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.

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