Thursday, 26 September 2013

Pre-Season Game 7: Canadiens 3, Senators 1

Well, it wasn't the convincing win we expected.  The mostly AHL-bound players who wore the bleu-blanc-rouge and battled the largely NHL-equivalent Senators last night were easily bettered 5-2, and it wasn't as close as the score would seem to indicate.  The second game of the back-to-back was supposed to be our team's chance to roll over the Sens' AHL'ers, but it didn't prove to be easy.  Their kids were big and tough, and played hard to try to earn a spot, and we were fortunate to eke out a 3-1 win.

Starting with the positives, Carey Price was quietly excellent, stopping 29 out of 30 shots and cooling everything down when the play in our end was getting frazzled.  Ultimately, goaltender evaluation is pretty basic, it's a numbers game.  If the goaltender stops 9 out of every ten pucks, he'll not have an NHL job for long.  If however he stops 9.5 pucks, or stated another way 19 out of every 20 pucks directed his way, he'll go to All-Star games, take his team to the playoffs, and have a long career.  It's a wafer-thin margin, but that's the game those guys are involved in.

Carey has many qualities, such as his calm demeanor, his affable personality that makes him a favourite among his teammates, his superb puck handling outside his crease.  What has lagged behind these qualities, his natural gifts and the potential every expert sees in him is his actual production while stopping pucks.  He tailed off markedly at the end of the season, and dragged his save percentage down to a pedestrian .905 when all was said and done.  This is clearly unacceptable for a frontline goalie of his caliber, a former high first-round pick, and a man in his tax bracket.  He will need to improve markedly for him to earn an invite to Sochi, and to allow the Canadiens to reach the playoffs and have success then.

Michaël Bournival was dangerous all game, despite being asked to play on the fourth line with Ryan White and Travis Moen, two wingers who are unlikely to help him shine offensively.  He made the best of it, setting up Ryan White for a golden scoring chance early in the first period.  He won all four of the faceoffs he took, and took four shots on goal.  For his troubles, he would have been happy to hear Michel Therrien confirm that he'll start the season as part of the Canadiens' 23 man roster.  Belle job, p'tit gars.

Note that Coach Therrien lauded the young Bournival for arriving to camp in superb shape.  The same can't be said about Nathan Beaulieu.  Very early, I saw him get rubbed off the puck behind his net, and I wondered if he was in for a long night, this being his second game in two nights.  Instead, he was one of the Canadiens who drew my attention all game, his skating silky smooth, his passes crisp.  It's amazing how talented this kid is, at only 20 years old he did very well against NHL competition.  Let's hope he puts it together this season in Hamilton, that he gets his head screwed on straight and capitalizes on the opportunity he's being offered.

Some grousing was heard about Alex Galchenyuk, probably due to his giveaway early in the first that led to the Sens' first goal.  We have to remember the kid is 19, he should still be in junior, he's going to have another season during which he progresses, but there will be peaks and valleys.  The kid has all the tools, he needs to put in the work all season long and it will pay off.

Dave Dziurzynski, another young towering Senator prospect, got a two-minute boarding call for driving P.K. Subban head first in the corner with a crosscheck.  P.K. was no worse for wear and kept control of the puck, which meant a delayed call.  The ref raised his arm and played the advantage for the Canadiens, except that Mr. Dziurzynski held P.K. the entire time the delayed call lasted, illegally preventing him from making a play.  Why there wasn't an additional two minutes tacked on I understand, since this is the NHL, but I'll never agree with it.

Travis Moen tried to provide the team with a physical presence, to contribute, since he and Ryan White were the only 'tough guys' dressed for this game.  Luckily, the Sens didn't press that advantage, the game was played relatively cleanly.  At one point, Mark Borowiecki and Travis jousted and seemed ready to go when a linesman intervened and put a stop to it with a spectacular tackle of the Senator pugilist.  Later, Travis ended up squaring off with Matt Kassian, which was a mismatch before the bout, and certainly during.  Our number 32 didn't cover himself in glory with this one.  With the news that Michaël Bournival is sticking with the team, I have to idly wonder what Travis' future holds.

Finally, an arresting aspect of this game was the presence of Buddy Robinson on the Sens' roster.  Every time Pierre Houde called his name, it was jarring, I'd be transported back to the Seventies when Larry patrolled the blue line and made sure we were all safe and everything would be all right, and vanquished dirty Bruins and filthy Flyers.  I almost shed a tear.

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