Saturday, 2 February 2013

Game 2: Canadiens 4, Panthers 1

Now that's more like it.  Grist for the fan mill.  A convincing win at home against an underwhelming opponent, the type of game the boys used to gag up last season.  A much better effort, with more direction and determination than was shown against the Leafs on Saturday.

The big story is the triumphant return of Andrei Markov, along with the Canadiens' power play, which was MIA last season, allowing opponents to take advantage of our overmatched squad.  That  Mr. Markov and the powerplay returned simultaneously is no coincidence.  I've listed Andrei as my favourite current Canadien for years, his wizardry with the puck and inventiveness make him a delight to watch and the most potent player on the team.  The common refrain amongst fans and analysts has been that if he can perform at 80% of his capacity prior to his knee injuries that he'll help the team.  His two goals today bode well, and demonstrate that this may have been a bar set too low.  Heck, I'd started to blunt my own expectations for the man.  He's shown a lot of doubters what kind of player he is, and what he can contribute to this team.

Tomas Plekanec notched a goal early to open the scoring, and was matched up with René Bourque on his left wing.  We'd had high hopes for Alex Galchenyuk in this slot, and agreed with each other that Mr. Bourque was more effective on right wing as he demonstrated in Calgary.  Some were disappointed that the rookie was not given a longer audition on the second line, but rather was put on a third line with Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust, but the latter combination was effective, with both rookies notching their first career point in the game.

The 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation Montréal Canadiens coaches find themselves in is well illustrated by the fan and press reaction to Michel Therrien's decision to sit Lars Eller for this game.  When asked why he felt the need to make a change in his lineup prior to only the second game of the season, Mr. Therrien replied: "We don't have time to fool around."  With this, he communicated a sense of urgency and dissatisfaction with 'good enough', and sent a message that moral victories will not be enough for him, that everyone will be accountable for their play, every game.  There will not be any opportunities for players to 'find themselves', à la Benoit Pouliot, they will have to work hard and produce results.

All this created a patented 'only in Montréal' mini-controversy, with critics storming the ramparts for Mr. Eller, and defending him as a young player who needs to be put in a position to be successful, with patience for his mistakes, preferably while playing center with talented wingers instead of third or fourth-liners.  His confidence will be affected, it was argued.  He wasn't even the worst Canadien against the Leafs.  We should have waited for this lineup to gel for three or four games before benching anyone.  All valid points, but which fly in the face of the frustration we felt at Jacques Martin's lethargic, almost apathetic coaching style.  We wanted him to coach with more urgency, to show more passion, to shake a few cans.  Now that we have such a coach, we pine for the more patient, phlegmatic type.  This would be good fodder for Jimmy Kimmel's "Can't Win Theatre" on "The Man Show".

So a good win, a refreshing cleansing of the palate after the clunker Saturday night, and a nice portend of what could be.

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