Friday, 21 October 2016

Alex Galchenyuk needs to improve on faceoffs

News headline: Alex Galchenyuk among five players to show up for optional practice

Guy Carbonneau, Éric Bélanger and Denis Gauthier on L’Antichambre last night commented that there’s been ‘un déclic’ with respect to Alex’s defensive play, that he’s more involved, doesn’t cheat towards offence as much, works harder in his zone. Yesterday, he had a great defensive effort on an odd-man rush by the Coyotes, and was rewarded a few seconds later when he scored his goal.

They went on that there will need to be ‘un déclic’ as far as his performance in the faceoff circle. Some points they brought up:

1) Faceoff excellence isn’t handed down from heaven, it’s a skill that requires a lot of work and dedication.

2) Alex hasn’t shown that dedication in his preparation so far, and not even during games. Éric Bélanger and Guy Carbonneau, both centremen, agreed that it’s noticeable to them that he’s not focused on faceoffs, that he shows up to the dot unprepared. They said basic things like getting ready, his positioning, right off the drop, he’s not set, and that’s why he’s losing.

3) They said that he does work on this in practices, but he needs more help, and more focus. They specifically said that having Dan Lacroix drop puck for him so he can practice is basically useless, since Mr. Lacroix wasn’t a centreman himself. They said that Kirk Muller needs to work with him, he’s a former centreman who excelled on faceoffs.

4) They noted that for all the coaches’ talk about the importance of faceoffs, what will speak loudest for Alex is that Brendan Gallagher has been taking draws on occasion, bumping him to the wing. That has to sting a little bit. Gally isn’t great at faceoffs, but he’s usually the one called on when the centreman is waved off, over Max Pacioretty. Also, Gally is a rightie, so it might make more sense to have him take draws on his strong side than to have Chucky on his weak side. But let’s hope it hits Alex right in his pride, and that’s why he’s putting in extra time this morning during an optional skate.

More general thoughts about faceoffs:

–Faceoff proficiency improves as players age. This is thought to be due to a player getting more savvy and tricky, but also mainly just getting stronger. Chucky has a bit of an advantage in that latter area, his size and training will serve him well, but he now needs to take lots and lots of faceoffs.

–Manny Malhotra, his one season here, spoke often on 24CH on the Zen of Faceoffs, how every situation, every opponent is different. He said once that in some situations, he’s not so concerned about winning the draw, but more about making sure he doesn’t lose it cleanly. Alex needs to have that battler mentality, that every draw matters.

–Speaking of Manny, he’s now a Development coach with the Canucks.  One of the oft-stated goals is that by hiring him, he can pass on some of his faceoff know-how to the Canucks’ players and prospects.

–We often talked about hiring Manny as a coach, but he was always going to head back to Vancouver, that’s where he wanted to live. Maybe there are other specialized coaches we can hire from the Montréal area though, Yannick Pereault is often bandied about. I don’t know if he’s available, I know he’s consulted with some teams, and some players work with him over the summer as a ‘skills coach’.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Game 4: Canadiens 5, Coyotes 2

Happily, the game tonight between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Canadiens is a national broadcast, so I get to enjoy a crystal HD picture, instead of a jumpy stream courtesy of the grubbing Gary Bettman.

--I'm never agreeable to a Tie Domi interview during a Canadiens game.  Even though I FFWD'ed through it, didn't hear a word he said, I still feel violated.

--I'm not sure the world is ready for a skinny Zach Galifianakis.  He'll most likely be less funny in that new movie of his.  Curse his improving circulatory health.

--On that Jake Chychrun goal, Mikhail Sergachev committed a giveaway in his zone when he had clean possession, a cardinal sin.  He made the mistake of trying a subtle, cute play, instead of making a coach-beloved "strong play".  If you're going to make a little pass deep in your zone, make sure that it's your best if not your only option.  Blasting it off the boards and out of your zone will earn you a Don Cherry thumbs up, and more icetime the rest of the game, and the next.

--Jason York uses that atrocity of a buzzword non-word 'resiliency'.  Like nails on an emery board on my raw nerve.  It doesn't reflect well on his intelligency.

Then again, John Bartlett says "off of" all the time, so, you know, whatever.

--Not to chase this too far down the rabbit hole, but shouldn't TSN and Sportsnet and every network have on hand an English professor or two on retainer, who can watch the broadcasts and go over the tape with these miscreants, and correct the glaring errors, coach them up, like they used to get coached up when they were playing.

"Now John, when you say 'Carey Price blocked that shot off of Laurent Dauphin', what you really want to say is that he blocked a shot off Laurent Dauphin.  You never say 'off of', that's never ever right.  The word 'off' contains the word 'of' already.  For example, you wouldn't say a fresh line steps 'on of the ice', why would we say the other line 'gets off of the ice'?"

"Phew, Miss Grundy, I thought you were going to chide me for not saying 'a shot from Laurent Dauphin'..."

"Well John, now that you bring it up..."

Guys like Jamie McLennan, who seems to be a nice guy and have knowledge, but drowns his message in a morass of mixed metaphors and malapropisms and clichés of the month, would really benefit from this attention.

But with the barebones slashed budgets at Sportsnet, it's risible to expect that they'd act as custodians of the airwaves and ensure a quality product is broadcast on our commons.

--That delayed penalty in the second period was a gas.  Offhand, I can't remember a longer 6-on-5 on a delayed penalty, and one when the Canadiens had such an effective presence in the offensive zone, with so many chances to score before the opposing team gets a chance to touch the puck and create a whistle.

--On that shorthanded goal by Laurent Dauphin that closed the gap to 4-2, Jason York described Nathan Beaulieu's effort as "too casual" and "lackadaisical", which isn't inaccurate.  I saw in it the vestiges of last year's powerplay, when our players would idle back to our zone to gather in a clearance, and then shambled back up-ice, stumped as to how they'd ever score.

One side-effect I hope we'll see this season with two distinct powerplay units, and two sets of defence pairings, is that they'll be competitive with each other, they'll cherish the minute they have to score, and will make good use of it, instead of ambling back as if they have all the time in the world.

--I'm thinking Max Domi must have been disappointed Jacob de la Rose wasn't in the lineup, a big juicy target to punk, like he did last year.

--Overall, I think the Canadiens played down to their level of competition a little bit.  Once they got the quick goals in the second period and chased Louis Domingue, it's like they thought the game was won and they imperceptibly eased off on the throttle.

Still, a nice win and another two points in the bank, and a W for Carey in his first game back.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Game 3: Canadiens 4, Penguins 0

We get a national broadcast of the Canadiens home opener against the Penguins, I had to choose between TVA and Sportsnet for my tele-convenience.  I went with Sportsnet, I like the crew of John Bartlett and Jason York.  As much as I tried to give Félix Séguin and Patrick Lalime a chance these last couple years, they pale so greatly in comparison to RDS' Pierre Houde and Marc Denis that I can't enjoy their games.  Maybe I'll give them another go this winter, when my only other option will be Bob Cole on HNIC.

I'd like to think Kyle Bukauskas is a new addition to the Sportsnet team due to his easy professionalism, his youthful energy and camera-friendly appearance, but I can't help but think that he's the TV version of a player on an Entry-Level Contract, a cheaper replaceable cog, due to Rogers arterial bleeding of red ink and cost-cutting on their NHL efforts.

I was a little surprised that the Penguins would go with Marc-André Fleury in net, on back-to-back games, rather than harness some of Mike Condon's eagerness to prove the Canadiens wrong in waiving him.

And it doesn't take long for the second-guessing to coalesce, when Max Pacioretty gets the season's first goal for himself and at Le Nouveau Forum, after Marc-André botched a retrieval of a dump-in and set the Penguins scrambling in their own zone.  He managed to block a point blank shot from Alex Galchenyuk, but a few seconds later Max converted a beautiful feed from Jeff Petry, scoring near-post and in from the slot on a quick wrist shot.  

His detractors will tell you that Max did so lazily though, that instead of being open for the pass, he should have been jousting in front of the net, dishing out elbows to various Penguins.  That's the best application of his skill, they'll harrumph.  

Did I mention the goal was a result of a dump-in by the Canadiens?

In the second, Max sets up his buddy David Desharnais for the 2-0 lead.  Max works the corner with Andrew Shaw and wins a puck battle, finds David all alone in front of the net.  David has a good period in the second, making a dandy pass to Andrei Markov on an odd-man rush, setting him up for a clean shot on goal.

So far this season, I'd not noticed the team speed and high-pressure style as much as we might have expected, the Canadiens had seemed lethargic mostly, but tonight they've created mistakes by their opponents with their speed, notably on Marc-André Fleury, who's struggled handling the puck.  

And if David Desharnais and Andrew Shaw continue to mesh, to build that on-ice communication, we might have a decent forward corps, with a good Top 6, a productive third line and a fourth line Michel Therrien beams about.

The third period sees Alex Radulov finally get rewarded with a goal, a bit of a beauty aided by a nice unpunished instance of crease-crashing by Brendan Gallagher.  

David Desharnais covers his detractors in a lather of rage with his second goal, another one obtained by being open and alone near the net.  4-0 pour les Habitants.

All that remained late in the game was to preserve the well-deserved shutout for Al Montoya.  Nathan Beaulieu kind of complicated matters by clearing the puck into the stands and drawing a delay of game penalty, but the Canadiens killed it off, against a tired Pens team resigned to its fate by that point.  Nate, bear down.  Concentrate.  Situational hockey.  An icing is less bad than a penalty this late in the game.

Overall though, the Canadiens defence corps is rounding into shape nicely.  Shea Weber is playing the way we were told he'd play.  A healthy Jeff Petry who reminds us of the healthy Jeff Petry from early last year is a huge boost, with another two-point night, two savant passes.  Alexei Emelin is playing with a little more confidence, has been more creative with the puck, jumping in the rush, maybe that World Cup experience has done him some good.  

So a healthy 4-0 win, another two points, a strong performance after a lengthy opening ceremony.  It was nice to see Coach Jacques Demers doing better, and handing off the torch to Max before the game.  

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Game 2: Canadiens 3, Senators 4 (SO)

Stuck watching Leafsnet's Lanny MacDonald's love-in, otherwise known as the ruins of what used to be Hockey Night in Canada, and the time-phased Bob Cole's halting call of the action.  My fast-forward button made short work of the blue preamble, but I'll have to suffer with the fading foghorn.

--Sven Andrighetto cleared waivers?  Sven Andrighetto cleared waivers!  Jolly good!  I dreaded that we'd lose that asset.  We're not in a position to squander players and prospects, even those who've had a slow start to the season and a lukewarm camp.

Our farm team needs the help anyway.  That's a very thin roster in my estimation, they have a first line and not much else to scare anyone.

--First period thoughts are that this year's edition of the Canadiens isn't tough, if we're getting pushed around by the Senators, but at the same time we're not yet seeing the speed and the 'push the pace' philosophy championed by Marc Bergevin.

We easily handled the weak Sabres (at least on the scoreboard) even if we weren't clicking, but the Senators aren't that much better in my opinion, they should also struggle to make the playoffs.  We're not seeing evidence that we're any better than they are.

--If the refs allow the Senators to actually wrestle Brendan Gallagher to the ice in the neutral zone, when the puck is nowhere near, the NHL is doomed to wither compared to the other pro leagues, and it will be a long season for Canadiens fans.

--That 4-on-3 penalty kill situation in the second was tough, with Tomas Plekanec, one of the primary defenders for the Canadiens already in the box.  Meanwhile the Senators had Chris Neil in the box on that original offsetting minors infraction, which is no big loss.

--Chris Neil should be in jail.

--Mark Stone, according to Bob Cole, has a microfracture of the mouth.  Bob later clarifies that Jeff Petry elbowed Mark Stone.  With his shoulder.

--Gary Galley later describes a "squirmish" in front of the Senators' net.

--Watching hockey just makes me mad.  It renders me enraged, with a feeling of helplessnes, like when my 4 year old nephew yells "It's not fair!"  This hits me every time the Senators facewash and headlock every Canadien in sight after every whistle.

Two years ago, there came word from out of nowhere that any contact with the head of a player, voluntary or not, regardless of how forceful, would be an automatic penalty.  Just as quickly, this was denied, we were told that this rule wouldn't be implemented.

I guess the 'old guard' won out.  Tedious scrums and hacking in front of the net sell tickets, we're all assured.

All that remained for the NHL's Star Chamber was to ensure their attack poodle Gary Bettman send condescending letters to Congress when the League's commitment to safety is questioned, and deny any link between concussions and CTE.

--À propos of nothing, Louis Debrusk is now Leafsnet's analyst on the national broadcast of Western Conference games.

--Curtis Joseph is the 35th-best Leaf ever?  The guy who is known mostly for his amazing playoffs with the Blues, and his takedown of a ref in the playoffs while in Toronto?  If I'd have grown up in Toronto, I probably would have been an Argonauts fan.

--I was imagining the explosion on social media at the sight of David Desharnais with Max Pacioretty on the ice early in the third, but the coaches can be forgiven for trying to shake up a rather listless team.  And they are rewarded a shift or two later when a frankencombo of Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen combine for the tying goal.

--I know that coaches want to win every game, that even the second game of the season is a must win, but câlice, Andrei Markov on the penalty kill for the entire 5-on-3?  It's hard to argue against the results, but is this going to be a Pyrrhic victory, where we end up with a depleted Andrei when the playoffs come around?

--Speaking of tackling, and the Argonauts, Dion Phaneuf should play for the Redblacks.

--Petry!  Muller!  Now this be a powerplay.  And I won't mention how it all started with a dump-in from Nathan Beaulieu, when he didn't have any other options upon zone entry.

--I used to say that Mark Borowiecki's only function on the Senators was to ensure that Mika Zibanejad is not the uncontested ugliest man in Ottawa.  Now that the latter has been traded, the Senators' Fishface has a healthy lead in that rubric on Mark Stone.

--I don't miss Peter Budaj, Dustin Tokarski, Mike Condon, or Ben Scrivens.  I do miss Michel Larocque though.

--"With 2:33 to go  here in the third period, the Senators have lost a two-goal lead, and then have got it back closing down the third period."

Wait, what?  The Senators have got the two-goal lead back?  It looks for all the world like it's a 3-3 tie, no?

Gary Galley, is your anti-Montréal bias affecting your call, your grammar, or your judgment?

--Someone has to do something about Jean-Gabriel Pageau.  I mean, the guy is killing us, every game.  Just sayin'.

--Overtime.  Everyone gets a point, and now we play 3-on-3 for an extra third point that didn't exist before when the win was only going to be worth two points.

I love Gary 'Schrödinger' Bettman's NHL.

--Two giveaways by Alex Radulov in OT, and then a breakaway on which he's out of gas and can only manage a weak backhand shot right on the goalie.

--Disjointed play by the Canadiens in OT, sometimes giving away the puck to the Senators uncontested.  We need to tighten that up, make it so you only give away the puck on a good shot at the net.

--Ugh, that failure by David Desharnais on his shootout 'attempt'.  I wonder what move Charles Hudon might have tried?  Or Sven?  This won't silence David's critics.

--I guess we're not going on no 9-0 run this year.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Game 1: Canadiens 4, Sabres 1

Watching the Sportsnet broadcast of the Canadiens-Sabres season opener, I'll be keeping my eye on Shea Weber and Mikhail Sergachev.

Andrei Markov, who'll be paired with Jeff Petry at least according to early plans, is going to play with Greg Pateryn for now, I'll be interested to see how they do too.  Greg is the big tough defensively-oriented partner we used to think a guy like Andrei Markov should ideally be paired with.

Early in the game, I see a few Sabres finishing their checks against Nathan Beaulieu with gusto, but being less generous doling out the rough stuff when they're up against Shea Weber.

When Josh Gorges takes the first penalty, the powerplay pairings Shea Weber and Andrei Markov get one good shot off.  Second pairing Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev don't seem in sync, fumble and bumble with the puck.  Fire Kirk Muller!

Brendan Gallagher scores the first goal of the season for the Canadiens, on a wrister from outside the slot, a goal we'd see in the Eighties but which don't go in normally these days.  Off the post and in, and Robin Lehner continues to fail to impress, aside from how he intimidates me with his foreboding brow, one of his many acromegalic traits.

Greg Pateryn has a really nice shot.  He's mobile and fluid enough that he can tee it up with ease, it's not like everything has to be perfect with lots of room for him to get it off.  On a nice forecheck by David Desharnais, he gets a loose puck at the blue line and rips a good shot off at the net.

A second powerplay is called due to the fact that the Foligno doesn't fall far from the tree.  We see lots of scuffling again, the team struggling to get clean possession in the Sabres zone, and Andrei Markov ends up booting a puck, a giveaway which sends Evander Kane off on a breakaway.

The first period finishes 1-0.  Noted were a couple of instances of the defencemen protecting the crease, not allowing any Sabres to hang around when Al Montoya was trying to freeze the puck.

Mikhail Sergachev tried a fancy move at the offensive blue line, even though he was the last man back, and got the puck poked away.  Lucky for him the puck bounce didn't facilitate a breakaway, it banked off sideways.  These kind of moves may have worked in the OHL, but if he tries that again in the NHL, he'll find himself back in the OHL, with Michel Therrien's blessing.

Early in the second, Torrey Mitchell scores exactly the kind of goal we hope the fourth line will all season long, on a rush caused by their defensive pressure.  Paul Byron does most of the heavy lifting, crashes heavily in the end boards, while his centreman lurks in front of the net to cash in a loose puck.

And who was Robin Lehner staring at after that goal, the ref, or his defenceman?  I hope it wasn't the latter, that would be a jerk move.  We get it, you hate giving up a goal, but don't show up your teammate, even if he messed up.  Which in this case I don't think he did.

Now that Stefan Matteau is in the minors, and jersey #21 is free, let's put Phillip Danault in it right quick.  The line of succession would run Doug Jarvis to Guy Carbonneau to Phillip Danault, with an unsanctioned Brian Gionta period.

Ugly fall in the boards by Evander Kane there at the end of the second period.  I don't know if Alexei Emelin is completely blameless on that play.  Players shouldn't project each other into the boards.  As much as I like(d) hitting and rough play and thunderous bodychecks, I think the speeds they fly around at now, that the human body isn't built to withstand those kinds of collisions.

The third period starts with the Canadiens up 2-0, but a Shea Weber crosschecking puts the Sabres on the powerplay, and Alexei Emelin gets caught, drawn in by the puck behind the net even though Greg Pateryn was already there.  Matt Moulson got left all alone in front of the net, and didn't miss when he got a pass.

I didn't like how a minute later Daniel Carr was surrounded by Sabres in front of their net after a whistle, given a rough ride, but none of the refs did anything about it.  Even worse, none of his teammates came to help.  We need some size on this team.

Two quick goals then put away the Sabres we hope, one a deflection by Brendan Gallagher on a Shea Weber goal, and another on a messy scramble in front of the Sabres net by Andrew Shaw.

There was a scrum after an ugly collision in which Torrey Mitchell took a knee to the head from Josh Gorges.  Torrey also took a puck to the face trying to block a shot from the point.  Rough night for him, I think he didn't finish the game.

So with the score up 4-1 with much of the third period remaining, it's hard to figure out how to feel about the game and our team.  Al Montoya has been strong while Robin Lehner has not, and that factors heavily.  The Canadiens haven't exactly dominated a weak sister with several injuries.  They got bounces which the Sabres did not, but for long stretches Buffalo carried the play.  They outshot le bleu blanc rouge 31-24.

Alex Radulov has a jerky-jerky style, he's not quite a beautiful player from what I can observe so far.  He's high energy, works hard, pinballs around, but he's not a smooth player, a guy who you can tell oozes talent with one glance.

 Daniel Carr needs to quit it with the helmet strap chewing if he wants to look like he's out of puberty.  Alexei Emelin is hitting everything that moves.  He and Greg Pateryn and Shea Weber bring a lot more snarl to our back end.

Suprised that Andrei Markov kills that much penalty time.   Even more surprised that Artturi Lehkonen got a few PK shifts as well.

Friday, 7 October 2016

There is only one Big Three.

This isn’t meant as a slam on anyone, but one of my pet peeves is how the term ‘Big Three’ is overused, misused and abused by hockey writers, pundits, bloggers, etc. I don’t understand why we do this. It’s not like anytime someone comes along who plays with passion and ferocity, he’s the New Rocket, or when a short guy with thunder thighs scorches the ice when he skates, now he’s the Roadrunner. But we throw around the Big Three© moniker like it doesn’t mean anything, like it’s not already taken

There is one Big Three when it comes to hockey, and that is the three Hall of Fame defencemen who were the foundation for the Canadiens dynasty in the Seventies: Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson. All of them were over 6 feet and weighed more than 200 lbs, which was more rare back then. All of them were big on talent, on style, on production and big game performance. All three of them were Norris Trophy winners or candidates at some point in their careers. Opposition coaches despaired that, save a Denis Potvin or Brad Park or Borje Salming, they didn’t have even one d-man as good as the Canadiens Big Three.

I shudder whenever the Leafs, or any team really but it’s usually the Leafs, are described as having the Next Big Three, or the New Big Three. It’s always Carlo Colaiacovo and Jim Smith and Pjotr Fjornsberg*, and wow are they a talented bunch, and then you learn that Mr. Smith isn’t quite that big after all, just 5’11” and 185 lbs, but never mind that, let’s hammer that modestly-sized square peg into the round Big Three hole, we’re committed to this tired and inapt narrative.

Then it happens again, only now it’s Morgan Rielly and Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner, and they’re the foundation that will lead the Leafs to new success and Stanley Cup, and oops, sorry, now Cody Franson is gone, and he was kind of big, but that’s about it. He’s not 10% of Larry Robinson, but we went there anyway.

So please, we can say Big Three when we talk about Ford, GM and Chrysler, that’s where it started, but when it comes to hockey, there was only one Big Three. Let’s leave it at that, and use a Three Amigos or Three Horsemen of the Apoceclipse narrative next time we have to shoehorn three hockey players into one story.

(*=or some other guy you never heard of, and never will)

The Canadiens should NOT trade for Nail Yakupov

For years I’ve been on the Nail Yakupov For Cheap bandwagon, thinking we could swindle the Oilers out of an electric talent, kind of like .9 of a Pavel Bure, and once he got in the Canadiens organization, with our famously ‘best room in the NHL’ and no-nonsense coaching staff and GM, playing wing alongside best bud Alex Galchenyuk, he’d magically straighten and fly right and challenge Alex Ovechkin for the Art Ross trophy.

Our ace in the hole, which I kept bringing up, was that we had inside info, with Alex himself, sure, but also with Papa Galchenyuk, who was a coach on the Sarnia Sting when Alex and Nail were there. So all we had to do was vet Nail through our Galchenyuk filter, and when he got the thumbs up, we’d throw a second-rounder and Patrick Holland at the Oilers, and they’d like it, and that would be that.

Risk free. Galchenyuk-approved.

And a couple years later, with Nail still dangling out there, with his sticker price reportedly dropping all the time, with no takers, I wondered why Marc Bergevin wouldn’t pull the trigger. We need the scoring talent, need the Top 6 help, so get your butt in gear, ask the Galchenyuks, get the okay, get them to vouch for him, and then make the deal. What’s taking so long? What’s so hard about this? Reunite the best bros.

Recently, it’s slowly dawned on me that maybe this has happened, this conversation was held, and the Galchenyuks told Marc Bergevin “Not with a ten ruble pole.” It’s kind of smacked me upside the head, that the reason the trade hasn’t happened is that Marc Bergevin and his staff have done their due diligence, not because they’ve been shirking it. The vetting just didn’t go so good.

One of the steps that led me there was the quote about Nail playing as if he was being chased by a swarm of bees. It wasn’t meant as a compliment I believe, and would fly against Michel Therrien’s preference that players be positionally sound, be defensively responsible, that whole swarm of bees haphazard style.

Another inkling is, and I’m reaching a little bit here, that way way back, maybe even before the draft, or shortly after, when an article was written about the twosome and how they related in Sarnia, Alex tossed off a remark that Nail can be annoying at times, saying that “he’s always coming to me to ask how you say something in English, and I yell at him to stop coming to me and check the dictionary.” At the time, I folded it into my picture of Alex kibitzing with Gally, how those two are always squabbling, always in poker-face, but always good-naturedly, so it was just two kids rolling their eyes at each other.

Now, viewed through the lens of all the reports about teammates and coaches working with Nail, assuring all how their relationship is great, how he’s coming along, maturing, paying attention to conditioning now, how he loves it in Edmonton, maybe it’s more of a snapshot of who he is, someone who’s not quick on the uptake, who needs lots of attention, who grates on you.

So with all that dimestore psychology to back me up, I’m advising against the acquisition of Nail Yakupov. If we hadn’t signed Alex Radulov, if Artturi Lehkonen wasn’t showing as well in camp, maybe we’d be desperate and have to roll the dice, but in our current situation, he’s a needless risk to take.

And it makes me wonder how many players do lose their careers because they get drafted into the wrong organization, with the wrong coaching staff, the wrong situation. Are the Oilers in a bad way because their draft picks aren’t panning out, or are their picks not panning out because they’re in such a bad way? Is it like a quarterback getting drafted by Green Bay and getting to sit and learn behind Brett Favre, or getting picked instead by the Jaguars or Browns and being thrown to the wolves, and the same player suffers two vastly different fates based on which universe he’s in. Would Taylor Hall be a mondo mega-star now if he’d been 2nd overall and gone to Boston, while Tyler Seguin would be a well-compensated mess in Edmonton?

Monday, 3 October 2016

Preseason: Canadiens 2, Leafs 3 (OT)

Gary Bettman locked me out of the preseason, which is especially mean, since the previous couple of seasons I could at least watch the exhibition games on RDS without getting blacked out.  So I had to resort to RDS' "Canadiens Express".  If I miss anything, it's not due to my lack of attention, it's that the footage ended up on the cutting room floor.

--Pierre Houde and I think alike.  We both take note when, early in the first, Jacob de la Rose battles for the puck in the offensive zone, like he wants it, and creates a scoring threat.

--Daniel Audette makes it 1-0, on a snipe from a feed from Nathan Beaulieu (him again).  Daniel was drafted two seasons ago based on his offensive potential, but it has kind of remained dormant, he didn't take the expected steps forward since then.  Last season, experts predicted great things from him and his Phénix team, but they stagnated instead.

Daniel got signed to a contract early, and now he gets to go to St. John's and prove himself, work on his game.  He's caught our eye a couple of times since rookie camp, so maybe he was bored with Junior, maybe being a pro will make him perk up.

--A couple of good saves by Mike Condon, who is a surprise starter as far as I'm concerned.  I don't wish him ill, and he won't be able to say that he didn't get a chance this preseason.  A lot of Canadiens fans have written him off after his poor game against the Senators, but his coaches have put him back out there.

--Midway through the second, I see a Stefan Matteau foray into the offensive zone, when he tries to beat a defenceman one-on-one, ends up in the corner where he gets cancelled out and loses the puck.

The previous game against the Sens, one scene that stood out for me was how when Chris Neil snowed Al Montoya, Philip Samuelsson dutifully intervened as the whistle sounded, and got his face generously washed and his head bopped for his troubles.  The thing is, Stefan Matteau was right there, and he didn't quite jump into it, he didn't race to get there first, he let his teammate have at it, since he was a half step closer and square to Chris Neil.

Which didn't really sit well with me.  If we expect anything from Devante Smith-Pelly
Stefan Matteau, it's a physical presence, that he insulate his smaller teammates from intimidation tactics as much as he can.  I don't ask Max Pacioretty to go up against Chris Neil, that's not his job, we have other uses for him.  But if Stefan doesn't do this job, I'm not really sure we have any use for him on the team.  We might as well send him through waivers to St. John's and wish him good luck.

--Mike Condon, who apparently is having a good night, allows the first goal by the Leafs, after making fourteen saves.

Canadiens 1, Leafs 1

--I haven't seen Mike McCarron battle against Frédérik Gauthier yet, the two giant centremen from the 2013 draft.  Am I mistaken that these two fought during the Memorial Cup in 2015?  I think it was the other giant from the Océanic, Samuel Morin.

--I haven't seen much of the Mikhail Sergachev-Jeff Petry pairing, they've been low-key.  I guess that can be a good thing.  It seems Nathan Beaulieu and Jeff Pateryn are getting most of the icetime.

--Come to think of it, I want Mike McCarron to end up with the number 15 Bobby Smith Memorial sweater.

--Mark Barberio doesn't look great on the Morgan Rielly goal that gives the Leafs the lead.  I hate that play when a defenceman leaves his feet or stops skating when defending a rush, the slide to block the pass, or the stick shaft along the ice.

Canadiens 1, Leafs 2

--Roman Polak looking very tough crosschecking 5'6" Daniel Audette behind the Leafs net, even though he doesn't even have the puck.

If the NHL would apply its rules, and call Mr. Polak for interference or roughing, which it should have for the outright punches he was throwing, he'd spend the game in the box, and would quickly find himself out of a job.  Guys who can actually play hockey would take his place, and everyone would be happier.

But Gary Bettman wants to increase revenue by selling ad space on jerseys, instead of improving his league's game.

--After frittering away a 6-on-3 situation due to two Toronto penalties and having pulled their goalie, the Canadiens manage to tie the game with 17 seconds remaining.  Daniel Carr finally buries one, it's been a long camp for him.  Mike McCarron had whiffed on a pass from the corner from David Desharnais, which is a good thing, since he was so close to the goalie that he might have been handcuffed, and stuffed the puck into the goalie's pads.  Instead, the pass reached Daniel in the near slot who put it glove side.

Canadiens 2, Leafs 2

--Kirk Muller and Michel Therrien sharing a witticism behind the bench before overtime?  Michel Therrien looks bemused by what the Associate Coach just confided in him.

--Mark Barberio does a good job of defending an odd-man rush in OT.  End to end action.

--Matt Hunwick scores to put an end to a fun and furious overtime period.  What this needed was definitely not more Roman Polak.  The normally sedate Gardens crowd was losing its mind over the twists and turns.

Unfortunately, the goal came because of a needless giveaway in the Leafs zone by Nathan Beaulieu.  He tried a blind pass to a teammate when he could have just been patient, held on to the puck.  I wonder if he felt he had to do something, since the Canadiens were well installed in the offensive zone, passing the puck effectively, but not getting a chance to score.  He might have felt like he needed to create something.

RDS gives him the third star regardless.

Montréal IceCaps (split squad 'B') 2, Maple Leafs 3

--Guy Carbonneau's headline on L'Antichambre was "Sylvain Lefebvre Will Be Happy", meaning he's got good players coming his way, who didn't necessarily earn a roster spot in the NHL yet.

--Gaston Therrien says "It's Time to Move On to Serious Matters", stating that it might be the worst training camp he's ever seen, due mostly to the World Cup.  Guy Carbonneau piles on, stating that if the League suspended the rule that 8 bona fide NHL'ers must be in the lineup for each preseason game, it wasn't necessary to break it so enthusiastically.

--Gaston thinks Arturri Lehkonen took a step back tonight.  He says the in the previous games, he'd come close to scoring, he'd have chances, and we'd make excuses for him, but tonight he didn't really create those chances, put himself in the coaches' good graces.

He says that often after a camp we'll bemoan that certain youngsters didn't really get an opportunity to prove themselves, but it won't be the case this year.  The kids had lots of icetime, lots of opportunity, and didn't do much with it.


I made notes earlier as to Stefan Matteau, but another snapshot that caught my attention was him standing in the faceoff circle in the offensive zone, à la Ovechkin, ready for a pass and a one-timer. And I wondered, “Why are you not right near the crease, raising hell with their defencemen, creating a mess for their goalie?”

There’s a verified story about the irascible Eddie Shore, when he was the owner/GM/Head Coach/player on the Springfield Indians in the AHL, that he’d tied a goalie with a chain to his net to prevent him from wandering around (it’s been said that he leaned towards old-school in his views and methods).

Maybe Michel Therrien should have tied Devo and Stefan to the opposition net, in practice, with maybe fifteen feet of loose, to learn them that that’s where they should be, using their size to muck up the goalie and two opposition defencemen.

But Michel is much too progressive in his methods to ever try such tried and true methods.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Nikita Scherbak needs to work on his fitness to be an NHL player.

There is a segment of Canadiens fans that holds up Nikita Scherbak as a player who's closer to the NHL than he actually is.  So we discuss if he can crack the Canadiens roster, since he's got skill and size, and we need both, he's a prospect atypical to the Sven Andrighettos and Charles Hudons.

When he fails to make it, we wonder whether the injuries lingered, or whether his AHL coach is mean to him and put him at centre which confused the poor kid, or whether he's nervous at his third pro camp, and if he can just settle down and get it right.

The actual problem with Nikita Scherbak, the reason he can't make an NHL roster right now, is lack of conditioning, that he's not physically ready for the pro game.  He got muscled off the puck and pushed out of the play in the corners at the Rookie Tournament in London.  Yesterday, the RDS boys were mentioning how he'd fall to the ice when subjected to contact.

This isn't simply speculation on my part, which we could engage in if we wanted.  We could look at his Draft+1 year, when he obtained essentially the same point total as his draft year, which is troubling, a kid a year older should be stronger, faster, better than the average competition around him.  We explained it away with the Kevin Constantine quote that he was learning how to play defensively, which is fine, in a vacuum, except that every other kid in the CHL is learning how to play defensively, and still increasing his point totals from year to year.

And if he was learning how to play defensively, how did he end up with the poorest +/- on the IceCaps last season, by a wide margin?  Sure, plus-minus is an imperfect stat, but it provides a general indication here.  Nikita isn't an undrafted 'energy' fourth-liner who's trying to hang on to an AHL job, he's a first-round NHL prospect.  That he should have that poor a stat line, that he should have the worst performance on the team, with an injury-riddled partial season and the revolving door on the roster of a team that failed to make the playoffs is telling.

So instead of speculation and deduction, let's look at the evidence:

1)  During the 2015-16 season, while he was calling a game, RDS' Norman Flynn stated, as a matter of fact, not as if it was his opinion, that Nikita Scherbak was at 'around 80% of where the Canadiens wanted him to be physically to compete in the AHL'.  You got the sense that he got this evaluation from the horse's mouth, that when he was doing his pre-game notes a coach told him this.

2)  At the end of the season, when IceCaps coach Sylvain Lefebvre was doing the team's post-mortem with the media and discussing specific players, he said flatly that Nikita needed to work on his strength and conditioning to improve as a player, that was his marching orders during the exit interview, they made it clear to him.  

3)  At the Rookie Tournament, Canadiens Player Development Director Martin Lapointe said, as he was discussing players who'd shown up in great shape to training camp, that some players get it, and in Nikita's case, some take a little longer to get it.

I was surprised when these rumblings first came out, since Nikita started the 2015 Summer of Nikita training in Calgary (the home of his agent) with a bunch of other young WHL'ers and prospects.  There were instagrammed pictures and videos of him working out, and one of him losing his lunch in a garbage can after a workout.  So I thought he was doing the work.  But he apparently didn't keep it up the rest of the summer, when his social media pictures were more of vacation spots and of a social nature.

This summer he spent in Brossard, and it was couched in terms that the team asked him to train with Pierre Allard, and that he was happy to do so.  Which is great, but demonstrates that they didn't trust in his ability and knowledge and entourage and facilities when he trains on him own, unlike Jarred Tinordi and Mike McCarron's program in London with a bunch of ex-Knights.

So this is where we are with Nikita.  His draft season, when David Pastrnak got some NHL games in with the Bruins, I sniffed that it was just an accident of the rules, the Bruins' prospect was drafted out of Europe, whereas Nikita was picked from the WHL, so we couldn't send him to the AHL and call him up for a few games.  And David Pastrnak is still slender and a work in progress, but so far is able to play in the NHL, while Nikita is struggling in the AHL.

Nikita has tonnes of talent, and will flash those skills occasionally, tantalizing us with his potential, but he needs to work on his fitness so that he can show more than flashes, so he can consistently dominate play, so he can avoid injury.  He's not quite there yet, he'll need another year in the AHL and more time in the gym to compete in the NHL.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Preseason: Canadiens 3, Senators 4 (OT)

Thanks to Gary, I got blacked out of the Canadiens' 4-3 loss to the Senators, so I watched it on RDS' "Canadiens Express".  Gary made it up to me with this pallid 'World Cup' that mercifully just ended.  It deflates a team when the goalie puts them behind 1-0 early in the game.

Here are my notes:

1)  Mike Condon lets in an early weakish goal, which was a pattern for him last season.  One of these can squeak by once in a while, but not necessarily, and then a goalie must certainly make two or three excellent/miraculous saves to make up for it.

2)  Mike McCarron answers, and ties the score on a good individual effort.  He takes the puck and makes a strong play for the net, protecting the puck as he beelines right at the goalie and tucks the puck in behind him, just like Lars used to do.

Canadien 1, Senators 1

3)  A few days back I expressed the wish that Brandon Prust would do the planet a favour and ram the shaft of his stick into Mark Borowiecki's ugly stranded fish mouth, and knock the few remaining teeth out of there.  I was remonstrated that violence is not the answer.

Well, after seeing the Senators, ahem, 'defenceman', outright tackle Charles Hudon to the ice, ripping off his helmet in the process, I'm going to renew my call for the edentation of the Senator's goon.  Bobby Farnham, you're up.  Make yourself useful.

4)  Major pangs of jealousy as I espy Guy Boucher and Mark Crawford behind the Sens' bench.

5)  Can I say again that I don't think we should play the Senators in preseason games?  That we should just quarantine them, freeze them out?  Let them goon each other all alone in their lonely quiet barn in the middle of nowhere an hour out of Ottawa.

6)  First goal by Mikhail Sergachev, on the powerplay.  It's hard to resist the paternal joy I feel, and to not take too great a partial credit for the tally.

7)  Another goal by Zach Redmond, the kid can't not score, scrimmages, preseason, he don't care.  He's making my prediction that he'll be veteran help in St. John's seem less and less solid all the time.  Nice rush to the net from the blue line, and a sneaky bank shot off the goalie's back as he prepared to slide across his crease.

Canadiens 3, Senators 3

8)  Pierre Houde had just prior to that announced that Sens goalie Chris Driedger was one of the stars of the game so far, with 17 saves on 19 shots, while Mike Condon had allowed 3 goals on 8 shots.  Ouf!

9)  Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn aren't as spectacularly noticeable as on Tuesday, but they look solid enough.  On the powerplay, like Tuesday, they were confident, played off each other well, moved the puck quickly and effectively.

10)  Nice stretch pass from Zach Redmond to Charles Hudon, who breaks for the net and possibly surprises Tomas Plekanec with a deft backwards pass, it handcuffs him a little bit, can't do anything with it.  Charles Hudon is more noticeable tonight.

11)  At the start of the third, I learn that Mikhail Sergachev was finally not credited with a goal, I missed that update when it was made, on the condensed broadcast.

Not sure 22 is the right number for him, for a defenceman.  That's Steve Shutt's number.  We should have kept that 22 for the next left wing sniper to come down the pipe.

12)  Love seeing Greg Pateryn get off quick hard shots at the net from the blue line.  Maybe he should have been an assistant coach last season, imparted his knowledge, his secrets to other Canadien blueliners who for some reason couldn't get a shot through on net.

13)  Canadiens lose 4-3 in overtime.  Alex Galchenyuk commits a giveaway in his own zone, with a blind pass that lands on the wrong stick blade, and ends up in his own net.

14)  Mike Condon let in 4 goals on 21 shots.  I don't know if he'll have another opportunity in preseason to make a better impression, to try to hold on to his backup job.  It might be too late now.