Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Game 42: Montréal 0, St. Louis 3

It's hard to feel enthused about the Canadiens near future and their players on a night like this. At the start of the season I tempered my enthusiasm and predicted that the Canadiens would battle to get into the playoffs, seeing as they didn't have the depth or talent of the Phillys and New York Rangers and Bruins (gag!). That prediction is proving false not only in their being unable to hover around eighth place in the East, but also in the 'battling hard' aspect. They looked listless and dispirited tonight. The frustration exhibited by their captain as he left the ice with an apparently aggravated injury may be leaking on to the team, or maybe is an accurate reflection of what the collective psyche is.

It's hard to write a recap of the game that is positive and illuminating on a night like this. The torpid Canadiens did nothing to catch a viewer's eye and hold his attention. There were no surprises or interesting developments, the Glorieux played down to their results so far this half-season.

The Plekanec-Gionta-Cammalleri line simply doesn't work. I understand a coach being patient with his players and giving them time to develop a rapport, but their lack of cohesion and their impotence is highlighted when the other two 'scoring' lines are not picking up their slack. Mr. Gionta's injury will require a line shuffling again, so this point becomes moot, but it's disheartening when the players who are drawing the big salaries and should be your leaders are sputtering.

Lars Eller teases us with his flashes of brilliance, we are dying to affix the nickname 'The Great Dane' on him when he really takes off, but I think that's an apt moniker right now. My friend had a Great Dane puppy and he was the meekest, most timid, most uncoordinated dog you ever saw until he turned about a year old, and a German Shepherd charged at him and attacked him. The puppy yelped and howled and got his ass kicked and it took a while for his owner to get to him and break up the fight. That seemed to be a turning point for him, because from then on he became the biggest baddest dog around, he seemed to realize that he needed to take care of himself and the next time a dog tried him on for size he knocked him down and dominated him real quick. I keep hoping for Lars to have this moment when everything clicks and he learns to command his considerable size and skill. The Winnipeg game seemed to have been that moment, but we saw him again tonight generating lots of heat but little light.

In the wake of the Brad Marchand suspension, which he incurred only because his clipping of Sami Salo's was so flagrant that even the perfidious Colin Campbell couldn't massage it into a 'hockey play', I have to comment on the state of the refereeing in the NHL, and the network analysts who comment on the game. In the seconds leading up to the clipping call, Mr. Marchand punched Sami Salo in the back of the head, from behind, completely gratuitously and unprovoked, without a whistle from either referee. Twice. The clipping was obviously intentional not only judged by the mere witnessing of the act itself, but also by this violent preamble that says a lot about the state of mind of the perpetrator. In this 'new era' of concussion 'awareness', and with Sidney Crosby back in the stands after another bout of concussion symptoms, that the play wasn't whistled dead before the clipping incident, with Mr. Marchand safely in the penalty box for a two-minute roughing call is incomprehensible. That Jamie McLennan of TSN described this sequence as being good ole-fashioned battlin' for the puck is an indicator that the League and all its enablers are complicit in the continuing murder of hockey, and that the game must be rescued from Gary Bettman and his orcs.

Mr. Julien tried to bend the facts to purport that Mr. Marchand was trying to stick up for himself and was only defending himself against a bigger opponent, Mr. Salo being well known as a rough and tumble player with goonish tendencies and a huge mean streak, but really what Mr. Marchand was doing was making a bad situation he created even worse. If Mr. Salo was approaching not to play the puck, but, as is the contention of the Bruins, to exact vengeance upon his assailant, this wouldn't have been an unprovoked attack on a defenseless innocent.

This kind of play and refereeing was evident in two plays tonight. One was the offsetting slashing and roughing calls drawn by Mike Cammalleri and David Perron respectively in the first period. Mr. Cammalleri was the clear aggressor, crosschecking Mr. Perron repeatedly in the back during a corner puck battle. Mr. Perron eventually turned around and crosschecked Mr. Cammalleri back, well after the referee should have whistled or raised his arm to indicate a Canadiens penalty. Mr. Cammalleri retaliated with a cross-check to the face-chin of Mr. Perron. At this point the whistle blew and the stick swinging continued, and both players were sent to the bench. This was a ridiculous but routine NHL-referee decision. The recipient of the initial crosschecks can either absorb them without complaint, or retaliate, or 'dive' or embellish by faking an injury. The crosschecker either gets away with it, or at most gets offsetting minors. In the case of the exasperated crosscheckee, his options are to allow himself to be mugged, to lash out with an act proscribed by the rulebook, or turn into a soccer player.

These conditions are the kind which allow the Bruins to thrive. This is how Sean Thornton can slash the ankles of an opposing player who is on his way off the ice onto the bench, and then be outraged that that player swings his stick back, and causes Mr. Julien to play the offended virgin and point to this act by Mr. Burrows to expiate Mr. Marchand's many heinous crimes.

The offsetting minors encourage goonery and thuggery. As long as any scrums and reciprocal facewashes are judged to be self-cancelling, the behemoths will have free rein to intimidate and assault with impunity. When a player crosschecks another five times, when a Brad Marchand punches a Henrik Sedin in the head five times, when a Mark Stuart can slash an Andrei Kostitsyn ten time (by my count) as he desperately tries to thwart the faster forward leading him on a circular chase around his zone, the two minutes should ring up like in a pinball game. Mr. Marchand should have had five minors, Mr. Stuart ten.

Another situation which caught my attention was when Jamie Langenbrunner caught up to Alexei Emelin in a race to the puck in the Canadiens zone along the boards and gave him a body check with a full, strong elbow. No whistle, no call. Since Mr. Langenbrunner is shorter than Alexei, the elbow caught him in the ribs or shoulder, and was therefore allowable. Apparently. Unless Alexei had made a great show of falling down and being hurt, for which he might have drawn a penalty, but would also have incurred the wrath of Don Cherry, who would thunder that the refs should "let them play", and not call 'ticky-tack' penalties. I hate that word, ticky-tack.

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