Sunday, 28 April 2013

Don Cherry takes on the very settled matter of women reporters in the dressing room

What does Don Cherry have to do to demonstrate that he needs to be put out to pasture?  How much longer does the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada put up with his puerile antics and antediluvian values in the cynical quest for ratings, no matter what rock has to be upturned to find viewers?  Again, HNIC does some things well, but must be blown up and rebuilt before it's too late.

We have in the past opined that if we must have a jokey segment in the first intermission, that comedians knowledgeable on hockey like Brent Butt and/or Norm MacDonald could fill that that role effectively.  Don Cherry might have had shock value decades ago, in that he roared while others would pussyfoot around issues, but he's well past his optimal retirement age, much like Bob Cole.

In this specific instance, Mr. Cherry tried to stick up for Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks for a neanderthal reply to a question posed by a woman reporter.  No matter that Duncan Keith was completely at fault for the incident in question, and how he handled the question from the reporter.  Mr. Cherry inexplicable twisted the issue to one of women in the dressing room, one that has been settled twenty years ago, but apparently he's unable to move past it.  Meanwhile the world has passed him by.

The NHL is a business, a cash cow for the monopolists who run it, and they've decided, like other major league sports, that the dressing room is not a sacrosanct refuge for the players who perform a holy rite, but rather an opportunity to sell more by allowing reporters to enter it and give their product even more free coverage and advertising.  They've long ago decided to trade away the need for privacy and a cooling-off period for their players in return for more column inches.

If this business relies on reporters capturing the rote banalities of the workers minutes after an emotional game, there can be no discrimination on the gender of these reporters.  Women must have access to the room as freely as men do.  They must have equal opportunity to do their job.  That's the law of the land.

This doesn't mean that reporters can poke their nose in the showers and medical rooms, these are off-limits.  The modesty of the players is protected, and that has evolved as the practice of women being able to enter the room has.  There is no need to be prudish about the thought of a lady being aghast at the sight of a naked man and being taken with the vapours.

Decades ago, forward thinking organizations just bought robes for all their players, and dedicated a certain area for undressing and showering.  This is now common, accepted practice in major league sports, you'd think Don Cherry would have noticed, but maybe he's too busy weeping at fallen soldiers.  Or kissing Nazem Kadri.

As long as we don't allow stunt reporters like Inez Sains to cloud the issue, and as long as pro team sports value the free advertising they receive from 'news' organizations like ESPN, there is no controversy here, only the feeble ramblings of a decrepit old man.

Game 48: Canadiens 4, Leafs 1

1)  Is the ship righted?  The Canadiens skated, and forechecked and pressured the statuesque Leafs defencemen and made them cough up the puck and look downright AHL-quality.  Surprising, we all thought that Mike Kostka was a prodigious treasure found on the scrap heap, TSN was agog that this guy never had a shot at the NHL.  Hmmm....

2)  So is the ship righted?  Powerplay?  Check.  Penalty kill?  Check.  Discipline?  Check.  Team toughness, but not losing our marbles and trying to fight the enemy on their own terrain?  Check.  Goaltending?  Well....

3)  Kid line!

4)  Is this the final nail in the Coach's Corner?  I mean, what else does this guy have to do to lose his job?  Never mind the onion-on-the-belt stories, and how his analysis has no beginning or end, just a self-referencing mish-mash of a middle, where you have to try to divine what he is trying to say about blocking shots, is he fer it or agin' it?  Or was that a rant against College players?

5)  And the Hot Stove panel needs to be blown up.  Have a pre-game roundtable, fine, but cut it down to one or two people and the host.  The 2nd intermission Satellite Hotstove used to be my favourite, because it brought a different, fresh view to the proceedings, with Al Strachan and John Davidson and other outsiders, from different locales than just Toronto.  We'd get perspective from American teams, external to the HNIC hype machine.  That needs to be re-established.  Besides, how long does PJ Stock have to be on camera before he runs out of things to say?  Is the over-under one minute?  These guys have yammered at us since the start of the game, how eager are we to hear what they have to say once the Hot Stove rolls around.

6)  Really, is the ship righted?  Tomas Plekanec's line didn't do much, and neither did David Desharnais', althought they both are still working hard.  René Bourque just seems snakebitten, he's getting and even generating opportunities, but nothing is going in for him.  Let's hope he goes on a ten or twelve-game Michael Ryder-style scoring streak beginning Tuesday.

7)  As far as the ship being righted, Jarred Tinordi seems to be earning the trust of the team and coaches.  Again, I'm not sure that he's better right now than the defencemen he's replacing, but his skillset complements the others better.  Yannick Weber wasn't doing badly, but he was bringing to the team more of what it already had, Jarred adds to the toolbox.  Let's play it by ear.  If he slows down or has a hiccup or two, we can mix in someone else and see what happens.

8)  And the Michel Therrien magic touch struck again, shuffling up his lines, and seeing his decision to play the backup goalie quickly validated.  I may have to revise my contention that only Patrick Roy was a suitable choice for head coach.

9)  How farcical can Randy Carlyle and his orangutans get?  What a ridiculous showing by Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren.  The refs actually didn't allow them to turn the game into a sideshow, giving them verbal warnings multiple times until Frazer McLaren tried to goon it up with the game out of reach.  They rightly gave him a double minor, and didn't automatically give Ryan White a minor for being assaulted and having to defend himself, which is the usual practice in the NHL.  They also gave Mr. McLaren an immediate game misconduct and removed him from the equation, which should be the standard operating procedure with guys like that.

10)  Leo Komarov, really?  The HNIC crew yukked it up about how he's got the biggest curve of any Maple Leafs, yet could play with a ringuette stick for all he does with the puck.  He's the king of the late hit, the worst of the 'finish your check' squad, getting to the play a second after it's over.  If the League really wants to grow and thrive and showcase its stars and wow its fans and reduce injuries and care for the safety of its players, the low-hanging fruit is the removal of Leo Komarov, and others who fulfill his 'role' for other teams.  How many Martin St. Louis and Pavel Datsyuks never make the NHL because they're weeded out on the way up or displaced by Leo Komarovs?  How is that smart?  I'll say again, does the NFL allow thugs to take out its Tom Bradys?  Does the NBA let opponents hack on LeBron James or Kevin Durant?  Am I the only one who sees the Bettmanperor has no clothes?  How is this so hard to figure out?

11)  And Dion Phaneuf, don't think we didn't see your end-of-game dirty, sleazy crosscheck in the back of Ryan White, while he's already engaged in an assault by Colton Orr.  And we also saw your tremulous backpedal and head on a swivel after the fact.  We know all about facilitated aggression, and how you and Nazem Kadri are great example of china dolls who become tough guys when they're in the bully pack.  You're awesome Dion.  Leaf fans have reason to be proud.  Again.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Game 47: Canadiens 4, Jets 2

The Canadiens win home-ice advantage for the opening round, securing at least fourth place and giving themselves a chance at second in the Conference.  Huzzah.

Not necessarily a strong, convincing win, they capitalized on a crestfallen team that learned in the second intermission that they had been eliminated by virtue of the wins by the Rangers and Senators.

Carey Price was solid, seemingly coming out of his funk.  He was aggressive in net, coming out far to challenge shooters on a couple of noticeable occasions.  His puck handling was superb, as it usually is, and he helped out his defencemen in clearing out the zone quickly.

If anyone had any doubts as to how big and strong Dustin Byfuglien is, the way he ragdolled Josh Gorges a couple of times should remove and doubt.

Kid line!  Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher play beautiful music together, let's keep them on the Lars Eller line, and maybe dial up the ice time a touch.  Max and David aren't back yet, but maybe pairing them with René Bourque or Michael Ryder will spark something.

Jarred Tinordi didn't do anything outstanding, except bringing his very particular set of skills to the table.  He hit and got hit, played physically, but didn't embarrass himself with the puck like Mark Stuart, the Human Stick Foul Machine, did.

So let's win the game on Saturday against the guys who try to pretend they have a rivalry with us to bask in our reflected glory, and watch the Bruins fumble away second place on Sunday.

Colin Sullivan and the Canadiens high-reward future

 Interesting article on Hockey's Future about the Canadiens prospects and their picks for various awards.  Good reading, makes you feel optimistic about our team's future.

One note about their pick for Colin Sullivan as the winner in the "High Risk/High Reward" category.  We have starkly different definitions as to what constitutes 'high risk', since the young gentleman was picked in 2011 in the seventh round, 198th overall.  He's also, according to the Googlesphere, a big tough kid who's a dependable defenceman and who skates very well.  Spending a seventh-round choice on such a player is not exactly a gamble in my books.  If you wanted to read his progress since he was drafted in the most positive light, you could argue that he was a Low Risk/High Reward prospect right now.

Instead, the real "High Risk/High Reward" winner should be Alex Galchenyuk.  The Canadiens could have played it safe last summer and picked a big strong defenceman, since there were many candidates available, or steady big winger Filip Forsberg, who projects to be a talented, dependable NHL forward, but instead they went with the Sarnia Sting centreman, despite his knee injury and reconstruction (High Risk), because of his huge huge talent and upside (High Reward).  Spending the #3 overall pick on a player with a suspect knee took guts, and it looks like it will pay off.

The Justin Schultz Decision, Take 2

So watching the Oilers-Blackhawks game last night ever so briefly and watching Justin Schultz, it struck me again how he would have fit right in with the Canucks, and how he may be rethinking his decision to go to Edmonton.  The reports are that Vancouver was a 'finalist', but he chose to go with the young team on the cusp of greatness, and Edmonton (?) instead.

He wasn't alone in thinking all the young talent would magically coalesce, finally, and they would sweep into the playoffs like the Oilers of old.  Some reputable journalists predicted they would do just so.  Instead, he's on a team with talent and potential, but big problems and big holes in its roster, and a management team in upheaval, and major roster changes on the way.

On the Canucks, he would have slid in to a veteran lineup that has been through the playoff wars and knows about winning.  He would have had veteran defencemen ahead of him like Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa to do the heavy lifting at the blue line, and been able to take more sheltered minutes as he adjusted to the NHL game.

As a right-handed shot and a setup man on the powerplay, he would have been a good complementary piece to either Jason Garrison or Alex Edler as the left-handed bomb from the point.  Especially now with Ryan Kesler back, he would have had the option, when he and the lefty defenceman switched up sides to facilitate the one-timer, to either go to the D-man or straight up to the faceoff dot to the right of the goalie, where Mr. Kesler makes a living on the powerplay.

So it's only one season, decisions like this are made with a long-term view, and things can change quickly, but right now I have to wonder how much better off Mr. Schultz would be living in Vancouver and having a real shot at a deep run in the playoffs.

Carey Price, Serge Savard and Dan Cloutier

Serge Savard was a guest on the TSN Radio Montreal show "Off The Cuff" with host Chris Nilan on Wednesday, and the two Canadien warriors discussed the current state of the Habs.  They touched on various hot topics, such as the Canadiens' lack of size, and Carey Price's play of late.

Mr. Savard is in a delicate situation in that he has links to the current management team, having helped Geoff Molson find and hire the current General Manager Marc Bergevin.  Regardless, he's also plain-spoken man and was relatively critical of Carey, explaining that he thought early on he would be a great goaltender and a superstar, but that "he's not showing it right now."  He also compared Carey to Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, and explained that while the latter had some bad nights, he doesn't remember him ever not trying, not battling during a game.

Ouch.  This is going to register on the Richter scale.  It's okay for fans to say stuff like this, but pretty controversial coming from Serge Savard, and an example of trying to douse the fire with gasoline.  And his reference to a goalie fighting and trying hard instantly made me think of another goalie.

Being on the West Coast, I've been exposed to Canucks hockey to an almost toxic level, and went through the Dan Cloutier years.  This was the seasons when they had maybe the best line in hockey with Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, with journeyman Brendan Morrison as the centre (the thought of which is almost enough to send me on a tangent about Vancouver GM's having two-thirds of a Hall of Fame line and being incapable/unwilling to get the final piece, and think of what the Sedin twins could have accomplished had they had the big tough scoring winger everyone has been crying about for years, but I won't), and a big piece on defence with Ed Jovanovski.

In goal, however, was Dan Cloutier.  Now Dan wasn't the biggest, the best or most talented goalie, we were always told, but he was a 'battler' who 'wore his heart on his sleeve', he was emotional and gave his team a lift when they needed it, the announcers would harp.

Except when things like this happened (approx. 45 second mark).  Which led to this famous shot, which we believed to be photo-shopped, possibly the first use of it bringing together a goalie and a beachball, and was widely circulated in the prehistoric internet days of dial-up modems.

So maybe Mr. Savard has a point about Carey, and maybe he can work on his intensity, maybe it's not all that it could be when the going gets tough, but I've had my fill of goalies who battle hard, and wasn't the big plus with Carey that he shows no emotion and that he's cool under fire?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Game 46: Canadiens 2, Devils 3

It's getting harder and harder to stay positive when we review the latest Canadiens' game.  It's difficult to see this discombobulated and impotent bunch suddenly turning it up a few notches for the playoffs, that's probably why.  Playing a Devils team that had every reason to lie down, its season being practically finished except for the necessity to play out the string, the Canadiens were the team that seemed uninspired.  It turned out we were the pigeon ready to be plucked, not them.

That ennui may have seeped into the RDS broadcast crew.  There was a screen graphics template shown onscreen while the Canadiens were in the attacking zone late in the game, and it stayed up for a few seconds.  These kinds of technical gaffes are rare at RDS, they're usually a slick team, but it even affected Pierre Houde.  The reliable and polished play-by-play man referred to Carey Price as "Patrick Roy" early in the first period, and later misidentified Brian Gionta as Josh Gorges.  The latter had made me sit up, wondering what Josh Gorges was doing so far up in his zone blocking a shot.  Someone needs to explain to these boys that while the Canadiens' season may not last much longer, they still need to broadcast the games and do a credible job of it, all the way to the end.

We saw Carey Price trying to rebound, recapture his form from earlier in the season, when he was technically sound and unflappable, but as the analysts showed, he seems to lack confidence, and instead of attacking the puck and looking big in nets, he seemed passive and confused.  On the Patrick Elias powerplay goal to open the scoring, we saw the old mistakes creeping back into his game, as he sagged lower and lower into his crouch while Mr. Elias held the puck for a second longer, until Carey had committed to the butterfly and the Devil coolly sniped the top corner blocker side, which is the 'book' on him.

Another interesting aspect tonight was how the refs protected Martin Brodeur, calling the Canadiens for three goaltender interference penalties, on which the Devils scored twice.  Now we have nothing against the refs doing their job and actually using their whistle and protecting the goalies, but after seeing so many teams crash our crease and bang Carey Price around, it was odd to see them call the game so tightly.  Evidently, while Carey is held in high esteem around the league and by media talking heads, the refs still think he needs to eat his Wheaties, while they are deferential to Mr. Brodeur.

So while Carey didn't quite deliver, we can't really pin this loss on him, as the Canadiens had a chance to win the game in the third, but it never really seemed likely.  They didn't storm the net with desperation, but rather flubbed and fumbled while trying to gain entry into the Devils' zone, or trying to recover the puck in their own zone and break out.  The powerplay has cooled off markedly, and the penalty kill which had firmed up shortly after Jeff Halpern's arrival, is now mired in an abysmal streak.  All three scoring lines, which had done so well to share the scoring load, have grown cold at the same time.

I don't really have any answers, can't see how sitting a particular player in the pressbox or shuffling the lines will help.  But that's why I'm not on the coaching staff, and merely a fan with an axe to grind.

The only saving grace is that the Bruins also lost, in an equally dispiriting fashion (nice bankshot off your goalie into your own net, Zdeno, brilliantly, elegantly done, as usual), so the second seeding in the division is still up for grabs.  And who will give me odds that Cam Neely fires Claude Julien and parachutes down from the box to behind the bench, right before the playoffs?  I'll take bets at 5-to-1.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

After elbowing, concussing, and now slashing Daniel Sedin, I like Duncan Keith less and less

I don't really know Duncan Keith, but is he as much of a jerk as he seems?  Everyone remembers the unconscionable elbow he threw at Daniel Sedin last season, that concussed him and that probably derailed the Canucks' playoffs.

Last night, with Daniel Sedin on a clean breakaway, Duncan Keith was two steps behind and as Daniel made his move and scored on the goalie, Mr. Keith took a huge two-handed slash at him.  No penalty was called, but that's because the NHL is the NHL, and Gary Bettman is busy selling outdoor games in L.A.  Anyway, when Mr. Keith was questioned about it, he seems to have gotten pretty defensive and snarky, and dismissive of a reporter doing her job.

Anyone have any insight on Duncan Keith?  Douche majeure?  Because if I judge him by his public actions, which is all I have to go on, this guy shows such bad character he should be a Boston Bruin.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Andrei Markov, Carey Price, Matt Cooke, bummed-out Bulldogs, Josh Gorges, on a slow day

Various controversies regarding the Canadiens are bubbling over on the blogosphere.

Some thoughts:

1)  Buy out Andrei Markov?  My favourite Hab?  Maybe the most undervalued, under-recognized Canadien ever?  It's heresy, but even more to the point, for all the myopes on here, it's would the astounding squander of a precious resource, like burning a winning lottery ticket to stay warm.  Andrei may be having a tough few games, and he's not as mobile and dependable as he once was, but he still has a Bryan Mills-like 'very particular set of skills'.  Skills that other teams would pay highly for.  Even if he didn't fit in with the team anymore, others would slaver at how potent an injection he'd be on their powerplay.  If the Red Wings gave a first-rounder for Kyle Quincey, how much would they give for Andrei Markov?

Andrei only has one year left on his contract, and he'll still be very useful next season, and we wouldn't be able to replace him in the lineup, not anywhere close.  Even if you argue that he's overpaid cap-wise, it's still a misuse of the amnesty buyout.  You use the amnesty for players who are of no use to you, players like Scott Gomez or Tomas Kaberle, or players with long-running deals they have no hope of providing equivalent value for, players such as Ilya Bryzgalov or, sadly, Vincent Lecavalier, and for who you have to get out from under right now, while the amnesty buyouts are available.

2)  Carey Price is our goaltender for the next five years or so, don't even worry about it or try to come up with fantastic trade proposals to envision a different future.  We're married to him, and for those who haven't fallen under his spell already, you better learn to love him.  There is no other goalie in the league that is demonstrably better than Carey Price going forward.  If you asked NHL insiders which goalie they'd take to start a new franchise, more than half would probably pick Carey.  So let's just accept that he's had a few bad games, but he'll work out of it, and worry about real holes in our roster.

He's not Patrick Roy, he's not Ken Dryden, he's Carey Price, and that's plenty good enough.

3)  The selection of Matt Cooke as the Penguins' representative for the Bill Masterton Trophy can be viewed as a protest candidate by the Pittsburgh press corps, in a rebuke to the rest of the league that they don't just outright the trophy to the currently full-face-shielded Sidney Crosby.  Think of Matt Cooke as a modern-day Taro Tsujimoto.

And that's how it's done, Jack Edwards.  You imbecile.

4)  So who's the Hamilton Bulldog who's most bummed out right now?  Patrick Holland?  Zach Stortini?  Morgan Ellis?  Danny Kristo?  Frédéric St-Denis?  Probably the latter...

Surprised they didn't bring in Danny Kristo as well, I thought they'd want him to get the extra weeks of practice in.

5)  Josh Gorges might be a great guy in the dressing room and a shining example of hard work paying off, but he's a #5 defenceman who got paid as a #2 defenceman because he was the incumbent #2, who got to be there because we had no option but to play him with P.K., and had no option but to play P.K. as our #1.  Let's call this phenomenon the 'Maple Leaf effect'.

Pierre Gauthier couldn't sign him to a reasonable contract rewarding him for his years of service yet respecting the salary structure, and put it off, then later panicked at the prospect of losing him as a UFA and gave him almost $4M/year.  That's too much cake for the role he plays, and the diminishing role he'll play going forward.

Josh is small and not very tough, not very talented, not good offensively, it's a weird combination.  Most defencemen who find a role as a defensive defenceman tend to be bigger and more physical.  Josh is a tweener, a guy who doesn't fit our mold of what a defenceman should look like and play like.  He's like a baseball pitcher who doesn't have great velocity, but also doesn't really have good movement and control of his breaking pitches.  He's the short skinny quarterback who doesn't have a big arm, but he's also not accurate or particularly mobile, yet somehow manages to win you games, some of them.  So you recognize what he does, but you're also checking out the waiver wire and the quarterback class coming up in the next draft.  He's that girl who you studied with a couple of times and is real nice, and you kind of find yourself spending a lot of time with and end up with at the restaurant on a Friday night, and now realize you're on a date.  She's still nice, but your waitress is smoking hot, and so are her coworkers, and twenty customers in the place, and you're finding it hard not to look around.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Game 45: Canadiens 1, Capitals 5

We kind of hoped that Thursday's narrow, fortune-aided victory against the Lightning might be the slide arrestor for Nos Glorieux, a win which would help our boys regroup and get back pointed in the right direction.  That's all shot to hell now.  We're not dealing with a blip, or a welcome stretch of adversity that helps a team find its centre and harden its character, as Michel Therrien tried to couch it in his postgame comments of two nights ago.  What we've got here is an uncontrolled implosion, a Brian Burke-certified "18-wheeler going off a cliff".

Since the Canadiens gutted out a 2-1 victory over the Bruins, they've had one easy win over a dispirited Sabres team, the aforementioned nailbiter against the theoretical pushovers from Tampa Bay, and five losses, four of which have been of the kick in the guts/lower abdomen variety.  At first we pointed to the loss of Alexei Emelin's punishing defensive play as the reason, since opponents now had no fear in the Canadiens' zone, but that is getting to be relatively thin as an excuse.  How could the loss of a second-pairing defenceman cause all this, when the Senators lost Erik Karlsson and kept on keeping on?

There are a few reasons being tried on for size, as we try to understand what is going on.  Various rumoured injuries are conjured up sotto voce.  Carey Price has a groin strain.  Brandon Prust is obviously not 100%.  Josh Gorges must be playing with a Bo Jackson hip, how else can his play have fallen off this much?  Andrei Markov surely is suffering from a generalized lassitude.

Guy Carbonneau is adamant that other teams have figured out the Canadiens' system and have adjusted, and that it's now time for the Canadiens' coaching staff to make their own adjustments, but admits that without any practice time due to the compressed schedule, it's difficult to enact those.  Michel Therrien has tried shuffling his lines, and with the availability of Raphaël Diaz now has three lefty-righty defence pairings, but it seems the rabbit cage in his magic hat is now empty.

The clearest, gravest problem is in goal.  We wouldn't be having this talk if Carey Price was just playing average hockey, but he has chosen now to undergo a crisis of confidence. Not good.  At his wage rate, he's not allowed those.  He's getting paid top dollar, he's expected to be routinely excellent, Martin Brodeur-style.  He's supposed to be 'set it and forget it' good, pencil him in the lineup and don't give it a second thought, worry instead about the line combinations or healthy scratches.  He's stopping 8 shots out of 10, when it should be 19 out of twenty.  He's simply not doing the job.  Again, the limited practice time is not helping in this area.  And again, there is no option here, we have to keep starting him until he plays his way out of it.

René Bourque is having a tough return to the ice, we see the puck bouncing off his stick in every direction, but never behind the goalie.  Concussions are tough, he's game, trying hard, and there shouldn't be any second-guessing of his performance.  He's rusty, but the puck will eventually roll for him.

So we have three games before the playoffs start.  With the Bruins stuck in neutral but having games in hand, and the Sens and Leafs in striking distance, our #2 seeding is in jeopardy.  And this makes it harder than last year, when about halfway through the season I realized we wouldn't make the playoffs, and just sat back and enjoyed the ride to a high draft pick.  I no longer had any illusions, I knew it would end soon, so the final thirty games or so I could be dispassionate, as if I was witnessing the dissection of the fetal pig in biology class.  Now, knowing we have playoffs coming, and divisional opponents as our potential first-round dance partners, I feel like I'm watching Leatherface going at my German Shepherd.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Game 44: Canadiens 3, Lightning 2

In the most recent win by the Canadiens against the Sabres, we talked about how this was a formality of a win against a listless team that has already checked out.  Tonight's win against Tampa Bay had a different feel, but should bear the same degree of caution for the mercurial fans of the team.  While it will serve as a bad-streak breaker, and might help settle down Carey Price, the Canadiens can't hang their hat on this victory and proclaim, George Bush the Lesser In A Flight Suit-style, "Mission accomplished."

The first period was an even affair, with chances to score going both ways, and Tampa Bay notably plinking three pucks past Carey Price, with one each ending up on either post and one on the crossbar before bouncing out.  The Lightning unleashed a barrage of bodychecks on the Canadiens, following the gameplan established and proven effective by the Leafs, Pens and Flyers recently.  Marc Denis mentioned on RDS that an Eastern Division coach had told him that the strategy his team would use against the Canadiens would be to hit them hard and often, and to crash Carey Price's net, so the secret's out.

The second saw the Canadiens slowly take the game to the Lightning, having withstood the early onslaught, and put two pucks behind giant Ben Bishop, but before the hardy few who tried to start the "Olé Olé" chant prematurely could really get going, the Lightning closed the gap by scoring on a late power play.

While I think there are too many fans who obsess over the "Olé" song, and confuse its meaning with the "Na na, hey hey, goodbye" song, we should set up some widely agreed-upon parameters to delineate when it should be deployed.  I think it broadly should be used when our team is rolling and the building is rocking, but maybe only when the Good Guys have a three goal lead, or maybe two goals with five minutes to go in the game.  Any less than that is hubris and may tempt the Gods, or more practically it could fail to whip up our boys and motivate the opponents instead, who might think they are still in the game and want to shut the crowd up, prove a point.  Anyway, in this game at least, I did clearly formulate the thought that the "Olé" song was being heard way too soon, when Les Glorieux had a very tenuous hold on the game, and sure enough a minute later we were down to a one-goal game.

Vincent Lecavalier tied up the game in the third, on a goal which when replayed didn't make Andrei Markov look very good.  While the Lightning don't have much depth, they are always a threat to score when players such as Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier are on the ice.  All through the third, the Canadiens attacked the Tampa zone, but the Lightning counterattacked with these three, and we were on the edge of our seats, thinking how easily they can snipe a puck.

Patrick Roy on l'Antichambre had a good laugh and quipped that the Canadiens waited a long time for Benoit Pouliot to be a difference-maker in the third period for them, and in this game it finally happened.  He was referring to the penalty he took for a stupid hold on P.K. Subban 200 feet from his own net, during which the Canadiens capitalized and won the game on a nifty Brian Gionta goal.

Now, I didn't look a second time by rewinding the PVR, but it seemed as if P.K. didn't fight very hard to stay upright when he was wrapped up by Mr. Pouliot.  The latter is a big strong guy and certainly powerful enough to bring P.K. down, and he had a good wrap on him from behind, with his stick and gloves and forearms on the defenceman's shoulders, but then again halfway through his brain cramp he seemed to realize what he was doing and was about to hold up his hands and let go of the stick, to plead his innocence to the refs, but it was too late, the damage was done.

And herein lies the imbecility of the NHL and its abysmal practice of calling penalties based on situations.  On the play in question, Benoit Pouliot was clearly beaten, he was a clear step behind P.K. Subban at least, who had a clear path to the puck.  In football or basketball, that would be tough noogies for the guy trying to catch up.  If he tried to grab an arm or a handful of jersey, a clear infraction would have occurred and would be called.  In hockey, however, factors such as the identity of the players, the score, what the clock reads, how many penalties have been called to each team, and how recently, whether Don Cherry is in attendance, what the barometric pressure is doing, and a myriad others are used to determine if a penalty is a penalty.  So that Benoit Pouliot is allowed to do little hooks with his sticks, and grab him a little, and slash him around the legs and waist to some degree with a nebulous limit, but he can't overdo it, or the ref will 'have' to call it.  You see, he doesn't 'have' to call all the penalties committed, just those he 'has' to, capisce?

So in this instance, P.K. could have been a good Canadian kid and fought through the hold, and stayed upright and muddled a play on the puck, and no penalty would have been called most probably.  Even if the muddled puck ended up in his net.  Or, he can let the hold happen and present the ref with a decisive result, demonstrate the degree of interference he was faced with.  Maybe even amp it up a notch, in case the ref is hard of seeing, as he usually is.

And that's how we get a 'diving epidemic'.  If the refs called every slash, every hook, each instance of interference, there would be no need for players to dive.  If there wasn't this 'borderline hook' mentality, if instead it was clearly explained and arbitrated consequently, that a player who is a step behind or out of position has only one option, which is to put his head down and skate like crazy to get back in position, there'd be no upside to 'embellish', no epidemic.

Two other instances where this concept comes into play caught my eye.  One was the Eric Brewer tripping call on Max Pacioretty, for spinning Max clear around as he was trying to get to the net.  Max spun 360 degrees and ended up near the net, tottering, and I thought could have maybe kept his balance, but I surmise that he thought since the puck was nowhere near, there was no play to be made, and no advantage to stay upright, so he may as well complete the fall that was initiated by Mr. Brewer.  The latter skated to the penalty box protesting mildly, knowing he clearly held/hooked/tripped Max, but also suspecting that Max could have stayed up on his skates if he'd given it his all.

Another instance went the other way, when Brendan Gallagher skated the puck from his zone all the way to the Tampa slot, having beaten Matt Carle on the play.  Mr. Carle was a full step behind, and the entire way slashed and hooked Brendan at the waist, his legs, his hands/stick, unceasingly, until Brendan kind of coughed up the puck to end the play and threat.  There were 12 to 20 instances that could have been penalized, but they all fell beneath the threshold that was conjured up for this particular play, at this particular juncture of the game.  So Matt Carle made 'a good defensive play', he 'backchecked'.  And I wondered if Brendan had embellished on one of the hooks at his waist, or the slashes at his ankles, would that have been better than what he did, which is what he has done all season, meaning bravely soldier on and fight his way to the net.

So P.K. I suspect helped the ref make the right call, by showing him clearly that he was being held, illegally, by a slower, dumber player who was out of position and made a brain-dead play when he had a multitude of options so far from his own net, and the Canadiens cashed in the powerplay, and won the game, not decisively, but it's two points and it stopped the skid and we can take a breath and see about those resurgent Capitals on Saturday.

And if I ran the NHL drug testing program, and if I'd read the Bill Simmons article about how no sudden surge in production of performance, or dramatic decline, is now beyond suspicion in the post-Lance Armstrong era, I'm waiting for Alex Ovechkin with a sample cup when he gets in to Montréal, despite Gary Bettman's stern reminder that what's good for the Capitals and what's good for NBC is good for the league and good for my continued employment.

Game 43: Canadiens 4, Penguins 6

Well, we can kiss a few trophies goodbye after tonight's game.

First, Lord Stanley's chalice will not come home this summer, our lineup being more reminiscent lately of the Washington Generals than a contender.  When the Canadiens were chasing after the puck in their own zone, a step behind the Pens, and usually, sadly, when Andrei Markov was on the ice, I'd hit skip back on my PVR and watch the sequence again, but while whistling "Sweet Georgia Brown".  It made me feel marginally better.  It seems the removal of the Emelin of Clubs has brought the whole house of cards crashing down.

Second, if there had been any hope that Carey would win the Vézina, it was obliterated tonight, ground into dust and blown away.  At the same time, Michel Therrien's decision to re-insert him into the lineup after one period, mere hours after he was worked hard in practice to recapture his form, and after the head coach had stated publicly he needed to sit out a game and gather his composure, may have sunked his chance to nab the Jack Adams.

Finally, P.K., in the running for the Norris Trophy, regressed back to last year's level with tonight's showing.  There was talk on RDS how he needed to 'win the battle' against Kris Letang to sway voters his way.  It didn't happen.  The latter got 2 assists and played his heady, flashy game, while P.K. started well but disintegrated at the end.

P.K. is a target of the opposition fans, and of his opponents.  There is a bullseye on his back, even discounting the personal angle, in that he is the most potent threat on the Canadiens roster, and the one who must be hit constantly and slowed down.  This is especially true now that Alexei Emelin has been knocked out of the season.  So the Penguins unfailingly finished their checks on him and banged him up, but he was a warrior and kept racing back for the puck, absorbing hits to clear it, and skating and being effective, until he lost his composure with the game seemingly out of reach.

Early in the third, with the score 6-3 in favour of the Pens, he battled hard in the corner against Joe Vitale for the puck, absorbing a hard check, then another from Brenden Morrow.  Inexplicably, P.K. decided this was a good time and a worthy opponent to have a fight against.  He punched/crosschecked him, then dropped the gloves, but got himself turned around and in an awkward position by going in with a big haymaker  and missing.  Having his back to Mr. Morrow, he managed to get a headlock on him and feed him a couple of jabs/noogies, until they were separated by the linesmen.

P.K.'s reaction was worrisome, in that he clowned it up, smiling and laughing as if this whole ordeal was no big deal, as if he hadn't caused it and kind of messed it up, and as if he'd proven a point or won something.  Based on the tepid stick-taps he got from half his teammates on the bench, they were as confused and unimpressed as I was.  In the box, Brenden Morrow and P.K. kept jawing at each other, with the former caught on camera clearly saying to P.K. that they would meet again on the ice in five short minutes.

It got worse.  P.K. played another shift or two after his penalty expired, but then got embroiled in a shoving match with other Penguins, while safely chaperoned by a linesman to ensure he wouldn't have to actually back up his antics.  Sure enough, they quickly surrounded him and expelled him from the game, and he seemed not unrelieved to not have to finish the game.

In one game, P.K. managed to destroy all the good work he'd done so far this season.  As PJ Stock had inelegantly tried to explain, the biggest hurdle for the Norris Trophy was the bad reputation he'd built up over the years, some of it undeserved.  Regardless, the way to combat this is for him to play hard, wow onlookers, and keep his nose clean, both in games and off the ice.  He can play tough, he can play mean, but he can't play dirty or dive or mug or embellish.  He can't start fights and not finish them and act as if he's better than that, since he frigging started it.

So as far as the showdown against Kris Letang, P.K. lost it in a rout.  And this isn't only a concern for the Norris Trophy, if he cared about that, but also for a spot on the Canadian Olympic Team.  Before tonight, it might have seemed as if his inclusion was a done deal, his game having been transformed compared to last season.  He'd moved the needle for the average fan from "What a chippy, chirpy douche" to "Not really my cup of tea, but man can that kid play hockey" steadily over the season, but slid all the way back to "I hope Brenden Morrow destroys him next time they play."

Now, he's given the management team real reason to question his focus, his determination, his mental toughness, his fit in the dressing room.  They are going to ask themselves, with Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Kris Letang already on the roster, do they need another puck carrier and offensive weapon like P.K., with all the risks he brings with him in terms of undiscipline and bad penalties, a guy who could possibly win the game for you, but also certainly can lose it too, or do you go with steady-eddie Marc Staal?  When the pressure's on, does P.K. rise to the occasion, or does he melt down?

Some will argue that P.K. is still young, and has a lot of pressure on him, and it's understandable that he'd snap.  I agree with this only partially, in that it's something that young stars have to deal with.  Jonathan Toews and Steve Stamkos get hit and slashed and gooned too, and they deal with it without the fracas that we saw tonight.  They don't lose their excrement.  Ray Bourque as a young man was the only worthwhile player on the Bruins, and the Canadiens knew this, and in the playoffs were relentless, the big forwards like Claude Lemieux and Sergio Momesso and Dave Maley et al. would pound on him without fail, anytime he touched the puck.  He'd wilt by the end of the series, but he always kept skating and playing hard and you'd have to give him his due.  Chris Chelios was another defenceman who was a marked man on the Canadiens, and some nights you wondered if he'd get out of the rink alive, but he kept playing and skating and fighting.  P.K. has to toughen up and do the same if he wants to be considered as an elite defenceman.

Oh, and Brendan Gallagher, despite his winning smile, now is out of the running for the Lady Bing.

So the wheels have fallen off, the roadster is on closer inspection a rattling jalopy, and we're looking like sitting ducks going in the playoffs.  We thought there'd be jockeying for position so as to face the South-East Division champ, but now teams must be licking their chops at the prospect of going against Nos Glorieux.

And now, when I check the standings, I'll be more interested in how the Preds and Flames are doing, wondering where our second-round draft picks are going to land.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Ryan White gets five games. Okay. Now what about Steve Ott and Colton Orr?

Ryan White's play that got him a five-game suspension is typical of a lot of these head-hunting checks that land the recipient in the Quiet Room, as well as pretty much all 'knee on knee' incidents: the checker has one goal in mind, which is to deliver a (hopefully) punishing check on a target, zeroes in from a long enough distance that when the conditions change, when the target deviates or veers off course, he doesn't have the flexibility or skill or adaptability to scrap the idea and try something else, like play the puck maybe.

Instead, the player is 'on the train tracks' and can't deviate or abort mission, and as the target moves out of collision range, the checker has to lean in with a shoulder, or extend out the elbow, or flare out the knee to make some kind of contact, and not get caught way out of position with the target now past him, free and clear.  The checker is committed to one act, which is to lay out the target until next Tuesday with a clean, punishing hit, but doesn't have the skating skills to accomplish this, or the talent to try anything else, like playing the friggin' puck maybe.

How we end up with the Steve Otts and Matt Cookes and Raffi Torres polluting the game is by allowing them to continue to play their brand of SmashUp Derby hockey, without consequence when they take out Marc Savard and Marian Hossa.  That's how Colton Orr, who wouldn't know a puck if it caught him so flush in the teeth that he ended up swallowing it, can assault Tomas Plekanec in the middle of the ice and potentially end his season but get away scot-free.  The rules protect Colton Orr more than they protect Tomas Plekanec.

The odd thing about this is that these specific rules don't protect NHL owners well at all, since their most valuable commodities, their highly-talented players, are constantly at risk of being idled for weeks or months or whole seasons.  You would think that they'd tell the Brian Burkes and the Brendan Shanahans what's what, that they'd give them strict marching orders to protect their investments, the $10M players who draw in the fans who buy ten dollar beers.  Like, I don't know, how the NFL protects its quarterbacks with ever-stricter rules governing how they may not be hit (below the knees, on the head, after the ball is gone, when in the pocket, if their name has the letter B-A-R-D-Y in it), or the way the NBA doesn't allow Kobe or LeBron to get fouled (flagrant fouls are automatic ejections, fines and suspensions).  You would think that an NHL owner, who has to pay a player his salary whether he's healthy enough to play or not, would make sure that his $7M player wasn't getting paid to talk to doctors, while another plug is called up and given a raise from $50 000 to $500 000 to sub in.

So for poor old Whitey, sorry to say this, but five games is harsh but on the low end of what he should get.  Lots of commenters weigh in and say that he has to play with an edge, he has to bring a physical dimension to be effective in the NHL.  That's agreed.  Yet he's not devoid of talent, as we've explored before.  The Canadiens moved up to snatch him up in the third round of the 2006 draft when they felt he was falling way past where he should have gone, in a class where he was ranked above Ben Maxwell and Milan Lucic by Central Scouting.

If Ryan can play hockey, he'll find a way to contribute and have a decent career.  If however the only thing he can do is crash and bang and fight, and he's getting himself penalized and suspended out of the league, well then so be it.  The game will be better for it if he and others of his ilk are weeded out of the league and guys like David Desharnais and Michael Grabner are given a bigger role and better chance.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Game 42: Canadiens 3, Flyers 7

About twenty games back, a friend of mine who's a great fan of the Canucks started a conversation with me about the Canadiens, and asked me how it was it they kept winning.

"They're doing it with mirrors" was my answer.

It seemed like they must be, or they had a Dorian Gray painting of last season's lineup in the attic of the New Forum.  Chicken feet in a pentagram.  Or something.

Anyway, the wide support for Michel Therrien as a candidate for the Jack Adams Trophy derived from the fact that he took essentially the same lineup that hiccuped through its season into last place in 2012 to first or its environs this year.  Sure, a new system better suited for the players on hand, and the addition of a few character veterans, as well as the return to good health of Brian Gionta and especially Andrei Markov, could partially explain this rebound, but there was a fantastic aspect to it too.  Rookies who come and produce right away, and inject youth and energy but no trepidation or mistakes.  Timely goals, with the team usually scoring first, yet finding ways to make comebacks when necessary.  A very healthy lineup, with the team avoiding injuries to its leaders, and finding ways to palliate for the few it did suffer.

Lots was also made of how this was a shortened season, and weird things could happen.  Extended streaks one way or another could decide the season, without the possibility that a normal 82-game slog of a season could normalize results and smooth over statistical anomalies.

Over the last four games, we've seen the team lose a game against the resurgent Capitals, win one on autopilot against the amorphous Sabres, and then collapse against the Maple Leafs and now the Flyers.  It's noteworthy that Alexei Emelin has perhaps not coincidentally been absent for four games now, and Brandon Prust had just returned from a shoulder injury before bowing out for this game.

It's also noteworthy that in the last two games, the Canadiens have been pushed around again, something which was routine last season, but which had radically decreased this year, maybe because the opponents were usually playing from behind and didn't have the latitude to take liberties.  Also, the powerplay was clicking along and enough of a threat to dissuade the rough-and-tumble leanings of the opposition.

As we approach the playoffs, and the game tightens up while referees put away their whistles, our adversaries' propensity to try and get us off our game by playing an aggressive, physical style does not bode well.  Whereas this tactic was useless earlier in the season, due to the threat of the powerplay and the team toughness approach, it now seems to be have an effect.  We see players like Tomas Plekanec losing their cool.  We see David Desharnais become completely neutralized, unable to dart into open space and find his wingers.  We see Lars Eller retreat into his shell.

A word about Lars.  He's made great strides this season, and he still has a lot to learn, but in games like this it would be great if he took up more room on the ice, rather than less.  We keep raving about how he's so big and so jacked, it's time that he learn to use that size and strength in games like these.  We're not asking for him to turn into Eric Lindros or Mark Messier, he's not that type of player, but Bobby Smith for example was a centre with size who could play a fast offensive style, but when the going got tough he could play with an edge and assert himself and use his size to protect himself and his linemates. I'm not saying I want him to fight or goon it up, but when Nazem Kadri runs him into the boards, and he doesn't respond, that's a problem.  He needs to look around the dressing room and understand that he's one of the bigger guys in there, and that he should play like it.

If toughness was the only issue, that would be one thing, but another glaring problem is our defence.  Again, after around twenty games, we started to feel that maybe we were set on defence.  P.K. Subban took a couple of games to get up to speed, then took off and hasn't really looked back.  The return of Andrei Markov and his pairing with Alexei Emelin gave the team a strong unit that matched up well, covered up each other's weaknesses, and played well at either end of the rink.  Francis Bouillon played as if he was 31, not 36.  Josh Gorges was the steady Eddie, and Raphaël Diaz was markedly improved from last season, and especially effective offensively.  Overall, they were a smaller group, but very agile, and the new system played to their strength.  Aided by Carey Price, they'd retrieve the puck and move it out quickly, instead of getting bogged down and hammered in their own end, like last year.  They didn't need to be big.  Actually, the fact that they were smaller and quicker played to our advantage.

The injury to Alexei Emelin has been a big change, and has destabilized at least two pairings.  Andrei Markov is markedly less effective, and the third pairing is now officially unreliable.  We went from having our defence squad be a strength we can rely on to a weakness the opposition can exploit in one fell swoop.  There is some tinkering we can do, but we don't have any new horses to team up.  The kids in Hamilton aren't ready to go, as Nathan Beaulieu demonstrated tonight.  We used to roll out three defence pairings, with roughly equivalent icetime between them.

So we're back to being small and a target for intimidation, and having our defence be P.K. and Josh Gorges being our only reliable defence pair, and even that's not a role Josh should be playing, his skillset is more suited to being a fifth defenceman, not a #2.  The only thing that can save us is miraculous goaltending.

And Carey needs a lot of work right now.  It's not his new pads, Marc Denis of RDS debunked that theory tonight, explaining that the goalie pads nowadays are meant to be stiff, when they're softer and broken in that's the signal that they need to be replaced.  He explained that he's used brand new pads the night that he received them, with no ill effects.  Maybe Glen Healy's info, based on his experience, is now obsolete.  In any case, there's no solution to the goaltending issue.  We all thought earlier on that we'd only go as far as Carey would take us, and that's even more true now.  He has a half-dozen games to turn it around.  All we can do is hope that a lot of work with his coach in practice, and that a few more normal games get him back on track.

And now I'm really happy that Marc Bergevin didn't go all in.  It must have been tempting, but he took the long view, and his approach now seems validated.  He knew that the team wasn't set yet, that one key injury could make this whole thing unravel.

There have been reports that Mr. Bergevin relied on his experience with the Blackhawks, when they could have made a deadline trade at the cost of a first-round pick, which they declined to do, since they felt the team wasn't "ready to win yet".  Sure enough, that first-rounder turned out to be Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, the anecdote was unclear, but in hindsight the right decision was made.

We are in the same situation of not being ready yet.  We don't have a Toews-Kane-Hossa-Keith core together yet, or a Crosbie-Malkin-Letang.  We still need to gather up pieces to be a consistent contender, and to fritter away prospects and draft picks to plaster over the fundamental weaknesses being exposed right now would have been the wrong move to make.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Bryan Bickell would have looked good in bleu, blanc et rouge

I touched on earlier about how apparently Marc Bergevin was trying to add a big forward to the team before the trade deadline but couldn't make a deal.  The names floated were Mike Rupp and Kyle Clifford, both of whom I'm somewhat familiar with, and Bryan Bickell, who I'd never really heard of.

Well Bryan Bickell just scored for the Blackhawks against Brian Elliot, in not a great display of skill, since it was just a tap-in, but he still was in the right position while going to the net.

Going to, we see the guy is 6'4" and 225, so he would have added a size dimension sorely missing from our roster, and our immediate prospects.  He scored 20 goals and racked up 76 PIM in his draft year in 2004 for the 67's, and was picked up in the second round by Chicago.  His final year of junior he potted 45 goals and 83 points, but never broke the 20 goal mark in the pros.

Not sure how much a player like this is worth, but I would guess that the 'Hawks value him highly, the broadcast crew on NBC have touched on how they are not as big as the Blues, how they have more skill with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, but can be worn down by physical play.  They wouldn't have just given him away, unless there were problems.

I guess the trick is to identify a team that has a lot of big tough wingers in their system, and need something that we have too much of, say a slick puck-moving defenceman, but that will have to wait until the offseason at the earliest.  To accomplish a trade like this, you need to know not only your own roster well, but have good pro scouting and knowledge of other teams.  This is where the stronger management team we have in place, with prior experience with various teams and in other divisions, can be put to good use.

The gold standard in such matters is the trade Calgary pulled off for Mikka Kiprusoff, when he was stuck behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala on the depth chart of the Sharks.  Darryl Sutter had just come over to Calgary from the Sharks organization, and he knew the talent the young goalie had, and how the Sharks might feel set in goal and be willing to trade him.  They got him for a second-round pick, outright robbery.

What we need to do is identify the player in the league or AHL who isn't getting the opportunity to prove himself because of a logjam ahead of him, but who would thrive with the Canadiens, playing a role that is currently vacant, the Mario Tremblay/Yvon Lambert/Mike McPhee role.  We would then match up that team's needs with what we have a surplus of.

These deals will get easier to make as our farm team gets better.  While we still have a ways to go, already we're seeing such a situation with our defencemen, with Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis already in Hamilton and developing, and Magnus Nygren and Darren Dietz and more on the way.  At some point, we'll have a wealth of NHL-ready defencemen, and be able to trade some of those pieces for others we need.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Game 41: Canadiens 1, Maple Leafs 5

These recaps aren't so much fun on a night like this.  The Canadiens fishtailed (win as a team, lose as a team) right off the bat, and the Leafs got some validation.  TSN will gloat over every detail for the next couple of days, and Sportsnet is no alternative, being fundamentally unwatchable.  Getting my sports fix is going to be tough.  So let's dive in, but keep it short, so we can quickly rinse off, towel off and move on to other things.

Carey Price needs to be better in these games where hype is omnipresent.  He needs to use that cool, calm demeanor to his advantage, be focused and ready to go when the puck is dropped.  Glenn Healy mentioned he was rocking new goalie gear, getting it ready for the playoffs.  Of course, it has to be broken in sometime, but maybe not against a divisional rival in a game that a lot of people are saying is a likely playoff rival a few weeks hence.

So that's two 'big' games he booted recently, counting the Boston game when Peter Budaj came in and saved his bacon.  Not acceptable.  There's no decision to be made or lesson to be learned, we'll dance with the one that brunged us, it's up to him to do the job.  Carey just has to do better, and we know that he knows.

One odd facet of this game was Brandon Prust seeking out Frazer McLaren for a fight early in the first period.  I'm not sure what the idea was, as the size differential between them kind of tilts the odds in the Leaf's favour, the best we could hope for in this one was a draw.  In the end, Brandon eked out a marginal victory, but really in doing so was playing the Leafs' game, not ours.  Strategically, we should be trying to skate circles around their defencemen, as we often do, and have Messrs. Prust, Moen and White on hand to parry their pugilistic efforts.  Be ready to respond if necessary, but not instigate.  Frazer McLaren appeared surprised at the invite, and was only too happy to respond, and when it was over we lost a valuable player for five minutes, while they sat a plug who doesn't even play much.  Not smart.

We had an example tonight of how 'toughness' in hockey is really asymmetric, how refereeing favours goon teams, and how the Canadiens need to be disciplined in the playoffs and have their powerplay clicking, or they won't last long.  I'm speaking of Dion Phaneuf's assault on P.K. Subban on a faceoff during a Canadiens powerplay, which resulted in both being sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct for two minutes.  Which is par for the course for the NHL, but in reality is a giant "Uhh?!"  P.K. was taking his position for the faceoff, at which time Mr. Phaneuf started slashing, cross-checking, and kicking at his feet, possibly in an attempt to slewfoot the Canadiens defenceman.

Why was not an extra two minutes given to Dion Phaneuf for starting the whole thing?  Why not an extra two for roughing?  Or, really, why not two for the slash, two for the crosscheck, another two for the other crosscheck, and two for kicking?  Which everyone will agree would never fly, that's not the way the game is officiated, but there you have the systemic advantage conferred upon the Bruins and the Leafs and other Truculenters.  It's either no penalty, the linesmen wade in as impotent peacemakers and separate the combatants, or both get offsetting minors, and away we go, and we lose our best powerplay performer, and if I'm Randy Carlyle I take that trade all game long.  It's abysmally stupid, and fundamentally unfair, and it's short-sighted for the league, forcing everyone in an arms race of gritty tough talentless checkers who provide zero entertainment value and distribute concussions liberally.

P.K. Subban had no viable option on this play.  If he doesn't retaliate, he's soft and accused of turtling and diving, and that's not the way Canadians play Don Cherry will thunder.  If he stands up for himself, he's seen as a participant in this by the myopic refs, and he gets a coincidental minor.  That's how we get to the point where Brad Marchand can bolo punch Daniel Sedin in the head repeatedly, with the refs having stored their whistles rectally for safe-keeping, and the linesmen coming in to put an end to any further infractions.  The refs and the system they wallow in allow the thugs to drag down the talented players down to their level, at the expense of the show.

The putative reason that Dion Phaneuf did this was that P.K. had acted tough when squaring off against Leo Komarov earlier in the game.  He was now 'sending a message', saying "If you wanna go, go with me", apparently.  Now the latter is listed as being 5'10" and 190 lbs, which seems like a pretty even matchup for P.K., certainly much fairer than one with Dion Phaneuf.

And that's what the 'physical game' devolves to.  It's rarely Jarome Iginla vs. Vincent Lecavalier, or Mario Tremblay vs. Bobby Schmautz, or Curt Fraser vs. Ron Delorme, combatants equally matched in terms of their size and toughness and their role on their respective teams.  At best, the physical game is two enforcers facing off and cancelling each other out.  Usually, however, it's big players slashing and hacking and 'finishing their checks' against smaller guys.  When a tougher player confronts them, they are less frisky and are likely to back down, as Dion Phaneuf did memorably against Brandon Prust in a previous game.  It's Milan Lucic barreling into Ryan Miller and cross-checking Dominic Moore in the head, but running away from Georges Laraque and hiding behind a ref when he's losing a fight to Colton Orr.  It's Ryan Kesler running around creaming guys, but when called to account by neanderthal Brian Boland replies: "I don't fight fourth-liners".

It's asymmetric warfare, where teams pollute their lineup with goons, and, enabled by the incompetent NHL, invite other teams to line up and fight them 'fair and square'.  If you're outgooned, well that's your fault, line up anyway, send us Tom Pyatt so Greg 'Get Out Of Jail Free' Campbell can turn his face into hamburger with the help of an elbow pad.  When a Tomas Plekanec or Brian Gionta is getting facewashed or slashed and slashes back, he's branded as yellow, because he doesn't have the 'guts' to square off and punch it out against a big idiot like Adam McQuaid.  It's ridiculous, it's killing the game and keeping it in the ghetto instead of the cultural mainstream, and that's Gary Bettman's and Don Cherry's and PJ Stock's and Mike Milbury's and Brian Burke's NHL.

Which is how a pylon like Dion Phaneuf has value in the NHL, because he's big, never mind that he can't skate backwards.  And which is how a team like the Leafs can win games despite having completely useless players like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren and Mark Fraser and Leo Komarov in their lineup.

That, and a peculiarly high shooting percentage in the first period.

There is no Habs-Leafs rivalry

I need to say this again: there is no Habs-Leafs rivalry.  I have never seen them as a rival.  It's always been Nordiques, Bruins, Flyers, in that order.  The other teams are mere opponents.  Schedule fillers.  They provide a different colour, a contrasting jersey on the telecasts.

If anything, maybe anglophone fans have been brain-washed into believing that a rivalry now exists, after many fallow years, subjected as they are to TSN hype and HNIC's resident lunatic's homoerotic crimes.  Most French-Canadian fans though are insulated from the Toronto media's attempts to validate their team by comparing it to ours, and wouldn't think of the Leafs as a rival.  They're a regular annoyance that has to be dealt with, like the Sabres or Senators.  C'est tout.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Game 40: Canadiens 5, Sabres 1

The end of the season nears, and teams are starting to self-select into categories such as 'strong playoff contender' and 'worthy of a playoff berth', or, as the Sabres clearly believe now, 'draft lottery candidate'. The young Sabres must be planning their Vegas and Cabo post-season trips right along with the young Colorado Avalanche members who were the targets of Jean-Sébastien Giguère's post-loss tirade on Monday.

This was an example of a game where a team that is stronger plays hard enough to win, but not so hard as to deplete itself and hamper its chances down the road due to exhaustion or injury, and also to avoid waking the opponents out of their sulk.  If the Sabres wanted to go through the motions and lose without paying the price, the Canadiens were going to let them.  Except for flashes of goonery and idiocy from the likes of (usual suspects) Patrick Kaleta and Steve Ott, as well as uncharacteristic undisciplined play from Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers, the Sabres were relatively dispassionate, unnoticeable participants, like movie extras brought in the flesh out the show.

Tyler Myers spoke post-game about how this might have been the worst showing and least inspired effort to come from his team since he'd been in Buffalo.  He tried the brave, plain-talking role that Mr. Giguère did, but didn't pull it off as effectively, mainly because he was one of the more visible culprits of this 'mail-it-in' game they foisted on their fans.  Indeed, on the first Canadiens' goal which was eventually awarded to René Bourque (nice to have you back big guy), he got caught flat-footed when, leading an odd-man rush into the Canadiens' zone, his chip-in on the side glass hit a stanchion, took a funny bounce which was corralled by the Canadiens forwards and taken quickly the other way.  I clearly noticed Mr. Myers chugging back to defend at the time, and replays bore out that indeed, his 75% effort was what allowed Brian Gionta, the trailer on a three on two with René Bourque and Tomas Plekanec, to get a shot on net that went in off Mr. Bourque's skate.

Tyler Myers dogged it.  Plain and simple.  He gave a semblance of effort to get back in coverage, but assumed he couldn't catch up on the play, and kind of gave up.  The thing is, if he had chased down the play, if he had tried, Brian Gionta would have been covered and not in the clear for a drop pass.  It's on him.  He and his $10M signing bonus, and his $5.5M cap hit until 2019.

We can wonder what the big influx in salary does to the kid's motivation and mindset.  So far, he had a Calder Trophy-worthy rookie year, a second season that didn't show the progression the Sabres would have liked, and a third season during which he struggled.  In return, Sabres' owner and fan Terry Pegula and General Manager Darcy Regier rewarded him with a huge contract, hoping to secure a player who they consider a big part of their future.  So far, it seems to be the wrong tack to take.  As was pointed out by the CBC crew calling the game, there was no need to do so, since without any arbitration rights, and with Unrestricted Free Agency far down the road for Mr. Myers, the Sabres held all the cards.  Their plan to show the player 'loyalty', and to reward him for his potential rather than for his actual production, is so far proving to be disastrous.

Now, Tyler Myers is a player gifted with tremendous physical size and athletic gifts, and can probably bear down and become a good-to-great player, but that will be dependent on him.  If he works hard in the off-season on his conditioning, and in season on his game during practices, he can recapture his rookie year magic.  But without the external motivation of playing for a big contract, and with all the attendant distractions caused by the piles of money coming in, can he achieve this?  Is he buying/building a big house?  One for his parents?  Does he need a big garage for his new Porsche?  Did he just buy the pub he always wanted to run with his buddies, and is that place bleeding money?  Are the partners now fighting?  Are his fiancée and his girlfriend(s) fighting?

This case study is instructive when we look at our own young defenceman P.K. Subban, who probably was seeking a contract comparable to Mr. Myers' this summer, and was rebuffed by Canadiens' management, who made him sign a 'bridge' second contract instead.  Some observers are claiming this is a big mistake, and that the Canadiens would have been better served to buy a few of P.K.'s UFA years at a comparative discount in July.  They say that P.K. will end up costing more in the long run because of this bridge contract.

I disagree with this interpretation.  There is nothing wrong with making P.K. prove himself on the ice, to pay him for his actual production, instead of potential.  There's no downside to him receiving the big signing bonus when he's two years more mature, two years wiser.

Also, there is no certainty that P.K. would be having the lights-out year he's currently having if he'd had the big windfall this summer.  Would he have integrated into the team as well as he did if he'd come in proud as a peacock, instead of humble and determined?  Would he listen to Coach Therrien and his assistants if he regarded them with the certainty that he'd be here longer than they would, and that he could buy and sell them twice over?  Would he think that since he's the star of the team, he needs to play like one, and have the fans chant his name, never mind what the game plan says?  Would he have cut short his legendary summer training to deal with some of the financial and lifestyle distractions we've batted around earlier?

Would he have played like he did yesterday, well within his means, using his teammates yet mixing in a couple of rushes when it seemed appropriate?  Bagging another goal and assist and being named the game's first star?  Indeed, refusing to accept the season that he's having as a big plus is a sign that for some fans, the glass is never half full but rather two-thirds empty.

There were some rumblings that the game's second star Michael Ryder didn't accept his 'demotion' to the 'third' line without some rancor.  After all, like Michel Bergeron pointed out on l'Antichambre, players are human, and take some things personally.  It's natural that he'd question the move since things were going really well for him on the Tomas Plekanec line, where he was cruising along at a point per game pace.  Nevertheless, Mr. Ryder had a good night, tallying two more assists with Lars Eller and on the wing opposite the resurgent Alex Galchenyuk.  The youngster went through a long dry spell on the score sheet recently, but never stopped skating or playing hard, and things are starting to click again for him.  And we can hope that Michael Ryder sees this as a positive, that he's not shifted down to a lesser trio, but rather being given an opportunity to play on his preferred right wing.  Let's hope that he understands that the top 3 lines are all counted on to produce, there's not that much of a dropoff between the first and second and third line anyway, and that the icetime he'll receive will be relatively equal to what he'd get on the other two lines in the Top 3.

The third star Brendan Gallagher potted another goal from in close, as his usually are.  He took a ridiculous licking in front of the refs, who were growing bashful at the amount of penalties they were having to call against the Sabres, and looked the other way as he got crosschecked and slashed repeatedly, notably by Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller.  He also took a big hit from Steve Ott along the boards, which was notable for the way his helmet got jostled askew as he fell to the ice.

It's still surprising to me how ineffective hockey helmets are in this period of supposed heightened concussion awareness.  Some of them are visibly flimsy, barely more than a shell devoid of padding, ill-fitted so that they float around on the players' heads and even fall off at modest amounts of contact, and equipped with a visor that players push up so far that their eyes are not optimally protected.

What needs to happen is for a standard to be enacted that mandates the amount of padding or shock protection it must provide.  Probably it needs to specify what areas of the head it must protect, certainly with respect to the ears, and probably the eyes and face.  Finally, a standard for how the helmet must be worn is needed as well.  It is not acceptable that helmets literally fall off a player's head with minimal jostling.  The practice of wearing the chinstrap purposely loose, so the helmet can be donned without undoing it, must stop.  The days of a helmet floating around on a player's head loose as if it were a salad bowl, and that can be 'adjusted' with a semi-vigorous nod, must end.

Helmets, to fully protect players from impact, need to be worn tight to the scalp, like a motorcycle or football helmet.  This way, direct impacts will be absorbed better, and the chance that a helmet will not be in proper position when impacts occur(think Donald Brashear being slashed by Marty McSorley) will be much more remote.

When I played football, we had a choice with respect to brand, we could choose Bike or Riddell, and the style of facemask we wanted.  The wide receivers got the sleeker two bar faceguard, while linebackers and linemen took the beefier one with a central vertical bar to prevent eye pokes and other such incidents.  After that, the trainers were in charge, and they selected the proper size, and then fitted it with extra pads if necessary, as well as inflated the air bladder properly.  During games and practices, the trainers had little pumps on them and would observe the way helmets fit on players, sometimes grabbing the faceguard and twisting this way and that to make sure the fit was still right.  If not, they'd make adjustments right then.

Something akin to this must happen in hockey.  Sure, the helmets will be heavier, and hotter, to the chagrin of Randy Carlyle, but in the name of player safety, this needs to happen, despite their objections.  If I'm a team owner, and I have a tonne of money invested in Patrice Bergeron or Sidney Crosby futures, I insure this with proper helmet equipment and use, and enjoin the NHLPA to assist in overcoming player resistance.  The discomfort is a small price to pay for long-term health, and technology will evolve to meet these standards with greater comfort and weight savings.

Brendan has a history of concussions, and must realize that with his style of play and the attention he receives from opponents, he has to put the odds on his side, and do a better job of selecting and wearing his helmet.  The way he popped up after the Steve Ott hit with the helmet tilted forward so it was covering his eyebrows, and the way he shook it backward with a nod of his head, is proof that he needs to sit down, or be sat down with, the trainers and make better decisions in that area.

Peter Budaj didn't deserve a star, seeing so few shots, but we can applaud the fact that his contract got extended with a modest but deserved raise.  We were afraid that he might have played himself into such a big raise that we wouldn't be able to afford his services in next season's reduced-cap climate, but in the end he chose to remain with the team as the backup to Carey Price.  He has improved since he first appeared last season, when we were told he didn't have a goalie coach in Colorado.  His shaky, uncertain play at the start of last season has disappeared, he responded to the coaching, and is now an ideal backup.  It's great that his solid play and strong contribution to the team dynamics have been recognized.

One final word about how undervalued Andrei Markov is.  Whenever the reasons behind the Canadiens' big jump in the standings from last season to this one are being discussed, the change in leadership and coaching staff are usually front and centre.  Things like the team culture, the dismissal of Scott Gomez and later Erik Cole, the energy brought in by the two rookies are brought up.  Only then it seems, almost as a throwaway, are the great jump in development by P.K. Subban and the return of Andrei Markov brought up.  Which is back assward if you ask me.

Andrei Markov may not be as mobile as he once was, but he's still every bit the heady player and firey competitor he always was.  He's adapted to his new circumstances and has lost little of his effectiveness. Before Alexei Emelin got injured, it was a sight to see how they both communicated.  If Andrei knew he would get beat to the puck in a race to the corner, or if he'd likely get plastered once there, he'd often call for a switch, and Alexei would do the heavy lifting in the corner while Andrei headed for the front of the net.  It worked great, with the younger, bigger defenceman could cover off some of the gaps in the veteran's game, and allowed the latter to still be mondo productive offensively and on the powerplay.

His contribution to the powerplay cannot be overstated.  We've often talked of how he made Marc Streit and Sheldon Souray stars, and made Mike Komisarek rich.  We're now seeing him have a similar effect on P.K. Subban.  The youngster is having an unreal year points-wise, and in half a season has vaulted in the Rest Of The League's consciousness from 'undisciplined prima donna diving instigator' to 'Norris Trophy candidate with a cannon'.  While P.K. has always had the physical tools, he's learning the finer points of the game, at least offensively, from Andrei.  The transformation in his approach on the powerplay, where he used to think one-timer first, last and always, is unbelievable.  The variations he shows now, where he can go slap shot/cannon/slap pass/wrist shot/rebound off the boards/deke/pass from the blue line, are frustrating defenders every game.  Further, he's learning the little things from Andrei, the art of drawing in a defender before dealing the puck to a teammate, the delay while juggling with the puck right at the blue line.  The greater touch on the passes.  The greater use of teammates to help them help him.  It's so far removed from his one-trick pony act from the previous seasons, where he tried to one-time everything from the bottom of the faceoff circle.

Andrei is fourth in the league in scoring for defencemen, and the prime reason for the big jump in production for the powerplay.  This improved production bodes well for the playoffs, and will hopefully temper the ardor of the more brainless players like the Otts and Kaletas of this world.  He is the prime candidate in my view for the comeback player of the year.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Will les Expos de Montréal ever return?

Warren Cromartie has been busy lately trying to drum up interest in the return of Major League baseball to Montréal.  Those of us who loved Nos Amours in the seventies, eighties and nineties look back fondly on that era.  So the debate ensues.  Were we robbed, or did we lose our Expos deservedly?

Declaring that Montréal doesn't deserve a team, or that they were 'stolen' are categorical statements that probably aren't accurate.  As usual, a combination of factors were at work.

The dank, cold stadium which was not great to visit, spring, summer or fall, was a big issue.  So was the crippling exchange rate, the loss of local flavour and the sense that the team and players belonged here.  It seemed that free agents couldn't wait to get out of town.  The Québec government, wisely, chose not to invest in the team or build it a new stadium.  Fans were more attracted to other summer pastimes: the Fireworks, all the Festivals, the Grand Prix.  Just generally being in the sun and enjoying summer.  Baseball in itself can be boring to the uninitiated.

On the other hand, being on the West Coast, I witnessed first-hand how a franchise can be set up to fail with the case study of the Grizzlies.  The NBA, in its wisdom, precluded the team from drafting at the #1 spot in the expansion year, and some seasons after that.  We were presented with a Washington Generals lineup, with Bryant "Big Country" Reeves as the foundation of the team and the star the team was marketing to us.  Attendance was still great for a while, then flagged after years of losing and no sign of improvement.

David Stern gets a lot of love, but one of his many great crimes was preventing Tim Duncan from ending up in Vancouver or Toronto.  He could have solidified one of these franchises for a decade at least, but he was seen as too great a prize to waste on Canada.

Shyster Michael Heisley swooped in, bought the team after a promise to keep it in town, then moved it after a season, pointing to low attendance and revenue.  David Stern chided Vancouver, claiming to be disappointed in the lack of support, which was crap, because we filled that arena for years when the team stank.  I hate basketball, but even I went, and was impressed to see guys that big move that fast.  I bought Grizzlies souvenirs for the nephews.

So it becomes a chicken and egg thing.  Who lost interest first?  Who walked away from who?

The Expos had their own shyster in Jeffrey Loria, who poisoned the well and held fire sales, then pointed to low attendance figures to justify the moves and, eventually, the Big Move.

Could a team playing in a smaller downtown location with a retractable roof be able to thrive in Montréal?  Sure, but if you ask me, as long as a billionaire is footing the bills, not taxpayers.  If another deal similar to the Nordiques-Péladeau deal is struck, Montréal taxpayers should revolt.  Anyway, demonstrations in the streets are another typical Montréal pastime that is more fun than baseball.

Canadien René Bourque needs to consult Atlanta doctors for his concussion

 Regarding the discussion on whether the Canadiens doctors "are the best" or not, since they couldn't 'cure' René Bourque, we have to remember that doctors have various disciplines and areas of expertise.  This may be changing, but in the past NHL doctors would tend to be in orthopedics, focusing on broken bones and sprained joints.  As concussion awareness seeps through the culture, more and more neurologists trained to detect them and treat them are joining medical staffs.

Even so, not every specialists, in neurology or other disciplines, approach every patient the same way, with the same techniques and therapies.  The Pittsburgh doctors who were treating Sidney Crosby were no doubt top notch, but a different doctor or team had a different perspective, a different solution that he responded to.  Specifically, his symptoms were relieved when they addressed his problem as a neck issue, rather than just a head issue.  This is in line with pretty much everyone's anecdotal evidence, of one doctor being incapable of treating a rash or ailment, yet when another doc is consulted the problem clears up immediately.

Interestingly, a friend of mine and colleague at Snowboard School had a bad concussion sustained in a collision with another instructor (Were we going too fast you ask?  Of course we were.)  He was off work for months, and he really struggled with the life change, the headaches, the fear it would never get better.  We have a mutual physiotherapist, and one day she came back from a conference in which she learned about neck injuries, and she was all excited because she thought a lot of that was applicable to his case.  Sure enough, a new treatment regimen, different doctors and a chiropractor alleviated his symptoms almost instantaneously, and he's back on snow loving life, and had no further issues years later.

Another Whistler example is how we treat broken wrists here.  These are common with beginner snowboarders, and doctors struggled to find a way to provide better treatment, which in the case of bad displaced fractures involved injecting an anesthetic into the injury site and manipulating the bones back into place, then quickly casting the arm.  IF you can imagine the pain of jabbing a needle into a fracture site and the trauma it causes for children and their attending parents, you'll understand the docs thinking there had to be a different way.  They researched and innovated a little bit, and began using a Bier block, which cuts off circulation in the affected arm with a blood-pressure cuff, and then anesthetizing the entire limb below the cuff.  This is kind of cool, your arm feels totally dead, kids mostly think the experience is fun, you have to prevent them from waving it around too much.  Add in a portable X-ray machine, and we have a solution that works here.  While none of the equipment used was 'invented' here, they are applied in way that is uncommon enough that orthopedists from around the world are intrigued when they see it being used, sometimes to treat a family member, and you can see the wheels turning in their head as they wonder how they could apply this approach to their practice back home.

So the takeaway from the René Bourque case is not that the Canadiens' medical staff were unable to 'cure' him, but rather that there was an openness to new avenues, and a willingness to allow the player to seek out other opinions.  They tried their best, and when they found it wasn't working, went with a different plan, not much different than what happens when the coaching staff makes between-periods adjustments to the gameplan.

For me, the way Mr. Bourque talks of his experience is entirely positive, and again describes an interaction with GM Marc Bergevin in a very favourable light.  These impressions add up, and will percolate around the league.  When René Bourque speaks of the Canadiens organization, he's likely to do so in an approving manner, and this will be helpful when he's in contact with players and their agents who have to make decisions on where they'd like to sign contracts.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Let's have Marcel Dionne replace Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada

 I saw Marcel Dionne on l'Antichambre a few days back, and I again wonder why the CBC and TSN are fascinated with grinders and muckers and goalies, and ex-Bruins, as their talking heads.  It's like they're addicted to them.

For grins, I discover that Marcel, a Hall of Famer, scoring champion and a former member of the '72 Team Canada (just learned this, he didn't play, but still...), lives in the Niagara region, running his restaurant/store and generally minding his own business.  The guy's French was a little rusty, but he's energetic, funny, he teased Michel Bergeron a couple of times, has tons of stories to tell, and is still involved in the game, by playing alumni games and through his collectables business.

So why the hell is he not working on hockey telecasts, either as a colour guy or a between-periods talking head?  It's amazing.  I'm not the first one to point it out, but the NFL telecasts are replete with HOF'ers and Super Bowl winners, while we endure Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, PJ Stock, and Greg Millen and his pinwheel.  Why is that?

The fifth all-time career points leader in the league isn't good enough to talk to us about hockey?  Because he played in LA?  Wouldn't he have tales to tell, about the wild 70's, and the Canadiens who would always lose in LA because they were too sunburned to play, and Broad Street Bullies and the mayhem they generated, and the stars in Hollywood?

On l'Antichambre, he explained that he put up at his house Luc Robitaille and Steve Duchesne when they were rookies in LA, and they had so much fun Jimmy Carson wanted to be 'adopted' too.  He explained that his kids loved Lucky Luc, and when the time came for the players' naps, the boys would nap right along with them, except they were rambunctious, and Marcel would sometimes not get a good sleep.  When they started asking if they could nap with Luc, Marcel found that he'd sleep better and play better that night, whereas Luc was off his game, so they started foisting the boys back and forth.

Mr. Dionne told another story about how very early, he told Steve and Luc to look at the other guys in the dressing room, and explained that if they hung out with the ten who went to the beach and hung out with starlets and enjoyed all LA had to offer, they'd had fun, but if they instead hung out with the other ten guys, they'd have long NHL careers.

Great stuff.  Insight.  History.  Colour.

Instead, we have to listen to the 'energetic' PJ Stock, standing atop his 5-goal corrupt-referee-aided sham of a career.

Honestly, I don't think that CBC does that bad a job televising games.  Their technical side is airtight, the camera shots and all the visuals are outstanding.  The opening montages are sometimes the highlight of the show.  What they need to do is clean house with the announcing staff, let go of the geezers who are past their primes, and re-energize the shows, with players who will add gravitas and authority to the broadcasts.  Gilbert Perreault is criminally underused.  Eric Lindros has opinions and can string two sentences together.  Wayne Gretzky may be too mild in his commentary, but surely there's a member of the Oilers dynasty available who could bring something to the broadcasts.  If you want some gritty player's angle, Clarke Gillies is a great storyteller, and as a member of the early 80's Islanders dynasty I grudgingly respect, worthy of our respect and attention.

Hockey and the NHL sometimes acts like the shiftless ne'er-do-well drunken brother of the major North American sports leagues family.  It's always whining that it needs to be taken seriously, and that it should take its place as an equal member in that group, never mind the comparatively low ratings and revenues.  One thing it could do to earn this respect is to start taking itself seriously, to respect itself, and to pressure their broadcast partners to do likewise and put an end to the goon dog-and-pony show.  Sure, some old regulars will howl at the loss of Cherry on their menu, but they're probably not the kind of clientele you want anyway if you're trying to run a classy joint.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Game 38: Canadiens 2, Bruins 1

I had the option tonight, so went with the CBC telecast of the game, but only because it was in High Def, I only get RDS in standard def.  Since the Canadiens-Bruins game was the national game, I assumed we'd get the first-string play-by-play team and Jim Hughson, who I like from his years doing Canucks games, but what do you know, we get the doddering fossil Bob Cole again.  I'm not going to get into details to explain how far gone he is, and how it's been five years at least since he jumped the shark.

One anecdote though, is Cassie Campbell doing an in-game feature on Carey Price for a couple of minutes, and mentioning that he wears a heart-rate monitor during each game, which helps him and the training staff figure out how many calories he burned and how much he should eat and rest as a consequence.  She then turned it over to poor old Bob, who went: "Oookaaay, Cassie..."  You could just imagine the rusty gears in his head groaning and straining to understand what she'd said, and what's a 'hard raid manager' anyway, and who's that nice girl they keep handing a microphone to anyway?  She must be someone's nice granddaughter or something.

I really need to find a way to get RDS in HD.

Tonight's game should, but probably won't, reassure all those Canadiens fans who have what I've decided to call "Bruins issues", and want a bigger, huger, truculenter team to slay Zdeno Chara and eviscerate Milan Lucic.  We all need to realize that size in and of itself is not an unalloyed boon.  Bigger sometimes means stronger, but it more often means slower and less agile.  While the Canadiens sometimes get pasted, as Brendan Gallagher did by noted tough guy David Krejci (how's that for a case of facilitated aggression), and these are noteworthy events that trigger in a lot of us our inferiority complexes, they are also relentless in their skating, on the forecheck and backcheck.  They hop on the ice, go all out for thirty seconds, stop and go and stop and go again, and then clear the puck and change so the next line can do that again. And again.

Our boys are also waterbug quick, they pounce on loose skittering pucks before the Bruins' lumbering behemoths can get to them.  They're quick with their sticks, so even when the Big Bad Bruins are battling on the boards, their putative strength advantage doesn't translate into wins in the puck battles department.

Another advantage our team has is that our powerplay is efficient and not to be provoked, while theirs is laughably impotent.  That last-minute 6-on-4 had my heart racing, the suspense was killing me.  Any second now, I felt a killer backdoor pass was coming, or one of their snipers would stride into the slot and roof it.  And the seconds dwindled, and the pressure built, and I was off my couch... until the last ten seconds or so, when it dawned on me that the Bruins were actually killing the penalty for us.  It seemed to me for those last ten seconds, they'd actually given up, knew they were going nowhere and knew they weren't going to score, and kind of passed the puck to each other to drain the clock, kind of like a defenceman behind his net in a three goal differential game, just kind of stickhandling the puck back and forth, watching the clock and waiting for the game to end.  The New Forum crowd knew it too, they started applauding the win when there was three or four seconds left in the game.  I thought at that moment that the Bruins' dressing room issues that were bruited a week or so ago might have some strong grounding in reality.  If I were a Bruins fan, I'd definitely not be impressed with the comportment and body language of my team in those last few seconds.

So yeah, definite special teams advantage on our end, especially now with the Penalty Kill teams rounding into form after a few adjustments and the addition of Jeff Halpern.  If the refs call the game as they did tonight during the playoffs, if an incident of outright, institutionalized Bruin thuggery like Milan Lucic's crosscheck to the back of a prone Tomas Plekanec's head is met with an obviously deserved two-minute penalty, then we'll make short work of those guys in the playoffs.  We don't have to worry about being too small, they have to worry about their defence being too slow.  We won three out of four this season, and the trend is looking better for us than for them.

Kudos to the defenceman for holding the fort after they were a man down.  When I played I used to like those games when we were one or two d-men short, it meant more icetime for me and I could really get into the game. You'd play slightly longer shifts at a more sedate pace, kept things simple, didn't try too many rushes or anything, just corralled the puck quickly and fed it to the forwards, let the puck do the work.  Those guys hung on to a one-goal lead for half the game, and took whatever the Bruins threw at them and kept it together.

Alexei Emelin went down with what I hope is a charley horse and not worse after his collision with Milan Lucic.  Kudos to him for trying to land a good hit on him.  I'm on the fence as to the legality and ethics of Mr. Lucic's reaction.  It's not quite premeditated, since he was reacting to the situation and his teammates on the bench yelling "Heads up!", but the raised knee, which he described post-game as "bracing myself", brings to mind his feeble, mendacious explanation to his assault on Ryan Miller.  And we know that Brad Marchand reacts to oncoming bodycheckers by submarining them, so the Bruins have a dirty culture in this specific area as well.

So a big four-pointer that slaps the Bruins back down the standings.  P.K. continues his quest to rescue my fantasy team from injuries to Ryan Getzlaf, Tomas Plekanec, Patrice Bergeron, Vincent Lecavalier, and, most crushingly, Erik Karlsson, by chipping in another two assists tonight.  The kid is golden.  And speaking of golden children, how about Alex Galchenyuk scoring his second goal in as many games.  Good job kid, keep working hard like you've done all season, and the bounces will start to go your way again.

Now if the New Forum ice maintenance team can just get the surface to David Krejci's liking, everything will be perfect....