Thursday, 8 March 2012

Game 68: Montréal 5, Edmonton 3

A game in front of a partial home-crowd led to a Pyrrhic victory for the Canadiens, one that does wonders for the confidence and self-pride of Les Glorieux, but greatly diminishes the odds we'll drop beyond the Oilers to Columbusian depths in the standings, which we might rue in June. This was kind of like blowing the mortgage payment on a pretty good house party, fun while it lasted, but now what?

Confronted with an Oiler team that has lots of promising offensive talent, the Canadiens threw a training camp split squad on the ice. The NHL'ers played well, with P.K. Subban playing an almost flawless game, save for a penalty that can be forgiven, since it was a roughing penalty instead of one of his more brainless infractions. Max Pacioretty potted two goals, one an empty-netter to reach 30 for the season. Tomas Plekanec played with the energy of old. Our AHL players didn't dazzle, but they played hard, with heart. Blake Geoffrion had a couple opportunities to score. Scott Gomez skated hard and was productive with the puck on occasion, earning an assist. Aaron Palushaj seemed dangerous, surely giving Oiler coach Tom Renney a few cold sweats, but flubbed eight or nine shots on a perennially open net. He has now played 28 games for the Canadiens, earning a grand total of one assist. I sometimes wonder if he's destined to be one of those guys you find on, with 40 or 50 games played, no goals and twenty penalty minutes in their NHL career, followed by five seasons playing for the Orlando Solar Bears and HC Fribourg-Gottéron.

A thought that occurred to me while watching was that we should put in a call to Brian Burke as soon as the season is over and swap him Tomas Kaberle for Mike Komisarek, relieving each team of a headache in return for a pain somewhere else. I know Mike has fallen a few levels since leaving Montréal, but he can't possibly do worse than Mr. Kaberle. I don't care that he gets occasional points on the powerplay, Tomas Kaberle is the worst player on the team night in night out, and the one who cares the least.

The Linus Omark goal provides us with a case study. In the official scoresheet, it is deemed an unassisted goal, but it should really show Mr. Kaberle as having assisted on it, if not gift-wrapping it and putting a nice festive bow on it. He had control of the puck deep in his own zone, and made a poorly thought-out and weak backhand pass to no one in the high slot. No one in white that is, the puck cruised through the zone and may have crossed the blue line in another 15 seconds or so, but Mr. Omark swooped in and wristed it in the net, a nice bank shot off Alexei Emelin's pants.

En français, a blind pass or one that ends up going nowhere is often referred to as "une passe à l'aveuglette". The word comes from the root word 'aveugle', which means 'blind', and is used whenever a player dishes off the puck with a poorly conceived pass, which usually ends up being a giveaway or icing. Wags will often say "Le maudit L'Aveuglette, y pogne jamais le puck"; they have conjured up a hapless player named L'Aveuglette who never receives the passes intended for him.

I firmly believe that Tomas Kaberle thinks he is playing with L'Aveuglette and would swear on all that is holy that he can see him when he's out there on the ice, much like Haley Joel Osment could see dead people. There is no other explanation for that poor a pass. Had he had a live hand grenade about to go off on the end of his stick, he would have propelled it to the same exact location to try to save his teammates' lives. In that area of the ice, no Canadien would have been harmed. They would all have been equidistantly safe.

When the Tomas Kaberle trade was announced, I may have posted a harangue that decried the move, but after that I vowed to myself that I would not harp on this subject. I was convinced that Tomas' own ineptitude would serve as my megaphone. Unfortunately, it is so staggering that it also serves as the trigger to set off all the alarms and all the fears about where this organization is headed.

René Bourque has been attracting negative attention lately, but I'm comfortable with his play. He is what we expected. He's big, can play physical, is serviceable as a third-liner who can move up to the second on occasion. He plays well on the penalty kill, and can also play on the powerplay. We knew him to be streaky and that his style makes him seem disaffected sometimes. We can expect around 25 goals from him. And that's exactly what we are getting from him. Next year we'll be looking for enough legitimate NHL players to fill out a roster. Mr. Bourque is not one of our worries. He'll fill his role and a hole in our lineup, we don't need to get on his case because he's not Clarke Gillies. Or Erik Cole. He is René Bourque, and on balance I'm happy to have him on the team.

Of note also was the performance of special teams. We've been fretting that the Good Guys have given up on the season and on the coach, but as has been mentioned by others on HIO, the results obtained by the penalty killing units shows that they still have some fight left. Their success depends on effort, hard work, sacrifice and determination. Even with the loss of Hal Gill, which I thought might drastically reduce the PK's effectiveness, they haven't skipped a beat. Against the best powerplay in the league tonight, they allowed one goal out of four. Not great in terms of the percentage, since Edmonton has been clicking on a 25% pace this season, but they often bottled up the Oilers and didn't allow them to establish themselves in the zone and get comfortable. The bonus was that the Canadiens' powerplay was 2/4, and featured a reinvigorated Tomas Plekanec and René Bourque, who seemed dangerous on the second wave after a long stretch of games where nothing seemed to work. Our powerplay strategy had degenerated to sending out the Desharnais line on the first wave, then hoping for a flukey bounce from the ragtag collection we sent out on the second.

Thus heartened, we move on to Vancouver for a big big game on Saturday. Hopefully Mr. Desharnais' leg twinge can be alleviated with a couple days of physiotherapy, we'll need all hands on deck to bring down the mighty mighty Canucks.

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