Ho hum. Another win for the Canadiens, routine really, against an opponent they were supposed to beat. No big deal. As Chris Rock says, you don't get credit for doing s*** you're supposed to do. Beating on Southeast weak sisters doesn't get you a medal.
Sure they were a little torpid in the first period, and let the 'Canes score first. Bear in mind though, you have to build the suspense a little bit, let things marinate. If the hero shoots the bad guy and gets the girl in the first act, it's not much of a movie. Everyone loves a comeback.
Max broke out of his funk tonight, with a great goal and the empty-net clincher. Just in the nick of time, since he's on my fantasy team, and it's Day One of the playoffs, and I was starting to think I might have to do something. But not no more. He stays, and contributes.
There was an interesting sequence of events for Max. In the first period, he had a two-on-one with David Desharnais, but with the usual roles reversed, so he had the puck and had the option to shoot, or pass to David. He chose the latter, and it almost worked, but it was the wrong decision anyway. Max was allowed to walk in to the net, he was near the faceoff dot when he passed the puck to a covered David Desharnais, whereas he was unopposed, with his way clear to the net. Now, the argument can be made that the Carolina goalie Justin Peters was set and in perfect position for the save, so trying to move him with the pass was the right call, but I persist that a sniper like Max, was he in a groove and playing with confidence, should be licking his chops in such a situation. You're 20 feet away from the goalie, he's yours. You can double-clutch, you can fake the pass, look off the goalie, the choice is yours. Instead, Max figured he might as well pass. Pity.
In the second, another two-on-one developed, again with David Desharnais, and this time Max chose to shoot, but again displayed his lack of confidence. You could see him overthinking, double-checking to see if David was really covered, then choosing a wrist shot, from pretty far away, when he wasn't being pressured and could have closed the distance. Worse, he didn't try to freeze the goalie or mess with his timing, and didn't try to disguise it. It's like he decided to shoot when he ran out of options. Still worse, he put it right in Mr. Peters' chest. Not on the pads to try to cause a rebound. He didn't try to pick a corner. The RDS boys commented on how frustrated he was going back to the bench.
Finally, in the third, with forward Patrick Dwyer stranded playing defence, Max saw his opportunity and juked him out of his jockstrap, walked in on goal, shot, and then converted his own rebound, and you could see the relief on his face. To reward him for his patience, the hockey gods saw fit to allow him an additional goal, an easy empty-netter to close out the game.
P.K. Subban played another strong game, strong on the puck and in his zone, and being creative in the offensive zone. He picked up an assist on Andrei Markov's powerplay goal, adding to his impressive scoring stats. Canadiens fans have lately decried how P.K. might not be getting the attention he deserves, notably in a nhl.com poll that listed the Top Ten defencemen in the NHL and excluded him. Never mind that the poll was probably conducted early in the season, before P.K. started gathering steam. Anyway, if opposing teams treat P.K. the way the Hurricanes did tonight, Montréal fans may wish that he was flying a little more under the radar. They mugged and hit him whenever they got a chance. Now Mathieu Darche, speaking on l'Antichambre, explained that this kind of attention only motivates P.K. and makes him play better, but the wrestling takedown that Patrick Dwyer performed on him was downright ridiculous.
Of course, no penalty was called on the play, it being seen by the refs as acceptable in the give-and-take idiocy that is the NHL. If the talented player being mauled by a fourth-liner doesn't respond, the fourth-liner most often doesn't get called, and wins. If the talented player does respond, it's maybe seen as good old-fashioned hockey, boys being boys, and the refs let that carry on. Again, the plugger wins. If it gets out of hand, the refs may decided to call offsetting minors. Yet again, advantage mugger. Thank you, Messrs. Bettman, Daly, Shanahan, Campbell, Cherry, Milbury, Kypreos, ...
On the night, P.K. did pick up four minutes in penalties, but I don't have a problem with that. One was a 'good' penalty, a roughing call he got while trying to hit Eric Stall. I want P.K. to keep hitting and playing tough, and sometimes he'll get called, and that's the cost of doing business. I'd encourage him and Alexei Emelin to continue laying guys out, and if they get sent to the box occasionally, that's a worthwhile tradeoff. The other penalty, for holding the stick, happened while he battling hard for the puck in the defensive zone, so a penalty that Tomas Kaberle isn't aware can be incurred. Again, P.K. fighting for the puck is a good thing, he should try not to grab his opponent's stick, but we won't be concerned until it becomes a habit.
One more thing about P.K., and it's about his reputation in the NHL, and all that that involves. He's got a reputation as a chirper, a diver, and instigator who starts trouble and then doesn't finish it. He's voluble, which we love when he's on camera, but probably grates on the referees. As Benoit Brunet explained, on both of these penalty calls, maybe if it's Nick Lidstrom or Chris Pronger who's doing the same thing, the ref doesn't blow the whistle. So P.K. has to overcome that bad reputation, that isn't entirely undeserved. The thing is, he's progressing in that area in leaps and bounds. He's much more quiet on the ice, more business-like. After his UFC tilt with Mr. Dwyer, after pinning him against the net, he didn't 'front' the Hurricane forward when the whistle blew. Instead, he looked away and tried to skate off. That is such a change of behaviour from last season, when he would probably have started a shoving match, and then let Josh Gorges or Hall Gill come in and save his bacon when the enforcers from the other team poked their nose into it. We're seeing a qualitative change in P.K., and he has a lot of baggage to shed, but by continuing to play hard, by putting up points, and not taking part in the cheap stuff, he'll become the player we know he can be.
And by toning down his antics on the ice, he'll make himself an obvious candidate for inclusion on the Canadian Olympic team next year, which wasn't even in the cards at the start of the season. With discipline being paramount with international refs in play, and locker room chemistry being a crucial consideration, P.K. needs to show Team Canada management that he's not the same unruly kid who broke into the league, but a maturing powerhouse of a defenceman who has a head on his shoulders, and can be calm when required.
Carey Price played another solid game. His detractors have lately accused him of 'not stealing games', not being the reason for a win when his team is being outclassed by an opponent. I think a big part of that perception is that when Carey is on, he's cool, clinical, playing the percentages, and he makes every save look easy. He's not a pirouetting fool like Dominik Hasek, Tim Thomas, or Mike Palmateer, who turn saves into histrionic highlights. So when he's on, you almost don't notice Carey. He's big and in the right position and the puck hits him and it's no big deal. Like, chill out.
One facet of his game that we're also taking for granted is his puck handling. I've referred to it often, and I want to again, because it's another skill he has that makes him world class. Today, I noticed three distinct situations when the Carolina forecheck was menacing, but in each case he coolly defused the threat by moving the puck to the right man. On one occasion, he waited for the 'Cane to commit himself, then dished the puck to Josh Gorges, and it seemed like no big deal, but I stopped and rewound my PVR to make sure I'd seen correctly. And sure enough, my eyes didn't deceive me: Carey was in front and to the left of his net, let the Hurricane tip his hand, and then backhanded the puck behind his net, off the boards, to Josh on the left side. A perfect bank shot, like he called it. As a relatively immobile defenceman myself, I fully appreciated the artistry, and the advantage a team has when its goalie can help out its D-men like that. Sure enough, Josh passed the puck safely out of the zone and les Glorieux were off to the races.
So a 23rd win in Game 35. Only 7 outright losses. That's 20% of our game. Pretty good I guess. Third win in a row. 7-2-1 in the last ten. Ho hum.