Monday, 23 December 2013

Fan throws an Oilers jersey on the ice, Dallas Eakins blows a gasket.

I have to side against Dallas Eakins in this latest contretemps for the Oilers. I get that he’s trying to defend his young players, but he goes about it the wrong way, like last time when he made it about Lars Eller, rather than the fact that opposition coaches are probably describing his team as a junior team in pre-game meetings. He’s making it personal, and he sounds defensive, even petulant, rather than commanding or inspirational.

I hope that the Edmonton press corps does its job, nay, its duty, and ferrets out this fed-up fan and get his side of the story, how much money he’s been spending over the years supporting this sad sack team, and it can’t be cheap, seeing how close to the ice he was sitting. I want him to have an opportunity to retort to Mr. Eakins’ feeble remarks (“uh…, hard workers…, oil industry…, they don’t quit…, …., . Uh…, …. Did I mention the oil industry?…”), or even better to confront him directly, and watch the Oilers’ coach backtrack and grovel his way out of it.

This is the second time the Oilers management team acts out of touch, with Kevin Lowe’s remarks last year that he knew about winning, and that certain fans weren’t welcome if they disagreed. What the fan did is a significant if symbolic gesture. Team jerseys ain’t cheap. For him to chuck it is not a stunt as much as a strong message to the team and its leadership.

Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are struggling. Let's extend Douglas Murray for 2015.

Just as a general comment, I think it’s important to point out that Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are not leading their team right now, we might even say they’re struggling. Nathan has eight points in 24 games, and Jarred has four in 25 games. Just to put that into perspective, Morgan Ellis, who was a healthy scratch at the start of the season, has seven points in 23 games. Drew Schistel has six points in 21 games. Yes, the Drew Schiestel. Magnus Nygren, who played part of the season before packing it in and returning to Sweden, amassed 8 points in 16 games, the 0.5 pts/game level you’d like to see from an AHL prospect before you call him up, and did that in his first season in North America.

When I listen to Bulldogs games on the radio, I don’t hear Jarred's or Nathan's name a lot, they’re not controlling the game or creating magic with the puck or making opponents look silly. They’re not dominating games, proving too strong for that level of play. It’s entirely possible that they’ll improve as the season wears on, but just as likely that they’ll continue to struggle as they mature and adapt to the pro game. They may need to start next season in Hamilton too.

So we need to temper flights of fancy, in which both Jarred and Nathan start next season with le Grand Club. We often talk about how we need to be patient with our prospects, and this is where the rubber meets the road. If our first-rounders aren’t ready, we shouldn’t force them in the NHL lineup because they ‘should’ be ready. Nashville may be the right environment to plug in a young defenceman and let him learn on the job, but Montreal, with Tony Marinaro and Bertrand Raymond and, isn’t. They need to ply their trade without the added pressure of us frustrated never-wases critiquing their every move.

So before we dispose of Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray, Davis Drewiske, Raphaël Diaz, Josh Gorges, etc., in our collective fantasy, we might want to ensure that the young Bulldogs are ready to take over. I’m ready to believe that Douglas Murray is as poor a defenceman as the stats say he is, but I remain convinced that he brings a valuable presence to the team, and skills it sorely lacked. He complements our defensive group, as much as Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber did not. So I’ll make do with his deficits to benefit from his strengths, his cost-effectiveness. If anything, I wouldn’t be averse to his being re-signed for next season, as a hedge against the vagaries of Colin Campbell’s NHL, against injuries, against the kids needing more seasoning. Francis may have been wrung dry, but Douglas won’t be any less imposing next season.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

NFL 2013 Week 14: Chargers 37, Giants 14

Want a foolproof system that will make your bookie hate you?  Bet on the Chargers when they have King Dunlap dressed and healthy and starting at left tackle.  I've gone on about this all year, about what a big difference Mr. Dunlap makes, but the postulate proved true again today as the Chargers easily defeated the New York Giants 37-14.  

The Chargers had all their starting offensive linemen available today, and they kept their best player, quarterback Philip Rivers, upright and unhurried for most of the game.  As a result, the offence rolled, piling up first downs, yards and points.

Philip Rivers, who we might have thought had lost his gifts over the last two seasons, has taken to Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's new system like a duck to water.  The short, quick passing game is a big change compared to the big-play offence we were used to when we had Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd going deep seemingly every play, but it's perfectly suited to Philip's waning arm strength (or did we imagine that too?) and the journeyman offensive line.  

Journeyman probably doesn't apply to D.J. Fluker though.  I was skeptical with the pick last spring, since I didn't think it was wise to pick the fourth-best tackle with the eleventh-overall pick, especially one who was slated to play the right side, while we had a crying need on the left.  The giant kid has been winning me over though.  He is just massive, naturally so, with a big body through the hips and legs, but unlike other monster tackles he's not a jiggly guy with lots of fat on him.  And it shows in how he plays, he's relentless, even in the fourth quarter.  While rookies tend to fade when faced with the pro schedule for the first time, he's still going all out and still very effective.  In the run game, he just plows tacklers out of the way.  Cross our fingers, that kid will be a Pro Bowler for a decade.

Ryan Mathews is another bright spot, in that he seems to be finally becoming the running back he can be, based on his pure ability.  He didn't fumble today, and he racked up 100 yards and a touchdown.  Further, he's no longer tap-dancing behind the line of scrimmage, side-slipping and looking for a boulevard, he now runs decisively, follows his blockers, and dives into the hole, always getting positive yards.  Quite a change from the previous incarnation who used to supputate three yards behind the line of scrimmage, waffling until opposing tacklers came to harvest his collarbones.  

The defence didn't have to perform miracles, with a healthy lead early on, but it was a good sign that Cam Thomas, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes made an appearance on the stat sheet, and were disruptive in Eli's kitchen.  Donald Butler and Manti Te'o were, probably not coincidentally, effective, racking up tackles and an interception.  The backfield, usually a black hole, made plays today, with Shareece Wright nabbing an interception at the end to seal the game.

So an enjoyable win for our Chargers, but one which in the grand scheme of things will only serve to harm our position in the 2014 draft.  Indeed, there are too many teams in front of us jockeying for a post-season berth for us to hold out any reasonable hope for playoff action.  Let's hope that we don't regret feelgood wins like this one too bitterly when our number comes up at Radio City Music Hall next spring.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Bulldogs lose 4-1 to Erie Monsters, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu still learning

The Bulldogs lose 4-1 to the Erie Monsters tonight, Maxime Macenauer scoring a meaningless powerplay goal late in the third for the Bulldogs to break the shutout.

For those of us who reflexively state that Nathan Beaulieu and/or Jarred Tinordi should be 'given a chance to earn the sixth d-man spot', which seems reasonable since they are the anointed ones, the first-rounders who should naturally step into important roles, soon, and who we build our succession plans around, watching tonight's game would have been instructive.  The problem is, both players are not excelling or dominating, as the Bulldogs broadcast team peripherally allude to once in a while.  These two guys should be the Bulldogs' best players along with Louis Leblanc, but their results are muted at best.  

Nathan Beaulieu has two goals and five assists in 17 games, and is -4 on the season.  Tonight during the third period, he played on the second wave of the powerplay, with Sylvain Lefebvre choosing to send out Greg Pateryn and Patrick Holland as his blueliners on the first wave.

Jarred Tinordi has 3 assists in 18 games, and granted he's not on the team to generate offence, but he's not taking over games.  He did have a big spectacular hit tonight, but was also flattened by an opponent late in the third, and chased him soon after to retaliate, with an unconvincing result, and this was while the puck was in his own zone.  He should properly have been focused on getting the puck and clearing it out, and worry about getting even at a more appropriate time.  Although maybe when the game is already lost there will never be a better time to settle a score.

In any case, our two young princes are still struggling, still learning their craft.  They show promise, but they don't have the experience and professionalism yet to instill confidence that they could step into an NHL lineup and not be overwhelmed.  It's a long season yet, and they could put it together rapidly and improve tremendously from now until April, but if I'm Marc Bergevin, and I see Douglas Murray settling into his role and contributing to the team and improving game by game, maybe I think about extending him for another season, like he did for Francis Bouillon last year.  Francis was brought in possibly as a one-year stopgap in July 2012, and proved reliable and cost-effective, so much so that an extra year was tacked on to his contract as a reward for him and an insurance policy for the team. 

The same scenario could play out for Douglas Murray this season, the late-summer free agent acquisition who was widely seen as a band-aid while Alexei Emelin healed and Jarred Tinordi proved himself ready.  This is now beginning to look like an inspired decision.

Nothing wrong with keeping a useful defenceman in the fold to give yourself options while the kids learn their craft.  We should hand jobs to rookies not because we have one available, but rather because they show they're ready and they're better the veteran incumbent(s).

We were excited about our pipeline of young defencemen, and were worried about the best-case scenario, whereby we have too many young NHL-ready blueliners that we can't fit onto our roster.  But with Nathan and Jarred still learning, Magnus Nygren choosing to return to Sweden, Morgan Ellis struggling, and Darren Dietz having a tough start to his season in part due to injuries, we're not at best-case or even 'better-case' scenario territory.  So instead of leaving roster spots open for the kids to waltz into, let's be cautious and keep our veteran defencemen and have the youths beat them out of a job at training camp.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Game 30: Canadiens 2, Bruins 1

The Canadiens continued their recent streak of good fortune, beating the Bruins 2-1 to take the lead in the Atlantic division.  They were fortunate in that, if this had been a boxing match, and the periods were rounds, the judges would have scored it two to one in favour of the Bruins.  They dominated the first and third periods.

What tilted the result in the Canadiens direction was the continued excellence of goaltender Carey Price.  He turned away 32 of 33 shots, for a sizzling .970 save percentage, and boosted his seasonal average to .938 .  We're seeing in Carey the level of performance that has always been predicted for him, based on his pedigree, his physical gifts, his mental makeup and attitude, and his performance at the World Junior Championship, for example, and in the AHL with the Bulldogs.  Whether this is strictly a result of a player maturing into his peak years, or a convergence of factors like his wedding this summer or a change in technique due to a new goaltending coach, he started off the season strong and seems to be getting stronger as the season progresses.

During the game, he seemed solid, unflappable at times, making routine saves appear as such.  He also fought and scrambled and was lucky at times, but these were instances which reinforced the confidence he inspires recently, instead of being seen as evidence that the dam is about to breach.  Miraculous saves and lucky bounces don't demonstrate that our luck is running out, they show that he is in the zone.

Many other players drew our attention.  Michaël Bournival took a shoulder to the kisser and it seemed to stun him, he had to leave for a medical break during the first period, but even that didn't slow him down.  He was fast and furious on the forecheck, making Zdeno Chara look unsteady and foolish on a couple of occasions.  He also made a crucial block on a shot late in the third period.

Douglas Murray is winning over the Antichambre crew, or at least, convincing early skeptic Michel Bergeron that he has a role to play.  We saw very few scrums and attempts to spear a puck through Carey tonight, and none when Douglas was on the ice.  There was a notable instance when Sean Thornton was in front of the Canadiens' crease, and he had half a second to make up his mind on what he would do, the whistle having just been blown.  To help him decide, Douglas skated into the frame and took over from Raphaël Diaz, who had been fronting the Bruins' fourth-liner, and that was enough to convince the latter to turn and skate away.  Douglas did some solid work on the penalty kill, with a notable clearance, and sacrificing himself to go down to block a Zdeno Chara shot, which luckily missed him and hit Carey in the pads instead.

Raphaël Diaz played the kind of game I was hoping for from him at the onset of the season.  Especially with the Magnus Nygren experiment now stalled, this is a welcome blip on the radar, and we can hope that it's the start of a trend.  Maybe he's finally settling in with Douglas Murray, or maybe the contract talks are having an effect (did Marc Bergevin lowball him, and light a fire?), but we saw flashes of the player we expected, in the better-case scenario at least, in that he was dependable defensively and creative and dangerous offensively.

On one sequence, he covered Chris Kelly in his zone, and bodychecked him behind the net to neutralize him.  This was not a punishing blow or anything, but an effective play that will make his coaches smile.  He then rushed the puck up the ice and created a scoring chance, and this was the kind of rushes he's shown the last couple of years that have been strangely absent this season.  On another sequence, he took a couple of dangerous shots at the net, and again this aspect of his game has been lacking.  Finally, in the third period he set up the winning goal by Max Pacioretty on a pretty play when he drove the net and deked around a sprawled Tuukka Rask, almost potting the goal himself.

Alexei Emelin continued his solid play, and may have exorcised some demons by putting a solid hit on Milan Lucic along the boards.  Alexei landed on his butt as a result, but his limbs were intact, and that must have helped his confidence.

Lars Eller also laid a crunching hit, on Gregory Campbell to boot, and was solid and dependable all game long.

George Parros was a presence that possibly cooled the Bruins' baser instincts, and even took a pretty good shot on net, although he went high glove-side, the scorer's equivalent of fool's gold.  Georgie, there's a reason there's all that room, all that net to shoot at, it's the goalie setting a trap for you, hypnotizing you with what seems like a can't miss option.  Next time, at least freeze the goalie before trying that.

David Desharnais won an honest-to-goodness puck battle along the boards with Jarome Iginla late in the third, while protecting the slim lead, and that flies in the face of the truism that he's too small to be effective in the defensive zone, and that he gets knocked off the puck too easily.  I don't know if he's playing more confidently due to his recent successes, but he did the same things he used to do, which is get way low and wide in his stance so that the big Bruins winger couldn't get a good lick on him or lever him off the puck.  He then used his quick stick and smarts to shuffle the puck along the boards for a few precious seconds before he squirted it loose to Josh Gorges, who was able to easily clear the zone.

And finally, Canadiens fans could take some schadenfreude in how poorly Zdeno Chara played.  I challenge anyone who states that he's still one of the Top 5 or even Top 10 defencemen in the league to watch the game and see his many gaffes and mistakes.  Poor shifts followed bad shifts which came after catastrophic shifts.

Brendan Gallagher started off the festivities early in the first while forechecking and racing him to a puck in the corner.  Brendan braced and 'pre-hit' him, then finished his check after the puck was gone.  Not that it affected Mr. Chara physically, but it may have set the tone.  Michaël Bournival forechecked him to great effect, stripping him of the puck on a couple of occasions.

Mr. Chara also looked bad against Lars Eller on one sequence, during which he initially gave away the puck, then bobbled it when it came back to him, which led to a Lars scoring chance.  He then was too immobile to corral the puck on the rebound, or catch up to Lars who skated away easily with it.  It was like dessert for the soul.  In advance of the main course, of the win.  Cue the angel choir.

Oh, and he was on the ice for the Tomas Plekanec goal, having started the whole thing with a giveaway.  His ineptitude during and expression after were priceless.

If he's a top defenceman with such a fierce shot, why are they putting him in front of the net on the powerplay?  Doesn't that raise a question as to how effective he is on the blue line?  It's not like the Bruins don't have a bunch of big bodies to put in front of the net, they have options, yet they waste this Norris Trophy-candidate as a forward to screen the goalie?  Really?

It wasn't all sunshine and roses for Les Glorieux though.  We saw a curiously disjointed powerplay, with forwards going offside when our defencemen were trying to gain the zone.  And again, Tomas Pekanec went on a two-on-one during a penalty kill with Travis Moen, and chose to shoot instead of passing.  It's almost like he doesn't trust Travis to bury the puck, or send it back with a pretty pass.

We also saw Max Pacioretty get sent off for a two-minute boarding penalty, which was disputable since Max hit Dennis Seidenberg on the side, rather than clearly from behind.  Further, Dougie Hamilton seemed to hit Brandon Prust squarely from behind, an apparently much worse hit, but Chris Lee being one of the referees officiating the game, it went unpunished.

All that remains now is for us to savour this win, and for our focus to not wane in advance of Saturday's game against the punching-bag Sabres.

Brendan Gallagher is not an 'instigator' or a 'pest'.

I hate the equivalence people are making of Brendan Gallagher to Brad Marchand.  Sure, they're both small-ish forwards, and both can score, but that's where the similarities end.  Brendan is relentless and always buzzes around the opposition net, and digs for the puck until the whistle blows.  As a result, he gets more than his share of crosschecks and facewashes, and unimaginative hockey analysts have labelled him a pest.  He's nothing but, in fact he's a gentlemanly player and good guy who works very hard.  He's not the 'antagonist who gets under your skin', like so many are trying to peg him as, to hammer the square peg into the round hole, since every player must fit into an archetype: checking forward, playmaking centre, defensive defenceman, puck-moving defenceman, ...

Meanwhile Brad Marchand has no honour, he cheats and lies, he spears and slew-foots and goes for opponents' knees, and does so because he has a legion of Orcs to save his bacon.  He gets under opponents' skins because he's a creep and a thug and cheapshot artist and a yapper.  I wouldn't want him on our team, despite the goals.  And the thing is, his conduct, fostered and encouraged as a Bruin, would be unacceptable in Montréal.  He might have had a shot if he'd played here to be a decent player that you can respect.  Instead, he wallows in the cesspool that the NHL excretes by its refusal to clean up the game, and to showcase its stars rather than the pluggers and fourth-liners and assorted other Don Cherry favourites.

Also, Brendan Gallagher is a class act from a good family who's a great ambassador for the team and was universally liked when he played for the Giants.  Meanwhile, we know what a dirtbag Brad Marchand is, and the stories circling around him in Boston and from his home town.  

So let's stop the comparisons between the two, they're demeaning to Brendan and they cloud rather than illuminate the issue.  Brendan Gallagher is a fine young man and a reputable and respectable hockey player.  Brad Marchand is anything but.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

George Parros should hit Zdeno Chara, again and again and again.

If George Parros plays Thursday against the Bruins, which should be a given, for if he doesn't then why did we bother trading for him, but anyway if he does, I'd want the coaches to do with him what the Leafs did with Colton Orr in the playoffs last spring.  They had him 'shadow' Zdeno Chara, as it were, in the offensive zone, and whenever he had a chance, when the puck was near the Bruins d-man, hit him with a clean bodycheck.  Or dirty, whichever.

The rationale is sound: Colton Orr isn't really able to contribute anything in the offensive zone, in terms of being in the right position, make or accept a pass, get a shot on net, etc.  What he could do was be near Zdeno Chara, and when the puck was in the area, lay a bodycheck on him.  Now, he often whiffed on the check and ate glass, or ended up on his butt, just because he's big doesn't mean he's as strong or solid on his skates as the Bruin, but he's in the ballpark in terms of size, so Mr. Orr actually played an effective role in that series, in that Zdeno Chara's head was on a swivel the whole game.  He's not used to being hit, because normal-sized players get hurt when they try, it's useless, so he's gone years playing without fear and with his head down, but a big boy like Colton Orr can jar him.  That got the Bruins D-man off his game, you could see him be frazzled, hurry his plays with the puck, get agitated, frustrated.

Zdeno Chara used to be a hard nut to crack, but he's getting older, not as strong and certainly not as mobile as he used to be.  Let's have George try to hammer him a couple of times, that's something he can do, and with the other forwards we'll keep doing what we usually do against him, which is skate circles around him and make him look confused and ungainly, and wail like Chewbacca when we score a goal or two against him.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Canadiens release Erik Nystrom from his PTO with the Bulldogs

The Canadiens have released Erik Nystrom from his 25-game Professional Try-Out contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs.  While he showed promise early and some skill, the tangible results were still not apparent.  He had tallied five points in 17 games.

Practically, this doesn't affect the team's future plans too much.  He had been picked up at the 2012 Draft with a sixth round pick, and was touted by Trevor Timmins as a possible dark-horse surprise candidate.  The Canadiens' scouting staff had come to know Mr. Nystrom while scouting another player, and had been impressed by some aspects of his game, namely speed, effort and skill.  So the Hail Mary didn't connect on this one.

Mr. Nystrom has already entered a contract to play in the KHL, apparently.  He'll get an opportunity to work on his game and continue to develop.  Obviously, the equation as of now didn't add up, he wasn't seen as being worth one of the 50 contracts the organization is limited to.

The only qualm I have about this is how the Canadiens' organization that June was bereft of a goalie prospect.  Aside from Carey Price, there were no frontline options on the team, even down the line a bit.  So when the sixth round came along, I fully expected us to take a developmental guy, someone who would need to work on his game for a while, but had some tools and upside.  Maybe some longshot European goalie, or a LHJMQ kid playing on a poor team, without great stats but facing lots of rubber and getting an education, but quick.

Sure enough, Victoriaville's Brandon Whitney was still available then, but the Canadiens passed him over in favour of Mr. Nystrom.  The Blackhawks claimed Brandon Whitney in the seventh round.  The rich get richer.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

24 CH, 2013-14 season, Episode 4: Notes

1:00  We see Stéphane Waite, the Canadiens goalie coach, receive his Stanley Cup ring from a Blackhawks Vice-President, who made the trip to Winnipeg for the presentation.  It's noteworthy that he won two Stanley Cups in Chicago with different goalies, in light of the excellent work so far this season from the Canadiens' duo of Carey Price and Peter Budaj.

2:05  Now we see Mr. Waite working with his charges, specifically trying to find out what the bounces off the boards will be like.  It's interesting how guys that have been in the league for years can still be surprised by what they find.  In Winnipeg, they find that hitting the boards on the lower part behind the net regularly leads to a fast rebound right in the crease.  We then see Mr. Waite sharing this intel with defencemen coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault and head coach Michel Therrien, and you can see the wheels turning, how to not get caught by this, and how to turn it to their players' advantage.

3:00  I want to be an NHL player.  They serve you dinner and you get to play a trivia game while you eat?  Trivia on the Canadiens?  I would rule at both those things!

Brandon Prust cracks that if he wins he wants some powerplay time as his prize.  With Ryan White's jape last episode of not having had a shift in overtime for ten years, it reaffirms that these guys are intensely aware of their icetime and how they're used on special teams, and how being used or not used in certain situations can lead to resentment or misunderstandings.  Most guys are team guys and will accept their 'role' on the team to a certain degree, but it doesn't mean they have to like it.

Michel Bergeron on l'Antichambre talks about this phenomenon often, how you can't ask a heart and soul guy like Brandon Prust, who gives everything he has, to sacrifice himself game after game while giving him only fourth-line minutes.  Mr. Bergeron also thinks that Travis Moen's lackluster performance last season and in spurts this season is due to being confined to fourth-line duty.  Not many guys are going to be eager to get punched in the face for the benefit of their teammates while playing 4 minutes a period, the thinking goes, and while other players who don't make the same sacrifices get the easy PP goals and the glory and the bunnies.

4:50  Brandon Prust scores an easy goal on a bounce pass off the boards behind the net.  You can hear Coach Daigneault telling P.K. to pay attention to that, trying to plant a seed for his young defenceman, giving him another option when he has the puck at the blue line.

In the next scene, P.K. does as he damn well pleases, and blasts a puck through for another goal.  P.K. don't need no fancy bounce passes to put up points.

5:15  We see Max pulling his hamstring in slo-mo, with accompanying lugubrious music, appropriate enough to underline the beating my fantasy teams are about to take.

Later, after a nice win, we see the players coming back to the room, and Max, on crutches, joins the players who were scratched in the 'receving line'.  You can see the concern on everyone's face as they ask him what the deal is.

7:15  We see Josh Gorges at home, with his 'boarder' Brendan Gallagher.  Josh has a great-looking Bulldog, which is cool, but also a new bride, and he discusses how the co-habitation might have been awkward but so far everything is going well.  Josh mentions he was asked to take in Brendan, and I wonder who does the asking: Marc Bergevin, Michel Therrien, or someone else in the organization.  Also, I wonder what quid pro quo he gets.  Does his No Trade Clause become ironclad?  Does he get special treatment for being a 'team guy'?  Fascinating stuff.

Whenever I hear of these arrangements, I think of an older player with a mondo big house, and kids running around.  So the veteran and his wife don't mind the 'intrusion', they already don't have any privacy with the rugrats, and you can plunk the young player in a semi-suite downstairs.  Josh's setup doesn't look like that at all, more like a smaller townhouse, so not ideal.  You get the sense that Brendan gets that as well, and even though he's already a very polite and down-to-earth kid, you can tell he's not quite walking on eggshells, but maybe actively being on his best behaviour.

I wonder why they didn't ask him to move in with Chucky, they could play video games together and have Mama Galchenyuk feed them tonnes so they grow up big and strong.  But then I think of Alex's sister, and I get it, that could be trouble.

8:40  I want to be an NHL player, Part Deux: Can you see that massive fridge with every kind of Gatorade and Vitamin Water and fruit juices you'd ever want, along with a rack of protein and Clif Bars, just there for the taking?  I'm trying hard to remember, but none of my workplaces ever had that kind of perk I don't recall.

08:58  Pre-game meeting in the video room.  Freeze-framed, we find, again, that Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu (attaboy!) are sitting in the front row.  Eager beavers/teacher's pets Francis Bouillon and Josh Gorges are in the first and second row, respectively.  Travis is up front in the second row, but you get the sense it's to snag an aisle seat for the leg room he requires for his massive quads.  Class clowns René Bourque, Brandon Prust and Carey Price are at the back.  And again, David Desharnais and Daniel Brière are side by each.  P.K. is raptly attentive.  Andrei doesn't need to hear any of this.

11:30  We see the phantom elbowing call against P.K. in the Columbus game, from a great angle and in slow-mo, showing us just how out-to-lunch the refs were on that one.  Why we can't have a video judge to review these, and incidents like the clear highstick Brendan took in the chops earlier in the game and for which he had to get stitched up, I don't understand.

We also see Michel Therrien standing on the bench, aghast, yelling at the ref that there was no penalty on the play, but I disbelieve what I see, since we all know that Coach Therrien is against P.K., wants him to fail, and never sticks up for him.  So that sequence must have been conjured up at ILM's studios, somehow, and spliced in.

14:40  Geoff Molson announces to the players that French lessons will be made available to everyone on the team free of charge.  And it astounds me that this isn't already happening, that it isn't part of the team's normal functioning for years.  I thought this was covered, and once wrote a post saying these little details should be extended to the players' wives and significant others, to allow them to integrate into the community, to feel more involved.

I may have been misled by a previous "Nos Canadiens" episode focused on Steve Wisniewski, who we saw working with his French tutor.  At the time, I thought the tutor, while well-meaning, may have been a little dry, and Steve would quickly grow bored with these.  Instead, I thought how the team should integrate these lessons in team events, like for example a morning skate, where every part of the ice is labelled: 'Le poteau', 'La ligne bleue', 'La bande'.  By working these into their everyday life, and making it applicable to their world, maybe the players would have a better shot at retaining the lessons, and maybe enjoying them more.

Anyway, good initiative Mr. Molson, but, with respect, why did it take so long?

16:45  Michel Therrien trying to make a point to Jarred Tinordi through a little joke, saying there's thirty places you're not allowed to turn the puck over in your own end, and asks him what those places are, with the answer being any city where they have to play an NHL team.  Jarred is baffled, due to the poor grammar and pronunciation of the coach, so we see a language barrier at work there, but the coach saves it at the end and everyone has a good chuckle.  Jarred leaves the video room, still wondering what happened, but it's good to see the coach using a different communication strategy to get his message across.

And I did notice that all the players are essentially in the same seats in the video room that they were in last time.  So they're creatures of habits, they've claimed their seats for the season, and I guess I won't try to derive too much about the team dynamics from this detail anymore, unless something changes.

18:05  Michel Therrien trying yet another tack.  We see the coaches in their room between periods fuming about losing in every aspect of the game: faceoffs, puck control, etc.  Then, Coach Therrien enters the dressing room, but instead of yelling and swearing, takes a seat and calmly asks the players what's going on.  Again, evidence that he's not just a one-trick pony.

But it's not enough, as play resumes we see little reversals that announce the start of the slide.

Daniel Brière's concussion, with no penalty called on the play, for what was at least a deliberate decision by the Nashville player to not deviate from his course and collide with the opposing player.

We see the goal called a goal on the ice, but then overturned for lack of evidence that it crossed the line upon further video review, in clear violation of the principle, which states that plays stand as called unless there is clear video evidence to overturn them.  The ref explains to the Canadiens bench that he thought he saw the puck cross the line, but that the three other officials saw that it didn't go in.  And I call B.S.  It's not that they definitely saw it not go in, it's that they were pretty sure it didn't go in.  Another example of a review in Toronto going against the Canadiens.  And I'm still waiting for a statistical analysis of the percentage of calls that go against the Canadiens, it should be 50% with enough incidents, but I suspect it's much higher.

And we see Brandon Prust hit the boards head first, and bugger up his shouldder, and that may be the most costly loss of this game, which will hurt the team for a while (yes, we're purely being prescient here).

Monday, 18 November 2013

Yannick Weber is waived by the Canucks, to yawns from the fans

Very few comments and little analysis of the Canucks' decision to put Yannick Weber on waivers.  All I came across was this humourous blog post.

After a bit of hype when he was signed this July, that his right-handed slapshot might be what cures the ills of Vancouver's powerplay, he fell off the radar rapidly after training camp.  None of my buddies, who were curious about him and pumped me for information in September, even bothers to bring him up when they try to figure out how to fix the Canucks.

There was this quote from John Tortorella in the Vancouver Province:
“I like our back end, as far as the defencemen we have,” said Canucks head coach John Tortorella. “There wasn’t a spot, Alberts is sitting out. It’s tough but you have to make decisions. We used him at forward when we had injuries. I just don’t think he earned a spot and that’s why he’s not with us right now. I hope it works out for him.”
The real conversation out here is the lack of offence, how they're losing all the one-goal games.  The Sedin brothers have gone cold, they try too hard to break out of their slump, and make puzzling decisions.  David Booth hasn't responded to his AHL conditioning assignment stint (I think they recalled him too quickly, he should have stayed the full two weeks).  They're trying to push Zack Kassian on the first line with the Sedins, but he's clearly not ready, and already there are rumblings from the fans (note to self: give Michael McCarron, Jakob de la Rose and Connor Crisp all the time they need to develop, don't start calling for them to be brought up 'as an experiment.')  They're reminding each other that the return of Dale Weise won't solve anything.

Another quote that may feel eerily familiar to Canadiens fans, from Roberto Luongo, about being run over during the game against the Stars:
“[Erik] Cole was trying to make a play and I’m not sure that was his intention but it was the second or third time in the game. It’s what we want to do to the other goalie — create havoc, get pucks there and a guy bangs it in.”

Sunday, 17 November 2013

NFL 2013 Week 11: Chargers 16, Dolphins 20

In a battle of depleted offensive lines, the Miami Dolphins' beat the Chargers', and not coincidentally, the Dolphins won the game 20-16.  Missing their Pro Bowl left guard, their second-round pick left tackle and their 1st-round pick centre, they still handled the Chargers defensive line, allowing Ryan Tannehill to drive for the required points, whereas the Chargers came up short on opportunities to win the game late.

The Charger O-line was again shuffled due to the absence of King Dunlap, with D.J. Fluker shifting to left tackle and Jeromey Clary kicking out from right guard to right tackle.  Again, this patchwork line won't be confused with Joe Gibbs' Hogs, but they're surprisingly competent.  They blocked well enough for Philip Rivers to pass for almost 300 yards, and Ryan Mathews to rush for 120.  In the fourth quarter though, when the chips were down, Philip Rivers was hurried and knocked down and unable to get the job done.

This was a winnable game for the Chargers, and that they lost it is indicative again that we're dealing with a team in transition, if we're to avoid the word 'rebuild'.  With the Richie Incognito bullying scandal causing havoc within the organization, the Dolphins had lost to the previously 0-8 Buccaneers on Monday night, then were forced to play the Chargers on a short week.  That the Chargers couldn't come in, stun the Dolphins, make them give up, and cruise to an easy win, says a lot about their talent level and their playoff prospects.

If the O-line was a source of anxiety during training camp, and has actually proven to be competent, the secondary was just as much of a concern.  And this concern is proving to have been justified.  Today, John Pagano couldn't mask his defence's deficiencies with exotic looks and clever pass rushes.  Charles Clay caught a 39-yard touchdown pass, with 30 of those yards happening after the catch, and on which he could have been tackled four times.  Instead, the Chargers secondary kept whiffing, and you can almost expect a review of the play during the "C'mon, man!" segment during the Monday Night Football pre-game segment tomorrow.  Our boys, aside from Eric Weddle, can't cover, and then after allowing the catch, they can't tackle.  Expect a  heavy emphasis on this area during the draft and free agency next summer.

One area we've bemoaned in the past, the lack of mental alertness and toughness of our Bolts, their dismal performance in the clutch, reared its head again in this game.  While we could have hoped that the Norv Turner-ectomy performed last winter would rectify this problem, old habits die hard, and it will take a while to cultivate a new team attitude, one of smart gamers who know how to win, and who thrive under pressure.  Players dropping interceptions, taking penalties, we had good examples of this lack of preparedness from our boys today.

The best was perhaps the brain-dead roughing the passer penalty taken by Corey Liuget, taken in the second quarter with the Dolphins in the red zone.  On the play, Brian Hartline caught a short pass and fumbled the ball when tackled just short of the goal line.  Eric Weddle recovered, but the turnover was nullified by the penalty.  And it wasn't a marginal call, Mr. Liuget took a full two steps to tackle Ryan Tannehill after he'd released the ball.  The Dolphins got a new set of downs at the 6-yard line, and the Chargers D, uh, D-flated, and let them in on two Daniel Thomas runs.  In a close game, with the Dolphins just looking for a reason to give up, this was a huge penalty.

So a normally tough East Coast early game, the type of game that has historically caused problems for the Chargers, was ripe for the picking and they fumbled it.  And it won't get any easier, with another road game at Kansas City next week.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Hamilton Bulldogs lose to 5-3 to Monsters

Meanwhile, back in Hamilton, the Bulldogs suffered their sixth consecutive defeat, falling to the Lake Erie Monsters 5-3.

Not great times for our farm team.  I thought we'd gotten rid of a lot of marginal players from last year, added some AHL vets, and our rooks from last year would be more mature, so we'd be more competitive this season, but this is a bit of a rough patch.  I didn't listen to the broadcast, but the previous game Derek Wills called out the marquee Bulldogs for not performing as AHL All-Stars, and I believe he was pointing the finger at Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, based on context.  It would be nice if these guys seized the team by the collar and dragged it to victories by the strength of their effort and production.

No time to panic, we need to be patient, but evidently we shouldn't look to Hamilton for obvious reinforcements, at least for a while.

René Bourque quietly having a good season. Canadiens fans want more, however.

About René Bourque, the thing to remember about him is that he's not a high-intensity, high-motor guy.  We knew this going in when we acquired him from Calgary, we gave them our headache Mike Cammalleri, and they gave us theirs.  He was being vilified in Cowtown for being uninterested and not physical enough, except when he went at opponents with blind-side hits and flying elbows and was being suspended.  So what we knew about him when the trade was announced was that he was a big winger who could pot goals (two seasons of 27 goals), has a low cap hit ($3.3M), and can sometimes appear uninterested or uninvolved.

And that's exactly the player we have.  He's on pace for a twenty goal season, he gets shots off on net, he works reasonably hard and skates well, and is not a problem on the balance sheet or in the dressing room.  He's not a liability like a Kostitsyn or a lightning rod for controversy like a Maxim Lapierre, just a guy who gives what he has and does not hurt us when he's on the ice.

René Bourque's biggest problem is that he's not Rick Tocchet or Curt Fraser, guys who did a bit of scoring but were a lot more showy on the ice, they crashed and banged and were 'fiery leaders'.  René is more low-key.  You look at him and wonder what he could be with his size and physical gifts, but that's always a tricky game.  Other Canadiens like Gilbert Delorme and Mark Hunter and Murray Wilson also seemed like they should be more dominant based on their size and strength or speed, and they contributed, but the expectations are what ultimately soured fans on them.  For every great surprise like Mike McPhee or Andrei Markov, there will be some players who perhaps underperform in our eyes.  Our best course of action is to compare players against others in the lineup, and measure their effort, not hold them up to the standard of our daydreams.

And let's not discount the effect that the two suspensions he incurred as a Flame, for illegal hits against Brent Seabrook and Nicklas Bäckström, the subsequent backlash by the media and opposition fans, as well as the concussion he suffered after a sucker punch by Colton Orr, may have had on his game.  He may, actively or unconsciously, have tempered his game a little bit, moved away from the big spectacular hits, and decided to keep his head down, his nose clean, and just play hockey, try to get the puck and score goals.  In a way, that's the direction the league says it wants to go, that's the way the league should go if it does put a value on players' long-term health.  So to accuse René of playing soft is being willfully blind to the circumstances and the background of the player.

If René pots one tonight and a couple next week, this momentary scrutiny will all be forgotten/'forgiven, and we'll move on to another whipping boy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Game 20: Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

The Canadiens are stumbling a little bit, they've missed some players due to injuries and others have gone cold, so a game on the road against the Blue Jackets isn't a walk in the park, but it's the kind of game they still have to win to have any kind of success this season and into the playoffs.  Simply put, this was two points for the taking, and the Canadiens, while not firing on all cylinders, managed to snag them with a 3-2 shootout win.

They started off in a hole, going down 2-0 on unlucky pinball-machine type goals in the first period, but Alex Galchenyuk maybe saved the game when he hustled on the forecheck in the dying seconds, stripped a fumbling Fedor Tyutin of the puck and put it in on an overmatched Curtis McElhinney.  If nothing else, Alex demonstrated on the play that the Canadiens aren't the only team icing a roster with defencemen who aren't perfect.

In the second, the Canadiens tied it up on a powerplay goal.  Andrei Markov set it up with a shot on goal that yielded a rebound to Daniel Brière, who failed to cash it in, but produced a rebound of his own, one which Lars Eller buried.  The RDS crew mentioned how the Canadiens have adapted their powerplay to the coverage they're receiving.  With Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban terrorizing goalies at the start of the season, but no forwards inspiring the same respect, penalty kill teams have been pressuring the Canadiens defencemen heavily, trying to prevent them from unleashing the big bombs.  P.K. and Andrei have adapted by trying to get quick screened shots off, instead of slapshots, and tonight it worked.  Still, it would be nice if Tomas Plekanec, Daniel Brière, Max Pacioretty and other putative scorers started burying some chances and relieved the figurative and literal pressure on the d-men, they shouldn't have to convert perfect one-timers for the powerplay to work.

There were no goals the rest of the way, it rested on David Desharnais to score the shootout winner, and on Peter Budaj to stop all three Columbus shooters he faced.  Much was made on RDS of the boost this could provide to David's confidence, and how it could serve to get him going.  We can all hope as much, we can't very well go through four seasons of this kind of impotent play from him.

Canadiens, Raphaël Diaz negotiating new contract

Gaston Therrien of RDS is reporting that the Canadiens management team is negotiating with Mr. Diaz and his agent on a new contract, and that the figure being batted around is $3M, but the term is not pinned down right now.  He and the panel agreed that he's a good player, but no more, and that this is a wise move if only to retain him as an asset to trade later.  As in, he'll be more marketable at the trade deadline with a contract rather than approaching his UFA status in July without.

I was expecting/hoping for more progress from him this season.  I've written before how his role as a puck-moving rightie defenceman was much more important this year with Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber gone, but he's not embraced the opportunity as well as I'd hoped, or produced enough to confirm the trust that was placed in him by management.  It's a long season, but if he maintains this trajectory, I don't see him maintaining his spot in the roster long-term when Magnus Nygren is adapting quite well to the North American game in Hamilton.  Mr. Nygren is younger, cheaper, bigger and tougher, and has a bigger shot from the blueline, something we're missing on the second wave of the powerplay.  Mr. Diaz' sneaky wristers from the point haven't caused enough damage to instill fear in opponents so far this season.

The result is that while extending his contract seems to be a sensible move, the David Desharnais situation makes me gun-shy.  Raphaël is another undersized player who has a short track record and is being signed with the expectation that he'll improve or at least maintain his production, in the league of Colin Campbell and Eric Gryba.  The David Desharnais contract also seemed reasonable at the time, the 'going-rate' so to speak, but now appears to be an anchor more than anything.  Similarly, the Josh Gorges deal which provoked immediate gulps of worry from Canadiens fans doesn't look any better since Pierre Gauthier negotiated it.  The $3.9M yearly cap hit is still too high, even with the cap rising, and the term feels, uh, interminable.

So I hope the Canadiens tread carefully on this one, and don't embark on another Josh Gorges contract, one which overvalues an incumbent because he fills a role on a team not due to his talent but rather due to the team's lack of other options.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Akim Aliu is released from his PTO by the Hamilton Bulldogs

In minor, mildly surprising news, Akim Aliu has been released from his Professional Try-Out contract.  These usually run for 25 games, yet the Canadiens released him well before it ended and they had to make a decision on whether to offer him a contract or not. You wonder how he wasn’t worth at least an AHL contract, if they didn’t want to give him one of the 50 contract slots. Did he and his agent prefer to tryout somewhere else for an NHL-AHL deal, instead of settling for a strict AHL deal?

It seems like the hot start he had in training camp petered out, but so has the entire Bulldogs team, only Sven Andrighetto, Magnus Nygren and Louis Leblanc lately have been clicking. Still, you'd think his size and strength would still come in handy on a smallish roster like the Bulldogs’. even if his offence had cooled off.

The only thought I had to explain this is that Stéfan Fournier has been playing lately, after starting the season as a healthy scratch, and maybe the Canadiens’ brass wanted to invest the minutes on him rather than Mr. Aliu.  Stéfan Fournier is slated to fill pretty much the same role that you can envision for Mr. Aliu, that of the big rugged winger who'll play a physical game and pot a few goals while making life miserable for goaltenders and opposing defencemen.

In any case, it was a no-risk longshot on a player who is running out of chances to establish his NHL career, too bad it didn’t work out, but we didn’t lose anything from it.

Alexei Emelin returns, Francis Bouillon gets a pat on the back, a seat in the pressbox

I dislike the social media meme that Michel Therrien will play Francis Bouillon at the expense of better players and the team’s best interests, putatively because Francis is a homeboy and they have a history together dating back to junior. Sure, there is a comfort level there and lots of loyalty probably that goes both ways, and that’s actually a positive, but to imply anything more is just part of the ongoing character assassination of the head coach, for reasons that verge on intolerance sometimes.

Frankie was signed to a one-year contract two summers ago as a cheap and able veteran who knows the lay of the land and has/had proven himself in the eyes of the coach. He was extended for another year last season, since the experiment proved successful, as opposed to others like Michael Ryder and Jeff Halpern and Armdog, all of whom were conversely allowed to walk. No sinister motives there, no backroom dealings, no undue influence from everyone’s bugaboo François Gagnon, just a player who was cost-effective and plugged a hole in the roster and brought experience and leadership and the ability to play minutes when needed. The thing is, it was widely believed when the extension was announced that this would probably be his last season/contract, that he would be a placeholder while injured players mended, and kids in the minors learned their craft.

If anyone is dubious that a Québécois would be retained by the current administration past their due date purely for marketing reasons, just refer back to Mathieu Darche, who the Canadiens wrung dry, and then when they felt he had nothing left to contribute replaced with Colby Armstrong.

So the contingency plan that is Francis Bouillon has worked, in that while Alexei Emelin rehabbed, and while Davis Drewiske and Douglas Murray suffered training camp injuries, and while Jarred Tinordi proved to be not quite prepared to take a regular shift in the NHL, Francis was ready and able to play. He isn’t an All-Star, he has had some rough nights, but he’s given everything he has and everything we can expect from a 38 year old earning $1.5M. Now that Douglas Murray is completing his in-season training camp and rounding into form, and Alexei Emelin is about ready to return, Francis will probably see some pressbox duty as he rightfully assumes his duties as the #7 D-man who climbed higher in the lineup as needed.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Taxpayers of Glendale soaked by the NHL's Coyotes, and now the NFL.

The city of Glendale, AZ isn't just at odds with the NHL and the Renaissance group and the succession of carpetbaggers who tried and tried and eventually succeeded in getting the taxpayers to finance their acquisition of the team.  They're also feuding with the NFL over various issues relative to the 2015 Super Bowl.  Apparently, the game itself will be in Glendale, but a lot of the parties and activities relative to it will be held in Phoenix proper.

One item in this article that is noteworthy is how the Cardinals put in a bid for the management contract of the Glendale arena, but weren't successful.  In fact, the management contract, which has the city paying the owners of the Coyotes to run the facility, never went out to tender, it was just given to the new owners of the NHL team.  Which makes one wonder just how much of a headache is this management gig, how onerous is it, or was it just another plum the NHL extorted from the taxpayers.

24 CH, 2013-14 season, Episode 3: Notes

1:00 min  Good brief overview of what the team needs to bring along on a road trip (over 2000 kg of gear, plus personal luggage), along with the staff who take care of it.  I sometimes wondered about that, if ever a player's skates or stick gets left behind, what do they do if that happens?  I wonder because it's often happened to me: "Where the heck is my jockstrap", or "Crap, I left my elbow pads on the furnace ducts!", as I rooted through my hockey bag once at the arena, minutes before the game.

As usual, being organized, having everything in standalone kits, with a place for everything and everything in its place in a bin, with a checklist you can go over when you're packing/leaving, is the way the staff deal with this issue.

We see players selecting their sticks for the West Coast trip, and that's another one I thought about: if you break all your sticks by the time you hit Vancouver, do you go to Cyclone Taylor's to stock up, or is there a factory rep or supplier guy you call and he overnights you more sticks?  Probably the latter, but I like to imagine Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang trying out sticks in the shop ("No, the Chara stick won't work for me, even if we cut it down..."), with kids and customers standing by, agog.

2:30  Peter Budaj seems like a good team guy.  Last episode he spoke to the camera about Alexei Emelin's punishing rehab schedule and workout habits, singing his praises.  Now he's pumping Lars Eller's tires, proclaiming his status as the NHL's 2nd Star of the Week.  When he was acquired, it was explained that he was a good team guy, a good backup goalie who'll know his role.  That was a little nebulous, but now we see it in action, in this series.  He seems to have a good rapport with Carey, always discussing situations that crop up or saves he had to make, and seems to be a popular teammate.

2:40  A few of the boys shirtless in the plane.  Apparently they have to wear a jacket and collared shirt when travelling, but can dress down to get comfortable while on the plane.  Kind of weird to show this, but I'm sure the ladies won't complain.

We saw this last season, when  the boys stole and hid Alex's and Brendan's shirts while they were asleep on the plane, and they had to parade around shirtless after landing in Florida.

3:00  P.K. and Carey playing video games.  It looks like they have the kickin' setup, a video console self-contained in a travel hard case.  Kids with money, I tell ya...

3:30  Segment showing René Bourque's hometown of Lac La Biche, Alberta.  We see the humble rink he used to play on, René says they used to play on the lake too, which is always fun, because there are no boards and you can skate away from danger and stickhandle until your checker gets tired and returns to the area you kind of set out for the game, and you skate lazily back and try to figure out how to get back in.

Anyway, this is one of the most appealing features of the 24CH series, when they show a player's family and his background.  Great stuff.  We kind of forget that René is a Native Canadian, his humble beginnings, how he was never drafted but has carved out a nice career for himself.  It's great to get to know him a little better, hopefully it humanizes him in most people's eyes, and will dull the urge for some to dismiss him as overpaid or nothing more than tradebait.

7:15  The famous Michel Therrien dressing down of P.K. Subban.  Both he and Josh Gorges get called in to the video room between the first and second periods and shown some sequences where they didn't shine.

Last season, we saw P.K. get similarly pulled into the video room by coaches Therrien and Daigneault, and be told, clearly, that in that situation captured on the screen, he was better off playing the puck rather than going for the big hit.  The instruction made sense to P.K. and he understood and agreed with the direction he was being given.

In this instance though, we see the cerebral P.K. being confused by contradictory or vague instructions, and ask a question for clarification.  He and I are not given that though, Michel Therrien interrupts and snaps at him and tells him to get his head in the game and get in gear, which is all fine and good, but doesn't address the specific issue he tried to address with P.K., and which the latter tried to elucidate.

So again, coaches nowadays have great tools like video to get their point across, but the best one is always going to be communication, clear, concise, and honest.  In this case, Michel Therrien doesn't hit it out of the park, but in the grand scheme, it isn't the great cause for concern that it has been turned into in the media since.  Coaches get impatient and bark, that's in their nature, and the incident appears to roll off P.K.'s back, he's seen worse before.  If a player faints when a coach growls, he won't last long.  Further evidence that it didn't bother him too much (or humiliate him, as has been contended by others) is that for the producers of the documentary to include this clip on the show, they had to get P.K.'s assent, which he granted.  No big deal then, and it's not the first tempest in a teapot for the Canadiens this season, nor will it be the last.

10:15  We've covered in the past how Michel Therrien isn't the best public speaker, in either official language, reminiscent in this of Jean Chrétien.  Both seem really rough when giving a speech, but seem to have a personal warmth and sense of humour that allows them to lead.  In this segment, we see Michel Therrien use a different method of getting his point across, other than just talking.  He breaks out the dry-erase board and gets all the recent scorers to come up to the front of the room and mark from where on the rink they potted their goal.  The point of the exercise is clear, that most goals are scored near the net and that players should act accordingly.

I'm not a booster of Michel Therrien, but this is an interesting teaching technique he uses.  If you keep repeating the same things over and over again, the message gets lost, people tune you out, even if you have a valid point.  By using a different way of getting his point across, he maximizes the effect.

People variously exhibit three learning styles: analytical, observational and experiential.  That is, people can learn by reading or being told something and thinking about it and internalizing it, or by watching someone else do something and replicating the gesture or behaviour, and by plain doing things, to practice them and perfect them.  Nobody learns strictly using one style, and no two individuals are the same.  Some will be more brainy and want to understand something before trying it, while others will chafe or go off into dreamland while being lectured to, anxious for the chin-wagging to stop and eager to get going and learn hands-on.  A good teacher or coach will know this, know that their lesson plan needs to cater to all three learning styles, and that different pupils will respond differently.

In this instance, instead of just parroting again to his charges that they need to "pay the price, get in the dirty areas, drive the net", he gets the players involved in the lesson and targets a different learning style.  So, good job by the coaching staff here.

10:45  Can't help but notice that the Canadiens have brought with them on the road a carpet with the blessed CH logo on it.  The one that no one is supposed to walk on.  What a great inconvenience for everyone.  Let's reduce the useful floor space in the already cramped visitors' dressing room by 24 square feet.  Goody.

I really don't get that sacred logo-which-must-not-be-tread-upon-yet-which-is-weaved-right-into-the-floor-covering thing.

12:15  Brendan Gallagher protests to the ref that he was hauled down.  Andrew Ference butts his mendacious nose into it and tells Brendan that he barely touched him.  Who are you going to believe?

13:15  How many Canadiens fans are there in the stands in Edmonton?  It's all red jerseys, even in the lower bowl.

14:00  Now we focus on Carey Price's hometown, Anahim Lake, just east of Bella Coola.

15:00  Apparently, Carey, in full goalie gear, won fastest skater during skills contests at junior team tryouts.  Surprising, but seeing him move around in his zone, not all that much, actually.

16:15  P.K. cranking up the volume on dressing room tunes.  He still seems despondent over the run-in with the coach earlier in the show.  Or, actually, he's just grooving to the music and enjoying his coffee, on closer inspection.  Looks like the accepted narrative doesn't quite agree with the evidence.

17:00  More dressing room dissension: Brandon Prust owns Alex Galchenyuk in a morning skate tussle, using his jersey to give him a classic Nilan.  These guys obviously can't stand each other.

21:00  Scenes inside the dressing room immediately after the win against the Canucks.  Everyone's happy.  Winning solves a lot of problems.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

NFL 2013 Week 10: Chargers 20, Broncos 28

Everything had to go just right for the Chargers to beat the Broncos, and they didn't quite, but they came surprisingly close in the final analysis.  The Broncos walked away with a 28-20 win, but they turned what should have been a comfortable win into a bit of a nailbiter at the end, one in which they had to amass first downs to run out the clock.

The Broncos scored 'only' 28 points, which is an amazing result for the Chargers defence, frankensteined as it is from mismatched and rejected parts.  The San Diegans could finally count on their two starting middle linebackers being in the game at the same time, with Donald Butler and Manti Te'o playing their first regular season game alongside each other.  And maybe that helped John Pagano, he again called a great game, mixing in blitzes and stunts and new alignments, and his boys bent and bent and bent, and sure they broked too, but they managed enough stops to keep the game within reach, especially after withstanding the first-half flurry.  The defensive line was quietly efficient, and I'm intrigued to see how good Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes will be in a couple years time with a decent set of defensive backs behind them.  And a capable nosetackle between them.

The Broncs touchdowns all came via the passing game, with the first being the most objectionable of the bunch.  Julius Thomas, a big tight end, caught a short-ish pass from Peyton, turned upfield along the right sideline, and kept running all the way to the endzone.  Cornerback Derek Cox didn't distinguish himself on this play, as he almost appeared to let up on the pursuit, expectant that the Bronco would run out of bounds.  Sure, there was a blocker in his way, but it didn't look right, it was at least a brain cramp on his part.  But right there, very quickly the Chargers were down 7-0.

They tried to slow the game down, Philip taking his time at the line of scrimmage, milking the clock, calling runs and keeping Peyton Manning on the sideline.  Trouble is, the redzone was again his bugaboo, with the Chargers settling for field goals while the Broncos' other rampagin', receivin' Thomas, Demaryius this time, added three more TD's.

Generally, I would have preferred the Chargers giving Ryan Mathews a bigger role.  He did rack up 60 yards on 14 attempts, and scored a touchdown, but he had a lot of carries siphoned away by Danny Woodhead and even Ronnie Brown, of all people.  Again, I understand the issues, that Ryan isn't great catching the ball or with pass protection, and that he fumbles a lot, but in this game, when we needed to keep pace with the Broncs, he was the only homerun hitter out of the backfield, and should have been used more.  We weren't going to win this game with 3 yard plunges from Mr. Brown.

So the Chargers tried hard, showed resourcefulness, even converted a fake punt into a first down, but ultimately came up short.  And their record droops down to 4-5, and 0-2 in the division.

And another word about the offensive line.  King Dunlap again left the game with a concussion, the third time this year.  Again, D.J. Fluker switched from right to left tackle, and Jeromey Clary kicked out from his right guard spot to right tackle.  The O-Line is significantly more vulnerable when this happens, and I fear that Mr. Dunlap will be out for a while now.  He probably should take some time off, three concussions in the same season are nothing to downplay.

But again, without this competent offensive line, with Jeromey Clary again struggling at tackle, and rookie D.J. Fluker miscast on the left side, any hope we have that Philip Rivers can keep us in the game with rookies at WR and double-teams on Antonio seem even more fanciful.

Game 18: Canadiens 4, Islanders 2

A game against the Islanders, good for what ails ya.  Things aren't exactly clicking right now for les Glorieux, but we'll take a 4-2 win in which the kid line does all the work.  It's a good way to snap a morale-sapping 4-game losing streak, and to salt away 2 points, these things are precious, better take advantage of our opportunities against Eastern Conference mediocrities.

Lars Eller was named the third star of the game with his goal and two assists, and it was good to see the young man get back on track.  Brendan Gallagher, the second star, had a goal and an assist, the latter on a play which showed great hustle on his part and created the clinching goal scored by Alex Galchenyuk.  Alex netted a goal and added two assists, and was the game's first star.  So, nice work there boys, keep it up.

I was distracted with NFL-ian matters, but I think I noticed a couple of the current whipping boys contribute to this win.  Douglas Murray was a big presence in our zone and cooled some tempers when the Islanders' fourth-liners were out for mayhem.  And Raphaël Diaz, finally, chipped in on offence, setting up Michaël Bournival's deflection goal on the power play with a nice low slap shot.  Mr. Diaz has to bring offence, and revive the second wave of the powerplay, it can't just be P.K. and Andrei for 90 seconds and then we punt it away.  That's how he can earn his keep and a contract extension for next season.

We saw Michaël Bournival back with Tomas and Brian Gionta at times, which I think is a good idea, that trio was on fire earlier.  It's not a failed experiment, we'd need a larger sample size, but right now Max on their left wing doesn't seem to work, they're not meshing.  So let's put the kid's great wheels back on Tomas' left, and plunk Max in with René Bourque, and see if that resuscitates David Desharnais.  And if it doesn't, then let's give Daniel Brière a go between the two big wingers.

Marc Denis repeated tonight that René prefers playing right wing, his off-wing, and we saw him pull a nice move on a breakaway coming down that side.  With the left winger penury seemingly over, now that Alex and Michaël slot in on that side, and Brandon Prust and Travis Moen also available on top of Max, let's see what René can do on right wing.  As noted previously, his 27-goal seasons in Calgary were while he was playing on the right side.  We're in a good position to give it a try.

Carey made a couple of spectacular saves, and again did his job stopping 24 of 26 shots he had to face.  His save percentage ticked down one point to .929, still among the league leaders.  I noticed him mishandling the puck on a couple of occasions, but these stand out because he's usually so effortless and efficient with the puck.  Whereas the great goalies of my youth Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy made venturing out of their nets a heartstopping adventure, Carey at least has that on them, he's almost like a third defenceman out there.  He skates with ease, corrals the puck and puts it on our d-men's blade before the forecheckers get there.

Travis Moen had to leave the game due to flu symptoms, which might be a blessing in disguise, he can't feel too comfortable playing his role with a fractured facial bone still mending.  

With Daniel Brière's and Alexei Emelin's return to the lineup just around the corner, and Brandon Prust out for just a short while longer, the infirmary is clearing out, and the team's depth returning.  It was good to have the Hamilton kids up for short stints, but we'll be better off with most of our players back and a return to routine and normalcy.  And it won't hurt to have the fringe forwards and defencemen competing with each other for playing time.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hamilton Bulldogs allow four goals in a minute, lose 6-1

The Bulldogs were dominating play against the Grand Rapids Griffins, outshooting them, but were down 2-0 in the second period when Drew Schiestel seemed to have scored on a wraparound.  The call on the ice was no goal, it went to video review, and the call was upheld.

Then the roof caved in.  The Griffins scored on four consecutive shots, in 1 minute and thirteen seconds.  Robert Mayer let in three of them, and then Dustin Tokarski allowed another promptly upon being sent in to staunch the bleeding.  So 6 goals on 18 shots so far, while the 'Dogs have shot 28 times and been shut out.

Play-by-play man Derek Wills took time, when Nathan Beaulieu was trying to get after a Griffin during a post-whistle scrum, to point out that there was a difference between showing character, and showing frustration and indiscipline.  Very shortly after, he took the time to say he wasn't naming names, but that some of the Bulldogs who had recently been sent down from the Canadiens weren't playing like elite AHL'ers, as they should be.

Gabriel Dumont took a knee-on-knee hit, for which Akim Aliu and Nick Tarnasky instantly went looking for payback, which is good, but kind of detracts from our theory that these types of players will prevent other teams from taking liberties with our smaller players.  I guess it's not an either-or situation, it's analog and not digital, in that having some toughness on our team will deter some mindlessness and goonery but not prevent it entirely.

Final score 6-1 in the Bulldogs’ loss, with Sven Andrighetto spoiling the shutout on a power play in the final minute. Announcers stressing that the game wasn’t as lopsided as the final score would indicate.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Game 17: Canadiens 1, Senators 4

It's hard to be positive in the maw of a four-game losing streak.  The Canadiens did buzz around and dominate early, but it didn't show up on the scoreboard.  The Senators eventually turned the tide and won by a 4-1 margin.

The Antichambre boys are saying that we're at .500, but we're not, we have eight wins, eight losses, plus an overtime loss.  The overtime point really confuses some people.

There are no easy fixes, it's not like a tweak here and a shuffle there is the obvious remedy.  Most of the forwards have grown cold, and Andrei and P.K. can't score all the goals.  It would be nice to get some offence from Raphaël Diaz on the back end too.

One defenceman who has received some flak is Douglas Murray, for, of all things, being slow.  This is not an instructive observation.  Marc Bergevin knew he was slow prior to signing him to a free agent contract this summer.  We all knew it, from all the reports we read, and from the few games we saw him play as a Penguin.  It's understood, it's built into the equation, that's why he was available so late and so cheap.  It's factored into the risible acquisition cost.

What he does bring, as we also knew ahead of time, is a lot of toughness and physical play.  It was evident in the first period, on two separate occasions that I took note of.  One was a good shoulder right in Cory Conacher's kisser at the opposition blue line, a nice time to stand him up when he wasn't expecting it, and a nice payback for Chris Neil's similar hit on Brendan Gallagher earlier in the game.  It might not lead to anything tangible, but in the medium term I kind of approve of the concept that opposition teams get the same treatment they dish out to our players.

Another occasion when he proved his worth was on a whistle in front of Carey Price, with Matt Kassian looming nearby.  I readied myself for some vigorous facewashing and goonery from the Sens, but Douglas Murray was standing right in front of him, and the situation diffused of its own accord.  It's productive to consider how the situation might have devolved if Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber had been on the ice.

David Desharnais was back on the ice after a game in the pressbox, and had René Bourque and Michaël Bournival as his wingers.  I'd held out hope that a reunion with Max and having René Bourque on his preferred right wing might spark up some of the old David magic, but it's reasonable to agree that he's spent all his credit from two seasons ago, and now has to earn it back.  He doesn't get the #1 scoring winger automatically anymore, just based on their chemistry dating back from their Hamilton days.  Plus, the way Max is wincing on the ice, I don't know how much he can do to get Davey going.

Carey Price was unlucky, unlike his counterpart Robin Lehner who was superb.  Carey didn't really stand a chance on the three goals he allowed, all being scored on deflections or while he was being fronted by Sens, or even his own guys.  So his save percentage creeps down again, to .930 on the season, but that's how that stat works, he'll have some games with a lot of creampuff saves to fatten his average, and others like tonight with bad bounces and shots he can't blame himself for letting in.  

For example, the first goal by Bobby Ryan was largely aided by Josh Gorges, apparently busy humping Kyle Turris in front of Carey's crease.  Josh does a few things reasonably well, but a nice attribute for him to have would be enough strength and snarl to move a player like Mr. Turris who is hardly a battleship, but more a frigate.  Again, we're reduced to wondering just how effective can a 'defensive defenceman' be if he can't clear out the front of the net.

And we might need to have a conversation about George Parros.  When his trade was announced, I facetiously offered that he might be a better player than I am.  I'm not quite so certain any more.  He had a handful of shifts totaling less than three minutes, yet in that limited icetime managed to pick up another goal against.  So in five games and twenty minutes of icetime or so, he's - 5, with no points or shots on goal.  Now I understand the reason he was brought on, and was on board with the decision, and the Senators is exactly the kind of team he needs to be in the lineup against, but I kind of thought that with his experience he'd play his limited minutes and limited role and not hurt us while doing so.  Or at least, not any more than the average enforcer hurts his team, but this level of poor play is intolerable.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

24 CH, 2013-14 season, Episode 2: Notes

1)  The show starts with most Canadiens players being asked what their nickname is, and the much-joked about practice holds true, most are arrived at by adding a "ie" or "er" to their name, so Jarred becomes "Tinner", and Francis Bouillon is "Frankie", etc.  One of the few exceptions is Douglas Murray, whose nickname is Crankshaft, which is awesome, I'd kill to have a cool nickname like that.  As to how it's come about, we can all surmise, but let it be noted that he did date Elin Nordegren for a while.

2)  The team practice in Lac Mégantic is treated soberly enough, nothing too maudlin.  We see the boys seeing the devastation for the first time through the windows of the team bus, and the mood is understandably subdued.

What can't be debated is the natural affinity the locals have for the French-Canadian players.  We see the reception Daniel Brière enjoys with the locals running the show at the arena, easily exchanging with them about the catastrophe and the impact it had, and Francis Bouillon joking around with the fans in the stands after the practice, asking the crowd if they want P.K.'s gloves, and in the autograph line how David Desharnais along with Francis and Daniel enjoy an instant connection with the fans.  Not that the anglophone players are left out, we see a fan ribbing Ryan about why he shaved off his hair, and a kid agog at being so close to P.K. Subban.

3)  Cool moment when we see Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Brendan Gallagher playing video game hockey with Daniel Brière's son, he and Brendan are chirping each other pretty good.  It confirms with me how much I want to be a pro hockey player: how cool would it be to play hockey for a living, and have a huge catered lunch supplied by your employer every day.  It might be too late for me though.

4)  Nathan Beaulieu is called up, and Michaël Bournival is told he's playing his first ever NHL game against the Flyers.  He's so giddy he can't stop himself from giggling.

5)  How scary does that lineup look at the centre position?  Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, and Sean Couturier.  On paper anyway, they're not quite firing on all cylinders yet, but still.... 


6)  It's up to Daniel Brière's dad to establish his bona fides as a Canadiens fan.  We see the ice rink he built for his son in the back yard, and every picture shows him in a Canadiens jersey.  

I still don't like the signing, still think he's the wrong fit for the team, but it's hard to hold a grudge against the guy when you meet his family like that and see him dealing with others in a genuine, humble manner.  I just hope he can prove me wrong.

7)  Now we meet Maman Bournival.  How weird must it be to be sitting in the stands watching your kid play his first NHL game in the New Forum.

8)  Ryan White with the quote of the night, when told that his penalty might expire and allow him to get back in the game if there's overtime:  "Well I haven't seen a shift in overtime in about ten years, but..." 

9)  Stroke of luck and of genius by the producers of the show, they film a young fan who happened to catch a signed puck from Carey Price, the game's first star.  They follow him home on the Métro, and the boy explains what he'll do with the puck.  We're let into his home, and see him place it on his bedside table next to other Canadiens paraphernalia.  

The thing is, Carey Price is actually his favourite player, he's wearing a sweater bearing his name.  If Carey Price doesn't derive extra motivation from this scene and make an extra five saves this season because of it, I'll eat my Canadiens towel.

Game 13: Canadiens 2, Stars 1

Surprising how invisible Erik Cole was tonight for the Dallas Stars, who took a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Canadiens relatively peaceably.

I thought Erik might want to put on a show, streak up and down the ice and distribute a few hits at least.  I don't think I saw him more than once or twice, and he was standing still at the time.  The boys on RDS said there's a rumoured injury hampering his play, and harped on his notorious slow starts, but for a player coming into a game with a chance to haunt his old team, it was a listless effort.

I've been ruing the Erik Cole trade since the signing of Daniel Brière.  Although I applauded the trade at the time, and thought we were getting out of an onerous contract with more than two years left on it for a player with waning ability, the way the dominoes fell and we ended up with Daniel Brière for two years with a No Trade Clause, I wasn't sure we'd won out in the end.  I thought Erik was younger and more able to play a physical style, therefore a better fit for our smallish forwards.  I was 75% convinced of that, but after tonight, I'm 60% convinced.  The surge of production I thought could happen for Erik with a good off-season of conditioning is looking more and more unlikely.

Let's just go ahead and measure Michaël Bournival for the Calder Trophy, why don't we.  Not only is he playing great, but he's reinvigorated Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.  That duo looked moribund the first few games, but are now reclaiming their 1A line status, pushing the kids back to 1B.  Chalk up another goal for Mr. Bournival, who played on the first wave of the powerplay, no less.  

Two assists for Raphaël Diaz will also be very welcome.  He's had a couple of difficult games defensively to start the season, and he'll never be confused for Brian Engblom, but he can pitch in by doing what he did tonight: be first on the puck in the defensive zone and clear it out quickly, and create some goals on offence.  He doesn't have the rocket that Yannick Weber has, but he's a headier, more dependable player, and he'll get some pucks on net with a quick wrister rather than trying to blast it through shot-blockers.  I'm keen to see Raphaël paired with Douglas Murray or Alexei Emelin, I insist that with the right partner he can help the team.

René Bourque continues his quiet campaign.  He's also taken flak by fans lately, for not being Rick Tocchet mostly, but we knew that going in.  René is a big, strong, fast winger who can snipe goals.  He's relatively streaky, but he's not dogging it, he still works hard on defence, he's getting shots on net.  His fourth goal has him on pace for 25 for the season.  That's exactly what we were projecting/hoping for him this year.  Again, when Max comes back, I'd be eager to see what those two can do with David Desharnais, maybe they can recreate the magic the 2 1/2 Men line had.

Carey Price racked up another win, but lost the shutout on a shot some may think he flubbed.  I think he was more surprised by it than anything, Cody Eakins timed his wrist shot perfectly so that Carey couldn't pick it out from behind P.K.'s skates and legs until it went by him.  In any case, we're not expecting him to bat a thousand, as we've discussed before, he just need to stop 19 out of 20 shots.  That's all we ask.  Sure enough, tonight he finished with a .963 save percentage, slightly above that mark.  He raised his season percentage to .939, which is fifth-best in the league, and roughly where it needs to be for the team to be successful and for him to amply justify the contract he was awarded last season.

The crash back to earth that a lot of us were expecting with the team's numerous injured players and tougher schedule isn't materializing.  It's three wins out of four starting since the game against the Oilers, and while there was a clear gap between our team and the Sharks, the boys kept it close.  With Max potentially back this Friday, and George Parros, Travis Moen and Brandon Prust poised to add depth and size soon enough, enabling us to return Patrick Holland and Mike Blunden back to Hamilton where they belong, I may have to temper my natural cautiousness/pessimism, and expect even more from Nos Glorieux.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Game 12: Canadiens 2, Rangers 0

Interesting game for a few reasons, with possibly the clash of opponents not being one of them.  The Rangers are not a natural rival of our Canadiens, and with the new divisional re-alignment, won't be unless we meet them in the playoffs for consecutive seasons or so.

The main reason the game got a lot of hype was due to the re-opening of Madison Square Garden after the completion of the final phase of its renovation.  It was nice of the Rangers to invite Yvan Cournoyer to attend and assist Rodrigue Gilbert with the ceremonial puck drop before the game.  These two brought back memories of the battles these two teams had in the seventies, with Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, Ed Giacomin, Ron Duguay, Vic Hadfield and others.

One thing which was odd was the lack of crowd noise during the broadcast.  I don't know if the RDS feed I was tuned to quelled the cheering a bit, or whether the fans were put off by a long pre-game ceremony, something we're familiar with as Canadiens fans.  I didn't see the start of the broadcast, and just saw the player introductions, but the crowd seemed muted, literally.  I understand why they wouldn't cheer for the video coach, but even for the players they seemed subdued.

It occurred to me how Bill Simmons thinks that teams that build mega-stadiums lose their homefield advantage.  His argument is that once teams move from heritage stadiums into brand new ones, there's usually a re-shuffling of the seating chart, and long-time blue-collar fans who used to sit near the field/ice and generate the encouraging/intimidating noise that tilted games for the home team are unceremoniously bumped up to the upper level so that a more genteel champagne crowd can buy club seats and fill team owners' coffers.  Of course, these are the same fans I notice at the Canucks' arena (or rather, their burgundy empty seats), who don't show up for the first five minutes of the game and leave before the last ten.  Meanwhile, the busloads of kids and hoi-polloi I sit with in the third deck are there for the warmup and wait for the announcement of the three stars before we leave, yoots constantly try to start 'the wave', and chant "Go Canucks Go" tirelessly.  So maybe that's the deal at MSG, maybe the average fans have been displaced so that James Dolan can buy a few more ivory backscratchers.  And the new fans close to the action can't clap or carry on too much for fear of spilling their Cabernet Sauvignon.

The game itself was not an exciting one, only redeemed by the fact the Canadiens won.  Tomas Plekanec's powerplay goal was a beauty, almost shootout like in terms of how much time he had to make a play on Henrik Lundqvist, courtesy of a beautiful pass and subsequent pick by Michaël Bournival.  Yes, him again.  The kid reminds me of the Coyote who doesn't know he's supposed to fall after running off the cliff, because he hasn't looked down yet and doesn't know better.  Keep on churning those legs, Michaël, we're loving every minute of it.

Maybe that'd be a good nickname for him, le Coyote.  Sly, tireless, quick like you wouldn't believe.  Le Coyote.  Much more apt than the EGG line.

Anyway, let him serve as an inspiration to Louis Leblanc, who caught fire in Hamilton over the last few games, amassing points in bunches, and scoring two consecutive overtime winners.  He was rewarded with a callup and third-line duty with David Desharnais and René Bourque.

At least for the start.  The lines were shuffled due to the high number of penalties both teams incurred: seven for the Rangers, six for the Canadiens.  We saw players assuming roles they don't normally, such as Brendan Gallagher on the penalty kill.

In the end though, Louis Leblanc acquitted himself well, cutting off some Ranger passes and being dangerous in the New York zone.  Let's call his showdown with Chris Kreider, the man he'll be compared to for the next while due to their being drafted 18th and 19th in the 2009 draft, a draw.

The kid line managed to chip in with a goal, one which was definitely not kicked in by Alex Galchenyuk, said the clowns in Toronto who had painted themselves in a corner with the Mika Zibanejad goal in last year's playoffs.  While the kids are finding it harder going now that they're essentially the #1 line, or at least being treated as such by opposition checkers and coaches, they're still skating hard and working out there.

We could stretch and say the same thing for David Desharnais, that boy is snakebit, nothing is working for him.  He's having chances but overthinking or rushing things.  We saw him tonight carrying the puck on Henrik Lundqvist on a 2-on-1, and take a half-hearted slapshot that didn't connect.  I guess we'll have to wait for Max to come back and hope the old magic sparks again.  Somehow I think Max and René Bourque could be a good combo for David to get going again.

Also, at long last, we saw Douglas Murray for the first time.  Since it's his first game of the season, he didn't play any pre-season games, we have to be tolerant, and give him five or six games to get back into reasonable game shape.  Having said that, he does come as advertised, big and tough and slow.

On one sequence in the Canadiens zone, he was standing in the corner to Peter Budaj's right, and the puck went skittering past him towards the faceoff dot.  He sprang into action... and took one step... then another...  the third step must have come eventually, but by that time I'd gotten up to go make a sandwich.  So yeah, he's in Hal Gill territory in terms of foot speed.

Where he did contribute is in terms of the toughness profile of the team.  At the end of one play, he cleared a Ranger from in front of the net with authority, and there was the usual gathering of the clans.  Except that they were facing Douglas Murray, not Yannick Weber or Tomas Kaberle.  Add in Ryan White and 6'4" Mike Blunden, and the Rangers explicably became very interested in how the toe of their skate boot looked, or distracted by a brown dog in the stands.  So that part of Marc Bergevin's summer plan has a chance of working out.  A big plus is that our boys didn't press their advantage, they stood their ground and allowed the smaller Rangers to stand down, instead of crosschecking and facewashing them as is the new normal in the NHL.  I want our team to be clean, to be the good guys, and we can't be that if we play like the Bruins.

Mr. Murray did take a minor penalty for interference, he hit Chris Kreider who was near the puck but didn't really have it, but I'll take these penalties all season long.  He hit Mr. Kreider solidly, the kid will remember it.  Charging, roughing, interference penalties taken for clean hits that trepidate opposition forwards are fine by me.  We'll gladly kill those off, it's the lazy hooking or holding penalties I don't like, or the careless high-sticking or elbowing calls.

Finally, kudos to Peter Budaj for a shutout after sitting for a couple of weeks.  He had a rough start to his first season in Montréal, but got stronger as the season wore on, and did really well last season, but crashed in the playoffs with the rest of the team.  This year he's been lights out in limited action.  It's a good thing for a coaching staff and for teammates when the backup is reliable.  For example, look at Patrick Roy in Colorado, not hesitating to give Semyon Varlamov a night off since Jean-Sébastien Giguère is outstanding this season.

Much was made when Peter Budaj joined the team that he didn't have a full-time goalie coach to work with in Colorado, and that he'd benefit from working with Pierre Groulx.  We have to admit that he has, and apparently the change to Stéphane Waite hasn't hurt at all either.  Good job by the both of them, and let's hope it allows Carey to truly rest on his nights off, but also stokes his competitive fires a little bit.  I remember when Ken Dryden would play more games than Michel Larocque, but have poorer stats, the scuttlebutt was that he'd work like crazy to prove that he was the better goalie, and not just a replaceable cog.  Which we did find out in 1980, after years of groaning when Ken would let in a softie in a meaningless game, and my friends and I would argue that "Bowman devrait faire jouer Larocque plus souvent!"