously botched that in Dale Weise's case last spring.  The Chargers have done the same, two weeks in a row, with two different players.

Why the NFL is still struggling with this process, so late into the game, when it's being hit with lawsuits related to its turning a blind eye to the concussion-CTE link, is baffling.

Bill Polian, the longtime NFL exec and current ESPN analyst, argues that rosters need to increase, to allow more bodies on the sidelines during games, so there isn't this pressure to return players to action when the backup players available dwindle due to injury.  With the amount of money in the game, this should be a fix that's implemented immediately.

UPDATED: On Friday October 25, a full day after the game, the Chargers announced that Jaleel Addae had show "delayed concussion symptoms".

Should Steve Nash officially retire, to 'help' Jim Buss?

A very ugly side of the salary cap: some basketball 'fans' want/wanted Steve Nash to retire rather than continue playing and drawing the salary he's entitled to on his contract.  To 'help' the Lakers.  Apparently, he didn't earn that money, playing for years in pain, dragging his team to the playoffs, bad back and all, earning MVP's.

I hate the way the cap has turned fans against players when it comes to how much they earn.  Even more than before, the average fan sides with plutocrats instead of the very skilled average-Joes who actually play the game they love.

I think the best way to address this would be to force fans to pay for their tickets in cash, in person, at the rink.  Two tables would be set up, one for the owner, one for the player, and the fans would file to each and pay half the cost of the ticket to the decrepit owner, and then the other half to the players.

So if you had to pay three hundred dollars for Red Wings tickets, you'd head over to the desiccated, animated corpse of Mike Illitch, hand him $150, and then go to Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg's table and give them their $150.  Same for the 'Hawks, half your stack of twenties go to poor Bill Wirtz, the guy who says he can't quite turn a profit on his team, and then the other half to Jonathan Toews.

And so on.  You gave half your wad to the crazy old woman who owned the Raiders, now you're giving it to his ne'er-do-well son.  You want to go to a Bengals game?  At the stadium that, as a Cincinnati-area taxpayer you're already paying for?  Give more money to cuddly concussion-denier Mike Brown, before you head over to Devon Still's table and give him his 50% 'fair share'.

The whole edifice would implode, immediately.