Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Game 74: Canadiens 2, Predators 3 (OT)

Some thoughts on the Canadiens 3-2 overtime loss to the Predators in Nashville.

1)  I watched on Canadiens Express, and it’s hard to get a sense of the flow when you do that, but the impression I got was of a game that can be decided by bounces, a bad goal.  Head Coach Michel Therrien acknowledged as much during his post-game interview.

2)  One tipoff as to the final outcome of the game on RDS' "Canadiens Express" is that they edit it to fit into a very tight 60 minutes, including commercials. So when you get to the third period, and see a lot of time left in your hour-long recording to fit it in, you start to suspect that there will be some overtime and shootout. Last night, I sensed right.

3)  I was a little miffed at P.K. a tiny bit, when he went on his stickhandling odyssey in O.T., and failed to shoot or pass at a very open Max in the slot, but took it in context and quickly let it go. I was glad to see the boys on L’Antichambre did the same, mentioned that and the fumble at the blue line which turned into a penalty, but they shrugged it off, explicitly excusing it as some of the stuff you accept, that comes with all the great stuff P.K. brings to the table.

I feel he had a lot of opportunities to get a quality shot on net, or pass to Max, but hesitated, kept wheeling around, and the play he made later was a lower-quality opportunity.

Again, not a capital sin, it’s not like he made a high-risk, low-probability play to give up the lead late in the game. He was trying to create to get us an extra point in OT, possibly made a sub-optimal decision, but overall in the context of the play he’s delivered since the All-Star game, not a wart I’ll pick at.

4)  If P.K. gets fined and publicly shamed for embellishment, I want Carrie Underwood’s husband to get the same treatment for that B.S. pratfall on Carey. The overhead shot of him throwing himself backwards was especially damning.

Those ineffectual GM meeting in Del Boca Vista Phase II are such a waste of time, focusing on puck-over-glass or handpass minutiae, and trying to rid the game of the horrors of the shootout (horrors!), instead of rectifying what’s truly wrong with the game.

After Milan Lucic on Ryan Miller, Chris Kreider on human decency, the NHL should have dealt with this, decisively. Come out very clearly against any attempt to make contact with a goalie, to ‘get him off his game’, ‘make him less comfortable’. Make it a strict liability offence, if a player makes contact with an opposition goalie in any manner while he’s in his crease, he gets a penalty. No grey areas.

Anything cravenly deliberate, any Nick Kypreos dive onto Grant Fuhr to blow out his ACL, it’s an ‘attempt to injure’ penalty, with all that entails. Don’t wuss out of calling those.

If a defensive player steers-pushes him into the goalie, he gets an offsetting penalty, but these will drop off dramatically, since the opposition forwards will be trying to skate away from the crease, there won’t be a need to joust with them, like P.K. on Logan Couture.

Protect the goalies like the NFL protects its QB’s. If you want to generate offence, get rid of the trap, the officious offside penalties, the hooking, the slashing. Lord, the slashing.

5)  P.A. Parenteau picked up another point, a nice assist on David Desharnais' goal.  The Montreal Gazette's Mike Boone said he played a terrific game.

I didn’t see a “terrific” game in the edited “Canadiens Express” version, but I support the idea of playing him a lot on the top line now, to invest that icetime in him, and hope that it pays off later.

In an interview in La Presse, he explained that recovering from the concussion symptoms was an ordeal. Not only was he not practicing, he couldn’t even do cardio while he recovered. So now, he says he’s trying to catch up, get his fitness, his conditioning back, AND trying to get his timing and chemistry back with his linemates, playing on the #1 line. We should be patient with him.

6)  I also preached patience with respect to Devante Smith-Pelly, thought he could bring more to the table in terms of production. I was mildly surprised that we obtained him so cheap in fact, and started wondering if Jiri Sekac was better than I thought, or if DSP had regressed since he played in Anaheim very early in his career.

After being shut out for so long, and seeing him kind of trip over himself with the puck all alone in front of the net, which would be mirthful if it hadn’t been a fumbled chance to win late in the game, I’m starting to sidle over to the camp of critics who think he needs to be bumped down from the fourth line, maybe even sit a game or two.

I applaud his effort and his affinity for finishing his checks, that may be more valuable in the playoffs, but it’s hard to overlook the ‘0’ (zero) in the ‘G’ column.

I agree with other posters that he will benefit from an off-season of more intensive, focused dryland training, and that he is a young player who will improve, but taking everything in consideration, if the coaches decide he’s had a significant enough chance and hasn’t done enough with it, I’ll support their decision.

7)  Richard Labbé of La Presse pointing out what we kind of know, that Manny Malhotra won’t be back next year.

I was fairly certain that he’d be an improvement over Ryan White and Daniel Brière as the fourth-line centre, that his size and skating and defensive ability would be a great benefit. He caught our eye early with great faceoff numbers, a spillover effect on those of the other centres, and his penalty killing which relieved some of the pressure on Tomas Plekanec.

As the games piled on though, it became tougher to overlook his non-existent offensive contribution, how he actually made his wingers worse.

Torrey Mitchell is smaller, but does bring the experience and leadership angle, the skating. He doesn’t really bring more offensive skill, but his speed and forechecking can precipitate offence.

He’s been doing almost as well as Manny in the faceoff circle, and he’s a rightie, so he’s a better complement to our other centres, lefties everyone of them, even the part-timers like Jacob de la Rose and Alex Galchenyuk.

So yeah, I’d expect the Canadiens to thank Manny and let him walk this July, unless he experiences a rebirth during the playoffs. I envision the Canadiens making a pitch for Torrey instead, or checking to see what’s available on the UFA market.

8)  Also from La Presse, an article discusses Sergei Gonchar’s use lately, and the defencemen in general.

I don’t have a problem with giving Sergei more time off if he wasn’t out of the concussion fog yet, since we do have options.

Personally, I liked the pairings yesterday, they’re my ideal pairings as a fan. Loved, loved Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu together, how they click, complement each other. Their time together in the AHL really shows, they’re not feeling each other out. They know each other and work well with each other.

It’s kind of the ideal pairing that you discuss in the theoretical sphere. A slick puck mover, a defensively-oriented guy with size who hits. But both have some elements of the other’s game, they’re not both unidimensional, stereotypical effete puck-mover paired with the plodding slow-footed brute. Nathan can play in the physical games, has shown he can drop the gloves. And Greg can skate, can pass the puck well, can shoot the puck.

I don’t want to tell the coaches what to do. I swear I don’t. But I’ll be happy if we see more of Nathan and Greg together, and if their minutes creep up, and if they get more and more difficult assignments, and they show they can handle it.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Game 73: Canadiens 2, Sharks 0

A great, great win against the Sharks, a team that has bedeviled the Canadiens for a few years now.  For example, when Tomas Plekanec scored in the first period, it was the first time the Canadiens had scored a goal on the Sharks since December 2011, when Erik Cole had potted one.

Listening to the game description on Hockey Night in Canada by Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson and Glenn Healy, I was struck by how positive and complimentary they were towards the Canadiens, how their skating, up-tempo forechecking style and commitment to team defence was perfectly suited to playing against the Sharks, to frustrating them and shutting them out.

Yet a couple weeks ago at the trade deadline, playing against the same team, the commentary was all about how the Canadiens were too small, not physical enough to compete with such big Western teams, and that it justified Marc Bergevin's decision to trade a skillful skater like Jiri Sekac for a thumper like Devante Smith-Pelly.

So it's interesting how the play-by-play call, the narrative molds itself to the way an individual game plays out.  When the Canadiens win they're too fast, when they lose they're too small.

Before now, the fact that Greg Pateryn wasn’t playing in the NHL was occasionally used as a sign on social media that he was a dud, a failed prospect, ruined by a terrible coach in Hamilton in Sylvain Lefebvre, that he was never any good to begin with, but our scouting staff never saw that.

Now that he is with the Canadiens and providing a strong, steady, mature, physical game, for some it’s a sign that Michel Therrien doesn’t trust rookies, that he’s been wasting his time rotting in the AHL, for two seasons now, that 'MT-MB sux'.

The Canadiens were, in my book, patient with him and Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, they made use of Marc Bergevin’s maxim that you seldom regret calling up a prospect too late, but often regret calling him up too soon. They let these guys develop, put in the miles in the AHL, away from the spotlight and the critics.

Marc Bergevin made the point during that tedious HNIC interview with Dale Tallon and Brad Treliving conducted by Strombo (does Brad Treliving say anything except regurgitate what has already been said more briefly by his panel mates?) that often critics of a GM’s work aren’t operating with all the information at hand, that if they did, they’d probably make much the same decision.

Carey Price was the leader in the three major goalie stats categories of wins, save percentage and goals-against average, but trailed Marc-André Fleury in shutouts, the Penguin netminder having had a torrid start to his season in that department.  I didn't mind that one too much, shutouts are nice but they're a more 'accidental' stat, lots of bounces have to go right for them to happen.  They're not as sure an indicator of quality goaltending.

Well, in two games Carey reeled him in for the co-lead in that category too.  He will not be denied.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 10: Notes

This is a very sad episode, recounting the week of the passing and wake of legend Jean Béliveau.

01:25  Another of the revealing behind-the-scenes look at what the Canadiens do, what they go through.  Here we see Dale Weise showing us what he takes with him on the road in his suitcase, showing that he goes barebones, one suit, one pair of shoes, socks and underwear and that's pretty much it.  He then takes a dig at Dale Prust, saying he probably travels with three suits per day.

Sure enough, we then see that Dale is a clothes horse, carrying different outfits for different occasions.  He explains that his significant other Maripier Morin picks out which suit goes with which shirt and tie, lays it on the bed for him and that he packs it in his suitcase, but not before taking a picture with his smartphone to help keep the outfits straight.  Prusty then, sure enough, takes a shot at Gally and Weisy for their minimalist approach to how they dress.

An interesting angle is that Dale Weise says he leaves his passport in his jacket "all the time", so he doesn't forget it.  He tells the story how the previous season while still in Vancouver he'd forgotten his passport, and had to rush home to get it while the the Canucks' team flight was delayed, and how "John Tortorella wasn't very happy with me".  We know how Dale wasn't a favourite of Alain Vigneault and especially John Tortorella, and this is the kind of stunt that can sour a coach on a guy.  With the Habs, contributing as he does, Weisy's a lovable goofball, but there's a thin margin to being a fourth-liner who's more trouble than he's worth.

03:45  We see David Desharnais rushing the puck against the Avalanche, passing it off and then speed wobbling and falling down.  Back on the bench, P.A. Parenteau asks if he fell down due to skate trouble.  "No, that wasn't the skates, that was all him" Dan Lacroix teases, as he pats Davey in the back.

04:30  Hilarious segment showing a lighthearted Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Prust at practice lampooning each other's skating style and stickhandling moves.  Alex does these giant moves and telegraphs a clumsy pass with his whole upper body, after which Brandon skates upright, awkwardly, with a front-to-back stride reminiscent of a novice figure skater.  He then continues his spoof of Chucky with a puck on his stick and making four fakes and headbobs and feints and dekes per second.  It degenerates from there, with Gally and P.K. joining in.  They're a very loose team.

05:00  Shot of the Olympic Stadium mast lit up in bleu-blanc-rouge.  The city mourns le Capitaine's passing.

06:15  Classic clip of John Ferguson embracing Jean Béliveau, celebrating after a goal.

07:00  Amazing story of the link P.K. Subban had with the Béliveau family, due in large part to his father Karl's love of the Montréal Canadiens.  When Jean Béliveau was invited by P.K.'s coach to speak to the team before a tournament game, Karl appointed himself as guide and 'bodyguard' of the Habs ambassador, and P.K. saw the effect it had on his father.  It's how he became a fan of the Canadiens.

"P.K. might not always listen to mom and dad, but he'll certainly listen to Mister Béliveau", Karl says.  "And whatever advice Mister Béliveau gave to him I know he will not forget it."

" 'Hockey's a team sport, and you can't win unless you play as a unit' he told us, and at the time I was the captain of the team, so he pointed at me and said 'It's your job as the captain to lead the way'," P.K. remembers.

09:30  Equipment manager Pierre Gervais explaining how his counterpart on the Minnesota Wild helped him source out a local printer who made up the number 4 stickers that the players will wear on their helmets for the game that night.

Physiotherapist Claude Thériault showing a picture of himself as a toddler, in his bright snowsuit, being held in Jean Béliveau's arms.  As is customary, when showed the picture decades later, Monsieur Béliveau remembered the occasion, when the picture was taken.

10:45  The Minnesota Wild honour the passing of Jean Béliveau prior to their game against the Canadiens with a short video tribute.

12:00  Michel Therrien to Alexei Emelin on the bench: "Emmy!  Emmy!  Everything quicker!  Get the puck, move the puck."

12:25  Max Pacioretty crashing at full speed in the boards behind the Wild net.  He's down, the trainer runs out on the ice.  As usual, Wolverine re-grows a leg in seconds and doesn't miss a shift.

14:00  Doctor Mulder reminiscing about Jean Béliveau, telling the story of how he wanted to pull John Ferguson from a game to check him for a concussion.  Fergie obviously wouldn't have any of it, until Jean told him "If the doctor says you're not playing, you're not playing."  The Canadiens enforcer meekly complied with his captain's direction.

14:25  Amazing shot of Jean Béliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and Henri Richard in the dressing room post-game.

15:10  Amazing shot of Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau and Maurice Richard with security officer Mario Brousseau.

Mr. Brousseau tells the story of how it's Jean Béliveau who once asked his wife to find a camera so he could take a picture with Mr. Brousseau.  We're then shown the picture, that the longtime Habs employee reverently keeps in a manila envelope.

15:40  Amazing shot of Jean Béliveau, in action against Bobby Hull.

15:45  Amazing shot of Jean Béliveau and Maurice Richard cheek-to-cheek with the Stanley Cup.

15:55  Amazing shot of tuxedoed Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau and Yvan Cournoyer, standing around the Stanley Cup perched on a table.

18:50  Disappointing loss against the Blackhawks, with the winning goal allowed in the final minute after the Habs had battled back to tie the game.

19:00  Canadiens owner Geoff Molson and his father Eric Molson reminisce and eulogize the Canadiens captain.  More amazing photos and video, and scenes of the thousands of fans streaming into the New Forum to pay their homage.

19:50  Amazing shot of three retired gentlemen, Gordie Howe in a green Hartford Whalers jersey, Jean Béliveau in a white Canadiens jersey, and Bobby Hull in the red Blackhawks jersey.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Three-on-three overtime will be great, with a minor adjustment in the rules.

Last season, Ryan White got a mondo huge amount of penalty minutes late in a game and was sent to the dressing room, his night over.  Except that the Canadiens mounted a furious comeback so all of a sudden they were headed to overtime, and there was a chance the game would last long enough that Ryan's penalty time would be served and he could be used by the coach.

As the equipment managers burst into the dressing room and explained all this to him and tried to help him put his gear back on, Whitey quipped: "The thing is, I haven't had an OT shift since before Junior."

And that's my problem with the 3-on-3, it will just be more of the same, the Daniel and Henrik show for the Canucks, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with Duncan Keith for the Blackhawks, etc.  And good Canadian kids like Whitey looking on for the bench.

Hooey, I say.  Let's get these boys in the game.

I've advocated in the past that enforcers should be forced to take penalty shots in the shootout, to dissuade teams from dressing one or three of them.  That shootout attempts be taken by the players with the least icetime that game.  Encourage the Lightning to keep and dress Jonathan Drouin and not Pierre-Cédric Labrie.

So let's do the same with 3-on-3.  Sign Shawn Thornton for his character and his leadership, for his Don Cherry Seal of Approval certification, for his great work in the community, his charitable endeavours?  Good for you, but now he's taking the first shift of 3-on-3.

Try to change the chemistry and character of your Sharks, Doug Wilson, by taking on John Scott and Mike Brown?  Eff you, play them, they're on against Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Love the grit and toughness Radko Gudas and Eric Gryba and Roman Polak bring?  Well you're getting a great big helping of that surliness in O.T.

That kind of forward, lateral, out-of-the-box-left-field-blue-thinking and more is the kind of innovation you can expect when you install me as your benevolent
despotCommissioner of the NHL, for the good of the game.

Game 71: Canadiens 3, Panthers 2

My thoughts on the Canadiens win against the Panthers tonight, as perceived while watching RDS' "Canadiens Express".

--Saw a couple of solid breakouts by Greg Pateryn.  Keep it up kid, nice going.

--I can't tell R.J. Umberger and Scottie Upshall apart in my mind.  I don't know what differentiates one from the other.  For me, they're identical, big players who prey on smaller Canadiens.

--I also have trouble telling Cam Barker, Cam Fowler and Jared Cowen apart, for the most part, although I'm aware when I expend energy on this is that Cam Fowler is the talented one who's in Anaheim.

--I've also never been strong on my Sutters.  I know the older ones are Darryl, Duane, and there's another guy, but I really have no firm grasp on this, I think one of them was a Blue and another was a Blackhawk for a long while, or maybe it was the same Sutter who did both?  I do know that Ron and Rich were the twins, and Ron was more talented and had a better career than Rich as predicted at their draft, but that kid brother Brent was the most talented of all.

--As for their numerous offspring, I gave up before I ever got started on those guys.  They're Sutters, and that's good enough for me.

--As the first period drew to a close at 0-0, I thought of how the Panthers have been a weak team for most of its existence, with a couple of rebuilds around promising rookies sprinkled with vets that never took off.  I sense that the team Dale Tallon is amassing though, with so many mega-talented kids, is going to be a tough out for the next while.

--And I think back to those fumbled games against the Sabres and Coyotes and Oilers, and how a five or six extra points would be a nice cushion to have right now.  Seasons have hot streaks and cold spells, we won a few games against powerhouses that we probably shouldn't have, so it evens out, but still, the Sabres...

--On the first Panther goal in the second period, we saw Tom Gilbert, but mostly Jeff Petry, commit the opposite of a 'strong play', when after stopping a scoring chance, he stood poised with the puck right in front of his net, assessing his breakout options, for at most a second.  This was all the time it took for Sasha Barkov to pick his pocket and slide the puck past a contorted Dustin Tokarski.

Puck movers are great, I love the fact that our 'brigade défensive' is nifty with the puck, but in this instance, a Josh Gorges or Hal Gill, a Craig Ludwig or Donald Dufresne, a defensive defenceman, would have hacked at the puck and swept it in the corner, where it wasn't an imminent threat, a clear and present danger.  This time, a 'strong play' would have prevented that goal.

--Loved the Brandon Prust assist on Jacob de la Rose's shorthanded goal.  The RDS boys were saying while voicing over the replays that both players knew where each other was and what the other would do.  It is especially true in that Brandon, on the replay that showed him in a closeup, is seen to make a no-look pass, looking at the goalie and freezing him in anticipation of a shot, but passing to Jacob, without looking, like a basketball point guard, or a rugby scrum half.  Great job, love to see him get icetime and be rewarded, after a difficult, strenuous outing last night in Tampa.

--Good to see P.K. score on a nice wrist shot, but I'm almost happier that Lars gets an assist on the play, and that he may be digging his way out of his funk.  And P.A. Parenteau on the ice, in front of the net, making things happen, you want him to get in gear for the playoffs too.

--In the third, the Canadiens were outclassed 21-4 in the shots department, which was a little hard to tell in the edited broadcast I was watching, but which Pierre Houde and Marc Denis kept reminding us of.

--On L'Antichambre, the panel quickly centered their aim on Devante Smith-Pelly and his lack of production, his meager contribution, and his bad penalty in the offensive zone at the end of the game.  They allowed, with Vincent Damphousse being the main spokesperson on this matter, that it's understandable that the coaching staff is giving Devo time to get in sync with his new team, and trying to get him in better game shape for the playoffs.  What worries them though is that guys like Brandon Prust and Dale Weise, who get significantly less icetime and were here all along, and who are producing, may sour on this situation.

The point was made that tonight, with Brandon Prust getting off to a good start in this game, and having had his tough outing the previous night, it would have been a great opportunity to move him up in the lineup and give him more leash.

All agreed that Devo's leave may or should be drawing to a close, that the third line would benefit by having a speedy, committed Dale Weise on the right flank instead of the former Duck.

And if we need him to improve his conditioning, let's have him skate a few extra lines at practice, and work a little bit more with Pierre Allard.  Points are hard enough to come by these days, it's hard to justify being patient with him much longer if he's not going to start clicking.

--Four points out of six, with another loss to the Lightning that's a little hard to accept, but overall not a bad road trip.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Devante Smith-Pelly is being held off the scoresheet, but contributing how he can to the Canadiens.

Former Hab stalwart, head coach, and current RDS analyst Mario Tremblay often blows a fuse when the Canadiens are playing listlessly, “mollement”, he’ll enjoin them to throw a hit or two, not make it so comfortable for opponents to skate around and make plays, confident that they won’t be separated from their senses anytime soon compared to if they were up against the Bruins or the Great Gryba.

And I’ve noted a few times that Canadiens players are very focused on the puck in the way they play, and I believe they’re coached that way, that they’re told to stickcheck, turn the puck over and get it going the other way. In that environment, we often see players do a fly-by, a forward passing up an opportunity to lay a hit, finish a check on a defenceman who just fired the puck off the boards. Sometimes you see that opponent bracing, readying for a hit, and a Lars Eller or Brandon Prust skating by and racing off after the puck, and leaving their counterpart genuinely surprised.

In that context, I enjoy Devante Smith-Pelly’s efforts, applaud them. He’s leading the way, forechecking but also finishing every check he can. While I deplore this aspect of the game, until this rule or interpretation is taken out of the game, we shouldn’t pass it up and let other teams enjoy that advantage to themselves.

So I don’t agree when we characterize his hits as meaningless, of little consequence, or that he takes himself out of position to do so. His presence in our roster increases the threat level, makes opponents aware that they need to unload the puck quickly, in a hurry, compared to before. He makes them a little more trepidatious than otherwise.

And his hits are contagious. I think his linemates, and other forwards, will and do take note, and may throw one or two more hits than they would generally. We’ll see on a forecheck that Devo will hit a defenceman, the puck will make its way to the other defenceman, and Lars or Jacob de la Rose will be there and lay another hit on that guy, and so on. These aren’t Scott Stevens quality hits, few are, but they’re enough to keep the opposition on their toes, to make them rush things a little.

So I’m fully on board if we critique him for his lack of production, I expect more from him, certainly I hope for more, but to try to emphasize our critique by downplaying his contributions on the physical side is off-base, I think.

Mike Borland, Michaël Bournival again bring attention to the risks of concussion.

I understand the Michaël Bournival situation, where he had some dizziness but tried to play through it. Maybe he thought it was ‘mild’, or that is was almost gone. Maybe he’d done this before, had the dizziness, and it did go away, and he thought it would again.

Aside from the concerns about his spot on the team, his place in the roster, there’s also the fact that the default setting for men is to usually wait until something is about to fall off before we go see our doctor. We’re trained from an early age to not whine, to ‘man up’, to play or work through pain-discomfort, and that things that hurt usually get better on their own when you wait long enough.

Even today, with all we know about concussions, all that athletes are taught about their signs and the risks involved, we’ll have them hide symptoms from doctors or team officials, or deny it to themselves that they are important enough that they should self-report. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Last season, we saw the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles admit that he avoided team doctors, almost ran from them on the sidelines during a game against the Chargers, after a collision with Brandon Flowers at the goal line had left both shaken. He said that while he was dazed and “saw stars” after the hit, he “felt fine”, and didn’t want to come out of the game.

And then there’s the other side, the other option, which is what the 49’ers Chris Borland chose. At 24, and after a great rookie season with the 49’ers, one which gave the team hope that he could palliate the loss of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, Mr. Borland has decided to retire ‘preemptively’.

Chris Borland is by all accounts a smart kid, he intends to return to school to continue his studies, and eventually get into sports management. It weighed heavily on him that he’d suffered two previous diagnosed concussions, and had symptoms in training camp last season. He’d read about the famous cases of CTE among the former NFL players.

And he’s not the first prominent 49’er to retire as a precaution, before he incurred too much damage that might hamper his life and career after football. In the eighties, tight end John Frank retired midway into a promising career to enter medical school fulltime. I remember reading the article in Sports Illustrated as a young man, flabbergasted that he would walk away from the riches and fame of the NFL, but being persuaded by his arguments, how he worried that he might damage his hands and be unable to achieve his dream/goal of becoming a surgeon.

One unspoken point here is that Chris Borland was locked into a ‘rookie contract’ for another three seasons. He seems to be genuine about his wish to avoid lasting consequences, but he took his time deliberating the decision, did his research. You have to wonder how the entry-level deals that NFL players have to endure will dissuade a few more players from entering or remaining in the meat-grinder that is the NFL.

So many players suffer injuries and wash out of the league before they can have success. The risk-reward equation is seriously tilted when a player can’t renegotiate his contract to reflect his value to the team beyond what it was at the draft, as a fourth-round pick. Financial security is a desirable state to be in, but playing football for $500 000 or so may not represent that to a few players, realistic as they are when evaluating their odds of lasting long enough to earn a second contract.

Game 70: Canadiens 2, Lightning 3

I'm late to the party, and only saw the Canadiens Express of last night's 3-2 loss to the Lightning, but was the tone, and the lack of control by the refs set right at the start, when they overlooked the Brian Boyle slewfoot on Lars Eller?  It seemed like a clear 'editorial' decision, a flagrant foul if ever there was one that they voluntarily let slide.

Lars was leaning towards his bench, the Lightning centre was banking the other way, and he kicked out Lars' skates out.  And not just the near skate, but the inside skate that Lars had his weight on.  Lars went spinning and flying, it was the result of an obvious trip-slewfoot, and not a bodycheck, when the puck was nowhere near.

Yet it occurred within the first couple of minutes of the game, and it's as if the refs decided they didn't want to hand out a penalty quite so early in the game, they wanted to 'let them play', not to 'inject themselves into the game'.  Were they fearful that the Canadiens would score early on a powerplay, and some would be angry about that?

I'm having to conjecture, maybe I'm way off, but that's what we're reduced to, when the referees deliberately stay mum on plays like that.    What possible reason can there be?, you ask yourself.

And then whether every subsequent call or non-call is tinged with the state of accounts that exists in the refs minds, that this team is owed this, but only in these types of cases, and not including scoring chances, or those that affect Steven Stamkos, or conversely P.K. Subban, those have their own ledgers, with their own current accounts.

And that's how a player like Brian Boyle, who's generally considered an 'honest' player, a big guy who plays physically, but isn't dirty, and needs to contribute somehow so he'll occasionally throw a hit that exceeds the bounds of legality, partially due to his great size and strength and the higher than usual location of his elbows.

And then there will be the situations, the contributions like this, when in the playoffs a grinder, a fourth-liner, has to pull stunts like jabbing and punching Erik Karlsson repeatedly in the head, because he's smaller and a star and Nick Kypreos says that's how it is in the playoffs, never mind the head trauma, or Grant Fuhr's blown ACL.  Because Brian Boyle has to justify his presence in the lineup, and it won't be by scoring goals.  So maybe he concusses Erik Karlsson, or kreiderates a goalie.  He has to do something.  He needs to 'send a message'.

And every time a referee overlooks a slewfoot by a Brian Boyle, it allows him to remain in the league and do what he does, and it displaces a Jonathan Drouin, and sets the table where the other team has to have a Brandon Prust, who says "Anything you can do, I must do better", and now he's slashing and spearing guys and running a goalie, and great job refs, glad you didn't inject yourselves into the game right at the start.  Because Don Cherry would have looked really scary garbed in green but purple in demeanor.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

David Desharnais must shoot the puck more.

Encouraging to see David Desharnais fire the puck at Michal Neuvirth on a 2-on-1, trying to squeak it through, or to generate a rebound that can be cashed in, during the Canadiens' 3-1 win against the Islanders.

I’ve advocated in the past, when dealing with an inconsistent René Bourque, that the coaches should focus on the process, the effort, rather than the results. That they insist that he just play positionally sound hockey, and would get a regular shift if every game he fired two shots on net, and delivered two hits. That simple. Take two shots a game, and hope that some will go in, and stay involved physically by finishing a couple of checks or separating a puck carrier from his sensesthe puck. If you do that you’re golden.

I’ve reached a level of frustration with David Desharnais that makes me want to do the same with him. I want the coaches to insist that he get off two shots on net, at minimum. That he should be feeding P.K. and Max those delightful passes of his is understood. But we want him to improve his game by also taking shots on net.

In the offensive zone, instead of the default setting being that he try to slip a cross-crease pass to Dale Weise for a tap-in, and failing that to dish it to Andrei, he should have in his head the option to deke and take a good shot on net.

He can surprise goalies, he’s very accurate with his wrist shot, he’s deceptive, can fake one way and go the other. His former teammate Mathieu Darche was saying that he’s very diligent in practice, always working on his shot, and that he’s got a goodie, but it doesn’t seem to translate into game situations.

Justin Bourne had a good piece recently on how a player can be seriously messed up by being asked to do something that’s unnatural, like maybe asking the very topical Craig Janney to snipe goals instead of feeding Brett Hull. That instead of getting the same production plus adding a new facet to the player's game, what often happens is that the player now thinks, instead of reacting on the ice, he hesitates, and accomplishes nothing, he’s a half-second off. The player’s original production falls off, and you don’t really get the ‘improvement’ either.

Still, I think it’s probably a good idea to set that benchmark as at least a soft target for David. The coaches have to convince him that he needs to be more ‘selfish’, that on a two-on-one he should view this as a scoring opportunity. That rebounds are good outcomes. That goalies flub shots, very often, it’s in the range of likelihood as getting a pass through three defenders’ skates and sticks.

And this isn’t alien to the coaching staff. On 24CH, we saw a sequence where Dan Lacroix was exhorting his troops in the second intermission, and all through the third to ‘get to thirty shots’. The Canadiens were trailing at the time by a couple of goals, but he wasn’t asking them to score, to tie the game, but rather that they “get to thirty”. He'd yell that at the players on the ice as they skated up with the puck, at his charges on the bench. In that particular instance, happily, they were rewarded and mounted a comeback.

So yeah, I can see Michel Therrien having his proverbial cup of coffee with David in his office: “On a besoin de toi mon Dave. Il nous faut plus de but, t’es capable de nous en fournir. Deux ‘shut’, c’est tout ce que j’te demande mon grand, deux ‘shut’, …”

Game 69: Canadiens 3, Islanders 1

Michel Therrien yesterday reverted to one of his favourite maxims when harried by the press about the swoon his team was mired in the last six games.  After practice, he again intoned that every team has to face adversity, the important thing is how you react to it, that when you're down on one knee, you don't put the other knee down, you have to get back up.

This bromide has become his lucky rabbit's foot, every time he whips it out, the Canadiens halt a slide with a win against a strong team.  As they did tonight, handing the Islanders a 3-1 loss on the backs of the usual workhorses: Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and P.K. Subban.

Tomas opened the scoring on a nice 3-on-2 with linemates Alex Galchenyuk and P.A. Parenteau.  Other than his struggles in the faceoff circle, he played a strong leader's role and was his usual difference maker.

Max scored a shorthanded goal for the second game in a row, and was a constant menace.  He's continuing his career season, amassing points but also adding a leadership component, as well as a strong defensive game, as evidenced by his leading the league in the +/- column.

P.K. played 28 minutes and killed penalties, was strong in his zone, and didn't commit any glaring errors, try anything too fancy and assume too much risk.  A couple of times I cringed when he had the puck and was rushing it up-ice, but he quickly dished off to a teammate, and the play progressed.  Nice going P.K.

We've run out of superlatives for Carey Price.  He made a save that will be on all the highlight reels this weekend, when he last-gasped at a puck that stone-handed Matt Martin (who says that these types of players don't hurt their own team) flubbed in the crease.  Still, he stopped 35 of 36 shots, and that's the difference he makes.  No mistakes, plus one or two miracles a game.

Good on Lars for potting an empty-net goal to seal the win, after the Islanders made it close with a powerplay goal.  I had feared a repeat of the loss against the Oilers, in which Tomas Plekanec had failed to score on an empty net, habitual practice for les Glorieux this year.  Again tonight, Max backhanded a shot at the empty net but missed, and now the Islanders had the puck back with around a minute to play.  But our boys forechecked them hard and didn't allow them to get set up, and they turned the puck over to Brendan Gallagher, who smartly found Lars with a quick pass.

Good on Lars also for again celebrating his goal in a sober fashion, not tigerwilliamsing it.  These gimmes may not seem like much, but hopefully they serve to settle him down, feel more a part of things, gain in confidence, and get going in time for the playoffs.  Added to his assist on Max's shorthanded goal, Lars is contributing in a tangible manner, and that's great.

Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu didn't do too badly.  One play I noticed was when Carey made his miracle save on Matt Martin, Greg stepped up and pushed back on an incoming Brock Nelson after the whistle.  There was a potential for escalation, but Greg, uhm, insisted, and the Isles forward didn't push it, he actually backed down.  Which I appreciated.  Greg's a grown man, big and strong, and he can stand up to opponents who want to start up something to get Carey off his game.  Brock Nelson is no waif, but he wasn't too keen on fronting Greg.

I was worried that the Canadiens may have spoiled the good chemistry in their ranks with the trade deadline acquisitions, whether some feathers had been ruffled, so we can hope that this win is evidence that this isn't the case.  The panel on L'Antichambre made the point that a few other teams at the top of the standings are having difficulty right now, including tonight's opponents, but also the Ducks, the Predators, the Blues...  The Canadiens aren't the only ones stumbling a bit.

Chantal Machabé repeated that this may be the most close-knit group she has ever witnessed in all her years of covering the Canadiens, forever teasing and pranking each other.  She said that they're a young team, and you can tell by their ebullience and highjinks, but everyone gets along, there are no cliques or oddballs.

When the discussion dealt with the use of the defencemen, about how Nate has been playing, what happens when Alexei Emelin returns, what will become of Sergei Gonchar, and why Greg Pateryn is getting icetime now instead of a rested, available Mike Weaver, Jacques Demers made the point that no decision on the Canadiens is made in a vacuum, nothing is improvised.  He says that the GM and his advisors, as well as the coaching staff, work hand-in-hand in making these kinds of decisions, as they did last season when they chose to play Dustin Tokarski instead of Peter Budaj.  If Greg Pateryn is being used, it's not desperation, it's to figure him out, showcase him, get him ready for the playoffs, whatever, but it's not a Hail Mary.

So anyway, if I had my druthers, put me down for a series against the Islanders in the Conference Finals, pretty please.  We have their number, and Tomas Plekanec seems to like playing against them, whereas John Tavares has a difficult, whiny time of it.  I'll take that matchup over any involving the Pens or the Rangers.