Friday, 1 February 2019

Penguins acquire Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann

The Penguins have tooled up for a playoff run, while their Crosby-Malkin-Letang window is still open, by acquiring Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann from the Florida Panthers.  They sent Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan to Florida, as well as a second and two fourth-round picks.

Of interest to me is that Nick Bjugstad is included in that trade. When the Canucks-Luongo relationship was unraveling over two or three seasons like a slow-motion car crash, and he pined for a return to the Panthers organization (his wife is from there and reportedly never took to the monotonous Vancouver climate), rumours were that the one player the Canucks kept asking for was Nick Bjugstad, a big hulking right-shot centre in the U.S. college system at the time, and the Panthers kept shutting that down, he was one of their jewel prospects.

Since then, Mr. Bjugstad has suffered injuries/concussions, had a couple good/great NHL seasons, but other disappointing ones. Also, while he was a hot ticket in an age when dinosaur-mentality teams like the Bruins ruled the Earth, when anything but the most egregious holding or stick fouls were considered ‘defensive hockey’, a 6'6" centre was a hot ticket, but in the ‘new NHL’, where skating relentlessly is the order of the day, maybe he’s not such a precious asset.

Jared McCann is also noteworthy, on his third team at 22 years old. His 19 year-old season, one year after being drafted, he could have been sent back down to his OHL team for a final junior season, as is common for any but the most talented players picked in the Top 10 or so of any draft, but the Canucks chose to hang on to him and play him in the NHL. Whispers were that he and fellow Canuck first-rounder Jake Virtanen both had issues surrounding their attitude and work habits and preparation, and the concern was that they might coast through a final year in Junior on their talent, that the organizations they were on in Junior might not be the best environment to progress, to ‘learn to be a pro’.

Whether that was successful is debatable, both didn’t have a great rookie year, were healthy scratches at some point, and the usually soft-spoken Daniel Sedin memorably made a sortie in the media against some members of his team’s complacency, about its work habits and effort during games being unacceptable, that most believe was intended at least in part for the rookies McCann and Virtanen. Jared McCann was dealt to the Panthers that off-season.

Derick Brassard is also a bit of an enigma, talented centre drafted 6th overall in 2006, he’s now on his fifth team in the NHL. When he landed in Ottawa, there was a bit of media focus on how circumstances had made it so he was traded out of Columbus and NYR, but he’d now landed at home, he was overjoyed to play in/across the river from his hometown. He didn’t last two full seasons as a Senator. This is the fourth time he’s been traded, although to be fair, the word out of the Columbus organization was that, as trade deadline rumours heat up and Mr. Brassard nears unrestricted free agency, they’d have him back on the Blue Jackets, which is usually a good sign.

Lindsey Vonn succumbs to accumulated injury, retires.

Lindsey Vonn has announced her retirement from World Cup skiing due to health/injury reasons.

The words ‘courage’ and ‘toughness’ and ‘guts’ are thrown around routinely in pro sports, but all those apply in spades to Lindsey Vonn and her co-competitors. The unbelievable speeds they generate on skis on seemingly vertical surfaces and slopes of ice has to be witnessed to be comprehended.

TV robs the viewer of that perception, cameras pan along with the skier and make it seem like they’re crawling sometimes. It isn’t easy to attend one of these events slopeside for the average fan, you normally have to ski to a viewing area where you can catch them mid-course, mid-flight really. If you get the chance though, it’s almost like a hallucination, they blow by you faster than a vehicle on a highway would, there’s almost a shockwave when they speed by.

I’ve ridden the Whistler and Lake Louise downhill courses, not while they’re properly closed and fenced, but as a succession of runs, and yeah, you’re dumping speed the whole way, scraping your edges, there’s no way you can carve more than three turns before you’re a hazard to others or yourself or the surrounding timber.

For those who don’t know, the way they prepare the courses nowadays is to turn the surface into ice, they literally douse the whole run with fire hoses, daily. Snow falls on top of that, they groom it to pack it down, and hose it down some more. Races get cancelled when it snows, due to, uh, too much snow, the ruts the first few racers generate make it impossible for the following competitors to ski safely. In 2010, the entire run(s) for the Olympic downhills were closed on Whistler from the start of the season to February, they just babied them and groomed them and hosed them down all winter long, it was glare ice ten feet deep.

I remember Rob Boyd in the mid-90s, when the Whistler downhill was being held in November, a time of year when B.C. is usually socked by storm systems from the Pacific, being interviewed after another race had been cancelled due to too much snow, and the course workers being unable to keep up. The TV host tried to make it into a tragedy, and Rob just grinned and said no, it was terrific, all that snow, for everyone who loves skiing and riding, he and his buddies were going to go up and play in the powder once he changed into his non-race gear.

Knowing all this, to return to ski racing after suffering a crash and debilitating injury and months of rehab is even more commendable. That Ms. Vonn did so repeatedly, and returned to her previous level of performance, is amazing.

Congratulations are in order for Ms. Vonn, and I wish her good luck in her post-racing career and endeavours.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Game 38: Canadiens 5, Panthers 3

The Canadiens, not overly weighed down by turkey and fruitcake, managed to beat the Panthers 5-3 at their rink in Sunrise, but with the usual home crowd of vacationing Montréal fans in attendance.

I missed puckdrop and it was already 1-0 when I turned the game on, Tomas Tatar with the early goal.  Marc Denis says they started "sur les chapeaux de roue."  I found a good crisp stream for this game, much better than what I've found for the World Juniors feeds so far, those are fuzzy and unreliable, sign off without warning.

I'm a pessimist, maybe a fatalist, and I assumed this season would be another one out of playoff contention, what with the giant void at #1 centre, #2 centre, and on the left side of the blue line.  So I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the swoon to begin.  And I'm perpetually surprised/disappointed. 

Tonight, Tomas Tatar woke from his slumber.  Tie Domi's foul offspring stuck to hockey.  Antti Niemi didn't void his bowels.  Michael McNiven, the kid who HIO crowned as ready to take over when we traded Carey Price for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, remained safely tucked away at the end of the bench.  It all added up to a win.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi is being used perfectly in my opinion.  Despite his flashes of brilliance, he's still a kid with a lot of growing to do, and he makes mistakes with gusto at times.  He was used as much as possible by the coaching staff, and Marc Denis explained that with a horse like Sasha Barkov to face off against, it didn't allow him many chances to shine in the offensive or defensive zone, with the Panthers having the last change.  So Jeppu played 12 minutes, in the best situations the coaches could find for him, and he did well.  He rang two lasers off the goal posts, came close.  The kid is doing fine.

We've tried every combination and permutation of defencemen and defensive pairs, short of putting righties on the left like Team Canada does with Josh Brook, so I'm glad we've arrived at the most sensible combos, and I want to stick with this.

Victor Mete isn't perfect or even great, he's small and weak and his shot couldn't dent a sheet of tin foil, but his many strengths and few weaknesses mesh very well with Shea Weber.  What Victor can't do, Shea can do in spades, and vice-versa.  It's not a perfect combo, it's not Larry Robinson and Serge Savard or a young Chris Chelios, two future Hall of Famers on a same pair, it's not an overabundance of talent on one pair, but it could/should work.  Victor will retrieve and carry the puck, he'll make the passes and jump in the rush.  Shea will stay back and mind the store, muck in the corners and punish those in front of the net.  Victor will pass the puck, Shea will shoot it.

Same with the second pair, it's not Bouwmeester-Pietrangelo, two superb athletes with size and mobility and offensive acumen while being defensively reliable, but it's also a pair that should work.  Mike Reilly has decent size and excellent mobility, he loves to carry the puck and get in on the play.  Paired with Jeff Petry, the two of them will make a gaffe or three per game, but will overcome those by being too much to handle, other teams won't be able to tell which one will carry the puck, which one will jump on the rush.  They can gamble on offence and have the wheels to get back on defence.

The operative principle here is to stick with this.  Enough with the Jordie Benn experiments, we've all seen what David Schlemko has, which is nothing, these are our best options.  Leave Victor Mete and Mike Reilly in there to play big minutes, to learn, they're both without peer.  Let's not pretend that Brett Kulak can turn into Mark Giordano, let's not give Karl Alzner another another another chance.  Let's roll with these guys and let them hit their stride, play with confidence.

They can succeed, they can maybe not quite get there but improve their trade deadline value, they can flame out, at which point we haven't really lost anything, they were acquired at the cost of a fourth and a fifth-round pick.  Let's ride those ponies and see what they got, instead of babying them and cajoling them and sticking them in the press box when they irk us.  I don't care if Mike Reilly sometimes eases off and takes chances and does things he's been told by coaches not to do.  The guy is 24 years old, he's who he is, let's take the bad with the good.

The third pair can be the Thunderdome where the Benns and Kulaks and Alzners sort themselves out.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the #1 line to replace Phillip Danault?

Some of the rumbling lately has been around Phillip Danault, and the fact that he has only two goals as the #1 centre, and that maybe it's time to give Jeppu a shot between Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar.  He can't do any worse, it's claimed, he'll pick up more points than Phillip, pad his totals, make his case for the Calder Trophy.

I think it's a horrible idea.  I say this even though I have zero credibility on this subject, since I've argued from the start of the year that he shouldn't be playing in the NHL, that he's one hit away from a ruptured knee-vesicle or mumpified concussion.  Which I still believe, although I now grudgingly admit he's not out of place, he's keeping up with the pace of the play, and seems to have the best attitude possible, "I'm just overjoyed to be here and can't believe how great everything is and will continue to work as hard as I can to contribute to the team and whatever they ask me to do is fine and I won't complain and ..."

Fans are nothing if not fickle or inconsistent though, and after a significant/strident portion of them argued for a rebuild and scorched earth and for Carey and Shea to be traded this summer, to lose on purpose this season to pick as high and as often as possible at the Draft in June, now they're dissatisfied with the dispiriting losses and the weak offensive production of Phillip and want to throw the prize pupil and Franchise Future to the wolves, to face off against other teams' #1 lines.

This is balderdash.  The reason Phillip is on the #1 line isn't to tally up points, necessarily, it's to have a competent centre to match up against the Crosbys and the Giroux and the Matthewses of the league.  You can put that guy out on the ice against Evgeni Malkin and he won't spontaneously combust, he'll acquit himself decently, keep it close.  He's keeping the seat warm for this season and maybe the next, when we can gradually feed more minutes and harder missions to Jeppu, Ryan Poehling, maybe Nick Suzuki.  He's the long-relief pitcher, the Stan Bahnsen, chewing up these innings in a lost cause, until tomorrow and Steve Rogers and the next chance at a win.

Phillip serves that major purpose, to keep things respectable and honest in the absence of a #1 centre.  He serves the concomitant purpose of giving us losses, losses that we wouldn't earn if we had bled ourselves dry acquiring a Matt Duchene, precious losses that position us well for a shot at the Dylan Cozens sweepstakes this June, and Alexis Lafrenière in 2020.

Next year can be the season we ease Jeppu on the #1 line, like the Jets did with Mark Scheifele, like the Flames did with Sean Monahan.  This season, keep sheltering the kid, keep giving him favourable matchups and situations, don't burn him out, don't add any friggin' pressure on his shoulders to produce and win games and jolt Tomas Tatar out of his slump.  Let the kid be, he's 18, let him eat his Wheaties some more.

And at that point Phillip can assume his rightful role as a deluxe Bottom 6 centre and a major part of the Canadiens roster, one who can play up the roster if necessary, but is best deployed as a forechecking menace who'll create chances for his wingers, and as a penalty-killer and critical defensive-zone faceoff specialist.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Nikita Scherbak waived, claimed. So it goes...

(December 1, 2018)

Holy crap, the Canadiens have waived Nikita Scherbak.

Look, I'm an asset-protecting nerd, and I cut the cord way way too late on most prospects/players, but this is almost passive-aggressive no?  You have Michael Chaput and Forgethisfirstname D'Agostino on your 23-player roster and Nikita Scherbak is the guy you waive? 

There was a little bubble of an article/vignette earlier this year on the Canadiens' site, where he showed the New Media arm of the website cameras his modest apartment, with his girlfriend proudly standing alongside him, and I thought it was a little premature, to showcase him like that, like he was an established player.  And I know for a young lady intent on growing her Instagram brand instead of, you know, studying up to be a doctor and contributing to society, dating-landing a Canadien is a good get, but I did have the thought that she'd hitched up her wagon to the wrong horse maybe.

So blah blah blah, cross your fingers hope nobody takes him skill size patience, blah blah blah, but if they do this instead of the sensible step of returning one of the AHL callups back to Laval, it speaks volume that they pretty much prefer a clean break, no?  That they hope someone takes this contract and failed pick off their hands and be done with it and move on to other things?

The rumour at the 2014 Draft was that the Canadiens really wanted David Pastrnak, missing vowel and all, that he was the next guy on Trevor Timmins' list, and they were deflated when he got picked by the Bruins one selection before ours, and that Nikita was a plan B pick, the other, lesser option if you look to add a talented winger-scorer to your prospect pool.  At that point, I set up a mental comparable in my mind, kind of like I did with Noah Juulsen and Jérémy Roy, where I'd evaluate Nikita's progress through the prism of the Dirty Bruins' player.  It hasn't gone well so far.

(December 2, 2018)

So Nikita Scherbak is claimed by the Los Angeles Kings.  The very first team in waiver-order priority snatched him up, and we'll never know how many other teams put in a claim and were ready and willing to accommodate him on their 23-player roster.  Yet I was told by the Canadiens' press flacks that Marc Bergevin had been burning up the phone lines trying to trade him, with no takers.  I scoff at this.

The Canadiens, with a very shallow prospect pool, and a very disappointing AHL farm team for years now, instead of hoarding somehow bleed prospects like you wouldn't believe.  My offhand list of recent losses:

Mike Condon
Mark Barberio
Brandon Davidson
Jacob de la Rose
Nikita Scherbak

Please correct me and add to the list if I've forgotten anyone that was sloughed off recently. 

I'll bring up the bungled cases of Sven Andrighetto and Jarred Tinordi, as waiver-wire-adjacent losses, players that got squeezed out and brought back precious little in return, but if I'm being consistent, I can't really fault the Canadiens brass for.  They actually traded them for something, instead of outright losing them on waivers, as little as that something was.  That's clearly what I advocate for.  I just wish that the timing, the juggling had been done better, more expertly, that the trigger had been pulled at the right time.

But yeah, another former first-rounder, another prospect cremated by our organization, instead of being a Rafaël Diaz-like heap of slag transmuted into a Dale Weise.  That list is much too long, in a mere three seasons.

And I'll often hear or read "Well, Mike Condon sucked, it's no big loss, we couldn't keep him and Carey Price and Charlie Lindgren...", and that's entirely missing the point.  I'm not saying that Mike Condon was about to win the Vézina Trophy, just that he held some value that we didn't realize, we didn't cash in on, but the Penguins did, when they traded Mike after a mere month or so for a fifth-round pick to the Senators.

Some will shrug and say "Win some, lose some...", and point to Paul Byron as a huge win that cancels out the losses, but I'll reply to that that you don't win a Stanley Cup by staying even, by holding a .500 record.  You have to pile up the wins. 

Marc Bergevin, when questioned by a journo last year about Brandon Davidson, who he'd lost on waivers to Edmonton, who then in turn flipped him to the Islanders a few weeks later for a third-round pick, had dismissed this as an artifact of timing, that when he waived him there had been no demand on the trade market for his services, but later on nearer the trade deadline, with injuries piling up on various rosters, now there was.  Which to me is not an explanation or excuse but rather a smoking gun, an inculpatory statement.  Of course timing was a factor, and of course we should have used timing to our advantage, it's not something we should figure out in the post-mortem, in hindsight, it was plainly written in the stars at the time. 

If you sell your car in the spring and now have a set of winter tires, barely used, that you don't need anymore, you don't ask around a couple times, fail to find a buyer, give up, and take them to the dump.  You use time to your advantage, you adapt, you stash the tires in the garage, in your basement, in your shed, in the backyard under a tarp, anywhere really, and wait it out until September and then hit Kijiji and Craig's List and now you get $150 back for your troubles, that's working-class dirtbag 101.  And that's our social status right now, we're not Nouveau Riche or aristocracy, we're on the welfare rolls, or barely off them, in terms of our talent futures.  We can't turn up our nose at the cost of an ugly tarp in our backyard, not for $150.  That'll buy a lot of no-name brand spaghetti.

I'll repeat that I'd understand how, if we were the Nashville Predators or the Tampa Bay Lightning, a stacked team and organization replete with prospects and young players and draft picks and an AHL team running rampant, that with the limits imposed by the salary cap and the 23-player roster and the waiver rules and the expansion draft and the 50-contract limit, that you can only juggle and contort yourself in so many ways until at some point, a Teuvo Teravainen or a Jonathan Drouin must be dumped, a Calvin Pickard and Curtis McElhinney shake loose.

We are not in that situation though.  We are not a powerhouse chock-full of prospects and phenoms.  We don't have a huge pile of poker chips stacked in front of us with which to wheel and deal.  We should be trying to scratch and claw and amass these chips.  If we drop a dollar chip off the table onto the floor, we're not in a position to let it be, we need that dollar, we bend down and pick it up.  That'll be our ante in a couple of hands.

Do I think Nikita Scherbak is a world-beater who will scored hundreds of goals in the NHL?  Do I disagree with the Canadiens development staff who have the vantage point to evaluate him, fault him for his lack of focus, his poor conditioning a few seasons back?  Do I disagree with Claude Julien's decision-making to make him a healthy-scratch in every game so far this season?  Not individually, no, but the sum total of these little decisions and evaluations add up to another squandered asset, another player we with faint hubris ended up walking away from, instead of biding our time, like Brian Burke with Tomas Kaberle, letting him dangle for seasons on end until he got the price he wanted.  Like Joe Sakic with a malingering Matt Duchene.  Like the previous incarnation of Marc Bergevin, taking a depreciating Sebastian Collberg and packaging him in the nick of time with a second-rounder to land a couple months' worth of Thomas Vanek and a better chance at a deep playoff run.

Because it's not like we had no other option.  Again, like last season when we burnt Brandon Davidson on waivers, when Noah Juulsen and Victor Mete were available to send down to Laval for a couple weeks without need of waivers, like when Jacob de la Rose walked the plank while Tomas Plekanec was spared, we had other less costly options this time around.  Michael Chaput and Kenny Agostino are on the roster, were callups from the Rocket, and would have probably sailed through waivers back to Laval.  Their being claimed would have been a negligible impact, you get those guys for free every August, to pad your AHL roster.

But no,

George H.W. Bush, 1924-2018

I’m surprised at the sometimes vitriolic responses on social media to Mr. Bush’s passing, which is a little surprising to me. Don’t speak ill of the dead and all that, sure, civility, family, etc., but I think he and is legacy is being swept up by the polarization we’ve seen in U.S. politics over the last ten years or so.

To begin, Mr. Bush was an achiever, an accomplished man, which used to be a given when referring to U.S. Presidents, that they were the best and the brightest who could even hope to run for and win the Presidency. From there, a lot of luck and skill was needed to win the race, but anyone at the starting line needed to be a superbly qualified individual.

To me, the highlights speak volumes: Yale, Navy pilot in WWII, a succession of high-level government posts. There’s no denying the merit. It’s even more starkly defined by his idiot son’s funhouse mirror of a career. Whereas the elder was a war hero who got shot down but lived to fight and fly another day, his son was a draft-dodger whose political connections got him a cushy position in the Air National Guard, and even at that there are big questions whether he even fulfilled the requirements to avoid going to Vietnam. Whereas the elder played football and baseball at Yale, Junior was a dim-witted legacy student who was a literal cheerleader on the sidelines, watching the big boys play.

George H.W. Bush was not my cup of tea, I was frequently outraged when I read of his political decisions, but I figured that was par for the course, he was a Republican, I didn’t expect to agree with his worldview. The way the U.S. could and should project its power and interests was to him very different than it seemed to me, but what else did I think would happen with a former CIA head at the helm? I just figured he’d eventually get voted out of office and the Democrats would steer the ship back on course, no big deal.

But despite the different political tack, I never doubted Mr. Bush’s intentions or ability. His idealism might be ill-directed, but he had ideals, and the knowledge and skills to helm the ship, which was a refreshing change from the Reagan presidency. And to me, that’s the biggest reason I have some admiration for Mr. Bush, being that while I disagreed with his views, I never doubted his suitability for the job.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I didn’t fret that we had a buffoon in charge, surrounded with a coterie of hangers-on who are at least distracted by the task of making their leader function, if they weren’t actually second-rate staff or worse by dint of being on that team in the first place. I felt that the best possible decisions would be taken, within the context of a former oil man being in charge, among other factors, but still. It’s exactly the opposite of the way I felt when Ronald Reagan was blabbering, unfocused, or when September 11 occurred on Dubya’s watch, and how I feel now with Putin pushing Ukraine around and Saudis dismembering their citizens on foreign soil, with the corrupt imbecile the U.S. elected in 2016 now in charge.

So yeah, to me, Mr. Bush was the last of the ‘good’ Republicans, a budget-slashing war hawk sure, but a competent reasonable man, which does not apply to the last couple fools the party foisted onto the U.S. citizenry.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Game 24: Canadiens 2, Bruins 3

The Canadiens, facing a depleted Bruins team missing Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy among others due to injuries, let one go on home ice, letting the Bruins steal a win at the Nouveau Forum.

--I hate when Brendan Gallagher is compared to Brad Marchand, when talking heads make the facile comparison that both are undersized, very talented and can score goals, but are also pests and agitators.  Brad Marchand is a faker and a diver and a dirty player whose many suspensions pale in  comparison with the multitude of idiocies he commits on the regular and gets away with, like the way he licked (!) opponents during the playoffs last season, and how he jumped Lars Eller at the start of this season on the flimsiest of pretexts

Meanwhile, Brendan Gallagher is a tireless worker and an honest competitor.  His aggravation of opponents is caused not by dirty play or a sociopathic streak, but only due to his persistence in standing in front of their net and ability to pot rebounds and tip shots.  Compared to the creep that Brad Marchand is with his cheap shots when the ref's back is turned, Brendan is a good guy with a target on his back, who doesn't back down and takes punishment and tries to dish out in kind, to fight through the abuse, much of it after the whistle and in front of the insensate referees.

Except when he does this kind of thing:

It doesn't matter what happened before this with the Bruins defenceman that caused Gally to lose his cool, it looks really bad.  The referees were starting to give you some leeway, the benefit of the doubt, and this kind of garbage will eat into that.  And it gives idiots like Gary Galley more grist for their tiresome mill, their rote platitudes and equivalencies. 

Not cool Brendan...

--Speaking of Gary Galley, oof, him and Bob Cole, they had themselves quite the showing last night.  Bob Cole being most excited when the goal by Artturi Lehkonen was waved off, and Gary insisting that, when you slow it down, you can see the intent of the Canadiens forward to push Tuukka Rask aside, because that's the way you Zapruder something, by slowing it down frame by frame, attributing volition instead of, you know, understanding that Artturi was kind of busy being pushed from behind by Brad Marchand and falling to the ice, in that fraction of a second. 

--The 'story' of the game will be Jonathan Drouin, how he went from hero...

... to goat...
... in the span of a few minutes.  His four-minute crosschecking penalty lost the game for the Canadiens, and it was described by some as selfish or ill-timed.  

I'll restate that in a heated game against the Bruins, when they're running around 'finishing checks' and gooning after whistles, picking on the smaller Canadiens, I don't have much of a problem with a Jonathan Drouin or most anyone else giving an opponent a fat lip, hitting them in the mouth instead of turning the other cheek.  I don't think it's a horrible tactic to turn into a porcupine and let them know that they won't be bullied with impunity, to send the blessed message old-school analysts prize so highly and frequently.  I prefer a truncheon in the mouth of a Bruin to a lazy hooking or tripping penalty in the offensive zone à la Galchenyuk or Eller.  I prefer Jonathan retaliate than he cower at the feet of an adversary, as Jacob de la Rose did with then-Coyote Max Domi, or Lars Eller did with Nazem Kadri.

So it was an unfortunate penalty, and it had significant consequences, but it was a penalty born not of indiscipline or selfishness in my opinion as opposed to combativeness and snarl.  You don't like the result, but Jonathan didn't choose when David Backes took a run at him.  The Bruin was coming to lay a big check on him when he didn't even have the puck, and Jonathan tried to fend him off with a spirited crosscheck that caught the Bruin's sewer mouth.  Hard to fault him for that.  

And we're a very long way away from this:

We talk often about the outlandish hype the Canadiens players are subjected to, the microscope they're under, the unrelenting pressure.  This is an example at its worst. 

Mr. Dollas had an NHL career and should know better, should be able to differentiate an error of commission from an error of omission.  Jonathan didn't cheat on a backcheck and desperately try to correct his mistake with a lazy hook.  He didn't lose sight of the scoreboard and go headhunting to settle a personal score.  He was the target himself and tried to defend himself, and it turned out badly.  

His contract is not an issue, it's in line with his peers, his comparables, and his effort and production for much of the season, after a slow start.  

Mr. Dollas now has a media career and has to get clicks and attention to earn a living I guess, but this kind of ill-timed hatchet job is the kind of thing that will kill his golden goose.  With this tweet he creates the kind of environment where players don't want to be on the Canadiens, which makes a losing team ever more likely, which makes fans turn away, which drives down viewership and clicks and media jobs, ...

So yeah, I'll roast Jonathan Drouin when he coasts through a game or sleepwalks through a scoreless streak, but I won't go along with this kind of criticism.  Keep jabbing them in the face Jonathan, I prefer that to the alternative.

--Max Pacioretty has finally shaken out of his slump and bagged another couple of goals last night, but Tomas Tatar keeps plugging along, notching his tenth of the season on the powerplay to tie the game at 2-2.  He was dangerous in the Bruins zone all night. 

--And what's gotten into Andrew Shaw?  The guy is possessed, everything he touches turns to gold.  He was near the net on Jonathan Drouin's goal, at first we thought he'd cashed in a loose puck, and he was the one who got the puck behind the net and shoveled it at Tomas Tatar for the equalizer.

7 goals, 6 assists for Shawzy, most of that coming in the last few games where he's been elevated to the first line due to injuries.  It will take some doing for Joel Armia to return to the Top 6 when he's healthy again.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Game 18: Canadiens 2, Oilers 6

The Canadiens lost the first game of this road trip to the Oilers 6-2, a defeat reminiscent of last year's travails, with an initial encouraging surge by the Canadiens, undone by a lack of opportunism, especially on the powerplay, and wobbly goaltending.  We're not going to overreact, the Canadiens usually struggle on their Canadian West swing, but Pierre Houde wryly observed that a lot of what ails the team right now could be cured with an injection of Shea Weber.

Some notes and thoughts that occurred during the game.

--RDS' 'Confrontation', the attempt to resurrect the HNIC "Showdown" of yesteryear, is a little lame, lacks the drama of its predecessor, but that may be due to the fact that I was a wide-eyed ten-year old when that feature was on.

--But who do you think the unnamed 'Gardien Rétro' goalie is?  Is he just some nameless guy, or will there be a big reveal at the end?  That mask he's wearing... very Bernard Parent-like, although I'm sure it isn't him.  I might think early Michel Larocque, but of course...

And gah, Mario Tremblay and Benoit Brunet as analysts...  Pierre Houde and Marc Denis are beyond excellent, but the period breaks on RDS are not great this season.

--I guess I'm forgetting François Gagnon and Pierre LeBrun doing their 'Les Informateurs', that's actually a really good segment.

--Man, Edmonton had McJesus and Draisaitl on the same line, double-shifting, killing penalties.  Not a bad strategy with such great players, but what a signal to the rest of the league about their lack of depth.

I guess I'd rather have their problems than ours.  Although I might have to rethink this real hard, the Milan Lucic contract, the lack of defencemen, ...

--Andrew Shaw scoring goals, producing, making a difference, complementing two linemates on the Top 6, that's the Andrew Shaw I can get behind.  Still a steep contract, and the acquisition cost still smarts, essentially the two second-rounders would have netted us Samuel Girard and Alex Debrincat, for sure, but at least Andrew is now pulling his weight, instead of dragging the team down.

--We did get an early goal tonight, from Max Domi natch, but it wasn't the opening goal, giving the Canadiens the early lead, as we've almost grown accustomed to, it pulled us into a tie.  Somehow, some way, the Canadiens have found the back of the net this season, found a path to victory.  This felt more like previous seasons, when we'd try to take comfort in a moral victory, having won the Corsi battle, having thrown a lot of rubber at the opposition goalie, but grumbling about puck luck.

--Is it just me, or does the ‘reverse V-H’ create more problems than it solves?  Maybe the gaffes just stand out more, and we don’t notice when the goalie slides effortlessly from one post to another for an easy save, but man do those goal flubs look glaring.

Antti Niemi just now let a bad goal in with an imperfect application of that technique against the Oilers' Drake Caggiula.  Yeah, the execution isn’t textbook, and I understand the theory behind the ‘reverse V-H’, I’m just wondering whether it’s a manoeuvre that is bound to fail a significant number of times, what with the contortions it involves. Can a goalie flawlessly routinely perform this technique, or is it bound to fail part of the time, given the complications.

--Carey Price takes the net Thursday in Calgary.  Pas d'excuses.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Game 17: Canadiens 5, Knights 4

The Canadiens aren't bulldozing any other teams lately, but they are still playing with spirit and gumption.  Tonight, they overcame a Knights team trying to win for Max Pacioretty, and pulled out a 5-4 win over the Las Vegas expansion team.

--Two brief recognition ceremonies tonight, one before puck drop for Max Pacioretty, a nice video tribute and a standing ovation for the former captain.  I'll miss number 67, despite all the naysayers.

Then, during the first commercial break, another tribute to Tomas Plekanec, who will retire from the NHL, his one-year utility forward gig not shaping up the way he wanted.  This is disappointing on an emotional level, I wish the story had a better ending, but mainly for this armchair GM it's a bummer that he couldn't contribute to the team and then reap a benefit at the trade deadline.  This year's draft crop is reportedly one of the strongest in years, so a second or third-round pick is nothing to sneeze at.

--That Tomas is being released is especially galling since, as I predicted, the Canadiens will now regret waiving Jacob de la Rose even more.  Again, to try to send him to Laval was a shortsighted move, for a short-term benefit at best.  If anyone was waived, it should have been Tomas, or Nicolas Deslauriers, since with his two-year one-way contract, he wasn't liable to be claimed, and needed to go find his game in the AHL anyway. 

--Gary Galley on William Karlsson: "He creates a lot of stuff." 

Gary Galley on the Knight forecheck: "...and they re-attack you again."

Great job, Gary.  When Bob Cole finally retires, can you go with him?  Please?

--Max Pacioretty is on a mission, he has six shots already early in the second period.

--Nice shifty goal by Charles Hudon, but did Michel Lacroix announce the goal as being Jonathan Drouin's?  I'm not sure I heard this right, but is it a case of confusing the flashy French-Canadian forwards for each other?  And I think Mr. Lacroix did correct himself later on, but that was lost in the excitement of the subsequent Andrew Shaw goal, and the non-stop nattering of Dave Randorf.

--Max Domi is indispensable, despite my loathing of his lineage and 94% of him personally.  If we were to lose his services, not only do we lose his playmaking and goalscoring and effort and defensive-zone exploits, but we'd also disconnect Jonathan Drouin, he'd go dark like when you kick out the power cord for the Christmas tree.

--The defence corps that we raved about the first ten games or so?  Not so hot these days.  Mike Reilly is no longer so prominent.  Jamie Benn had a tough game, with glaring giveaways that drew clucks from Dave Randorf.  A rusty David Schlemko took the place of a suddenly wobbly Noah Juulsen in the lineup.

--And goaltending is now an issue.  Lots of contributors to online forums have been hammering the point that Carey Price was going to be too much of a cap hit relative to his value, that an average starting goalie at an average cap hit would be a more cost-effective expenditure.  My reply to this is that it's really hard to find that animal.  The Flyers have been trying for decades to find a good goalie, never mind one on a decent contract.  Same with the Flames since Miikka Kiprussof retired, it's been a revolving door of inexpensive, ineffective goalies. 

So I was okay with spending what it costs to keep Carey, probably the most talented goalie in the world.  I figured we'd get four or five good years out of the eight we had to sign him for, that at that time we could deal with it if he fell off the pace.  The problem is, he's struggling now, in his first season on his new contract, was struggling even last season, and the one before, before he had inked his new deal. 

I figure if Carey is healthy, he'll turn it around, he's got too much skill and natural ability not to, but it'll be white-knuckle time until he does.  Antti Niemi is not rock-solid at the moment, and neither is Charlie Lindgren, despite those who would have had you believe he was ready to take over if Carey was traded, on the strength of a few good outings two years ago.  Problem is, Charlie struggled all last season in Laval, and is not having a good start this season either.

So we have to be patient with Carey, as Claude Julien tried to be tonight, giving him the night off, a rare event for him on a HNIC Saturday night.  And Antti better shape up too, we have to flip him for a second-round pick at the deadline, so let's start lining up the shutouts please and thank you.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Game 13: Canadiens 1, Lightning 4

The Canadiens come back to Earth, with the Lightning taking a 4-1 victory over the good guys.  It started out so well though...

--That opening ceremony...  Oof...  Great job by the players, good to see Yanni Gourde help out his teammates at first, they were a little unclear there, and Gally, Phillip Danault, Thomas Tatar, Carey Price, all showing great personality with their charge.

--Jonathan Drouin tries a magical pass too often on the powerplay, instead of making the easy simple pass that keeps the puck moving and the opponents, tiring them out.  Too often, he tries to go cross-ice saucer through three penalty killers and it gets cut off and cleared out.  Keep It Simple Sir.

--Vasilevski is keeping them in the game early, he's already let in the de rigueur Max Domi early first-period goal, but also made two or three great saves.  Could be 3-0 easy.

Or 1-1, Carey had a puck dribble out of his glove and skitter just past the post.

--Great fast start by les Glorieux, the recipe still works.  They've got the Lightning on their heels.  Cash in one or two goals soon boys, while the going is good.

--I'm seeing what a couple people have said they're seeing lately, that Jordie Benn has played decently, certainly better than Karl Alzner.  A good pass to Charles Hudon to spring him on a breakaway, and a chance to walk in on the Tampa goal to get a good shot off, showing patience and headiness, didn't just crank it from the blue line in a panic, he took what the scrambling defenders gave him, a clear lane to the slot.  Too bad he missed the net.

--Not quite the classic Steven Stamkos from the circle, he wasn't in the classic pose or anything, but it was effective enough, Tampa ties it 1-1 on the powerplay.

--Nicolas Deslauriers took a penalty on a hit from behind on Ryan McDonagh, our first gem from the 2007 Draft we sent packing.  Nicolas doesn't quite have the same magic he had last season.

--That Tampa goal seems to have tilted the ice back, they're bottling up the Canadiens now.  Charles Hudon gives the puck away in his own zone, and J.T. Miller puts it in the back of Carey Price's net.

2-1 for the bad guys.  Charles has lots of time to make up for his mental error.

I had to step away from the keyboard for the rest of the game, but it continued pretty much the same way.  The Lightning had control of the game, and potted two more goals in the third, one early by Steven Stamkos on a line rush, and a double-insurance goal in the last five minutes by Yanni Gourde to close the books.

Any time the Canadiens threatened, Andrei Vasilevskiy slammed the door shut.  He stopped 34 of 35 shots, while Carey made 32 saves on 36 shots.

Noticed: Mike Reilly had three great chances, three wide open looks at the net, and each time he blasted the puck off target.  He needs to take a little oomph off his shot, to not try to drill it through the net, and instead just put it on target quickly.

Next, a New York swing Monday-Tuesday against the Islanders and then the Rangers.

ADDENDUM: Jean-François Tremblay of 'La Presse' states that the Canadiens merely ran into an augmented version of themselves in the Lightning, and lost.