Monday, 25 November 2013

Canadiens release Erik Nystrom from his PTO with the Bulldogs

The Canadiens have released Erik Nystrom from his 25-game Professional Try-Out contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs.  While he showed promise early and some skill, the tangible results were still not apparent.  He had tallied five points in 17 games.

Practically, this doesn't affect the team's future plans too much.  He had been picked up at the 2012 Draft with a sixth round pick, and was touted by Trevor Timmins as a possible dark-horse surprise candidate.  The Canadiens' scouting staff had come to know Mr. Nystrom while scouting another player, and had been impressed by some aspects of his game, namely speed, effort and skill.  So the Hail Mary didn't connect on this one.

Mr. Nystrom has already entered a contract to play in the KHL, apparently.  He'll get an opportunity to work on his game and continue to develop.  Obviously, the equation as of now didn't add up, he wasn't seen as being worth one of the 50 contracts the organization is limited to.

The only qualm I have about this is how the Canadiens' organization that June was bereft of a goalie prospect.  Aside from Carey Price, there were no frontline options on the team, even down the line a bit.  So when the sixth round came along, I fully expected us to take a developmental guy, someone who would need to work on his game for a while, but had some tools and upside.  Maybe some longshot European goalie, or a LHJMQ kid playing on a poor team, without great stats but facing lots of rubber and getting an education, but quick.

Sure enough, Victoriaville's Brandon Whitney was still available then, but the Canadiens passed him over in favour of Mr. Nystrom.  The Blackhawks claimed Brandon Whitney in the seventh round.  The rich get richer.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

24 CH, 2013-14 season, Episode 4: Notes

1:00  We see Stéphane Waite, the Canadiens goalie coach, receive his Stanley Cup ring from a Blackhawks Vice-President, who made the trip to Winnipeg for the presentation.  It's noteworthy that he won two Stanley Cups in Chicago with different goalies, in light of the excellent work so far this season from the Canadiens' duo of Carey Price and Peter Budaj.

2:05  Now we see Mr. Waite working with his charges, specifically trying to find out what the bounces off the boards will be like.  It's interesting how guys that have been in the league for years can still be surprised by what they find.  In Winnipeg, they find that hitting the boards on the lower part behind the net regularly leads to a fast rebound right in the crease.  We then see Mr. Waite sharing this intel with defencemen coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault and head coach Michel Therrien, and you can see the wheels turning, how to not get caught by this, and how to turn it to their players' advantage.

3:00  I want to be an NHL player.  They serve you dinner and you get to play a trivia game while you eat?  Trivia on the Canadiens?  I would rule at both those things!

Brandon Prust cracks that if he wins he wants some powerplay time as his prize.  With Ryan White's jape last episode of not having had a shift in overtime for ten years, it reaffirms that these guys are intensely aware of their icetime and how they're used on special teams, and how being used or not used in certain situations can lead to resentment or misunderstandings.  Most guys are team guys and will accept their 'role' on the team to a certain degree, but it doesn't mean they have to like it.

Michel Bergeron on l'Antichambre talks about this phenomenon often, how you can't ask a heart and soul guy like Brandon Prust, who gives everything he has, to sacrifice himself game after game while giving him only fourth-line minutes.  Mr. Bergeron also thinks that Travis Moen's lackluster performance last season and in spurts this season is due to being confined to fourth-line duty.  Not many guys are going to be eager to get punched in the face for the benefit of their teammates while playing 4 minutes a period, the thinking goes, and while other players who don't make the same sacrifices get the easy PP goals and the glory and the bunnies.

4:50  Brandon Prust scores an easy goal on a bounce pass off the boards behind the net.  You can hear Coach Daigneault telling P.K. to pay attention to that, trying to plant a seed for his young defenceman, giving him another option when he has the puck at the blue line.

In the next scene, P.K. does as he damn well pleases, and blasts a puck through for another goal.  P.K. don't need no fancy bounce passes to put up points.

5:15  We see Max pulling his hamstring in slo-mo, with accompanying lugubrious music, appropriate enough to underline the beating my fantasy teams are about to take.

Later, after a nice win, we see the players coming back to the room, and Max, on crutches, joins the players who were scratched in the 'receving line'.  You can see the concern on everyone's face as they ask him what the deal is.

7:15  We see Josh Gorges at home, with his 'boarder' Brendan Gallagher.  Josh has a great-looking Bulldog, which is cool, but also a new bride, and he discusses how the co-habitation might have been awkward but so far everything is going well.  Josh mentions he was asked to take in Brendan, and I wonder who does the asking: Marc Bergevin, Michel Therrien, or someone else in the organization.  Also, I wonder what quid pro quo he gets.  Does his No Trade Clause become ironclad?  Does he get special treatment for being a 'team guy'?  Fascinating stuff.

Whenever I hear of these arrangements, I think of an older player with a mondo big house, and kids running around.  So the veteran and his wife don't mind the 'intrusion', they already don't have any privacy with the rugrats, and you can plunk the young player in a semi-suite downstairs.  Josh's setup doesn't look like that at all, more like a smaller townhouse, so not ideal.  You get the sense that Brendan gets that as well, and even though he's already a very polite and down-to-earth kid, you can tell he's not quite walking on eggshells, but maybe actively being on his best behaviour.

I wonder why they didn't ask him to move in with Chucky, they could play video games together and have Mama Galchenyuk feed them tonnes so they grow up big and strong.  But then I think of Alex's sister, and I get it, that could be trouble.

8:40  I want to be an NHL player, Part Deux: Can you see that massive fridge with every kind of Gatorade and Vitamin Water and fruit juices you'd ever want, along with a rack of protein and Clif Bars, just there for the taking?  I'm trying hard to remember, but none of my workplaces ever had that kind of perk I don't recall.

08:58  Pre-game meeting in the video room.  Freeze-framed, we find, again, that Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu (attaboy!) are sitting in the front row.  Eager beavers/teacher's pets Francis Bouillon and Josh Gorges are in the first and second row, respectively.  Travis is up front in the second row, but you get the sense it's to snag an aisle seat for the leg room he requires for his massive quads.  Class clowns René Bourque, Brandon Prust and Carey Price are at the back.  And again, David Desharnais and Daniel Brière are side by each.  P.K. is raptly attentive.  Andrei doesn't need to hear any of this.

11:30  We see the phantom elbowing call against P.K. in the Columbus game, from a great angle and in slow-mo, showing us just how out-to-lunch the refs were on that one.  Why we can't have a video judge to review these, and incidents like the clear highstick Brendan took in the chops earlier in the game and for which he had to get stitched up, I don't understand.

We also see Michel Therrien standing on the bench, aghast, yelling at the ref that there was no penalty on the play, but I disbelieve what I see, since we all know that Coach Therrien is against P.K., wants him to fail, and never sticks up for him.  So that sequence must have been conjured up at ILM's studios, somehow, and spliced in.

14:40  Geoff Molson announces to the players that French lessons will be made available to everyone on the team free of charge.  And it astounds me that this isn't already happening, that it isn't part of the team's normal functioning for years.  I thought this was covered, and once wrote a post saying these little details should be extended to the players' wives and significant others, to allow them to integrate into the community, to feel more involved.

I may have been misled by a previous "Nos Canadiens" episode focused on Steve Wisniewski, who we saw working with his French tutor.  At the time, I thought the tutor, while well-meaning, may have been a little dry, and Steve would quickly grow bored with these.  Instead, I thought how the team should integrate these lessons in team events, like for example a morning skate, where every part of the ice is labelled: 'Le poteau', 'La ligne bleue', 'La bande'.  By working these into their everyday life, and making it applicable to their world, maybe the players would have a better shot at retaining the lessons, and maybe enjoying them more.

Anyway, good initiative Mr. Molson, but, with respect, why did it take so long?

16:45  Michel Therrien trying to make a point to Jarred Tinordi through a little joke, saying there's thirty places you're not allowed to turn the puck over in your own end, and asks him what those places are, with the answer being any city where they have to play an NHL team.  Jarred is baffled, due to the poor grammar and pronunciation of the coach, so we see a language barrier at work there, but the coach saves it at the end and everyone has a good chuckle.  Jarred leaves the video room, still wondering what happened, but it's good to see the coach using a different communication strategy to get his message across.

And I did notice that all the players are essentially in the same seats in the video room that they were in last time.  So they're creatures of habits, they've claimed their seats for the season, and I guess I won't try to derive too much about the team dynamics from this detail anymore, unless something changes.

18:05  Michel Therrien trying yet another tack.  We see the coaches in their room between periods fuming about losing in every aspect of the game: faceoffs, puck control, etc.  Then, Coach Therrien enters the dressing room, but instead of yelling and swearing, takes a seat and calmly asks the players what's going on.  Again, evidence that he's not just a one-trick pony.

But it's not enough, as play resumes we see little reversals that announce the start of the slide.

Daniel Brière's concussion, with no penalty called on the play, for what was at least a deliberate decision by the Nashville player to not deviate from his course and collide with the opposing player.

We see the goal called a goal on the ice, but then overturned for lack of evidence that it crossed the line upon further video review, in clear violation of the principle, which states that plays stand as called unless there is clear video evidence to overturn them.  The ref explains to the Canadiens bench that he thought he saw the puck cross the line, but that the three other officials saw that it didn't go in.  And I call B.S.  It's not that they definitely saw it not go in, it's that they were pretty sure it didn't go in.  Another example of a review in Toronto going against the Canadiens.  And I'm still waiting for a statistical analysis of the percentage of calls that go against the Canadiens, it should be 50% with enough incidents, but I suspect it's much higher.

And we see Brandon Prust hit the boards head first, and bugger up his shouldder, and that may be the most costly loss of this game, which will hurt the team for a while (yes, we're purely being prescient here).

Monday, 18 November 2013

Yannick Weber is waived by the Canucks, to yawns from the fans

Very few comments and little analysis of the Canucks' decision to put Yannick Weber on waivers.  All I came across was this humourous blog post.

After a bit of hype when he was signed this July, that his right-handed slapshot might be what cures the ills of Vancouver's powerplay, he fell off the radar rapidly after training camp.  None of my buddies, who were curious about him and pumped me for information in September, even bothers to bring him up when they try to figure out how to fix the Canucks.

There was this quote from John Tortorella in the Vancouver Province:
“I like our back end, as far as the defencemen we have,” said Canucks head coach John Tortorella. “There wasn’t a spot, Alberts is sitting out. It’s tough but you have to make decisions. We used him at forward when we had injuries. I just don’t think he earned a spot and that’s why he’s not with us right now. I hope it works out for him.”
The real conversation out here is the lack of offence, how they're losing all the one-goal games.  The Sedin brothers have gone cold, they try too hard to break out of their slump, and make puzzling decisions.  David Booth hasn't responded to his AHL conditioning assignment stint (I think they recalled him too quickly, he should have stayed the full two weeks).  They're trying to push Zack Kassian on the first line with the Sedins, but he's clearly not ready, and already there are rumblings from the fans (note to self: give Michael McCarron, Jakob de la Rose and Connor Crisp all the time they need to develop, don't start calling for them to be brought up 'as an experiment.')  They're reminding each other that the return of Dale Weise won't solve anything.

Another quote that may feel eerily familiar to Canadiens fans, from Roberto Luongo, about being run over during the game against the Stars:
“[Erik] Cole was trying to make a play and I’m not sure that was his intention but it was the second or third time in the game. It’s what we want to do to the other goalie — create havoc, get pucks there and a guy bangs it in.”

Sunday, 17 November 2013

NFL 2013 Week 11: Chargers 16, Dolphins 20

In a battle of depleted offensive lines, the Miami Dolphins' beat the Chargers', and not coincidentally, the Dolphins won the game 20-16.  Missing their Pro Bowl left guard, their second-round pick left tackle and their 1st-round pick centre, they still handled the Chargers defensive line, allowing Ryan Tannehill to drive for the required points, whereas the Chargers came up short on opportunities to win the game late.

The Charger O-line was again shuffled due to the absence of King Dunlap, with D.J. Fluker shifting to left tackle and Jeromey Clary kicking out from right guard to right tackle.  Again, this patchwork line won't be confused with Joe Gibbs' Hogs, but they're surprisingly competent.  They blocked well enough for Philip Rivers to pass for almost 300 yards, and Ryan Mathews to rush for 120.  In the fourth quarter though, when the chips were down, Philip Rivers was hurried and knocked down and unable to get the job done.

This was a winnable game for the Chargers, and that they lost it is indicative again that we're dealing with a team in transition, if we're to avoid the word 'rebuild'.  With the Richie Incognito bullying scandal causing havoc within the organization, the Dolphins had lost to the previously 0-8 Buccaneers on Monday night, then were forced to play the Chargers on a short week.  That the Chargers couldn't come in, stun the Dolphins, make them give up, and cruise to an easy win, says a lot about their talent level and their playoff prospects.

If the O-line was a source of anxiety during training camp, and has actually proven to be competent, the secondary was just as much of a concern.  And this concern is proving to have been justified.  Today, John Pagano couldn't mask his defence's deficiencies with exotic looks and clever pass rushes.  Charles Clay caught a 39-yard touchdown pass, with 30 of those yards happening after the catch, and on which he could have been tackled four times.  Instead, the Chargers secondary kept whiffing, and you can almost expect a review of the play during the "C'mon, man!" segment during the Monday Night Football pre-game segment tomorrow.  Our boys, aside from Eric Weddle, can't cover, and then after allowing the catch, they can't tackle.  Expect a  heavy emphasis on this area during the draft and free agency next summer.

One area we've bemoaned in the past, the lack of mental alertness and toughness of our Bolts, their dismal performance in the clutch, reared its head again in this game.  While we could have hoped that the Norv Turner-ectomy performed last winter would rectify this problem, old habits die hard, and it will take a while to cultivate a new team attitude, one of smart gamers who know how to win, and who thrive under pressure.  Players dropping interceptions, taking penalties, we had good examples of this lack of preparedness from our boys today.

The best was perhaps the brain-dead roughing the passer penalty taken by Corey Liuget, taken in the second quarter with the Dolphins in the red zone.  On the play, Brian Hartline caught a short pass and fumbled the ball when tackled just short of the goal line.  Eric Weddle recovered, but the turnover was nullified by the penalty.  And it wasn't a marginal call, Mr. Liuget took a full two steps to tackle Ryan Tannehill after he'd released the ball.  The Dolphins got a new set of downs at the 6-yard line, and the Chargers D, uh, D-flated, and let them in on two Daniel Thomas runs.  In a close game, with the Dolphins just looking for a reason to give up, this was a huge penalty.

So a normally tough East Coast early game, the type of game that has historically caused problems for the Chargers, was ripe for the picking and they fumbled it.  And it won't get any easier, with another road game at Kansas City next week.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Hamilton Bulldogs lose to 5-3 to Monsters

Meanwhile, back in Hamilton, the Bulldogs suffered their sixth consecutive defeat, falling to the Lake Erie Monsters 5-3.

Not great times for our farm team.  I thought we'd gotten rid of a lot of marginal players from last year, added some AHL vets, and our rooks from last year would be more mature, so we'd be more competitive this season, but this is a bit of a rough patch.  I didn't listen to the broadcast, but the previous game Derek Wills called out the marquee Bulldogs for not performing as AHL All-Stars, and I believe he was pointing the finger at Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, based on context.  It would be nice if these guys seized the team by the collar and dragged it to victories by the strength of their effort and production.

No time to panic, we need to be patient, but evidently we shouldn't look to Hamilton for obvious reinforcements, at least for a while.

René Bourque quietly having a good season. Canadiens fans want more, however.

About René Bourque, the thing to remember about him is that he's not a high-intensity, high-motor guy.  We knew this going in when we acquired him from Calgary, we gave them our headache Mike Cammalleri, and they gave us theirs.  He was being vilified in Cowtown for being uninterested and not physical enough, except when he went at opponents with blind-side hits and flying elbows and was being suspended.  So what we knew about him when the trade was announced was that he was a big winger who could pot goals (two seasons of 27 goals), has a low cap hit ($3.3M), and can sometimes appear uninterested or uninvolved.

And that's exactly the player we have.  He's on pace for a twenty goal season, he gets shots off on net, he works reasonably hard and skates well, and is not a problem on the balance sheet or in the dressing room.  He's not a liability like a Kostitsyn or a lightning rod for controversy like a Maxim Lapierre, just a guy who gives what he has and does not hurt us when he's on the ice.

René Bourque's biggest problem is that he's not Rick Tocchet or Curt Fraser, guys who did a bit of scoring but were a lot more showy on the ice, they crashed and banged and were 'fiery leaders'.  René is more low-key.  You look at him and wonder what he could be with his size and physical gifts, but that's always a tricky game.  Other Canadiens like Gilbert Delorme and Mark Hunter and Murray Wilson also seemed like they should be more dominant based on their size and strength or speed, and they contributed, but the expectations are what ultimately soured fans on them.  For every great surprise like Mike McPhee or Andrei Markov, there will be some players who perhaps underperform in our eyes.  Our best course of action is to compare players against others in the lineup, and measure their effort, not hold them up to the standard of our daydreams.

And let's not discount the effect that the two suspensions he incurred as a Flame, for illegal hits against Brent Seabrook and Nicklas Bäckström, the subsequent backlash by the media and opposition fans, as well as the concussion he suffered after a sucker punch by Colton Orr, may have had on his game.  He may, actively or unconsciously, have tempered his game a little bit, moved away from the big spectacular hits, and decided to keep his head down, his nose clean, and just play hockey, try to get the puck and score goals.  In a way, that's the direction the league says it wants to go, that's the way the league should go if it does put a value on players' long-term health.  So to accuse René of playing soft is being willfully blind to the circumstances and the background of the player.

If René pots one tonight and a couple next week, this momentary scrutiny will all be forgotten/'forgiven, and we'll move on to another whipping boy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Game 20: Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

The Canadiens are stumbling a little bit, they've missed some players due to injuries and others have gone cold, so a game on the road against the Blue Jackets isn't a walk in the park, but it's the kind of game they still have to win to have any kind of success this season and into the playoffs.  Simply put, this was two points for the taking, and the Canadiens, while not firing on all cylinders, managed to snag them with a 3-2 shootout win.

They started off in a hole, going down 2-0 on unlucky pinball-machine type goals in the first period, but Alex Galchenyuk maybe saved the game when he hustled on the forecheck in the dying seconds, stripped a fumbling Fedor Tyutin of the puck and put it in on an overmatched Curtis McElhinney.  If nothing else, Alex demonstrated on the play that the Canadiens aren't the only team icing a roster with defencemen who aren't perfect.

In the second, the Canadiens tied it up on a powerplay goal.  Andrei Markov set it up with a shot on goal that yielded a rebound to Daniel Brière, who failed to cash it in, but produced a rebound of his own, one which Lars Eller buried.  The RDS crew mentioned how the Canadiens have adapted their powerplay to the coverage they're receiving.  With Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban terrorizing goalies at the start of the season, but no forwards inspiring the same respect, penalty kill teams have been pressuring the Canadiens defencemen heavily, trying to prevent them from unleashing the big bombs.  P.K. and Andrei have adapted by trying to get quick screened shots off, instead of slapshots, and tonight it worked.  Still, it would be nice if Tomas Plekanec, Daniel Brière, Max Pacioretty and other putative scorers started burying some chances and relieved the figurative and literal pressure on the d-men, they shouldn't have to convert perfect one-timers for the powerplay to work.

There were no goals the rest of the way, it rested on David Desharnais to score the shootout winner, and on Peter Budaj to stop all three Columbus shooters he faced.  Much was made on RDS of the boost this could provide to David's confidence, and how it could serve to get him going.  We can all hope as much, we can't very well go through four seasons of this kind of impotent play from him.

Canadiens, Raphaël Diaz negotiating new contract

Gaston Therrien of RDS is reporting that the Canadiens management team is negotiating with Mr. Diaz and his agent on a new contract, and that the figure being batted around is $3M, but the term is not pinned down right now.  He and the panel agreed that he's a good player, but no more, and that this is a wise move if only to retain him as an asset to trade later.  As in, he'll be more marketable at the trade deadline with a contract rather than approaching his UFA status in July without.

I was expecting/hoping for more progress from him this season.  I've written before how his role as a puck-moving rightie defenceman was much more important this year with Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber gone, but he's not embraced the opportunity as well as I'd hoped, or produced enough to confirm the trust that was placed in him by management.  It's a long season, but if he maintains this trajectory, I don't see him maintaining his spot in the roster long-term when Magnus Nygren is adapting quite well to the North American game in Hamilton.  Mr. Nygren is younger, cheaper, bigger and tougher, and has a bigger shot from the blueline, something we're missing on the second wave of the powerplay.  Mr. Diaz' sneaky wristers from the point haven't caused enough damage to instill fear in opponents so far this season.

The result is that while extending his contract seems to be a sensible move, the David Desharnais situation makes me gun-shy.  Raphaël is another undersized player who has a short track record and is being signed with the expectation that he'll improve or at least maintain his production, in the league of Colin Campbell and Eric Gryba.  The David Desharnais contract also seemed reasonable at the time, the 'going-rate' so to speak, but now appears to be an anchor more than anything.  Similarly, the Josh Gorges deal which provoked immediate gulps of worry from Canadiens fans doesn't look any better since Pierre Gauthier negotiated it.  The $3.9M yearly cap hit is still too high, even with the cap rising, and the term feels, uh, interminable.

So I hope the Canadiens tread carefully on this one, and don't embark on another Josh Gorges contract, one which overvalues an incumbent because he fills a role on a team not due to his talent but rather due to the team's lack of other options.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Akim Aliu is released from his PTO by the Hamilton Bulldogs

In minor, mildly surprising news, Akim Aliu has been released from his Professional Try-Out contract.  These usually run for 25 games, yet the Canadiens released him well before it ended and they had to make a decision on whether to offer him a contract or not. You wonder how he wasn’t worth at least an AHL contract, if they didn’t want to give him one of the 50 contract slots. Did he and his agent prefer to tryout somewhere else for an NHL-AHL deal, instead of settling for a strict AHL deal?

It seems like the hot start he had in training camp petered out, but so has the entire Bulldogs team, only Sven Andrighetto, Magnus Nygren and Louis Leblanc lately have been clicking. Still, you'd think his size and strength would still come in handy on a smallish roster like the Bulldogs’. even if his offence had cooled off.

The only thought I had to explain this is that Stéfan Fournier has been playing lately, after starting the season as a healthy scratch, and maybe the Canadiens’ brass wanted to invest the minutes on him rather than Mr. Aliu.  Stéfan Fournier is slated to fill pretty much the same role that you can envision for Mr. Aliu, that of the big rugged winger who'll play a physical game and pot a few goals while making life miserable for goaltenders and opposing defencemen.

In any case, it was a no-risk longshot on a player who is running out of chances to establish his NHL career, too bad it didn’t work out, but we didn’t lose anything from it.

Alexei Emelin returns, Francis Bouillon gets a pat on the back, a seat in the pressbox

I dislike the social media meme that Michel Therrien will play Francis Bouillon at the expense of better players and the team’s best interests, putatively because Francis is a homeboy and they have a history together dating back to junior. Sure, there is a comfort level there and lots of loyalty probably that goes both ways, and that’s actually a positive, but to imply anything more is just part of the ongoing character assassination of the head coach, for reasons that verge on intolerance sometimes.

Frankie was signed to a one-year contract two summers ago as a cheap and able veteran who knows the lay of the land and has/had proven himself in the eyes of the coach. He was extended for another year last season, since the experiment proved successful, as opposed to others like Michael Ryder and Jeff Halpern and Armdog, all of whom were conversely allowed to walk. No sinister motives there, no backroom dealings, no undue influence from everyone’s bugaboo François Gagnon, just a player who was cost-effective and plugged a hole in the roster and brought experience and leadership and the ability to play minutes when needed. The thing is, it was widely believed when the extension was announced that this would probably be his last season/contract, that he would be a placeholder while injured players mended, and kids in the minors learned their craft.

If anyone is dubious that a Québécois would be retained by the current administration past their due date purely for marketing reasons, just refer back to Mathieu Darche, who the Canadiens wrung dry, and then when they felt he had nothing left to contribute replaced with Colby Armstrong.

So the contingency plan that is Francis Bouillon has worked, in that while Alexei Emelin rehabbed, and while Davis Drewiske and Douglas Murray suffered training camp injuries, and while Jarred Tinordi proved to be not quite prepared to take a regular shift in the NHL, Francis was ready and able to play. He isn’t an All-Star, he has had some rough nights, but he’s given everything he has and everything we can expect from a 38 year old earning $1.5M. Now that Douglas Murray is completing his in-season training camp and rounding into form, and Alexei Emelin is about ready to return, Francis will probably see some pressbox duty as he rightfully assumes his duties as the #7 D-man who climbed higher in the lineup as needed.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Taxpayers of Glendale soaked by the NHL's Coyotes, and now the NFL.

The city of Glendale, AZ isn't just at odds with the NHL and the Renaissance group and the succession of carpetbaggers who tried and tried and eventually succeeded in getting the taxpayers to finance their acquisition of the team.  They're also feuding with the NFL over various issues relative to the 2015 Super Bowl.  Apparently, the game itself will be in Glendale, but a lot of the parties and activities relative to it will be held in Phoenix proper.

One item in this article that is noteworthy is how the Cardinals put in a bid for the management contract of the Glendale arena, but weren't successful.  In fact, the management contract, which has the city paying the owners of the Coyotes to run the facility, never went out to tender, it was just given to the new owners of the NHL team.  Which makes one wonder just how much of a headache is this management gig, how onerous is it, or was it just another plum the NHL extorted from the taxpayers.

24 CH, 2013-14 season, Episode 3: Notes

1:00 min  Good brief overview of what the team needs to bring along on a road trip (over 2000 kg of gear, plus personal luggage), along with the staff who take care of it.  I sometimes wondered about that, if ever a player's skates or stick gets left behind, what do they do if that happens?  I wonder because it's often happened to me: "Where the heck is my jockstrap", or "Crap, I left my elbow pads on the furnace ducts!", as I rooted through my hockey bag once at the arena, minutes before the game.

As usual, being organized, having everything in standalone kits, with a place for everything and everything in its place in a bin, with a checklist you can go over when you're packing/leaving, is the way the staff deal with this issue.

We see players selecting their sticks for the West Coast trip, and that's another one I thought about: if you break all your sticks by the time you hit Vancouver, do you go to Cyclone Taylor's to stock up, or is there a factory rep or supplier guy you call and he overnights you more sticks?  Probably the latter, but I like to imagine Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang trying out sticks in the shop ("No, the Chara stick won't work for me, even if we cut it down..."), with kids and customers standing by, agog.

2:30  Peter Budaj seems like a good team guy.  Last episode he spoke to the camera about Alexei Emelin's punishing rehab schedule and workout habits, singing his praises.  Now he's pumping Lars Eller's tires, proclaiming his status as the NHL's 2nd Star of the Week.  When he was acquired, it was explained that he was a good team guy, a good backup goalie who'll know his role.  That was a little nebulous, but now we see it in action, in this series.  He seems to have a good rapport with Carey, always discussing situations that crop up or saves he had to make, and seems to be a popular teammate.

2:40  A few of the boys shirtless in the plane.  Apparently they have to wear a jacket and collared shirt when travelling, but can dress down to get comfortable while on the plane.  Kind of weird to show this, but I'm sure the ladies won't complain.

We saw this last season, when  the boys stole and hid Alex's and Brendan's shirts while they were asleep on the plane, and they had to parade around shirtless after landing in Florida.

3:00  P.K. and Carey playing video games.  It looks like they have the kickin' setup, a video console self-contained in a travel hard case.  Kids with money, I tell ya...

3:30  Segment showing René Bourque's hometown of Lac La Biche, Alberta.  We see the humble rink he used to play on, René says they used to play on the lake too, which is always fun, because there are no boards and you can skate away from danger and stickhandle until your checker gets tired and returns to the area you kind of set out for the game, and you skate lazily back and try to figure out how to get back in.

Anyway, this is one of the most appealing features of the 24CH series, when they show a player's family and his background.  Great stuff.  We kind of forget that René is a Native Canadian, his humble beginnings, how he was never drafted but has carved out a nice career for himself.  It's great to get to know him a little better, hopefully it humanizes him in most people's eyes, and will dull the urge for some to dismiss him as overpaid or nothing more than tradebait.

7:15  The famous Michel Therrien dressing down of P.K. Subban.  Both he and Josh Gorges get called in to the video room between the first and second periods and shown some sequences where they didn't shine.

Last season, we saw P.K. get similarly pulled into the video room by coaches Therrien and Daigneault, and be told, clearly, that in that situation captured on the screen, he was better off playing the puck rather than going for the big hit.  The instruction made sense to P.K. and he understood and agreed with the direction he was being given.

In this instance though, we see the cerebral P.K. being confused by contradictory or vague instructions, and ask a question for clarification.  He and I are not given that though, Michel Therrien interrupts and snaps at him and tells him to get his head in the game and get in gear, which is all fine and good, but doesn't address the specific issue he tried to address with P.K., and which the latter tried to elucidate.

So again, coaches nowadays have great tools like video to get their point across, but the best one is always going to be communication, clear, concise, and honest.  In this case, Michel Therrien doesn't hit it out of the park, but in the grand scheme, it isn't the great cause for concern that it has been turned into in the media since.  Coaches get impatient and bark, that's in their nature, and the incident appears to roll off P.K.'s back, he's seen worse before.  If a player faints when a coach growls, he won't last long.  Further evidence that it didn't bother him too much (or humiliate him, as has been contended by others) is that for the producers of the documentary to include this clip on the show, they had to get P.K.'s assent, which he granted.  No big deal then, and it's not the first tempest in a teapot for the Canadiens this season, nor will it be the last.

10:15  We've covered in the past how Michel Therrien isn't the best public speaker, in either official language, reminiscent in this of Jean Chrétien.  Both seem really rough when giving a speech, but seem to have a personal warmth and sense of humour that allows them to lead.  In this segment, we see Michel Therrien use a different method of getting his point across, other than just talking.  He breaks out the dry-erase board and gets all the recent scorers to come up to the front of the room and mark from where on the rink they potted their goal.  The point of the exercise is clear, that most goals are scored near the net and that players should act accordingly.

I'm not a booster of Michel Therrien, but this is an interesting teaching technique he uses.  If you keep repeating the same things over and over again, the message gets lost, people tune you out, even if you have a valid point.  By using a different way of getting his point across, he maximizes the effect.

People variously exhibit three learning styles: analytical, observational and experiential.  That is, people can learn by reading or being told something and thinking about it and internalizing it, or by watching someone else do something and replicating the gesture or behaviour, and by plain doing things, to practice them and perfect them.  Nobody learns strictly using one style, and no two individuals are the same.  Some will be more brainy and want to understand something before trying it, while others will chafe or go off into dreamland while being lectured to, anxious for the chin-wagging to stop and eager to get going and learn hands-on.  A good teacher or coach will know this, know that their lesson plan needs to cater to all three learning styles, and that different pupils will respond differently.

In this instance, instead of just parroting again to his charges that they need to "pay the price, get in the dirty areas, drive the net", he gets the players involved in the lesson and targets a different learning style.  So, good job by the coaching staff here.

10:45  Can't help but notice that the Canadiens have brought with them on the road a carpet with the blessed CH logo on it.  The one that no one is supposed to walk on.  What a great inconvenience for everyone.  Let's reduce the useful floor space in the already cramped visitors' dressing room by 24 square feet.  Goody.

I really don't get that sacred logo-which-must-not-be-tread-upon-yet-which-is-weaved-right-into-the-floor-covering thing.

12:15  Brendan Gallagher protests to the ref that he was hauled down.  Andrew Ference butts his mendacious nose into it and tells Brendan that he barely touched him.  Who are you going to believe?

13:15  How many Canadiens fans are there in the stands in Edmonton?  It's all red jerseys, even in the lower bowl.

14:00  Now we focus on Carey Price's hometown, Anahim Lake, just east of Bella Coola.

15:00  Apparently, Carey, in full goalie gear, won fastest skater during skills contests at junior team tryouts.  Surprising, but seeing him move around in his zone, not all that much, actually.

16:15  P.K. cranking up the volume on dressing room tunes.  He still seems despondent over the run-in with the coach earlier in the show.  Or, actually, he's just grooving to the music and enjoying his coffee, on closer inspection.  Looks like the accepted narrative doesn't quite agree with the evidence.

17:00  More dressing room dissension: Brandon Prust owns Alex Galchenyuk in a morning skate tussle, using his jersey to give him a classic Nilan.  These guys obviously can't stand each other.

21:00  Scenes inside the dressing room immediately after the win against the Canucks.  Everyone's happy.  Winning solves a lot of problems.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

NFL 2013 Week 10: Chargers 20, Broncos 28

Everything had to go just right for the Chargers to beat the Broncos, and they didn't quite, but they came surprisingly close in the final analysis.  The Broncos walked away with a 28-20 win, but they turned what should have been a comfortable win into a bit of a nailbiter at the end, one in which they had to amass first downs to run out the clock.

The Broncos scored 'only' 28 points, which is an amazing result for the Chargers defence, frankensteined as it is from mismatched and rejected parts.  The San Diegans could finally count on their two starting middle linebackers being in the game at the same time, with Donald Butler and Manti Te'o playing their first regular season game alongside each other.  And maybe that helped John Pagano, he again called a great game, mixing in blitzes and stunts and new alignments, and his boys bent and bent and bent, and sure they broked too, but they managed enough stops to keep the game within reach, especially after withstanding the first-half flurry.  The defensive line was quietly efficient, and I'm intrigued to see how good Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes will be in a couple years time with a decent set of defensive backs behind them.  And a capable nosetackle between them.

The Broncs touchdowns all came via the passing game, with the first being the most objectionable of the bunch.  Julius Thomas, a big tight end, caught a short-ish pass from Peyton, turned upfield along the right sideline, and kept running all the way to the endzone.  Cornerback Derek Cox didn't distinguish himself on this play, as he almost appeared to let up on the pursuit, expectant that the Bronco would run out of bounds.  Sure, there was a blocker in his way, but it didn't look right, it was at least a brain cramp on his part.  But right there, very quickly the Chargers were down 7-0.

They tried to slow the game down, Philip taking his time at the line of scrimmage, milking the clock, calling runs and keeping Peyton Manning on the sideline.  Trouble is, the redzone was again his bugaboo, with the Chargers settling for field goals while the Broncos' other rampagin', receivin' Thomas, Demaryius this time, added three more TD's.

Generally, I would have preferred the Chargers giving Ryan Mathews a bigger role.  He did rack up 60 yards on 14 attempts, and scored a touchdown, but he had a lot of carries siphoned away by Danny Woodhead and even Ronnie Brown, of all people.  Again, I understand the issues, that Ryan isn't great catching the ball or with pass protection, and that he fumbles a lot, but in this game, when we needed to keep pace with the Broncs, he was the only homerun hitter out of the backfield, and should have been used more.  We weren't going to win this game with 3 yard plunges from Mr. Brown.

So the Chargers tried hard, showed resourcefulness, even converted a fake punt into a first down, but ultimately came up short.  And their record droops down to 4-5, and 0-2 in the division.

And another word about the offensive line.  King Dunlap again left the game with a concussion, the third time this year.  Again, D.J. Fluker switched from right to left tackle, and Jeromey Clary kicked out from his right guard spot to right tackle.  The O-Line is significantly more vulnerable when this happens, and I fear that Mr. Dunlap will be out for a while now.  He probably should take some time off, three concussions in the same season are nothing to downplay.

But again, without this competent offensive line, with Jeromey Clary again struggling at tackle, and rookie D.J. Fluker miscast on the left side, any hope we have that Philip Rivers can keep us in the game with rookies at WR and double-teams on Antonio seem even more fanciful.

Game 18: Canadiens 4, Islanders 2

A game against the Islanders, good for what ails ya.  Things aren't exactly clicking right now for les Glorieux, but we'll take a 4-2 win in which the kid line does all the work.  It's a good way to snap a morale-sapping 4-game losing streak, and to salt away 2 points, these things are precious, better take advantage of our opportunities against Eastern Conference mediocrities.

Lars Eller was named the third star of the game with his goal and two assists, and it was good to see the young man get back on track.  Brendan Gallagher, the second star, had a goal and an assist, the latter on a play which showed great hustle on his part and created the clinching goal scored by Alex Galchenyuk.  Alex netted a goal and added two assists, and was the game's first star.  So, nice work there boys, keep it up.

I was distracted with NFL-ian matters, but I think I noticed a couple of the current whipping boys contribute to this win.  Douglas Murray was a big presence in our zone and cooled some tempers when the Islanders' fourth-liners were out for mayhem.  And Raphaël Diaz, finally, chipped in on offence, setting up Michaël Bournival's deflection goal on the power play with a nice low slap shot.  Mr. Diaz has to bring offence, and revive the second wave of the powerplay, it can't just be P.K. and Andrei for 90 seconds and then we punt it away.  That's how he can earn his keep and a contract extension for next season.

We saw Michaël Bournival back with Tomas and Brian Gionta at times, which I think is a good idea, that trio was on fire earlier.  It's not a failed experiment, we'd need a larger sample size, but right now Max on their left wing doesn't seem to work, they're not meshing.  So let's put the kid's great wheels back on Tomas' left, and plunk Max in with René Bourque, and see if that resuscitates David Desharnais.  And if it doesn't, then let's give Daniel Brière a go between the two big wingers.

Marc Denis repeated tonight that René prefers playing right wing, his off-wing, and we saw him pull a nice move on a breakaway coming down that side.  With the left winger penury seemingly over, now that Alex and Michaël slot in on that side, and Brandon Prust and Travis Moen also available on top of Max, let's see what René can do on right wing.  As noted previously, his 27-goal seasons in Calgary were while he was playing on the right side.  We're in a good position to give it a try.

Carey made a couple of spectacular saves, and again did his job stopping 24 of 26 shots he had to face.  His save percentage ticked down one point to .929, still among the league leaders.  I noticed him mishandling the puck on a couple of occasions, but these stand out because he's usually so effortless and efficient with the puck.  Whereas the great goalies of my youth Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy made venturing out of their nets a heartstopping adventure, Carey at least has that on them, he's almost like a third defenceman out there.  He skates with ease, corrals the puck and puts it on our d-men's blade before the forecheckers get there.

Travis Moen had to leave the game due to flu symptoms, which might be a blessing in disguise, he can't feel too comfortable playing his role with a fractured facial bone still mending.  

With Daniel Brière's and Alexei Emelin's return to the lineup just around the corner, and Brandon Prust out for just a short while longer, the infirmary is clearing out, and the team's depth returning.  It was good to have the Hamilton kids up for short stints, but we'll be better off with most of our players back and a return to routine and normalcy.  And it won't hurt to have the fringe forwards and defencemen competing with each other for playing time.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hamilton Bulldogs allow four goals in a minute, lose 6-1

The Bulldogs were dominating play against the Grand Rapids Griffins, outshooting them, but were down 2-0 in the second period when Drew Schiestel seemed to have scored on a wraparound.  The call on the ice was no goal, it went to video review, and the call was upheld.

Then the roof caved in.  The Griffins scored on four consecutive shots, in 1 minute and thirteen seconds.  Robert Mayer let in three of them, and then Dustin Tokarski allowed another promptly upon being sent in to staunch the bleeding.  So 6 goals on 18 shots so far, while the 'Dogs have shot 28 times and been shut out.

Play-by-play man Derek Wills took time, when Nathan Beaulieu was trying to get after a Griffin during a post-whistle scrum, to point out that there was a difference between showing character, and showing frustration and indiscipline.  Very shortly after, he took the time to say he wasn't naming names, but that some of the Bulldogs who had recently been sent down from the Canadiens weren't playing like elite AHL'ers, as they should be.

Gabriel Dumont took a knee-on-knee hit, for which Akim Aliu and Nick Tarnasky instantly went looking for payback, which is good, but kind of detracts from our theory that these types of players will prevent other teams from taking liberties with our smaller players.  I guess it's not an either-or situation, it's analog and not digital, in that having some toughness on our team will deter some mindlessness and goonery but not prevent it entirely.

Final score 6-1 in the Bulldogs’ loss, with Sven Andrighetto spoiling the shutout on a power play in the final minute. Announcers stressing that the game wasn’t as lopsided as the final score would indicate.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Game 17: Canadiens 1, Senators 4

It's hard to be positive in the maw of a four-game losing streak.  The Canadiens did buzz around and dominate early, but it didn't show up on the scoreboard.  The Senators eventually turned the tide and won by a 4-1 margin.

The Antichambre boys are saying that we're at .500, but we're not, we have eight wins, eight losses, plus an overtime loss.  The overtime point really confuses some people.

There are no easy fixes, it's not like a tweak here and a shuffle there is the obvious remedy.  Most of the forwards have grown cold, and Andrei and P.K. can't score all the goals.  It would be nice to get some offence from Raphaël Diaz on the back end too.

One defenceman who has received some flak is Douglas Murray, for, of all things, being slow.  This is not an instructive observation.  Marc Bergevin knew he was slow prior to signing him to a free agent contract this summer.  We all knew it, from all the reports we read, and from the few games we saw him play as a Penguin.  It's understood, it's built into the equation, that's why he was available so late and so cheap.  It's factored into the risible acquisition cost.

What he does bring, as we also knew ahead of time, is a lot of toughness and physical play.  It was evident in the first period, on two separate occasions that I took note of.  One was a good shoulder right in Cory Conacher's kisser at the opposition blue line, a nice time to stand him up when he wasn't expecting it, and a nice payback for Chris Neil's similar hit on Brendan Gallagher earlier in the game.  It might not lead to anything tangible, but in the medium term I kind of approve of the concept that opposition teams get the same treatment they dish out to our players.

Another occasion when he proved his worth was on a whistle in front of Carey Price, with Matt Kassian looming nearby.  I readied myself for some vigorous facewashing and goonery from the Sens, but Douglas Murray was standing right in front of him, and the situation diffused of its own accord.  It's productive to consider how the situation might have devolved if Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber had been on the ice.

David Desharnais was back on the ice after a game in the pressbox, and had René Bourque and Michaël Bournival as his wingers.  I'd held out hope that a reunion with Max and having René Bourque on his preferred right wing might spark up some of the old David magic, but it's reasonable to agree that he's spent all his credit from two seasons ago, and now has to earn it back.  He doesn't get the #1 scoring winger automatically anymore, just based on their chemistry dating back from their Hamilton days.  Plus, the way Max is wincing on the ice, I don't know how much he can do to get Davey going.

Carey Price was unlucky, unlike his counterpart Robin Lehner who was superb.  Carey didn't really stand a chance on the three goals he allowed, all being scored on deflections or while he was being fronted by Sens, or even his own guys.  So his save percentage creeps down again, to .930 on the season, but that's how that stat works, he'll have some games with a lot of creampuff saves to fatten his average, and others like tonight with bad bounces and shots he can't blame himself for letting in.  

For example, the first goal by Bobby Ryan was largely aided by Josh Gorges, apparently busy humping Kyle Turris in front of Carey's crease.  Josh does a few things reasonably well, but a nice attribute for him to have would be enough strength and snarl to move a player like Mr. Turris who is hardly a battleship, but more a frigate.  Again, we're reduced to wondering just how effective can a 'defensive defenceman' be if he can't clear out the front of the net.

And we might need to have a conversation about George Parros.  When his trade was announced, I facetiously offered that he might be a better player than I am.  I'm not quite so certain any more.  He had a handful of shifts totaling less than three minutes, yet in that limited icetime managed to pick up another goal against.  So in five games and twenty minutes of icetime or so, he's - 5, with no points or shots on goal.  Now I understand the reason he was brought on, and was on board with the decision, and the Senators is exactly the kind of team he needs to be in the lineup against, but I kind of thought that with his experience he'd play his limited minutes and limited role and not hurt us while doing so.  Or at least, not any more than the average enforcer hurts his team, but this level of poor play is intolerable.