Friday, 30 March 2012

Game 78: Montréal 1, New York Rangers 4

Nothing to report from this game, in that it went as expected. The Canadiens didn't overachieve, like they did a few times this season when they rose to the occasion or the opposition, or like when they, more frequently, laid an egg. This was a Goldilocks special, it was just right. As expected, the Canadiens two forward lines were not able to counter the Rangers' four lines. The Rangers' defence, led by Michael Del Zotto and bolstered by the 'McDonagh swing', easily outclassed the Canadiens'.

So the Canadiens were overmatched against the first place team, but they didn't give up, they didn't lie down. They expended effort, but it was understandably lacking spirit this late in this fishtailing season. Any bounce, any lift that could have been provided by the launch of the General Manager hiring process was absent, or maybe overestimated by the press and by this observer. The guys need to find motivation from within, to hold on to their jobs or earn a spot elsewhere, but that may be harder to achieve than we believe. Hockey players are emotional creatures, and when your team has cratered, it's hard to fight like it still matters.

Andrei Markov has faded noticeably since his auspicious debut. I saw him chugging back for a cleared puck, racing against a Ranger, and he looked Hal Gill-slow. Now I'm not panicking, it's good that he's out there playing and getting a head start on next season, but it would be better if he looked more comfortable and agile with each passing game. We might be too demanding in this regard. I did see him throw a hip check, which is good, but we also saw him limping off the ice near the end of the game. Now that could be nothing, just scar tissue being knocked loose and the knee being stressed in a different way than Andrei has been allowing it to in the last couple years. We have to remember that Andrei has been 'guarding' his left knee for that long now, favouring his other knee, and babying the injured one. When it gets that little extra impact or twist, he's going to feel it since his knee hasn't been stressed like that, and he's not ready for it psychologically.

René Bourque has been getting assailed by fans for being slow, uninvolved, almost apathetic. There are drums beating already for him to be shipped out, and I want to again state that while I wish he was more productive right now, he has all of next season to prove himself. In a way, his torpor is helping us stay high in the draft rankings, so it's an opportune slump for us. Next season, once he's gotten over the repercussions of his suspension and he's fully digested the trade, maybe has a chance to get truly settled in Montréal, has a new coach who can maybe push the right buttons with him, and plays with the right linemates and on a team with more direction, he may get on track and start potting goals. With the Leafs looking to beef up over the summer, and the Senators and Bruins already embracing their inner goon, we'll be happy to have that big guy on our second or third line, at a reasonable price. He's not the issue on our team, there are many other holes to worry about.

One player I do worry about is Blake Geoffrion. He does look like he lacks explosion and is a step behind the action. This summer, Blake must forego the golf and wakeboarding and bagging Nashville honeys and instead rent a place in Brossard across the street from the practice complex, and basically live at the gym. He has to do a full summer of explosion training, power skating and plyometrics. He has to show up at training camp leaner, meaner and with noticeably more jump in his stride. He may think that he's training hard right now, but he has to take it two levels higher, and make the strength and conditioning coaches his best friends. I'm not talking about the cliché 'I put on ten pounds of muscle this summer' idea (which is usually a load of bunk), I'm talking pure squats and deadlifts and box jumps and skating until he wants to throw up. His career over the next two seasons will be defined by the effort he expends over the summer. The kid has talent, he was a Hobey Baker winner, now he needs to allow himself to succeed.

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