Saturday, 26 November 2011

Game 24: Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 4 (OT)

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.

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