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.

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