Wednesday, 30 November 2011
The Canadiens, when on the powerplay, go after the puck or toward the offensive zone with all the enthusiasm of your buddy Gord when he's going to chat up a girl at the bar. Everyone knows who Gord is, he's the guy who never scores or even gets a phone number when he tries to pick up. For some not immediately obvious reason, he just can't get it done, he doesn't have 'it', and he knows it, so when he takes a shot it's more to fulfill a self-imposed obligation than with any real hope for success. So he kind of acquires a target, can't find a reason why he shouldn't approach her, and stoops and shuffles and stumbles his way over, sending all the wrong signals and the sham-attempt is over before it even begins.
The Canadiens special teams displayed a special ineptitude tonight. The power play failed to score during seven penalties, including some 5-on-3 time. The bungling and lack of direction leached onto the penalty kill, which gave up two goals after weeks of stellar achievement.
It was plain to see that the Canadiens now dread going on the man advantage. They're tentative and lackadaisical, they get bottled up in their own zone, they get muddled when trying to get into the opposition zone. The puck carrier, when rushing up the ice, inevitably loafs instead of skating with purpose, and surveys the opposing foursome with trepidation instead of licking his chops. It's sad, and it's hard to see that merely adding Andrei Markov to the lineup will cure all these ills.
Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta are ice cold instead of being stone-cold. Cammy in the previous two playoffs has been deadly when set up in the offensive zone. He'd either pull the trigger instantly, or would wait a split second to choose his corner and then execute, and either way always seemed to make the right choice. This season it seems the puck won't lay flat for him, or the passes sent his way get ticked off-course by an opponent's stick and mess up his timing. Mr. Gionta had trouble cashing in some opportunities last season, and seemingly has even more difficulty this year. He had a chance in the third period on a setup from David Desharnais, and wristed a shot, not top-corner or low-glove side, but instead mid-level, right inside Jonas Hiller's glove.
For the Canadiens to win games this season, they'll need their best players to perform as such. With Louis Leblanc playing on the third line and Frédéric St-Denis putatively on the fourth, the Glorieux were playing with just two NHL-quality lines. These need to produce, or the nervousness and febrility we observed tonight will only grow.
Saturday, 26 November 2011
Automotive engineers and enthusiasts say that, as concerns drivetrains, there's no substitute for cubic engines, meaning that injection systems and turbochargers and other doodads are all fine and good, but a bigger engine will tend to outpower a smaller engine.
Basketball coach Marv Harshman once defended his preference for taller players with the immortal quote: "Quick guys get tired; big guys don't shrink."
As tonight's game demonstrated, there's no substitute for talent in the NHL. Driven, inspired players like Mathieu Darche and Travis Moen will tend to come up short if they're your best players when stacked up against high first-round picks like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Stall. Our 5th-pick overall goalie is I think a notch better than their first-pick overall goalie, but tonight that wasn't enough.
The overtime goal is at least controversial. The Canadiens and their fans will argue that it shouldn't have been allowed and that the referee who ruled on the play was poorly positioned to actually see it, but in close games like these lucky bounces often decide the game. An unlucky bounce of the puck off a referee's skate led to a Penguin goal which was overturned on review, and the Canadiens hit a couple of posts, notably one by Yannick Weber on a backhand during a powerplay. It could have gone either way.
The Canadiens cannot argue, however, that they failed to put the Pens away when they had the chance. They were up 3-1 halfway through the second, and failed to convert many opportunities to ice the game, like a few rushes by Erik Cole, and four powerplays.
Playing at home, against a Pens team that had also played the previous night, and sitting out Frédéric St-Denis in favour of Andrei Kostitsyn (who despite my ongoing critiques of his play I welcomed as Kent Brockman welcomed his new insect overlords), the Good Guys had a winnable game in front of them, daunting as the prospect may have been. Daunting also was the Pens' starting line with Mr. Crosby and Malkin. Jacques Martin didn't get confused with his line-matching and thankfully didn't start the Nokelainen line, but it didn't matter, since I don't think the Jarvis-Gainey-Chartraw line would have been able to stop them from scoring on their first shift. Which they did, Evgeni Malkin cashing in a goal on a play started by Sidney Crosby, a veritable starter's pistol for the gnashing of teeth and rending of bleu blanc rouge.
The Glorieux responded quickly to stanch the bleeding though, with Sergeant Snipes-a-Lot tallying his 8th of the season. I want to apologize at this point for doubting Mr. Moen. During the summer I stated repeatedly that he was not fit to play on the Canadiens first line, which was not a controversial statement, but I may have implied that he was no more than a fourth-liner who could drop the gloves once in a while. Mr. Moen is proving that there is a lot of real estate between those two poles, and that with the right centre and linemates, he can contribute with more than his shoulders. I'll be intrigued to see how this Moen-Eller-Kostitsyn line does in the next few games, and will continue to applaud Travis' efforts and scalpel/stick.
While we're on the subject of apologies, will all the David Desharnais detractors please sit down and shut the heck up, please? Yes, you're very observant, he is quite small and if someone lines him up with a bodycheck, he'll rarely be the player who's left standing. What he does have is awareness of his size and how to position himself to make the best of it. He's quick and crafty, and uses timing and his stick effectively when battling for the puck along the boards. His wingers don't seem crestfallen that they have to play with him. Do you see them celebrate after a goal? He's always deep in the defensive zone helping out his defencemen. On Erik Cole's goal, he was in front of Marc-André Fleury making life difficult for him. His sweet setup created the Max Pacioretty goal. He was smart enough to recognize that he had the better angle and he has the better shot, and waited long enough to draw the goalie and defenceman out of position before teeing it up for Max.
Mathieu Darche has also started to draw the ire of the Commentariat. I agree that he's possibly being overused by Mr. Martin, but that is hardly his fault. Sure Mathieu is ice-cold right now, but he'll have a warm streak and end up with 5-10 goals and 20 points, and contribute his heart and soul and shoulders every night, which is all we can ask of him and his modest contract.
P.K. Subban is unsettled, and I worry about him. I have to call him out yet again for his mugging and diving, and demand that he gets his head in the game and play hard instead of chewing the scenery. Tonight, he drew a penalty on James Neal that was probably deserved, since Mr. Neal did slash him, but he embellished it by diving, something which the referees will see on replay and file away for future reference. For every call he may get by doing this, P.K. is probably losing three or four. Not content with that performance, he later was struck twice by high-sticks, and both times he stopped playing and put a hand to his mouth and gaped at the referee. The first time in the first period, by doing so, he essentially gave the puck away to Jordan Stall, luckily with no ill result. The second time, he drew a penalty on the play, but the RDS guys were on the ball and played some footage that showed that he caused James Neal's high-stick by tripping him and making him lose his balance. I say again P.K., you're not Ken Linseman, you're not Shawn Avery, you're a Montreal Canadien, cut the crap and play hard. Pattern your play after Chris Chelios or Lyle Odelein if you want to play rough and tumble, but don't be Bryan Marchment or Ulf Samuelsson.
Jordan Staal was impressive in the third period, for his clutch breakaway goal certainly, since he actually converted it as opposed to our snakebitten snipers, but also for a puck battle along the boards where he threw off Max Pacioretty like an itchy blanket. I had to marvel at how strong that kid must be.
Max is no small potatoes either, but his physical play in the third period may get him in trouble. He hit Kris Letang with a clean shoulder hit, but the 'principal point of contact' seemed to be the head and he was left with a bloody and reported broken nose. I fear that Max's hit will be adjudicated by the NHL. Brendan Shanahan will review it from every camera angle, in slow-motion, forward and backward, will interview all parties involved, take into consideration the severity of Mr. Letang's injury, garner some advice from the sages at the head office, and will eventually conclusively determine beyond any doubt that Max Pacioretty is not a Boston Bruin and is therefore suspendable.
Friday, 25 November 2011
The Canadiens might have seemed poised for a win against the Flyers this afternoon, seeing as they were missing Chris Pronger, James van Riemsdyk and Jaromir Jagr, but one look at the Glorieux's roster showed that they were going to play short one line, seeing as they had Frédéric St-Denis playing wing on the fourth line, and along with Aaron Palushaj would frame Petteri Nokelainen.
Using a defenceman on the wing has been a frequent practice lately in Montreal, with Marc Streit, Marc-André Bergeron and Yannick Weber being stashed on the fourth line so they could be available for the powerplay. Plugging Mr. St-Denis there however is incontrovertible evidence of the lack of depth of our club. He doesn't bring any specialist skills to our lineup, but our organization is so devoid of NHL-ready players that he was used to ineffectively plug a roster hole. Meanwhile, at the start of the game, RDS of course focused on Maxime Talbot, who was acquired as a free agent this summer by the Flyers, for a relatively affordable contract, especially considering he is only 27. Which made it even more clear that Ian Pulver, who stated that his client Scott Gomez's contract was not hindering the Canadiens, is full, just chock full to the point of bursting at the seams full of shit.
The game itself began on a lethargic note, with both teams seemingly intent to prove the point that former players made during RDS' pregame show, which is that they didn't like afternoon games, since they disrupted their routine and were hard to get ready and motivated for. As it unfolded, the ice progressively tilted in the Flyers' favour, as their superior talent became more and more evident. Carey Price's excellent performance was not enough to neutralize the Flyers' edge, and our methodical penalty kill was neutered by our impotent powerplay. For the Canadiens to beat the Flyers in Philly, they needed to be inspired and to fly up the ice, but instead they were disappointingly anemic.
Alexei Emelin has by now I believe proven his worth, and does not need me to continue to advocate for him, Mr. Martin has obviously read my posts and taken them to heart. More importantly, he has allowed himself to be convinced by Alexei's play, as he continues to hit hard and block shots, and his offensive creativity slowly emerges while his confidence and playing time increases.
P.K. Subban is still trying to find his bearings. He was hooked today, and again, infuriatingly, stopped playing, swiveled his head to the referee and did his palms-up shrug, to no avail as he didn't get the call. In sharp contrast, David Desharnais was hooked in the second period but skated through it and continued to fight for the puck in the offensive zone. His focus and determination earned the Canadiens a whistle and a man advantage, whereas P.K.'s jeremiads increasingly convince the zebras to look the other way. Mr. Ladouceur, please, hold the intervention. Sit him down and show him the video, he's a smart boy, it'll sink in. Tell him about Ryan Kesler who decided to shut up and just play hard last season, and was rewarded with a career-high 41 goals, an All-Star Game appearance and the Selke Trophy.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
The Canadiens outlook keeps coming into sharper focus. The Canadiens had their hands full eking out a win against the Hurricanes. Sure, this was an away game for the Good Guys, but for them to be a factor in the post-season they need to regularly, easily beat teams like the Islanders and Hurricanes, it can't be a crapshoot.
Hal Gill came back from injury tonight, and we would have thought he would solidify the defence and strengthen the team, but they seemed relatively lethargic and error-prone. PK Subban came in for some criticism from the Antichambre panel, for being passionless. Is this the flipside of what I have been asking of him since the start of the season, to not try to do too much and choose the easy play over the artistic, spectacular one? If he cuts down on the blunders and spinneramas, does it also temper his will to win?
Carey Price showed he was human tonight, but came through in the shootout, which is what we should hope for. His game reminded me of some of Ken Dryden's gems, when he'd let in a softie and we would howl that Michel Larocque should play instead. What we failed to realize back then, and only fully understood in the harsh light of 1980 when Bunny had the job fulltime, was that Mr. Dryden would let in a weak goal once in a while because he could afford to. When it was time to bear down, he would and the Canadiens would skate off with the win after a few of his brilliant saves in the third, which were usually followed by an insurance goal by Steve Shutt with 8 minutes to go and an empty-netter by Doug Jarvis.
The Canadiens' scorers will need to cash in more of their opportunities for them to win with any regularity. They can't rely on Travis Moen to pot timely goals and for Carey to be otherworldly every night.
In other news, Paul Gaustad, who had deferred to later his avowed vengeance upon Milan Lucic for his charge on Ryan Miller, chose tonight to wreak havoc on Mr. Lucic's knuckles with his chin. It was a weak showing by him, but forgivable given Mr. Lucic's size and reputation. While Mr. Gaustad has comparable size in statistical terms, we can clearly see from the footage of his fight that he doesn't have his opponent's strength or pugilistic skill, his size is more Hal Gill-size than Zdeno Charo-size. He certainly seemed more menacing against Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri a few games back. Again, this kind of nonsense could have been averted had Brendan Shanahan taken care of business instead of leaving it to the Sabres to open themselves up to injury and concussion by having to fight Mr. Lucic.
Monday, 21 November 2011
I was thinking how exhausting it might be to watch the Bruins playing the Good Guys at the New Forum. Imagine having to loudly and deeply boo Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Greg Campbell, Andrew Ference, Nathan Horton, and Benoit Pouliot every time they touch the puck. Add to that having to boo Claude Julien every time he appears on the big screen, and the off-chance you might run into Jack Edwards in the corridors between periods, and that's quite the lung workout.
The game started out on a tentative note, with both teams feeling each other out, and it never seemed to hit cruising speed. My impression was that the Canadiens were awaiting, almost fearful, for a Lucician Flying Suplex or a Chara Clothesline. Meanwhile, the Bruins seemed to be walking on eggshells, as if Claude Julien had given them strict marching orders to not lose their heads as they usually do against the Habs, and I'll be darned if they didn't actually listen to him. It did lead them to appear as if they had a foot on the dock and a foot in the boat, a little bit unsteady and indecisive: "Oh yeah, almost forgot, don't spear that guy... Oops, came close to slashing that guy's premolar there... Man, my elbows are really itchy right now..." A Bruin with a hockey stick in his hands is like that Viking holding a spiky, evil-looking mace in the Far Side cartoon, who confides in his tablemate that it always makes him want to smash something, as another Viking walks in the door innocently having just blown a big bubblegum bubble. Substitute the Viking with the bubblegum with a hockey player in bleu blanc rouge and you get the analogy.
Alexei Emelin started off the game with a great hit on David Krejci that must have hurt, since we didn't really hear from Mr. Krejci for the rest of the game. In retaliation, Johnny Boychuk attempted to cowgirl Josh Gorges, and Zdeno Chara, with David Desharnais nowhere in sight, decided to pick on Mike Cammalleri. Overall, Mr. Emelin played a good game, and showed his worth on the lineup, as they are replete with small shifty stickhandlers, but need some toughness, which he brings to the table. The more icetime he receives, the better he will get.
I tried to find the positives in Scott Gomez' shifts, and earlier on I did observe him behind the Bruins' net fighting for the puck and laying a shoulder into the Boston defencemen. Shortly thereafter though, he loafed on a backcheck which led to the lone Boston goal, a lazy play which was replayed ad nauseam on RDS. Mr. Gomez was possibly letting up since a delayed penalty call was on, and he was probably expecting/hoping for a Canadiens to touch the puck and a whistle, which is an explanation but obviously not an excuse.
Erik Cole didn't get a lot of icetime tonight as opposed to previous games, which may have to do with the hit he received in the first period by Dennis Seidenberg and which sent him back to the bench wincing. This putative owie wasn't enough of a reason to prevent a Bergeron Conniption on l'Antichambre, with a chart being developed showing the powerplay icetime of Mr. Cole compared to Mr. Gomez and Darche, among others. I agree that Erik Cole should be played as much as possible, and that to take icetime away from Mr. Gomez to feed him is a no-brainer. Further, I want him to shoot more, instead of trying to set up David Desharnais so often. Erik has to realize that he's the sniper, not the dealer, and he needs to be more selfish for the good of the team. I'll allow passes to Max Pacioretty, but only in a minority of possessions.
Benoit Pouliot was retina-abradingly bad. A dumb two-minute penalty was his opening bid, which he then raised with a stupid double minor on a high-stick. While the other Bruins showed restraint and remained focused for once in Montreal, Mr. Pouliot apparently tried to pump himself up for an important game against his former team, but it was all fake emotion, illegal stickwork instead of genuine passion shown by skating and hitting hard, and acting like he wants the puck, like now, and bad. Mr. Pouliot reminds me of a very, very amplified and distorted Stéphane Richer, a player possessing vast physical skills and attributes but lacking the mental makeup to harness these and apply them productively. Of course, Mr. Richer did manage some magnificent moments and seasons, and his mental health issues are now well-documented. It remains to be seen what is the problem with Mr. Pouliot, but I feel confident, since he is on pace for an 8 goal season, in making the prediction that he will be out of the NHL next season.
I also saw Brad Marchand skating down the left wing a couple of times and making a hasty pass as PK Subban lurked nearby, so maybe that famous hit has sown the seeds of doubt.
An unfortunate loss for Les Glorieux, but one which showed that the Canadiens match up well with the powerhouse Bruins.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Thursday, 17 November 2011
I got my jollies watching the Canadiens rack up on easy win against the Hurricanes last night. Jacques Martin, harried on all sides by a bloodthirsty, Stanley-deprived Commentariat, has been forced all year to ice what he feels is his absolute best lineup with no regard for the development of this franchise's future. As a result, he has relied on his veteran defencemen at the expense of rookie defencemen, and especially of Alexei Emelin who has had to watch eight games from the pressbox.
Against the Hurricanes, Mr. Martin didn't have a choice, with Mr. Gill and Mr. Spacek unavailable to play. He had to play his rookies, and they responded, especially Mr. Emelin, who logged 18 minutes and made numerous good plays on defence, notably a solid bodycheck on Jiri Tlusty and another on Jeff Skinner near Carey Price's net. I'll state again that Mr. Emelin brings a different skillset to the Canadiens that is needed, he is the only big defenceman with the mobility and strength to hit, so he must be in the lineup. Always. Add in another goal on the powerplay and generally solid game by Yannick Weber, as well as the mostly glitch-free NHL debut of Frédéric St-Denis, and you have a young group of defencemen who are showing promise and deserve the icetime to continue to improve.
PK Subban is almost, by necessity, being treated as a veteran, and he is responding well. He had a couple more of his shrug/appeals-to-the-referee, which drive me up the wall, but overall he is making more safe, solid plays rather than the spectacular and difficult plays on a regular basis.
Mike Cammalleri scored a nice goal on a blistering slap shot, one he delivered after a pause to allow the Carolina defender to properly get in the way and screen Cam Ward. There have been grumblings this season that Mike is not delivering and is a reason the Canadiens are off to a slow start, but he gets the benefit of a couple dozen doubts in my eyes. He is a leader in the room and on the ice, speaks eloquently and with restraint and humour when interviewed, shows dignity and acts like he's done it before when he scores, and has battled through some unfortunate injuries but come through in a big way in both playoffs he has been in with us. Add in that he's a dedicated athlete with respect to his off-ice, off-season conditioning, and I'm glad he's our on team and would take a few more like him.
I observed Tomas Plekanec make a play that I've criticized Andrei Kostitsyn for making. He has on a couple occasions taken the puck from the corner and skated along the board toward the blue line while in the offensive zone. Both times though, he ended making a solid play with the puck, once passing cross-ice to the slot, and once clearing the puck back to the corner to his waiting winger, in stark contrast to Mr. Kostitsyn, who had twice lost possession at the blue line and created a breakout opportunity for the other team. I hope Andrei is watching and learning, or even better that the coaches are on it and breaking this down on video for him.
All in all, a good win, in that a weaker, dispirited team was put away instead of being allowed to hang around all game and stealing a point or two. Once more tonight in Uniondale would be very welcome.
As far as the Eric Staal and Bryan Allen for Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek and a sixth-rounder trade rumour, I hope they are founded but I don't think this is realistic, it would take at least a fifth or even a fourth-rounder to clinch that deal.
Saturday, 12 November 2011
We are starting to get the measure of the Canadiens. They are a spirited team who will work and skate hard every game. They'll scratch and claw for wins. They can eke out wins on the road against lower-tier teams. They can when inspired beat the league's powerhouses. They will fight to earn a spot in the playoffs.
After an overtime win against the Coyotes, again they earn a close one in OT against the Predators. It was a relatively pedestrian win, with the good guys not being able to finish chances around Pekka Rinne's net.
Our fingers can back off the panic button and assume a not-so-hair-trigger hover position when it comes to the backup goaltender. After having looked awful in pre-season, Peter Budaj put in a solid effort in this start, his second quality appearance out of two.
David Desharnais caught my eye early in the first period with his skillful work along the boards. A lot of fans think he doesn't belong because he isn't built like Joe Thorton or Bobby Smith, but he is effective and uses his size (or lack thereof) to his advantage. I saw him duck under flailing checking or cross-checking attempts, and while he can't bullrush someone off the puck, he is skillful with his stick and seems to more often than not win puck battles with his surgical accuracy and timing. While a bigger opponent tries to whale at the puck, he times it just right and finesses it out of the corner. I saw him also use his skate to grab the puck, something which a taller, lumbering defenceman will have difficulty doing. He was rewarded for his efforts tonight by a goal set up by a lovely pass from Erik Cole, who is generous almost to a fault these days.
PK Subban seems to be settling down, and received some love on RDS tonight. Some posited that Randy Ladouceur may have a calming effect on him and may be imparting wisdom that is actually sinking in. Meanwhile, Hal Gill surprised me again tonight, as he chose to leave his position and go for a skate with the puck or to lay a hit on someone. If PK pays attention, he'll notice that Mr. Gill is effective in these instances, since the opposition is completely caught off guard when he does anything aside from the safe, conservative, easy play. PK is slowly learning that throwing 9 left jabs for every overhand right is the right way to go, as opposed to always going for the knockout punch.
It was also amusing to see Jacques Martin unable to help himself and using Scott Gomez on the powerplay, even though he is not fully healthy. Maybe the goal by Shea Weber will cause him to reconsider, since Mr. Gomez was largely at fault on the play. I believe that the skillset Mr. Gomez brings to the table is not one which is sorely needed on the team, and we would be better served having kept Mike Blunden in the lineup instead.
Which brings me to Alexei Yemelin. I'm disheartened, again, that he is being left off the roster, while Jaroslav Spacek is given free rein. His penalty tonight was brutal, and resulted from his lack of mobility and strength. Mr. Emelin would have had the physical tools to deal with the same situation, and if not would at least have had a learning opportunity to profit from. Again, Mr. Emelin needs to play. Every minute invested in him will benefit us in future seasons, while Mr. Spacek is a lame duck and any investments in him are wasted, as he will be gone this summer.
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
The Canadiens let another one go tonight, allowing the Oilers to slip out of town with a 3-1 win. This is worrisome to those who saw the Canadiens as a high seed in the Eastern Conference. We can gradually see as the season progresses that the Canadiens will be in a battle to make the playoffs.
We could point to various reasons to explain the loss, but we are running out of excuses. The team we iced is essentially our team. We can point to some players missing due to injuries, but nowadays we have to expect these, at no point in the season will we or probably any other team ice a fully healthy and complete lineup. The refereeing was not a factor. We didn't get sand kicked in our face by a bunch of meanies. The win wasn't stolen by a red-hot goalie, not with 4 shots at their net in the first period and 29 total. We can't blame our own goalie, not when the only goals he lets in are on a short-handed breakaway, and another which bounces in off his own defenceman.
It was the first game back in the lineup for Alexei Emelin after spending a few in the pressbox, and he acquitted himself relatively well, and shined on a hip check early in the first period. He was lowlighted on l'Antichambre for being behind the net instead of in front of it on a sequence which allowed a scoring chance by the Oilers, but he wasn't the reason for the loss. He needs to play, and he will get better, but only if he plays.
PK Subban kept things under control all game, except when he was creamed into the boards by Theo Peckham and spent a couple of seconds looking at the ref with the WTF posture instead of getting back in the game. He didn't make any mistakes or take any big risks at the wrong time.
Raphaël Diaz once again committed a big showy blunder, which led to a breakaway by Ryan Smyth, the second of the game by the Oilers shorthanded. If he makes many more of those, he'll punch his ticket to Hamilton, once Andrei Markov and Chris Campoli come off the injured reserve.
Mike Cammalleri and Erik Cole seemed to be the best of our forwards, outskating the Oilers all night and being dangerous with puck. Earlier on in the game, they seemed to form a mutual admiration society, each trying to find the other with delicate passes, and I was yelling at my best friend Plasma that they should shoot instead of insisting that the other should take the puck. They did start to fire the puck at the net more as the game wore on, but they hit posts or Mr. Khabibulin's pads, instead of the back of the net. We need these guys to score with regularity if we are to win with regularity.
The powerplay was abysmal again, and it's time to revisit whether Tomas Plekanec is the solution at the point. It doesn't seem to be working, and tonight Tomas was the reason for the turnover which led to the Oilers' first and winning goal. I would advocate we use our defencemen for that role, once again giving the rookies the icetime and the experience. They have shown creativity with the puck, and probably can't do any worse than the current crew. The powerplay needs to be lethal for us to win, and to keep the meanies away.
On the subject of tanking, let’s take for granted that it is not reasonable for the Canadiens to endure a prolonged streak of being in the cellar. It is not acceptable in this market and with the history of this franchise. The best/worst-case-scenario is the Canadiens hovering in 9th or 10th place at the deadline and suffering a significant injury (read: Price, Carey), when the management team might go scorched earth and fire-sale all the marketable veterans for future assets.
I’ve been thinking along these same lines for a while. In a salary cap league, what areas can the Canadiens outperform the Avalanche or Predators in? If we can’t use our resources on salaries, and have to let a Sheldon Souray or Mark Streit walk away periodically, where else can we spend that money?
Important pieces are already in place, with facilities (New Forum and practice facility) that the players rave about, and play in our favour when free agents need to make a decision. The fanbase is another asset that mostly plays in our favour again, Daniel Brière excepted.
Other areas I would like the Canadiens to invest in:
1) Analytics: If this isn’t already being done, it should be. Like shown in Moneyball, there are market inefficiencies that should be exploited. Mr. Gauthier admitted at the last Draft that once you get to the third round, you’re picking through players that other teams didn’t want. Let’s figure out which players historically have the highest chance of being an important contributor (US College, Europe, early or late birthdays, freakishly big (Byfuglien) or small (St-Louis), injured during draft year, etc.)
2) Scouting: It boggles my mind that very recently, or maybe even currently, the Canadiens don’t have a dedicated Quebec scout. They should have ten. They should know each prospect, draft eligible or not, underager or overager in the University league, by heart. They should have ten in Europe. Think how cheap a scout is, maybe $200 000 all in with travel expenses, when it can mean the difference in finding a Zetterberg or Datsyuk or Andrei Markov or Dustin Byfuglien. We should outspend all other teams in the league when it comes to scouting. Mr. Molson, I promise we will drink nothing but Molson if you do so.
3) Coaching: The Canadiens should have the best and brightest coaches all the time. That’s what US Colleges do for football, since they can’t (openly) spend on players. Each team (here and Hamilton) should be replete with coaches with specific areas of responsibility (forwards, defence, special teams, video, advance scouting, strength and conditioning, …) so that players have all the support they will ever need, on-ice or in the gym or the video room or to help with their mental preparation.
4) Pro Personnel staff: I was surprised to hear from Ryan McDonough recently when he was asked about the trade to New York that he hadn’t really heard from the Canadiens in a long while, and was about to head to the development camp and was looking forward to it in part so he’d be in contact with his future bosses. I don’t know how NHL organizations work, but in general that is a horrible thing to hear from one of your prospects. We should have people dedicated to staying in touch with our draftees, giving them any kind of support they need. The strength and conditioning coaches should have one or two people assigned to these guys and make regular contact with them, by phone or occasionally, regularly, in person. There are players out there who are ‘can’t miss’ or who have the drive and support with their home team (Brendan Gallagher) that won’t need this, but I believe most kids would benefit from this close attention. Mr. McDonough would have.
5) Wives: If we want our players to be happy in Montreal and to want to remain here, an important part of that equation would be to make sure the player wives are not isolated and homesick and frustrated. Again, I’m not sure how NHL organizations work in this regard, and it is probably the most delicate item on my list, but every effort should be made to welcome and acclimate families when they get here, and lots of support should be provided, whether with language or educational issues or simply opportunities to integrate in the Montreal community.
Roberto Luongo hasn’t had an easy time in Vancouver, and part of it has been his wife being homesick and missing her family in Florida. She spent a season or two back there while Roberto was playing for the Canucks, and that may have affected him and may also have affected management in overspending to ensure he stays despite these issues. If the Luongo family was happier to be in Vancouver, the situation right now might be quite different.
I had the misfortune of catching Joan Baez and Kris Kristofferson on The Late Show. What could have been an enjoyable performance hit many wrong notes.
I'm not sure if they had recently rehearsed together at all before they played, or at least this one song, but I've heard many campfire renditions which were far superior to this one.
One issue may have been that a sound check wasn't performed. Ms. Baez' voice soared over everything, the guitars and instruments were patchy, rising and fading as the song progressed. Mr. Kristofferson's voice was barely audible.
Another issue was that both seemed to not be sure who should be leading the vocals, or whether they should just sing in harmony. Their lyrics were often not in sync, with Mr. Kristofferson trailing after Ms. Baez, and Ms. Baez then stepping back and allowing him back in, only to then barge in and drown him out and leave him behind again. Mr. Kristofferson may have been too deferential and allowed her to take the lead, continuously looking over at her during the performance.
He might have been wishing this wasn't the take that was going to be broadcast. Both were appearing in advance of a performance later in NYC. I don't think they sold many more tickets with this showing.
I've heard many memorable performances on Letterman that introduced me to new bands, such as by The Joy Formidable (http://www.rollingstone.com/videos/new-and-hot/the-joy-formidable-whirring-on-letterman-20111007), TV on the Radio (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73qBnuzrjx0) and Flight of the Conchords (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84EoBQfdrb0), they took this opportunity to blow the audience away and gain new fans. Veterans such as Ms. Baez and Mr. Kristofferson shouldn't take their dwindling audience for granted.
Saturday, 5 November 2011
A moral victory for the Canadiens tonight, instead of the genuine article. They lost due to their own lack of discipline, and the sharp-eyed referees made every call except the first one, which should have gone against the Rangers.
Early in the game, Mike Blunden stepped off the Canadiens' bench and laid a solid hit on Brandon Dubinsky, who was carrying the puck at the time. Play continued into the Canadiens' zone, where Ryan Callaghan caught up to Mr. Blunden and started to fight with him. A scrum ensued, with other players grabbing each other, notably Hal Gill with Brandon Dubinsky, and Petteri Nokelainen with Michael Sauer. When it was all sorted out, the penalties evened out, except for the Canadiens receiving a minor for too many men on the ice, and another minor for obstruction. This was a clearly blown call by the referees. We can't really argue the too many men penalty, but the obstruction call is questionable. If Mr. Blunden can't throw a clean bodycheck on the puck carrier, he will have a short career in the NHL, since he won't stick strictly on his pugilistic skills, as can be seen on YouTube and as he demonstrated again tonight.
The fact that there was no instigator penalty called on Ryan Callaghan is a travesty. He skated from the neutral zone to deep in Canadiens territory to catch up to Mr. Blunden, dropped his gloves first, and went after him in obvious retaliation for his clean (I want to stress this) check on Mr. Dubinsky. If anything, Mr. Shanahan could use this sequence to illustrate Rule 46.11 in one of his training videos. Obviously, based on tonight's game as well as any game the Canadiens play against the Bruins, the consequences of this infraction are so severe, namely an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a ten-minute misconduct, that referees are loath to call it. This non-call was pivotal in the game, since it provided the Rangers with a 5 on 3 powerplay, whereas it probably should have only been coincidental minors. The Rangers used this two-player advantage to gain the lead that they would never relinquish.
The Braying Asses on Hockey Night in Canada are perennially prophesying the end of the NHL, the end of hockey, the end of Western Civilization if the instigator rule is not repealed. If only they removed their heads from each other's colon, they could observe that it is effectively a technicality on the books not to be enforced, like insider-trading or false-advertising statutes.
The good side of the story, which provides the moral victory, is that the Canadiens never quit, and this game could have gone either way. They were creative and dangerous around the Rangers' net, hit two posts, and threatened all night. Erik Cole and Mike Cammalleri pinged the posts, and seem to be getting the hang of each other. All summer we predicted they would play together, only we thought it would be with Plekanec at centre, and the two do seem to be a good combination.
I paid attention to Jaro Spacek and Andrei Kostitsyn, since they've been a bit of a hobby-horse for me, and I wanted to observe their positive contributions. Andrei made it easy by scoring a nice goal, and by seeming to be hungry for the puck. Mr. Spacek also played well, and I was impressed to see him absorb a few bodychecks yet remain standing, as opposed to imploding or suffering a controlled collapse or spontaneously combusting, as he did last season and during the Winnipeg game earlier this season. I admit that he is effective, but I still advocate that Alexei Emelin should be given his icetime.
Maybe the icetime should be subtracted from another player though, and I'm thinking of PK Subban. He has been up and down this year, sometimes getting caught being too aggressive and/or trying to do too much, but tonight was another hiccup. I was mildly impressed that he made simple plays, and on the powerplay also kept it simple and effective, choosing to make easy passes and blasting a few shots at net. Just as I was formulating this thought, he skated up to Henrik Lunddqvist and braked hard, giving him a snow shower. He earned two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, thwarting the Canadiens' comeback attempt.
I know PK is a work in progress, and is still young and has time to mature. I want the coaches and veteran D-men to work with him and get him to understand that he doesn't need to be an 'agitator', that he has too much talent to waste his energies that way. I want him to play hard and tough, to hit opponents cleanly, and to use his creativity as a break in between the majority of the time when he makes the simple, easy, effective play. I want him to stop needling opponents and jawing at them, to stop the little hooks and slashes, followed by his head-swivel-to-the-referee-with-a-full-shrug-palms-up-plee, to stop embellishing when he gets (often) deservedly pushed or shoved or popped in the mouth. Is it too early in the season for his Jacques Martin-approved "Cure de Jouvence sur la Galerie de la Presse"™ ?
Friday, 4 November 2011
A well-deserved win for the Canadiens tonight, and one that would have been more easily predictable at the start of the season than before puck-drop. Both teams may be on different trajectories though, with the Canadiens waking up from the stupor that took hold at training camp, and the Senators now losing two straight, after a surprisingly strong start. The Senators didn't look like a dangerous team tonight.
The constants that the Canadiens need to be there to be successful were present tonight. Carey Price was solid in nets, and handled the puck skillfully, save for that instance when he got caught icing the puck. The defencemen were effective as a group, and the forward lines seem to be clicking.
The Eller-Moen-Kostitsyn line is a revelation. Lars Eller now seems ready to play, after last season's apprenticeship, which I thought might have been better served in Hamilton playing first-line minutes. The long minutes spent on the bench seem to have been put to good use, he used them as motivation to play with inspiration in the playoffs, and for a good summer of physical conditioning and shoulder rehab. It's noteworthy that he also missed all of training camp, but he now seems to be regaining his timing.
Travis Moen took a few barbs from fans last season, but most understood that he was miscast as a powerplay guy and first-liner. Most expected him to assume a grinding role as a fourth-liner this season, but he has shown surprising touch and the customary heart on the Eller line. On a team like the Canadiens, with no clear offensive stars like Steve Stamkos or Sidney Crosby, so-called secondary-scoring is crucial to the Canadiens' success. We hope Travis can continue on the productive streak he is on.
Canadiens fans are divided into many factions: the Fire Jacques Martin crowd vs. the Chill-Out crew; the former Halak-Price controversy; the anti-Gomez vs. the homicidally-anti-Gomez feud. Andrei Kostitsyn has been a target for years now, with some accepting him for what he is, which is a pure scorer and effective passer who can be a 25 goal 50 point winger who can throw a good bodycheck when called upon. Others are infuriated by his apparent lack of effort, his coasting on the ice and his frequent brain cramps. Both sides of the debate amassed ammunition tonight.
Andrei scored a goal on a beautiful pass by Lars Eller, a goal which might have seemed easy, but which was only possible because he drove to the net and provided Lars with an easy set-up opportunity. Andrei was also singled out for plaudits by Gaston Therrien on L'Antichambre, who showed a sequence where Mr. Eller and Moen were both forechecking, and ably backed by Mr. Kostitsyn who was properly positioned and checked his man effectively.
I have to pick at warts though, and couldn't help notice Andrei in the first period, once again gaining possession of the puck behind the goal line in the offensive zone, then skating softly toward the blue line, where he caused a turnover. He has made that soft, low-probability-of-success play twice before this season, once in Game 9 against Philadelphia where it was noted and lowlighted by Ray Ferraro on TSN. In this instance, the Sens were in a box as if they were killing a penalty, and had a fifth skater peeled out of the frame to take a position in front of the net. Andrei was indecisive and dragged two checkers with him towards Josh Gorges, and then handed him the puck. Of course, Josh lost it, and this set up Jason Spezza for the scoring opportunity where he crashed into Carey Price. Andrei gains back half a point by at least having positioned himself to back up Josh, but then loses another quarter-point in my, and probably Mr. Martin's, notebook for his poor attempt at bodychecking, which Mr. Spezza deked out of.
All in all, a good game for Andrei, but he needs support by the coaching staff to stop this negative pattern of behavior. They need to show him this on video, and practice this situation with him. He needs to take a page from Erik Cole's book and reverse his direction, drive toward the net while buttonhooking the defender, or at least just dump the puck back behind the net for another cycle.
Another player I've been noticing who's been making mistakes is PK Subban. He has calmed down quite a bit since his ragged start to the season, but he still is trying to do too much. Tonight, he took two penalties that were unnecessary. The first tripping call he took was due to him being too aggressive in the neutral zone, trying to get a puck without anyone backing him up, which meant he had to stick his leg out to prevent a breakaway. His slashing penalty was also preventable. While he was being aggressive and fighting for the puck, which is laudable, he needs to use that gym strength of his and drive opponents off the puck, instead of hacking at their sticks, an easy, automatic call for referees these days.
Finally, other fans and posters noticed Erik Cole squirting water from a bottle for Carey Price during the postgame handshakes. I'm as puzzled as everyone else about that. I see it happen regularly now on football sidelines, and I wonder why grown men need someone else to give them a swig of water. It seems awkward, like having your mom wipe your nose for you as you approach teendom. I know that coaches are always on you to drink during the game, because in the heat of the battle you don't notice that you're thirsty and dehydrated and your performance may suffer. Maybe research has shown that your players will be better hydrated if you have trainers running around actively making players drink. In this instance, I don't know what was gained by having Mr. Cole show such solicitude for Mr. Price.