Saturday, 3 March 2012

Game 66: Montréal 1, Toronto 3

Ugh!... Your Montréal Canadiens don't know how to lose. They'll lose some games after earning a regulation-tie point, which accomplishes nothing for their psyche or morale or their fans, and nothing for their draft position and the quest for the next Canadien Idol. They'll lose games after teasing us with an early goal or two and leading us on, only to let us down at the end of the night.

Then they go and lose outright against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a ragtag group that has been spitting up the bit on the homestretch, with the Riddler and the Monstrosity in nets. They lose by allowing Mikhail Grabovski to score two goals and an assist, a few days after allowing Mike Ribeiro, another guy who micturated on the team logo before leaving town, to score a goal and an assist and earn the first star of the game and re-confirm his status as one of the leading clowns in the league.

All the talk before the game was about Toronto and Brian Burke and Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle and I wanted to retch so much was I submerged in blue and white effluvia. All I wanted was a couple of goals to shut the pajama party down and get the guys with the headphones to notice there weren't just Maple Leafs on the ice but some other skaters too, and what do you know?, they're all wearing red jerseys and stuff, maybe look into it and find out what that's about.

The #1 line did its job, they scored the lone goal of the game for les Glorieux and buzzed around the Toronto end all night. They were dangerous and creative and battled hard. Erik Cole swept around Toronto defenders countless times on the way to the net. He had four shots and Max Pacioretty had six, and he gets more and more confident with the puck as the season progresses. David Desharnais was always around the puck and we saw him go up against big bad Dion Phaneuf in the corners and come out with the puck more often than not.

The rest of the roster did what it could, but I scratch my head at how shallow it is. How did I feel so confident at the start of the season? I thought I was being cautiously optimistic when I predicted that the Canadiens would battle for a spot in the playoffs. Inwardly, I thought they could get up to 7th or 6th. I am now completely comfortable with the fact that they are last in the Conference, the lowly position is reflected in the presence of Ryan White and Blake Geoffrion on the second line. We're not snakebitten or suffering from rotten luck, we're just not very good at all. We're scratching the bottom of the drawers and digging in the couch cushions to get enough change to buy a second line. Tomas Plekanec is now shielded from any accusation that he's having an off-year offensively, saddled as he is with borderline fourth liners-AHL'ers as his wingers.

This is occurring days after Pierre Gauthier scoffed at the notion of a long rebuild period for the Canadiens, usually characterized by an extended period at the bottom of the standings à la Edmonton Oilers. Mr. Gauthier stated that turnarounds can be quick and some are easily done. Philippe Cantin of La Presse was stunned by this, and wondered if the Canadiens GM might be a pathological optimist, having overestimated his team on a number of occasions in the recent past. In this instance, I wonder if the return to form next season of Brian Gionta, Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche is enough to plug all the holes and vault the Canadiens into contention. Even a healthy Andrei Markov leaves us with two question marks on defence.

The positives are that the Canadiens played hard all game, not exactly inspired, but with more effort than against the Panthers and Capitals on their recent road trip. What is missing is talent, confidence, the killer instinct to put away a reeling team in the first period when they're staggering. Not that this is easy to acquire or figure out, but it is more pardonable.

So to confirm, at least to myself, that we need to take the long view and look to the future, I will accept the loss as helping management to plan for the future. I am also going to attend the Vancouver Giants game on Wednesday against the Tri-City Americans, and scout Brendan Gallagher and Patrick Holland, see how the kids are looking. I'll be sure to report my findings to the group.

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