Thursday, 18 April 2013

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.

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