Thursday, 2 February 2012

Game 51: Montréal 3, New Jersey 5

I'm a little conflicted when watching Canadiens' games now. As much as I want them to skate and score and win, when it fishtails like tonight I'm not crestfallen. I'm comforted by the fact that while they're almost in freefall, they're solidifying an advantageous position for next June's draft. So when the Canadiens had the two goal lead, I was hopeful and cheering the good guys, and cursing the rotten luck when they missed chance after chance to put the Devils away. As the lead frittered away, and the momentum slowly faded, I looked on the bright side.

As usual Erik Cole was a rampaging buffalo, charging up and down the ice and creating chances for himself and his linemates. At the start of the season when he wasn't receiving the icetime he should have from coach Martin, I was vocal and advocated for him. As soon as this nonsense was rectified I moved on to other hot topics and let his stellar performances speak for themselves. There comes a time though when the star performers on a team go unheralded and we focus on the negatives, and this is unhealthy on any team, and I'm not just talking about sports teams. Too often, we deal with the problem children and in negative feedback, in constructive criticism. We forget about the positive feedback, the recognition.

So here goes: Erik, you're doing a great job. You are a warrior and constantly give 100% effort. You make your linemates better. Your manner of playing all out has the happy consequence of making you the most consistently exciting Canadien this season, you raise the fans out of their seats and off their couch. You play hard and tough, but fair. You are noble. Your penalties are not cheap or the result of a lack of discipline; rather, they are more an offshoot of your bull in a china shop approach to the game. You are fully earning every penny of the very generous contract you were awarded.

One reason I have been stingy with my hosannas for Mr. Cole is that his performance was as I expected it to be, possibly even better than when he terrorized Canadiens goalies as a Hurricane. Another Canadien who is performing according to projections is Hal Gill. The veteran defenceman was offered a one-year contract, which some thought might be the last of his career. He was signed to provide a steady hand and experience on the back end, and leadership in the dressing room. Sure enough, he has provided solid defensive play, especially on the penalty kill, but tonight he committed two eye-popping giveaways in the defensive zone that luckily didn't lead to goals. On one early in the first period, a Devil was provided with a puck in the side slot and it appears the main reason he didn't score is because of his shock at receiving a pass from Mr. Gill. I accept that Hal will be slow, and have grown used to seeing him chug back to his zone as if in slow-mo. I also accept that he is not adept with the puck, although when he has it in the offensive zone he can be counted on to deliver a decent shot on goal. I'm okay with the fact that he plays a somewhat less than physical brand of hockey, especially considering his gigantic size. What I object to is that tonight I may have seen the first instances when he didn't battle hard against the opposition. The malaise which afflicts the team may be getting to the old warhorses. A change in scenery will be beneficial for Mr. Gill.

One player I have not shortchanged in my plaudits has been David Desharnais, and again tonight he drew my attention. He, despite his diminutive size, is one of the few Canadiens who is effective going to the net, and tonight he scored a goal by heading one in off his visor. Also, he was regularly found behind Carey Price's net digging for the puck and ably bodychecking Devils. He's a keeper.

Mr. Cunneyworth again put Scott Gomez on one of the Canadiens' top lines with Tomas Plekanec. This would be a travesty if our team had twelve NHL-quality forwards to throw on the ice. Especially with Brian Gionta, Ryan White and Travis Moen injured, Mr. Gomez has a role to play, I'm just sure that it's not on the second line and on the powerplay.

On the other hand, I like the way Mr. Cunneyworth uses his seven defencemen and double-shifts his more effective forwards. That is an appropriate response to the bind he's in.

After tonight's performance though, as fans, all that remains is for us to reacquaint ourselves with the minutiae of the NHL draft lottery.

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