Monday, 28 October 2013

Game 12: Canadiens 2, Rangers 0

Interesting game for a few reasons, with possibly the clash of opponents not being one of them.  The Rangers are not a natural rival of our Canadiens, and with the new divisional re-alignment, won't be unless we meet them in the playoffs for consecutive seasons or so.

The main reason the game got a lot of hype was due to the re-opening of Madison Square Garden after the completion of the final phase of its renovation.  It was nice of the Rangers to invite Yvan Cournoyer to attend and assist Rodrigue Gilbert with the ceremonial puck drop before the game.  These two brought back memories of the battles these two teams had in the seventies, with Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, Ed Giacomin, Ron Duguay, Vic Hadfield and others.

One thing which was odd was the lack of crowd noise during the broadcast.  I don't know if the RDS feed I was tuned to quelled the cheering a bit, or whether the fans were put off by a long pre-game ceremony, something we're familiar with as Canadiens fans.  I didn't see the start of the broadcast, and just saw the player introductions, but the crowd seemed muted, literally.  I understand why they wouldn't cheer for the video coach, but even for the players they seemed subdued.

It occurred to me how Bill Simmons thinks that teams that build mega-stadiums lose their homefield advantage.  His argument is that once teams move from heritage stadiums into brand new ones, there's usually a re-shuffling of the seating chart, and long-time blue-collar fans who used to sit near the field/ice and generate the encouraging/intimidating noise that tilted games for the home team are unceremoniously bumped up to the upper level so that a more genteel champagne crowd can buy club seats and fill team owners' coffers.  Of course, these are the same fans I notice at the Canucks' arena (or rather, their burgundy empty seats), who don't show up for the first five minutes of the game and leave before the last ten.  Meanwhile, the busloads of kids and hoi-polloi I sit with in the third deck are there for the warmup and wait for the announcement of the three stars before we leave, yoots constantly try to start 'the wave', and chant "Go Canucks Go" tirelessly.  So maybe that's the deal at MSG, maybe the average fans have been displaced so that James Dolan can buy a few more ivory backscratchers.  And the new fans close to the action can't clap or carry on too much for fear of spilling their Cabernet Sauvignon.

The game itself was not an exciting one, only redeemed by the fact the Canadiens won.  Tomas Plekanec's powerplay goal was a beauty, almost shootout like in terms of how much time he had to make a play on Henrik Lundqvist, courtesy of a beautiful pass and subsequent pick by Michaël Bournival.  Yes, him again.  The kid reminds me of the Coyote who doesn't know he's supposed to fall after running off the cliff, because he hasn't looked down yet and doesn't know better.  Keep on churning those legs, Michaël, we're loving every minute of it.

Maybe that'd be a good nickname for him, le Coyote.  Sly, tireless, quick like you wouldn't believe.  Le Coyote.  Much more apt than the EGG line.

Anyway, let him serve as an inspiration to Louis Leblanc, who caught fire in Hamilton over the last few games, amassing points in bunches, and scoring two consecutive overtime winners.  He was rewarded with a callup and third-line duty with David Desharnais and René Bourque.

At least for the start.  The lines were shuffled due to the high number of penalties both teams incurred: seven for the Rangers, six for the Canadiens.  We saw players assuming roles they don't normally, such as Brendan Gallagher on the penalty kill.

In the end though, Louis Leblanc acquitted himself well, cutting off some Ranger passes and being dangerous in the New York zone.  Let's call his showdown with Chris Kreider, the man he'll be compared to for the next while due to their being drafted 18th and 19th in the 2009 draft, a draw.

The kid line managed to chip in with a goal, one which was definitely not kicked in by Alex Galchenyuk, said the clowns in Toronto who had painted themselves in a corner with the Mika Zibanejad goal in last year's playoffs.  While the kids are finding it harder going now that they're essentially the #1 line, or at least being treated as such by opposition checkers and coaches, they're still skating hard and working out there.

We could stretch and say the same thing for David Desharnais, that boy is snakebit, nothing is working for him.  He's having chances but overthinking or rushing things.  We saw him tonight carrying the puck on Henrik Lundqvist on a 2-on-1, and take a half-hearted slapshot that didn't connect.  I guess we'll have to wait for Max to come back and hope the old magic sparks again.  Somehow I think Max and René Bourque could be a good combo for David to get going again.

Also, at long last, we saw Douglas Murray for the first time.  Since it's his first game of the season, he didn't play any pre-season games, we have to be tolerant, and give him five or six games to get back into reasonable game shape.  Having said that, he does come as advertised, big and tough and slow.

On one sequence in the Canadiens zone, he was standing in the corner to Peter Budaj's right, and the puck went skittering past him towards the faceoff dot.  He sprang into action... and took one step... then another...  the third step must have come eventually, but by that time I'd gotten up to go make a sandwich.  So yeah, he's in Hal Gill territory in terms of foot speed.

Where he did contribute is in terms of the toughness profile of the team.  At the end of one play, he cleared a Ranger from in front of the net with authority, and there was the usual gathering of the clans.  Except that they were facing Douglas Murray, not Yannick Weber or Tomas Kaberle.  Add in Ryan White and 6'4" Mike Blunden, and the Rangers explicably became very interested in how the toe of their skate boot looked, or distracted by a brown dog in the stands.  So that part of Marc Bergevin's summer plan has a chance of working out.  A big plus is that our boys didn't press their advantage, they stood their ground and allowed the smaller Rangers to stand down, instead of crosschecking and facewashing them as is the new normal in the NHL.  I want our team to be clean, to be the good guys, and we can't be that if we play like the Bruins.

Mr. Murray did take a minor penalty for interference, he hit Chris Kreider who was near the puck but didn't really have it, but I'll take these penalties all season long.  He hit Mr. Kreider solidly, the kid will remember it.  Charging, roughing, interference penalties taken for clean hits that trepidate opposition forwards are fine by me.  We'll gladly kill those off, it's the lazy hooking or holding penalties I don't like, or the careless high-sticking or elbowing calls.

Finally, kudos to Peter Budaj for a shutout after sitting for a couple of weeks.  He had a rough start to his first season in Montréal, but got stronger as the season wore on, and did really well last season, but crashed in the playoffs with the rest of the team.  This year he's been lights out in limited action.  It's a good thing for a coaching staff and for teammates when the backup is reliable.  For example, look at Patrick Roy in Colorado, not hesitating to give Semyon Varlamov a night off since Jean-Sébastien Giguère is outstanding this season.

Much was made when Peter Budaj joined the team that he didn't have a full-time goalie coach to work with in Colorado, and that he'd benefit from working with Pierre Groulx.  We have to admit that he has, and apparently the change to Stéphane Waite hasn't hurt at all either.  Good job by the both of them, and let's hope it allows Carey to truly rest on his nights off, but also stokes his competitive fires a little bit.  I remember when Ken Dryden would play more games than Michel Larocque, but have poorer stats, the scuttlebutt was that he'd work like crazy to prove that he was the better goalie, and not just a replaceable cog.  Which we did find out in 1980, after years of groaning when Ken would let in a softie in a meaningless game, and my friends and I would argue that "Bowman devrait faire jouer Larocque plus souvent!"

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