Saturday, 30 March 2013

Game 34: Canadiens 3, Rangers 0

  • So, less than a minute into the game, Michael Ryder scores an easy goal, and I don't know who John Tortorella will strangle during the first intermission as a result, whether substitute goalie Martin Biron, the defence pairing of Roman Hamrlik and Ryan McDonagh, or all the ineffectual Rangers who were on the ice.
  • Are fans at the New Forum booing Ryan McDonagh? Isn't that completely uncalled for?  He didn't ask to be traded in one of the most mind-boggling trades in Canadiens history.
  • What a great support of the attack by P.K., and he gets the assist on the Tomas Plekanec goal.  Canadiens increase the lead after killing off a penalty, 2-0.
  • Carey Price is sharp tonight. Maybe the secret is to not block too many shots, let him get bombarded and in the game.  17 shots in the first period only.
  • Marc Denis commenting that P.K.'s shot is so powerful you expect he'll score every time.  He causes Biron to give a rebound on the powerplay, David Desharnais whacks at it, then Brendan Gallagher buries it.  3-0
  • Love the way P.K. is handling the puck in the opposition zone. Good puck skills, but he doesn't try to do too much, makes the safe play and puts the puck deep in the corner.
So tonight was the P.K and Carey show.  The two pillars upon which we expect to build the next dynasty and win consecutive Cups with.  Things are as they should be.  Michael Ryder is providing offence and a steady presence on the Tomas Plekanec line.  The Markov-Emelin pairing settled down after a rough outing in Boston.  Nathan Beaulieu gave us the offensive leanings and skating exhibition we were expecting, with the rough patches we were also expecting, but he didn't kill us.  Joy.

If we want to look for warts, we can start with last year's #1 line pairing of David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.  Those guys aren't not trying, but they're not getting results.  It would be fine if they were playing well but the puck just wasn't going in, but it's more worrisome than that.  They look disjointed, ineffectual.  They're chasing the puck, always a step behind, instead of anticipating the play as they did last season.  People are starting to point at David's new contract, but I don't see a satisfied player taking his foot off the gas, a guy who's not trying.  I see a guy who last year would guess right, would win puck battles with smarts and a quick stick but this season is having more difficulty.  Time for Michel Therrien to pull one of his personnel moves/line switches that always work out.

We could say that we won this one because the Rangers have given up on their coach and their season, but it doesn't do justice to this team, that rolls along and fights and has everyone contributing, and expects to win despite the opposition.  Last season we were surprised to win, whereas this year, we're all business, and if everyone does his job, good things unfailingly happen.

Marc Bergevin's preferred course of action at the trade deadline is getting harder and harder to figure out.  Do we try to improve the team with a couple of judicious additions?  Does that upset the apple cart though?  Do we instead stand pat and let this team do its thing, and hope that once healthy this roster measures up to any team this side of Pittsburgh?  It will be interesting to find out what he decides.

Danny Kristo close to signing with the Canadiens?

We here at Relentless Ineptitude headquarters can justifiably be accused of obsessing with the Danny Kristo contract situation.  Our first post about the young Canadiens' prospect wondered whether he was overhyped, whether his talent and potential warranted the amount of attention and high expectations that were placed on a player who was after all only a mid-second round draft pick.

We were enlightened and eventually convinced that he's a player with unique offensive skills and excellent skating ability.  We then tried to insert him into the cavalcade of rookies hitting the Hamilton Bulldogs roster last summer, only to learn that he chose to forego signing an entry-level contract and remain at UND for his senior season.  We thought that made sense for him, and also for the organization, since there were going to be enough rookies on the Bulldogs.

Justin Schultz's refusal to sign with the Ducks and choosing the Oilers instead, and the similarities between the two players' cases, made us revisit Mr. Kristo's decision, but again we were moderately confident that the situations were different, and that the odds in our favour were good.

Which brought us to now, as his career at UND draws to a close.  Mr. Kristo can sign a contract with the Canadiens and potentially turn pro as soon as his NCAA season is done, but he can also choose to wait until August 15 and be an unrestricted free agent.  We explored the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and again concluded that the odds were strong that he will sign a contract in April.

Now comes word from a Radio-Canada report that he is eager to sign with the Canadiens, and thinks highly of the organization.

L'athlète de 22 ans salive à l'idée d'officialiser sa liaison avec le Canadien.
« Ça fait cinq ans que j'ai été repêché, rappelle-t-il. Je pense que je me suis bien développé depuis. Montréal serait une place incroyable où jouer. »

Many interpreted his staying in school as a reluctance to play in Montréal, but it appears now that this is not the case.  Apparently the new management team, and Player Development Director Martin Lapointe specifically, have a good relationship with the player and are actively working to bring him into the fold.

Having another skilled prospect in our pipeline is great news, and hopefully we can bring this saga to a close in a couple of weeks.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Travis Moen underwhelms less than a year into his new contract

The natives are restless.  The tom-toms are beating.  And what they're saying about Travis Moen isn't good.  Michel Bergeron, especially, is not satisfied with what he "contributes".  Meaning, he's not fighting enough.  He's not justifying the four-year deal he signed just this summer.

I applauded the move at the time, it retained for us a trusted veteran who can play physical and kill penalties, play the fourth line and move up in a pinch.  Unfortunately, he's underperforming a touch this year, and with Ryan White being off his game, Brandon Prust hurt, and Colby Armstrong not bringing a physical edge, this lacuna is magnified.

We need to remember the context last summer before July 1.  We had a lot of holes on the forward lines, lots of injuries.  Travis seemed like a 'valeur sure', a sure thing, you plug him on your roster at a manageable cap hit and you move on and worry about other problems.  The fourth line winger problem is now half-solved.

I posited a couple weeks ago that he may still be feeling the effects of the concussion that ended his last season.  Either physically or psychologically, he's not completely able to perform.  It would be hard to blame him for that.

So yeah, a disappointing start to the new contract, but it's still a reasonable amount of money, and he'll always have trade value, so if he needs a change of scenery eventually it's doable.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

I love Jarome even more now, after hearing from Peter Chiarelli

So I'd posited that the Bruins and Penguins had submitted essentially equivalent offers for Jarome Iginla, which allowed Flames GM Jay Feaster to consult with Jarome and allow him to choose which team he wanted to join.  Jay Feaster would obviously have told both teams to wait for confirmation, and then relayed the bad news to Peter Chiarelli upon hearing the decision.  Fair game.  Decent way to handle things.  And to all the conspiracy theorists, I urged calm, it wasn't like Jarome had refused to join the Bruins.

Except now, to hear Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli tell it, he was told it was in the bag, and now he's steamed.  And maybe Mr. Feaster, who was squirmy and hard to pin down on the Ryan O'Reilly offer sheet debacle, played the Bruins to extort more out of the Pens.

If so, I like this even more.  I knew Jarome was a good guy, he'd never wear that Boston jersey willingly. And the Bruins are so used to having the road smoothed out for them by Daddy Campbell, Bill Daly, Brendan Shanahan, Jeremy Jacobs, Gary Bettman, and every single corrupt, brain-dead, blind, and intimidated on-ice officials, that they are now in a right dudgeon that things didn't go their way.

Like I said, I'm liking this a lot.

Jarome is not a Bruin! Jarome is not a Bruin!

 What a night for me.  I watched the first period, PVR'd the rest of the game and went to practice, where I warned everyone not to tell me the score.  They were all messing with me, I didn't know what to expect when I got back, but from the tone was expecting good things.  I got home and the second period was awful, I thought the guys got into my head, but then the comeback.  I knew the guys wouldn't have known how the game went from around 1830 hr or so (2130 hr EDST) since they had to leave home to come to practice also, so they thought they were messing with me, but I now had the last laugh.  So a great ending to a great game, and a great night, tarnished by the fact that Jarome Iginla would now be a Bruin, and be even more tarnished.

So I wake up this morning and find that instead, Jarome is a Penguin.  I double and triple-checked on a couple of different morning newscasts to make sure, so convinced was TSN last night that the deal with Boston was done.

Now I know he will make the Pens even more formidable, but I can handle losing to them if it comes to that.  Having a clean hard-fought series against Pittsburgh is something I'd look forward to.  Having to muck it out against the Goouins, however, is a lot to stomach.  I can grudgingly accept that Patrice Bergeron is on that team, but seeing Jarome in black and diarrhea yellow would have been too much.  So for me, this is great news.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Game 32: Canadiens 0, Penguins 1

The boys on the pre-game show on RDS were evaluating the chances that Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin will pull off a trade to improve the team and prepare for a playoff run.  They offered that the next two games, against Eastern Conference powerhouses Pittsburgh and Boston, would provide a good indication of what course he should take.  Well then, after tonight's close loss against a Penguin squad energized by the return from injury of a positively rust-free Kris Letang, we can almost forego tomorrow's result and state that yes, this year's team is worth investing in.

One aspect is that while they're missing two big, physical pieces in Brandon Prust and René Bourque at forward, they still forechecked and buzzed around the Penguins' zone relentlessly.  The forwards, decried by many as too small to make a difference, were too quick for the Pens defencemen and were often first on the loose pucks.  Michael Ryder hit two posts, and missed a couple more clear chances.  Generally the Canadiens could easily have won this game.  Yes, they measure up.  They are good enough.

Another way of looking at the result is that while Les Glorieux came close, they've been coming up short recently, whereas earlier in the season they'd find ways to win.  So while they're still competing and still in it, they seem like they could use a hand.

There's always a worry that newcomers may upset the chemistry of the team, but I have a hunch that the boys would welcome some reinforcements.  Fresh faces don't inevitably ruffle feathers, they can sometimes bring a jolt of energy and renewed enthusiasm.

I remember Brad Staubitz's impact last season.  While he didn't play big minutes or contribute offensively, he seemed to re-energize a team that was drifting and going through the motions.  His bromance with Ryan White was endearing.  I'm not saying that the Canadiens need to bring in an enforcer, but if this year's team saw a new player or two as bringing skills or attributes that are in need, they'd be seen as brothers-in-arms instead of job stealers.

I like watching defencemen play, and tonight paid close attention to Kris Letang, and what a player he is. Too many see his point totals, offensive acumen, smooth-skating stride, and they dismiss him as strictly an offensive defenceman, a finesse guy, a member of the fast-paced Penguins who benefits from playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  Of course, that's selling him way short.  We saw tonight how effective he is in his zone, and not only in breaking the puck out, but also in the corners and in front of the net.  He blew up both Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller when he bodychecked them while battling for the puck.  It looks like all the work in the gym over the summer is bearing fruit on the ice.

And speaking of physical and talented defencemen, P.K. Subban played a strong game tonight.  Time and again, when there was a loose puck in his zone, he'd explode and beat his opponent to the puck.  His first three strides are so quick and powerful, especially for a guy his size, it makes him very hard to forecheck effectively.  He was effective carrying the puck, protecting it and feinting this way and that, and sure-handed when stickhandling and trying to create something in the offensive zone.  If he continues to play like this, and tries to replicate Kris Letang's all-effort, all-business approach to the game, we'll be sitting pretty on the blue line in Sochi.

Jeff Halpern paid early dividends in a strong night at the faceoff circle and killing penalties.  Pierre Houde highlighted his value when the Canadiens were able to put the Tomas Plekanec line on the ice right after a penalty, since Mr. Halpern had done most of the penalty kill work.  If he can relieve some of the pressure on Tomas on the PK, it's going to allow Michel Therrien more flexibility with his scoring lines.

It's impossible for me to ignore the idiocy of Matt Cooke, and the NHL in general.  Late in the second period, Tyler Kennedy, possibly still woozy from getting punched in the head by Gabriel Dumont in the first period, crashed hard into his own goalie.  Marc-André Fleury was shaken up, finished the period, but didn't return in the third.  A scuffle had ensued after the incident, because, well.. because it's the NHL.  Hilariously, the Penguins tried to go after Brian Gionta, who was standing in front of Mr. Fleury but had nothing to do with this.  Big, bad, dirty Brian Gionta.  In the third, Matt Cooke was lined up across Mr. Gionta for a faceoff and started beaking at him, so much so that a referee approached him and warned him to cut it out.  Even so, right after the puck was dropped, Mr. Cooke proceeded to slash and crosscheck Mr. Gionta, repeatedly, with no response from the referee.  Only after a second display of thuggery ten seconds later did the refs finally decide to hand out a two-minute penalty.

Why talentless hacks such as Matt Cooke are allowed to pollute the NHL, repeat offence after repeat offence, is beyond me.

Monday, 25 March 2013

The coming NHL expansion won't be kind to the Canadiens

I just had a depressing thought.  In two years or so, inevitably, the NHL will expand by two more teams.  Phoenix, like Andrea on "The Walking Dead", just won't die.  Gary Bettman will insist on implanting a franchise in Seattle and another in Portland or Las Vegas or Mexico City or Caracas.  He may grudgingly decide to move the Florida Panthers to Québec to quell a Canadian fan rebellion, but definitely, he's going to put two new NHL teams in the West.  Because that's what the game needs, is 46 more of the most talented AHL'ers hooking and holding on to Sidney Crosby for dear life, and slashing and cross-checking Pavel Datsyuk to make sure he's tough enough for Don Cherry's assent.

So yeah, two expansion teams in a couple of years, which means an expansion draft.  Right when the Canadiens roster and farm system will be bursting at the seams with young talent.  We're going to get plundered back to the Stone Age.

Great timing.  Not a chance that this could have happened when Andreas Dackell and Patrick Traverse were on our roster and could have been had for the asking.  No sir.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Game 31: Canadiens 1, Sabres 2

A lot of commentors describe last season as one in which anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Canadiens.  Such analysis is inaccurate, hyperbole.  We could point to a myriad of things that went well, or at least didn't didn't fail.  The Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole line was magic once it was brought together halfway through the year.  Carey Price had a strong season and was healthy until the final few games.  Uh...  Oh, yeah, Alexei Emelin, Raphaël Diaz and Yannick Weber all got significant minutes and seemed to improve as the season wore on.  Andrei Markov finally played a few games.  P.K. Subban, after a frustrating, uneven start, seemed to settle down and resume his progress.

Last night's game is one of those instances, where observers may be tempted to say, again, that 'everything went wrong'.  It didn't.  Only the score did.

I saw some amazing stats on various game recaps, such as the wide margin the Canadiens had in zone starts and Corsi and even-strength Fenwick, and I would have been even more shocked had I understood what any of them meant.  I've learned and forgotten and tried again to memorize what these numbers mean, but have been taking them with a grain of salt, since they are based on the notoriously unreliable NHL secondary stats such as takeaways/giveaways and shots and faceoffs.  I also view them with a jaundiced eye because some practitioners of these dark arts used them to 'prove' that Scott Gomez was more valuable to the Canadiens than David Desharnais.  The enhanced stats guys seem as reliable as Paul Ryan with budget data.

In last night's game however, theses stats lined up with what we saw, in that the Canadiens were constantly in the Sabres' zone, buzzing around their net and peppering Ryan Miller with shots.  The Sabres would finally get the puck out over the blue line, where a feeble pass would be intercepted by the Canadiens, and the whole cycle would begin anew.

No, this was an example of luck evening out over a large sample size.  The Canadiens have played well, but have had some bounces go their way and managed to eke out win after win, sometimes in extremis.  Everything Michel Therrien touched seemed to turn to gold, the latest example being the Colby Armstrong offensive surge once being placed to the right of Lars Eller.  Last night, the bounces didn't go our way.

Offensively, Nos Glorieux, who all season long have taken turns doing the scoring, were held off the sheet simultaneously.  Not that they didn't show effort and skill, just that they couldn't convert, all at the same time.

Meanwhile, the Sabres were bottled in their zone and rarely threatened Carey Price.  Their two goals were fortuitous, the first on a 5-on-3 powerplay due to highly questionable penalties to Mike Blunden and P.K. Subban, the second when Brendan Gallagher fanned on a pass in the neutral zone due to a broken stick, which led to a quick counter-attack and a nifty move by Thomas Vanek.  Looking at it with Buffalo-coloured glasses, you could say the Sabres 'found a way to win'.

P.K. has been the subject of social media conversation the last few days, or at least more so than usual, and yesterday it was apparent the pressure may be getting to him.  Enjoined by his coach to be more disciplined, he vigourously argued his first penalty for delay of game, and the video replays seemed to confirm his point of view.  On his second penalty, he tripped Patrick Kaleta in the neutral zone, a half-lazy, half-unlucky brain cramp of a play, in which he tried to get at the puck along the boards through the Sabres' skates.  He seemed agitated on his way to the box, in my view trying to communicate to his coach, his teammates and the fans that he was mad at himself for the penalty, that he understood, like the kid who broke the vase while playing baseball in the living room, after being told not to play baseball in the living room because he'll break the vase.  This is one of these instances where the coaching staff will be wise to pat our boy on the back and relieve the pressure, instead of adding to it.  Go get 'em next time kid, we know you're trying hard, we can't win 'em all.

Lars has caught my eye recently with his greater confidence and authority with the puck, but in this game on a couple of instances demonstrated that he's still a work in progress.  He stickhandled his way through a lot of defenders in the offensive zone, except he was being guided to the outside and the blue line by his opponents, and twice coughed up the puck across the blue line and the Canadiens had to exit the zone and tag up.  This reminded me of Andrei Kostitsyn's habit last season of taking the puck from the corner in the offensive zone to the blue line, where he'd flip it hot potato-style in his defenceman's shin pads, while the defenders who'd shepherded him there licked their chops.  Lars will learn.  While I don't extol the 'cycle game', it's the equivalent for the forward of the 'bang it off the boards' approach for the defenceman, the safe approach.  The puck is safer deep in the opposition corner than it is skittering along the offensive blue line, primed for an odd-man rush.

The balm which will take the sting off this loss is that the Bruins lost also, so we 'kept pace' in our division.  Especially since the Maple Leafs will fold, and the Senators should come crashing to earth.  Anytime now.  They can't survive all these injuries.  Right?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Francis Bouillon signed to a one-year extension by the Canadiens

 Hmmm... Tomas Kaberle will be amnestied this summer.  We have to guess that Yannick Weber is not long for this world.  So Francis becomes a cheap movable piece, he can be a third-pairing guy, or even move to the pressbox as a seventh defenceman when the Hamilton youth corps can't be denied any longer.

He's been nothing but solid and good value in this surprising season.  The Antichambre guys were talking last night about how important it is for a team to have a road warrior veteran presence to act as big brother to younger defencemen trying to make their way into the NHL.

Good signing.

Game 29: Canadiens 2, Sabres 3 (OT)

Look, nobody said P.K. Subban was perfect.  I've been laudatory in light of his recent improvements, both in terms of his production and on-ice behaviour, but we still expect him to have hiccups, that his trajectory will not be an unblemished arrow pointing ever upward.  Some of the things that make P.K. who he is are high-risk, high-reward, you have to live with them, try to minimize them through constant coaching, and deal with them.

We saw one of these in the overtime period, when P.K. went for a big, crunching, spectacular crowd-pleaser of a bodycheck in open ice on Mark Pysyk of the Sabres and whiffed.  Now, that was bad enough, since the whiff would have led to a two-on-one, but it was compounded by the fact that the refs called the intrepid Mr. Subban for a high-sticking penalty.  Now, the stick was held high, but it never made contact with Mr. Pysyk, so it was a blown call, but it's cold comfort that the ensuing penalty was undeserved, and the goal scored by Steve Ott on the 4 on 3 was tainted.

P.K. has been doing well this season in large part by not trying to do too much, and by not attempting the spectacular play instead of the solid, safe option, most of the time.  He's rushed the puck once in a while, but he seems to better recognize when to choose to do so, let's say when the team is down a goal and time is winding down in the third.  He's gotten better at trusting his teammates, and they're increasingly starting to trust him.  So it was a little bit of a relapse for him to get out of position to try an open-ice check on an opposition rusher early in overtime.  The benefit to the team was probably minimal even if he had connected solidly.  We're not going to beat him up for it, Coach Michel Therrien was asked about it by the Montréal press corps after the game and he expressed that he thought it was a poor play selection and that he'd deal with it, so it's taken care of.

While the Canadiens picked up a point, it's disappointing for a few reasons that they didn't win this game.  They lost ground to the victorious Penguins, and failed to capitalize on a Bruins loss to the Jets.  This was a game that based on the standings should have resulted in two points for the Habs.  They were playing a team in turmoil, at home.

It was also one of these games that the Canadiens have found a way to win this year.  They have a never-say-die approach, and you had a sense in the third period as they stormed the ramparts that they would pull it off, that they wouldn't fall in the trap of the trap game after all.  When Colby Armstrong scored the tieing goal, you couldn't help but smile at Michel Therrien's crystal-ball-aided lineup divinations.

With René Bourque closer to a return, and Brandon Prust next in line, the lineup will be solidified, and the hope is that disappointing results such as these will be turned into victories instead.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

RDS on Jarred Tinordi

I watched l’Antichambre on RDS Saturday night, and there were comparisons between the Canadiens' defensive rookie Jarred Tinordi, who had just played a strong first NHL game, and former Hab Hal Gill.  There were some disapproving clucks on social media that these comparisons are outlandish and insulting to Mr. Tinordi.  Unfortunately, a lot of the static came from people who hadn't watched the show, but heard about it second-hand, and they wound themselves up into an unwarranted righteous frenzy.

These comparisons were made by the Antichambre crew, and the in-between periods panels on the game broadcast, and allow me to assure you that this isn’t as facile a comparison as is feared. Benoit Brunet and others made the same comparison, but all took pains to explain that comparables are tricky, and they do so only to illustrate Mr. Tinordi's style of play and the type of impact he can have on a game. They specified they were comparing his stickwork and reach and how that has an impact on the opponents and their passing options. They all mentioned that he has a better first pass than Hal Gill , that his offensive game is developing and probably better than Hal’s even at this stage, that he moves better and that he’s more aggressive and tougher.

Stéphane Leroux preambled this exact comparison by saying he was doing so only because viewers were asking this question.
All analysts rejected out of hand any comparison to Zdeno Chara.
Renaud Lavoie explained that while he was stumped when he saw Jarred Tinordi at his first camp with the Canadiens, wondering what they saw in him, whether he would be a bust, he was also approached by Peter Chiarelli at the 2010 draft, who unbidden told him: “Wow, the Canadiens picked a good one there,” or words to that effect. So Mr. Lavoie tempered his skepticism with that, if a competitor said a nice thing to him about his rivals, that it meant something. Later, Mr. Lavoie got updates from Dale Hunter, who coached Jarred with the London Knights, and would praise his development, saying his mobility and aggressiveness were improving by leaps and bounds.
When Mr. Lavoie saw him at the next camp, he found the player completely transformed, much more coordinated and mobile. This was not unexpected, since he had finished his growth spurt at that point and was growing into his body.
Finally, Guy Carbonneau coached against the US squad at the U-17′s, and he explained that the benches were close together, and while he was impressed with his play, what caught his attention was the kid’s leadership, he could hear him speaking to his teammates on the ice and off, how he was encouraging everyone and bringing the slackers back in line. Jarred was serving as team captain for the US squad.
So overally, good job by the RDS gang to flesh out our picture of a young player who we all rest a lot of our hopes on.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Brad Marchand slashes Kris Letang out of the game

I watched the game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins this morning, and Pittsburgh's All-Star defenceman Kris Letang was hit on the hand/wrist by a 'light slash' from (surprise surprise) Boston Bruin forward and irredeemable rat Brad Marchand.  I suspect he has a hand injury, and it could be a bad one if it hit an unprotected area.

Now in the context of the NHL, which specifically states in its rulebook that a 'light slash' is not slashing, it was par for the course and didn't merit a penalty.

61.1 Slashing - Slashing is the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made or not. Non-aggressive stick contact to the pant or front of the shin pads, should not be penalized as slashing. Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the Referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

What Mr. Marchand did was not forceful or notably dirty in today's NHL, but it goes to show again how ludicrously the game is managed.  Brad Marchand was well behind Kris Letang, in no position to play the puck.  He was clearly beaten.  Mr. Letang had position on him.  Somehow, it it tolerated that the guy defending and without the puck  who is behind the play is allowed to whack at the player trying to make a play, score a goal, and entertain the fans and viewers at home.

Why is that?  The NFL doesn't allow a certain amount of holding or interfering with a receiver, or light tackling of a quarterback after he lets go of the ball.  The NBA doesn't allow a certain amount of incidental mugging of Lebron James.  Somehow, the NHL doesn't think it's in its best interests to showcase offence and its most talented players.

So here we are.  After Erik Karlsson, now Kris Letang, the most dynamic and entertaining remaining defenceman in the game, is knocked out of action by an illegal but tolerated play.  All because Don Cherry harrumphs "Let them play!" on Saturday evenings.

I agree with Don Cherry.  I think we should allow Kris Letang to play, and Erik Karlsson to play, by removing the Brad Marchands and the Matt Cookes from the game, or at least by forcing them to play hockey instead of mugging other more talented players.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Game 28: Canadiens 2, Devils 1

The cool thing about watching a defensive game that develops in fits and starts and that might otherwise be considered boring is that this one ended in a win for the good guys who vaulted back into first place in the Conference, and bumped the Penguins down to second in the conference and slapped the Bruins down to the fourth, where they belong.  Well, not really, they belong in fourteenth, or in a penitentiary more likely, but it's a start.

More cool things:  Carey Price did what he needed to do, which is shut the door in the third as we held a slim lead.  He's been uneven lately, and some have posited that he might be bored, receiving so few shots that he has trouble concentrating and keeping warmed up and in the game.  In le système de Jacques Martin, the team would collapse around Carey and make a heroic last stand any time it lost the puck, Carey (and Josh and Hall Gill) was bombarded with vulcanized rubber, and had no choice but to be in the game.  Which is all well and good as an explanation, but not an excuse.  He is a veteran now, a team leader, he's seen as a frontrunner for inclusion on the Canadian Olympic Team for the Sochi games, so he needs to be sharp, excellent.  He needs to be a reason we win games, not a cause of disappointing losses.  He needs to make the adjustment in his mental approach to the game, and we really have no doubt that he will.

Also, Jarred Tinordi did well considering, after a couple of rough patches deep in his zone during shifts early in the first period.  He seemed to settle down and didn't look out of place the rest of the way, playing almost 15 minutes and contributing an assist on the winning goal by Tomas Plekanec, finishing the evening at +2, not bad for his first NHL game.  We've been told over and over that he's not going to be a point-getter, but he seems mobile and coordinated enough to contribute offensively, and certainly seemed more self-assured with the puck than Greg Pateryn did during his callup.  The really cool thing was seeing Francis Bouillon, during the celebration after Tomas' goal, approaching with a beaming smile and reaching up, way up, way way up to pat Jarred on the noggin'.

Colby Armstrong scored his first goal of the season, finally, unassisted and top corner on a wicked, whirling wrister.  Not bad at all.  He was on a drought of Darcheian proportions.  Like Mathieu's start to last season, he kept fanning on shots on open nets and hitting posts and impotently jamming at the puck in scrambles and somehow not converting.  In his defence, Colby wasn't getting the primo minutes and powerplay time that were bestowed on Mr. Darche by Jacques Martin, he has been doing the work that was expected of him, which is play a solid fourth-line role and not hurt the team defensively.  It's just that maybe he was taking the whole "your fourth-liners aren't expected to score" thing to an exaggerated level.

P.K. didn't make it on the scoresheet, but again played a good game.  He has changed so much compared to last season, especially the first half.  He plays much more disciplined, taking advantage of opportunities to make the easy play, so that when he busts the saber out of the scabbard and goes a'swashbuckling, it's more of a surprise and defenders are getting caught off-guard.  Last season, very often they were waiting for him to try to deke and would poke the puck off him, now if they close the gap on him he just deals the puck to someone else.  He's still doling out big hits, and accepting some punishment in return, but he focuses on playing hard instead of mugging and diving and taking cheap retaliation penalties.  He's not yapping and trying to be an instigator, a role that is beneath his talent, he's now focusing on being the best player on the ice and being a problem opposing defenders and coaches have a hard time solving.  He does what he needs to do, whistle to whistle, and then goes to the circle for the next faceoff.  He took a couple of big slappers today, but overall his shot selection and decision-making is much better than last season, he lets her rip once in a while but mixes in some slap passes, some wristers, some fakes to allow him to find a better shooting lane.  I am over the moon at how he has modified his behaviour and improved his play as a result.

Not cool thing: Ryan White took an unnecessary holding penalty in the offensive zone and was in the box feeling shame when the Devils scored.  Right now, injuries almost ensure that he'll remain in the active roster, but I fear this won't go unnoticed, and he might be digging himself a deeper hole.  Worse, I'm afraid he'll become even more tentative, instead of being the guy who played like his hair was on fire the previous two seasons.  I don't want to beat the dog out of Ryan, I appreciate what he can contribute, I just want him to find his groove.  I don't necessarily want him fighting as often as he did late last year when he carried on his bromance with Brad Staubitz, but I do remember fondly the aggressive and effective forward from two seasons ago, and I want him back.

Will Danny Kristo sign a contract with the Canadiens?

We've covered this ground before, but we should recap the subject, since Danny Kristo's college career will soon come to a close and he can sign a pro contract within weeks.  He's a skater with outstanding speed and good offensive skills, but questionable character based on a few off-ice incidents while at the University of North Dakota.  He's played four years of NCAA hockey and had a chance to mature physically, so he can conceivably keep up to the pace of the NHL in short order.

Mr. Kristo was the Canadiens top draft choice in 2008, when they picked him in the second round, 56th overall.

Reasons that point to him signing with the Canadiens:

Danny Kristo has never stated that he doesn't want to sign with the Canadiens.  His apparent reluctance to sign a pro contract can plausibly be explained by his preferring to play at his childhood favourite team at UND rather than for the Hamilton Bulldogs.  This season, his decision to stay in school and try again for a championship was reasonable for a guy who appears to love college lifestyle, given that a lockout loomed.

Mr. Kristo has some ties to the Canadiens, in that he used to play and room with Louis Leblanc, and currently plays with Mark MacMillan, another Habs draft pick.

Danny Kristo can begin his NHL career in April, instead of having to wait until next season.  He can pocket a big signing bonus and start earning a pro paycheque right away.  He would have a shot at a playoff run and even a Stanley Cup if he stuck with the Canadiens.  If he starts playing pro this season, he starts the clock on his Entry Level contract one year sooner, with all that entails in terms of free agency and arbitration rights and higher earnings.

The entry level contract dictates the maximum monetary amount he can earn, so there is no great financial benefit to be derived by declaring as a free agent.  There can't be a bidding war between teams for his services.

The Canadiens are on a terrific upswing this season, both as an organization and in the standings.  The future looks brighter, and the prospect of joining it looks immeasurably better than last season.  The new Canadiens management team appears to be a popular one with the players, and they can probably be very convincing in their sales pitch.

Reasons that point to him waiting until August and declare free agency:

The main advantage Mr. Kristo would gain by not signing with the Canadiens is in the freedom he would gain. He can choose the city he’ll live in and the organization he’ll play for, those are huge considerations for a young man and player. He can extract a promise from the team about whether he’ll play in the NHL or AHL, as Justin Schultz did with the Oilers.

While the salary he can earn is set by the standard Entry Level Contract, tax considerations make signing with some teams more advantageous.  His agent and financial planners will no doubt point out to him the locales where taxes are lower.

A corollary benefit to the previous two is that, with a guarantee that he would play in the NHL from a weak sister team, he would earn an NHL wage next season rather than an AHL wage.  This guarantee is not something that would likely come from the Canadiens management team.


If Danny Kristo is keen to start his career, I don't see him waiting until August to become a free agent.  I can't imagine that would be an easy thing to do, sitting on the sidelines while the team you could have been a part of gets set to hit the playoffs.  I believe he'd jump at the chance to sign and experience NHL hockey right away.

If however the perceived coolness to the Canadiens organization is a fact and grounded in reality, and he doesn't sign right after his college season is over, we can expect that GM Marc Bergevin will trade his rights to another team more likely to sign him in return for a draft pick.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Is Erik Cole out of shape?

9 February 2013

I think we’re seeing a tangible result of the lockout in the lackluster performance of Erik Cole. While we spoke in generalities at the outset of the season, designating players who competed in the AHL and Europe as being in peak condition, in game shape, for example, and others needing ten or fifteen game to ramp back up to speed, and of teams with established coaching teams and systems having a leg up over teams in transition, we’ve seemingly forgotten about this aspect and are now failing to include it into our equations when we’re analyzing the results so far.
Going back to last season, even during his ‘laborious’ start, Erik was a rampaging buffalo, being strong and hungry for the puck, and repeatedly carrying it into the offensive zone with speed, curling around the defender and taking it to the net. It was never a surprise move, something the opponents could game plan for, except for maybe backing off the Canadiens’ blue line sooner to retreat back to their zone when he was on the ice. He accomplished this with power and speed, unrelenting. We marveled at how fast he was, how thrilling his rushes were. Even when he didn’t score on the play, the immediate result was often a scrambling, confused, disorganized defensive team, and that’s when David Desharnais shined, he’d exploit the gaps in the zone and gain the puck before savantly feeding Max Pacioretty or Erik.
This season, we have yet to see Erik Cole accomplish a single one of these rushes. I don’t remember one. He simply seems to be a different, lesser player. The overwhelming speed and power is nowhere to be seen.
One of the common results of lockouts in recent years has been that a lot of players don’t show up to training camp in shape. Not just game shape, but in shape at all. It is explained, often without the reporters naming names, simply by saying that an athlete with a specific reporting date in mind, will punish himself hard in the offseason, with a lot of the strength and power work happening in the meat of the training period, and then taper off in the last couple of weeks before camp. In a lockout season, with an uncertain reporting date, this work is either misallocated, or at least mistimed. The reporting date comes and goes, the athletes try to maintain the peak, then maybe back off when negotiations drag on. They wonder if they should go back on another heavy and intense training period and try to catch their best guess as to when the actual camp date will be. Some athletes may have not invested the time, as well as the money for the personal trainer, at all, for off-season work, thinking it would be a waste. Again, these workouts are brutal, intense. They hurt. Why subject yourself to those for nothing? When you can use that time to hang out with your family, and really allow that nagging (neck, back, hamstring, knee..) injury to fully heal?
Now, Erik was a passionate NHLPA supporter this year, showing how committed and emotional he was with the process and how outraged he was with the ownership stance, so he may have been distracted during his summer training, or may have eased off a little compared to last season. When the start of camp was postponed, he may have been pessimistic, and prepared for a lost season instead of a January start.
While this is pure speculation, there is strong evidence that Erik isn’t as well conditioned as he was last year. There is no jump in his skating. I saw him against the Sabres try to rush around a defender, and not be able to outskate him. He was even with him when tried his patented ‘lean in and wrap around’ the D-man, who simply pushed back. Erik slid to the ground. It was less than impressive.
So Erik may be a victim of the cynical NHL strategy of killing off the early part of the NHL season while the NFL was in full swing, and may have been better served to heed those observers who predicted a mid-January start all along, and trained accordingly. His plyometric work should have been done in November and December, instead of in July-August, if it was done at. His legs, his power and stride would have had a better chance of being at last season’s level. But then again, seeing how little Gary Bettman and Ed Snyder and Jeremy Jacobs cared about playing hockey this season, can we really blame Erik?

Patrice Brisebois appears on l'Antichambre on RDS

4 February 2013

For those who don't get RDS or understand French, here is a rough play-by-play of the appearance on L'Antichambre by Patrice Brisebois, the Canadiens Player Development Coach.

He explains that he's responsible for all defencemen drafted (or signed, but he doesn't specify) by the team, be they in Junior, U.S. College, or in Hamilton.  I noted here that he didn't mention European players, so I'm not sure if he has any contact with Magnus Nygren in Sweden, who Clément Jodoin last spring stated might come over this year in Hamilton.  Mr. Brisebois also explains that he spends a lot of time in Hamilton, and when there he's on the ice working with the kids along with Bulldogs coaches Sylvain Lefebvre and Donald Dufresne.  He states with emphasis that they work the kids hard.  He also explains that Martin Lapointe deals with the twelve forward prospects in the system, while he deals with "around" five kids.  I'm not sure where the uncertainty lies, I would have followed up on that.

Gaston Therrien right away asks a question about Nathan Beaulieu, asking about his difficult start to the season in covered terms, and asking why we hear more about Jarred Tinordi.  Mr. Brisebois replies that they are two different players, Jarred being a bigger guy with a defensive style and good hockey sense and vision.  He explains that learning the defenceman position is hard for a youngster, and that vision and anticipation are key, reading the play and being in the right position are essential to play in the NHL.  He adds that when you have the puck, it is then essential that you execute properly.  Jarred is reliable in both aspects, and is definitely in the right direction in his progression.  Nathan on the other hand isn't there at this point, he has a lot of good offensive qualities, his skating, his vision, his shot, but defensively he still has deficiencies.  He won't be with the big team until he's ready.

François Gagnon then makes a comparison between Patrice's early career, when he was much the same player as Nathan, being offensively gifted but needing work on his defensive game, to which Patrice replied "That wasn't true'", to much laughter.  Mr Gagnon persists and asks how do you work with him on that.  Patrice replies that it's all about work ethic, and showing up every day at the rink wanting to work and improve.  He says that watching Nathan skate is impressive, but maybe he wasn't working as hard as he could at first, although in the last month he has made great improvements and is starting to impress him.  He has to go out and prove to coaches, teammates and himself that he's going to be the best player he can possibly be.

Mr. Gagnon then asks the practical question, how do you approach players, how do you decide who says what to who?  Mr. Brisebois explains that they have a very good rapport in Hamilton and Sylvain Lefebvre is very open in his coaching philosophy, but having said that, with bigger issues he says that he'll run them by Coach Lefebvre and see how he wants to deliver that message.  He reaffirms that they are all there for the good of the kids.  He also takes the time to explain that there are other guys who are there, and names Morgan Ellis and Greg Pateryn.  He says that he can't just concentrate on one guy, that it would be unfair to the others.

Vincent Damphousse then asks who is closest to the NHL out of the kids in the system.  Patrice replies that it's situational, if an offensive defencemen with the Canadiens was injured, maybe Nathan Beaulieu would be recalled, whereas if it was a Josh Gorges or Francis Bouillon it might be a Jarred Tinordi or Greg Pateryn who was called up.  He stresses that it wouldn't be his call, but rather the Canadiens' brass with Coach Lefebvre to consult.

Host Stéphane Langdeau then asked who outside of Hamilton impresses him.  Mr. Brisebois explained that he usually is in Hamilton during the week and goes to U.S. Colleges on weekends, since they play on Fridays and Saturdays.  He says he was just in Saskatoon over the weekend, and saw Dalton Thrower and Darren Dietz, and explained that the latter is impressive, in his maturity and dedication to his off-ice training, being in the gym at 0700 hr, and last to leave the practice ice.  He described him as a Josh Gorges with "more talent" (!)  His Head Coach Lorne Molleken and the Physical Conditioning Coach are effusive in his praise.  When the puck drops, he's ready, every game, he wants to make a difference, he's a good teammate...  In all this, no one asked about Dalton Thrower, about his up and down season, about some of the behind-the-scenes controversy (which is completely omitted from the Sportsnet series "Road to the Memorial Cup").  This is THE question I would have wanted asked, and see how much or how little Mr. Brisebois could offer to shed light on this, but I guess the Antichambre boys aren't as plugged in to the draftees as we'd like.

Gaston Therrien then asks how he is received by junior clubs, how free is he to coach and correct, how do the junior coaches and management teams react to that?  Mr. Brisebois explained that he's in weekly contact with his charges, after weekends, he calls or texts them, he gets info from the internet, and receives game films.  He says the kids are in good hands and the organization does everything it can for the kids to improve.  He and Martin Lapointe are available 24/7.  He agrees that the teams are happy for the Canadiens' support, and offers as an example that Blades Head Coach Lorne Molleken and Defencemen Coach Curtis Leschyshyn offered him the opportunity to ride the bus with the team on a trip.  He says that he was just in Windsor and got good cooperation and communication from Coach Bob Boughner, that they are all accessible.  He then explained that U.S. Colleges are a little less cooperative, and they run their programs their own way, which I guess is understandable, since the NHL is seen less as an ally and more of a threat to poach their best elements early.

Stéphane Langdeau then asked how he feels being part of the big Canadiens' management structure.  He stated that he was very happy, he is passionate about hockey and coming back to the team, especially with the people in place, there's a good chemistry with everyone, everyone works together, the current results are exciting, there's a great crop of kids coming up, and the team is headed the right way.

François Gagnon asks him if he himself is being developed to become an NHL coach one day.  Mr. Brisebois explains that he doesn't have a specific goal right now, he's concentrating on his current work.  He says he loves it, although it was difficult at first being constantly on the road, by himself instead of traveling with a team, not having teammates to spend time with in airports and on flights.

Stéphane Langdeau asks him about his return to Montréal from Colorado.  Patrice explained that his goal had been to spend his entire career as a Canadien, and he compared it to what Francis Bouillon is going through right now.  He says the fan support was very important to him.

A discussion ensues about his ranking as the 13th best defenceman in Canadiens history, according to the RDS program "L'Ultime Classement".  When quizzed about the fact that he's one spot ahead of Andrei Markov, he states that he's perfectly comfortable with that, again to much laughter.  He's laudatory when asked to talk about Éric Desjardins, about being a good teammate, always fit, worked hard, a leader...

A difficult conversation follows about the booing he received at the end of his career.  He explained that the team context is important, that the Big Three deserve the accolades, but that they had good players around them.  I note that he leaves unsaid the obvious conclusion that he believes he didn't have very strong teams to support him, which is a valid point.  Vincent Damphousse chimes in that Québécois players get more credit then they should when they're doing well, and more blame than they should when things aren't so rosy.

Patrice then made an interesting point about being coached by Claude Ruel, and being told that the puck belongs on his teammates stick blade, that he therefore sometimes made a riskier play to make that pass, as opposed to other defencemen who would bang the puck off the glass as a CYA move, which he felt was a copout considering that fans pay more than $100 to attend the game.  He says his style and what he'd been taught made him play that way.

Stéphane Langdeau segues into the mental aspect, and the pressure of playing in Montréal, and whether he will coach that aspect as well, to which Mr. Brisebois is emphatic that he will.  He lists nutrition, conditioning, personal issues, that all these are relevant and the team wants to know if there's a problem and wants to help.

Unfortunately this is where this ended.  I wish there had been more focus on the other kids we never hear about, the College kids like Colin Sullivan and Josiah Didier and Mac Bennett, but all in all, it was a great opportunity to learn more about his role and what the future holds for the team.

Ruminations on P.K. Subban, Lars Eller, Canadiens' depth

1)  So Marc Bergevin made a mistake by not signing P.K. Subban to a long-term contract at a relative discount this summer, when he had the chance?  You say he'll cost us even more on the next contract?  Bring it on I say.

I'd rather we pay full-value in another year or so for a multi-talented, well-coached, mature and focused defenceman who's making a strong case for inclusion on the Team Canada squad for the 2014 Olympics, rather than gambling on the flawed, beautiful, complicated youngster who  tormented and titillated us last season.  We're better served buying a blue-chip stock rather than speculating on a flyer.  Keep up the good work P.K., and kudos to the coaching staff and veterans on the team for helping him realize his immense potential.

2)  Lars Eller seems transformed.  Instead of the timid player who seemed confused so often the previous two seasons, he is now playing like he wants the puck, he fights for it, and when he has it he increasingly knows what to do with it.  It's awesome, like getting a free agent for free.  Our spare part who filled a spot in the lineup is now a frequent, significant contributor to our many wins.

I was never awed by him or a big fan, I thought Pierre Gauthier had received meager returns for our hero goaltender, and am now pleasantly surprised.  I had him pegged as a Dave Maley or Craig Laughlin type of player, necessary on a team, but not spectacular.  I now see the upside that so many on here swore was there all along.  Let's hope he continues on this trajectory, and becomes a Bobby Smith type instead.

3)  Who needs to be traded when René Bourque and Brandon Prust and Raphaël Diaz come back from injury?  Let's relax about that.  So far, we've been incredibly lucky with injuries, but it's asking too much that once those guys come back we'll sail through the rest of the season unscathed.  With the imbecilic short-sightedness of the Hockey Operations department of the NHL, the 'finish your check' mentality that reigns, and the fact that you need a cavity search to locate a ref's whistle in the playoffs, guys will get dinged and bruised and have to miss games.  Probably, one or two will be felled by something more serious.  So a full roster is a pipe dream.  Let's enjoy the depth we have now, the options and permutations that are available, as opposed to last year when we could barely cobble two NHL-worthy lines together.