Saturday, 19 November 2011

Game 20: Montreal 4, New York Rangers 0

What a game for the Canadiens, and what a game for the HIO Summitteers, I’m not jealous at all that I didn’t get to watch it, all lubricated and blow-hardy, with the rest of those knuckleheads.

We’re a quarter of the way through the season, and the cut of the jib of our Canadiens is relatively apparent. Our Glorieux are a courageous, hard-skating team that has skills but lacks a little bit of finish. They play inspired hockey when faced with a formidable opponent, but can come back to earth against teams that are not natural rivals or a juggernaut. They seem to be injury-prone, they’re not physical, but they don’t back down from anyone. Their Top 6 matches up relatively well against most teams, but depth is a serious problem, with a fourth line that can scratch and claw and kick the opposition to a standoff on some nights, but is completely overmatched on others. Injuries have forced them to call up players such as Andreas Engqvist, Aaron Palushaj, and Frédéric St-Denis who have no business being in the NHL right now. Petteri Nokelainen, Mathieu Darche and Scott Gomez are borderline NHL’ers.

We can hope that with the return of Hal Gill and eventually Andrei Markov and Chris Campoli, the young defencemen who are now carrying the load will be able to allow Mr. Martin to ease the veterans back in, instead of having to rush them back and overuse them. Andrei Kostitsyn’s return would provide more offensive options to the team, and allow the team to return Mr. Palushaj to Hamilton for further development. Ryan White’s feistiness and physicality are also sorely needed, although we are probably months away from him being back and effective again.

Overall the Canadiens don’t stack up well with the league’s powerhouses when it comes to depth on the ice and in the organization. It will continue to be a problem, since it is a pipe dream to expect that the Canadiens at some point this season will be fully healthy and that this idyllic situation would persist into the playoffs. As other injuries strike, the remaining Canadiens will need to dig deep and work harder, since Hamilton cannot be relied on for reinforcements.

Tonight’s game was a joy to behold, as the Canadiens skated from start to finish and bewildered the ‘powerhouse’ Rangers, who probably didn’t get the cash-stuffed envelope to the referee’s dressing room in time before puck-drop, as evidenced by the 8-5 minor penalty disadvantage they incurred, in marked contrast to the last game played between these two teams at Madison Square Garden.

The small and soft and young Montreal defence was effective, skating away from trouble and clearing the zone with short easy passes to our assiduously backchecking forwards. I did notice PK relapse and perform a needless 360 and stickhandle in his own zone that ended up in a giveaway and caused 30 seconds of pressure by the Rangers, but overall he had a solid game and seems to be absorbing some of Josh Gorges’ level-headedness. Alexei Yemelin was again lowlighted by the RDS crew for a poor play where he tried to flip a clearance pass through the centre instead of banging it off the boards, which was easily intercepted and led to a Rangers scoring chance. We got the sense that Mr. Ladouceur was thinking of this play when being interviewed by Marc Denis, as he referenced the need for the defence to keep it simple and play it off the glass instead of trying to embroider plays. We also get the sense that Mr. Emelin will have a tête-à-tête with Mr. Ladouceur in the video room and this will be drilled into him. We needn’t be too concerned about this, he’ll be ‘coached up’ and will learn.

I was happy we overpaid for Erik Cole this summer, and was puzzled at his low icetime and absence from the powerplay unit at the start of the season, but right now we are getting our money’s worth. He might be the player I enjoy watching the most on the Canadiens, an all-round good guy who seems to fit in well on the team and fights hard and drives to the net as if it’s his own parking space and someone’s about to swipe it. His first goal, on the powerplay, seemed to pump up the Canadiens, and he kept buzzing all night, setting up a few scoring chances which weren’t cashed in and which made me wish he was a little more selfish and kept firing it at the net himself. It also led me to wonder if Jacques Martin was thinking that Mathieu Darche would have scored that one better, putting it even more top corner and burying it deeper in the net, with more authority, but I decided not to be uncharitable and dismissed that thought on a fair Saturday night. Mr. Martin seems to have belatedly come to the same conclusion we all have: we’re paying this guy big bucks and he has a decent shot to go with his wheels and size, let’s play him like a dime-store banjo. Even strength, powerplay, shorthanded so he can create a few breakaways for himself, let’s use this guy.

Scott Gomez garnered two assists, which we shouldn’t turn up our nose at, but the breakaway chance that he messed up is emblematic of his impotence. This and a couple other less glaring misses on scoring chances makes one wonder if a bald voodoo doll wearing a tiny #11 bleu-blanc-rouge isn’t blindfolded and handcuffed somewhere in a Boston basement. How he can go 46 games on the team’s #1 or #2 line, along with a generous helping of powerplay time and four-on-four situations, without even deflecting one in off his jockstrap or his wallet? I think I might have scored one or five by now if I’d been given the same opportunities. Heck, Réjean Houle or Andreas Dackell would have a couple by now.

Let’s hope that our team shows the same inspiration against the Bruins on Monday, and that the unrelenting heat on Brendan Shanahan for letting Milan Lucic skate free for his charge against Ryan Miller forces Shanny to warn his refs to be on the lookout for excessive Bruins thuggery in excessive amounts. Combined with a powerplay that is improving, this should be enough to prevent the evisceration of David Desharnais or Raphaël Diaz by Andrew Ference, although he insists he’s not that kind of guy.

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