Friday, 3 May 2013

Round 1 Game 1: Canadiens 2, Senators 4

Who really wants to dwell on this game?  I guess even Ottawa fans will want to move on.

Briefly, Carey Price needs to be better.  He made some good saves last night, but again failed in his mission.  We can argue about which goal was weak and which he couldn't have stopped, but the save percentage he finished the game (.871) with is not acceptable.  If this was a one-game blip we'd understand, but his cumulative season save percentage had been falling precipitously in April, and the trend may not be over.

Some people argue that save percentage isn't an accurate stat, in that some goalies face mostly floaters from the periphery and their defence does a good job of clearing out rebounds, so they would have a higher percentage than goalies who are constantly under siege.  I'd agree with that statement as a thought experiment, but practically, it's a number that's very useful in determining who's doing a better job of stopping pucks.  Eventually, it's like a salesman's monthly totals or a waitress' total sales.  You can argue that you have a poor territory or that you had a bad section with the old ladies from the church group, but in the end, your sales tell the story.

The powerplay had a chance to seal this win in the second, with a five-minute advantage which included a 5-on-3, and didn't get the job done.  We see it too often, when a team has a four or five-minute powerplay, there's a lack of urgency in gaining the offensive zone, you think you have a lot of time to work with and it leads to lazy skates down to your zone to pick up the puck, and then a lazy skate back up ice with tricky little dekes and drop passes, and before you know it you've wasted half the penalty and lost your rhythm.  The Canadiens aren't the only team to fall victim to this, but last night it cost them.

As far as the Lars Eller injury, a lot of analysis and commentary has been generated by experts in the field, so I don't know how much I have to add, except that scary incidents like this aren't necessarily 'accidents', a cumulative chain of events with an unhappy outcome that couldn't have been foreseen.  If we look at Eric Gryba's page, we find that he's 6'4", 220 lbs, but has never, at any level, had more than five goals in a season or more than 20 points.  His penalty minutes totals are very healthy however.

And this is where the game is headed.  Clueless, mendacious shill Gary Bettman bleats constantly that the "product" has never been better, and that player safety is primordial, but the players get bigger and stronger and faster, the ice surface gets smaller and more crowded, the collisions grow more violent, and there is no concerted effort to shift the game in a new direction.

Players like Eric Gryba should be fringe players who barely get a sniff of the NHL, but the trend is for big regardless of talent.  The Canadiens were shopping for such players at the deadline, predicting that their smaller, more mobile defenceman weren't going to cut it in the playoffs.  Every team was looking for a big, tough defenceman with a mean streak for a potential Cup run, nobody seemed to be in the market for a puck mover or powerplay quarterback.

Now this is a reasonable reaction to the state of NHL rule-making and officiating.  If the big player who is constantly a step behind the action and can't do much with the puck was penalized for every transgression, he would find himself as rare as a dodo bird, and the focus of teams would be on skill instead of size at all costs.  The game would be radically different, much more fan-friendly, and safer for the players.

An incident which caught my eye last night was in the third when Chris Phillips drove Brendan Gallagher maxilla-first into the crossbar for the sin of being near the net and trying to score a goal.  The net was dislodged, the puck was immobilized by Craig Anderson, the refs blew the whistle, the play was over.  Then, completely unrelated to this play, in defiance of twenty-five or so sections of the NHL rulebook, Chris Neil approached Brendan from the side and put his smelly glove in his face and his other hand on the back of his neck and, ...  I'm  not sure.  He was holding his head like it was the Holy Grail or something, like it was something valuable that he wanted to take home, if he could find a way to detach it from this other bigger part he wasn't so keen on.  The linesmen swooped in and squawked like the ineffectual seagulls they are, and intervened bodily, and separated Chris Neil from his prize after a few seconds.  And that was that.  There was no infraction on the play according to the officials, "Play on!" they enjoined the players.  And that is how Chris Neil is allowed to infest the NHL, and to attempt to nullify a talented player because he outweighs him by fifty pounds and scowls a lot.  From Neil to Gryba to Lars Eller to Marc Savard in a couple of easy steps.

Watching the Kings play the Blues, I was struck by how both teams have huge players who crash and bang each other, and how they have gone all in with this trend, like Bob Gainey went all in with speed and skill in 2009.  They sensed the way the wind was shifting and were proven right, whereas Mr. Gainey lost his job as a GM.

We're often driven to exclaim, as Canadiens fans, involved as we so often are in a navel-gazing exercise in our insular little world, that Trevor Timmins is a genius, and we hold up his "steals" in the fifth round as proof of this.  It's much more clear to me now that other teams weren't blind to how good Brendan Gallagher or Charles Hudon were, or didn't wrongly evaluate whether they could be successful as pros.  Rather, they are making the very deliberate decision to make do with a much less talented player with greater size.  They're comfortable in the knowledge that the Brian Burkes and Mike Milburys and Colin Campbells who control the league will not change their world view, will not be convinced by medical research or regrettable incidents like last night, and will pay lip service to the concept of player safety but mash the accelerator down a little harder to get to the rock wall a little faster.

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