Saturday, 17 March 2012

Game 73: Montréal 2, New York Islanders 3 (SO)

Who are these guys, Parker Lewis? They can't lose, or at least, lose properly. All these regulation ties are killing our schemes of getting Jonathan Huberdeau, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nathan MacKinnon at the cost of a couple of second-round picks, Scott Gomez and Yannick Weber.

Anyway, the most important revelation in this game occurred during the RDS pre-game show, when it was stated that Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau is good friends with David Desharnais, they met as a result of both being ex-Chicoutimi Saguenéens at a golf tournament and have hung around and kept in regular contact since then. During the profile, Mr. Parenteau explained that he 'was' a fan of the Canadiens growing up, "but not anymore" he quickly took care to specify, in the same tone you'd use when you tell your current squeeze that your ex or that cute cashier from work "is just a friend".

So that's settled, we sign this guy this summer. He's an unrestricted free agent, the Islanders are squeezing every penny, and Uniondale is not the most attractive hockey destination around, so we can make him a good offer, and rely on the magnetism of the 'chandail bleu-blanc-rouge' to clinch the deal. We then stick the sixty-point winger on the David Desharnais line with Max, see if these guys can cook up another big cauldron of chemistry for us next season. Erik Cole gets shifted on to Tomas Plekanec's line with René Bourque and he takes the big lug under his wing, uses his particular brand of orneriness and toughness mixed in with an infectious good humour to influence him and point him in the right direction. Lars Eller reunites with Travis Moen and is given the captain Brian Gionta to add a bit of consistency and hockey IQ to the line, and all of a sudden the depth situation isn't so dire, we have three lines which don't induce a gag reflex.

We started this game off on a good note, with Aaron Palushaj potting his first goal, on a called bank shot off the heel of Alex Montoya's stick into the side pocket. Mr. Palushaj was beginning to remind me of Réjean Houle the player, in that he skates all over the ice with abandon and has innumerable scoring chances which he invariably buries into the goalie's pads or the net above the glass. Good for the young man, may he become an effective NHL'er while playing for the Canadiens.

Another good moment was after the Ryan White fight against Matt Martin. Once in the penalty box, RDS replayed a clip which showed Mr. White smiling and sticking his tongue out and shrugging, while across the ice Brad Staubitz laughed back at him from the player's bench, tapping his stick against the boards. Ryan was effectively saying: "Don't worry about it big guy, you took care of it last night (in his fight against Chris Neil), I got it tonight." During the game against the Minnesota Wild on March 1, Ryan had started a fight against Stéphane Veilleux right off the opening faceoff, and I contended that possibly Ryan had done so to excuse Brad Staubitz from the necessity of starting a fight against one of his former teammates so soon after changing teams. I feel even more secure in advancing this theory now, it seems that these two characters communicate with each other, and that their pugilistic efforts may be more strategic than spontaneous. And again, great move against Minnesota Ryan, and tonight to give Brad Staubitz a rest after a big fight the previous night.

Peter Budaj played solidly, stopping 36 of 38 shots. If he has another 3 or 4 games to prove what he can do, and continues to perform as he has lately, we can feel comfortable about our backup goalie situation and worry about other areas of the roster. He has improved since a shaky start in training camp and earlier in the season. We had heard that he wasn't provided with a goalie coach in Colorado, and hoped that intensive work with Canadiens goalie coach Pierre Groulx would pay dividends; we may be seeing those now.

An area of concern is the lack of playing time that our youngsters are receiving. The analysts on Hockey Night in Canada pre-game explained how Leafs coach Randy Carlyle has effectively given up on this season and is now coaching as if he had the luxury of an early training camp for next season. As such, he is holding long, spirited practices every day, even on gameday morning skates, to improve his team's work ethic and fitness, even if it comes at the cost of gametime fatigue and a loss or two. He is also auditioning his players, and will be a couple steps ahead next season as far as knowing who he can rely on in what situations. Finally he is installing his system so that his boys can hit the ground running next October.

Let's compare that with Coach Cunneyworth. Although he can't be blamed for this, since he is playing the hand he was dealt, he is trying to win every game to polish up his resume and cushion his next landing spot. So he's overplaying his veterans, at the cost of our young players seeing very little action. Tonight, Aaron Palushaj and Louis Leblanc were the goal-scorers for les Glorieux, and yet received 3:36 and 11:04 minutes of icetime respectively. Lars Eller got 18 minutes, but out of position as a winger, although the coach was doing this to give Tomas Plekanec some help on his line.

Coach Cunneyworth also frequently gives his team days and practices off to keep them fresh for games. That's great for Josh Gorges and Tomas Plekanec, who log heavy minutes, but does nothing for Petteri Nokelainen and Ryan White, they can't stay fit by taking days off and playing ten minutes a game. We've noticed how the Canadiens seem to fade and give up leads in the third period, and it may be appropriate to question whether the fitness level is what it should be.

Finally, there is every indication that the team is rudderless and is going on auto-pilot, and on the leadership and professionalism of the veterans. We discussed last night that one of the powerplays was being drawn up by Erik Cole and his linemates on the ice during a break, instead of by the coaches, and also touched on the spat between Mr. Cunneyworth and Chris Campoli on the bench. We pined in yesterday's game recap for a strong leader for our coach next season, one who wouldn't take any guff from the refs or his players, one who would make the trains run on time, and the comparison between our lame duck coach and the Leafs' situation and how they're set up for next season makes this desire even stronger.

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