Saturday, 11 February 2012

Game 56: Montréal 5, Toronto 0

Nothing's ever easy with this team, is it? Mr. Gauthier was getting ready to have a clearance sale, but now he's not sure if he wants to open the doors and let the shoppers run wild. And now I have to race other fickle fans to ensure I get my seat back on the bandwagon.

This is the kind of team we expected at the start of the season: disciplined, hard-working, fast, effective on special teams, blessed with elite goaltending. We thought they'd beat the cellar-dwellers, and put up a good fight against the powerhouses. The Leafs and Bruins would draw the best out of the Good Guys.

The game started late, due to a ceremony to honour the Nordiques-Leafs-Canucks great Mats Sundin. The great who never took them to a Cup or even a final, who never scored 50 goals or won a scoring championship or a Hart trophy or a Lady Bing or a First Team All-Star. Apparently the rift caused by Leaf management who had insisted that he waive his no-trade-clause for the last two seasons of his stay in Toronto was smoothed over. The Leaf fans also decided to forget about the scorn and vitriol they heaped on their captain for wanting to play in their city, as his contract guaranteed him the right to. It was a nice affair, everyone appeared to be smiling as I fast-forwarded my PVR.

The only thing more halting and ponderous than the first ten minutes of the game was the play-by-play from Bob Cole. You could hear him hesitating and slowing his delivery as he peered at the ice trying to differentiate between Raphaël Diaz and David Desharnais, shuffled through his notes, fumbled through his pockets for his glasses before realizing they were on top of his head, and grew more distracted as he tried to remember if he'd left the lawn sprinkler on. All the while, in his reserved parking stall in the bowels of the New Gardens, his car's left turn signal indicator blinked on and off. Mr. Cole has had a great career, and he will be missed when he retires, which should happen immediately. There are probably 20 play-by-play announcers in the country who are ready and able to replace him, and would jump at the opportunity, and they would provide the viewers with a better experience. I decided tonight that I'll watch RDS in standard definition rather than HNIC in HD in the future if I have to endure Mr. Cole.

At least Mr. Cole had the good sense to scrap his Leaf-centered script when things fishtailed on them. He was calling the game as if it was a Toronto local broadcast, but after a few goals by those guys in white he started to notice them and described what he saw.

Mathieu Darche attracted some positive feedback from Gary Galley and Glenn Healey, and he played another strong game. Midway through the first, as a Leaf found himself with the puck and no one in front to block a probable quality shot at the net, Mathieu reached in on a good backcheck effort and prevented the shot. He received less icetime than the last couple of games, but he put in 18 strong minutes, including six on the Canadiens flawless penalty kill. His breakaway goal in the third was the cherry on the sundae: provided with the puck thanks to two great passes, from Carey Price to Tomas Plekanec to him, he streaked in and didn't overthink, but just corralled the puck, looked at the net and sniped the top corner. Mathieu often tries too hard when he gets such a chance gift-wrapped on his stick. This time he reacted as a hockey player should.

There was much gnashing of teeth early on in the season when fans thought that Mr. Darche shouldn't be on the roster, especially since he didn't score for the first fifteen games or so. Cooler heads explained that he had a role to play on this team and would finish the season with 5 to 10 goals as expected for a player like him. It's good to see him back on track and contributing to the success of the team. He's one of the good guys and deserves our support.

As I've explained in the last few games, I've been encouraged by the change in attitude and the improvement in play from P.K. Subban. He seems to be trying to pattern his play after Chris Chelios rather than Claude Lemieux or Ken Linseman, and that's a big plus. Tonight he played a simple, physical, effective style. He didn't hog the puck, start fights he didn't finish, or mug for the referees or engage his coaches in a debate, all big pluses. About eight games ago I said I was giving up on him and wanted, like Selma Bouvier, a separation, but after watching the report on his younger brothers and seeing how he is with his whole family, if he bought me flowers I might fall in love all over again.

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