Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Game 64: Montréal 1, Tampa Bay 2

It's hard to believe, but the Canadiens haven't hit bottom yet. While they gave a fair effort, the Good Guys weren't able to beat a Lightning lineup riddled with injuries and diluted with illness. They have now lost five straight, and their lineup has more holes than a Brad Marchand excuse.

Our lineup does little to impress or inspire fear in the opposition. In the third period, the Lightning's one goal lead seemed safe as houses. While the Canadiens weren't an offensive juggernaut under Jacques Martin, at the start of the season we could count on Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn among others to pot a goal when we needed it. Tonight, beyond the David Desharnais line, the only potential offensive threat for the Canadiens was Tomas Plekanec, who was saddled with unproductive wingers again. René Bourque came here with a reputation and history as a twenty-five goal scorer, but has been lethargic since his first three games with the team.

Lars Eller showed flashes again tonight, controlling the puck and skating effectively. With the season no longer in the balance, it is imperative that he get lots of icetime, both at even-strength and on special teams. To spell it out, this icetime should come from Scott Gomez' allotment. We have a twenty-game training camp opportunity to play the heck out of our youngsters, and we shouldn't waste it on players who no longer figure in our plans.

Blake Geoffrion also must get lots of minutes, let's coach the heck out of him, and work on his skating that he needs to improve. At this point, we can't miss on him, we're devoid of NHL'ers in our organization. He must at least fill the role of a third-liner next year, since we're not going to find that kind of help from Hamilton, and it would be beneficial to not have to rush one of our juniors or graduating college players into that role. We could always find help on the free agent market this summer, but we're in salary cap jail right now and overspending on July 1 is what will keep us there.

Alexei Emelin was solid again tonight, and seems to be rounding out into a reliable top 4 defenceman, one we can put on next year's roster in ink. He ran into trouble a little bit tonight when he tried to avenge an unpenalized hit from behind by Ryan Malone. Shortly after, Mr. Emelin caught up with him as Malone was waiting to enter without going offside. Alexei caught him with a good clean shoulder hit and dropped him on his ignorant backside, but unfortunately Ryan Malone wasn't holding the puck and it was justly whistled as an interference penalty. Alexei served this penalty, but immediately after was jumped by Ryan Malone who wanted to settle accounts with his fists. He declined to fight, and the refs, stunningly, got the call right and gave Mr. Malone the instigator penalty and tossed him from the game. While Alexei has the right to not fight, and the NHL has to address this problem of clean bodychecks being responded to by an almost obligatory fight, he has to be responsible for his actions. He will have the colour of right whenever he hits hard but cleanly and fairly and then chooses to decline invitations to fight, but it will get more dicey and his teammates will endure the repercussions if he hits in a dirty or illegal manner. He must stay above the fray and play cleanly between the whistles to be most effective and productive. Tonight, his option would have been to wait until an opportunity presented itself to jack Mr. Malone legally, instead of taking the obvious interference penalty.

We saw Brad Staubitz fight, which will be his role for the rest of the season. Let's hope that he fills it well and effectively, in that he may neutralize the more hotheaded of opponents or temper their enthusiasm. If we are going to play out the string, we should protect our best players and prevent the opposition from taking free runs at them. While I wish the NHL would own up to its responsibility as a corporate citizen and eliminate this nonsense from our game, we can't afford to ignore our current reality or Chris Neil.

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