Thursday, 5 December 2013

Game 30: Canadiens 2, Bruins 1

The Canadiens continued their recent streak of good fortune, beating the Bruins 2-1 to take the lead in the Atlantic division.  They were fortunate in that, if this had been a boxing match, and the periods were rounds, the judges would have scored it two to one in favour of the Bruins.  They dominated the first and third periods.

What tilted the result in the Canadiens direction was the continued excellence of goaltender Carey Price.  He turned away 32 of 33 shots, for a sizzling .970 save percentage, and boosted his seasonal average to .938 .  We're seeing in Carey the level of performance that has always been predicted for him, based on his pedigree, his physical gifts, his mental makeup and attitude, and his performance at the World Junior Championship, for example, and in the AHL with the Bulldogs.  Whether this is strictly a result of a player maturing into his peak years, or a convergence of factors like his wedding this summer or a change in technique due to a new goaltending coach, he started off the season strong and seems to be getting stronger as the season progresses.

During the game, he seemed solid, unflappable at times, making routine saves appear as such.  He also fought and scrambled and was lucky at times, but these were instances which reinforced the confidence he inspires recently, instead of being seen as evidence that the dam is about to breach.  Miraculous saves and lucky bounces don't demonstrate that our luck is running out, they show that he is in the zone.

Many other players drew our attention.  Michaël Bournival took a shoulder to the kisser and it seemed to stun him, he had to leave for a medical break during the first period, but even that didn't slow him down.  He was fast and furious on the forecheck, making Zdeno Chara look unsteady and foolish on a couple of occasions.  He also made a crucial block on a shot late in the third period.

Douglas Murray is winning over the Antichambre crew, or at least, convincing early skeptic Michel Bergeron that he has a role to play.  We saw very few scrums and attempts to spear a puck through Carey tonight, and none when Douglas was on the ice.  There was a notable instance when Sean Thornton was in front of the Canadiens' crease, and he had half a second to make up his mind on what he would do, the whistle having just been blown.  To help him decide, Douglas skated into the frame and took over from Raphaël Diaz, who had been fronting the Bruins' fourth-liner, and that was enough to convince the latter to turn and skate away.  Douglas did some solid work on the penalty kill, with a notable clearance, and sacrificing himself to go down to block a Zdeno Chara shot, which luckily missed him and hit Carey in the pads instead.

Raphaël Diaz played the kind of game I was hoping for from him at the onset of the season.  Especially with the Magnus Nygren experiment now stalled, this is a welcome blip on the radar, and we can hope that it's the start of a trend.  Maybe he's finally settling in with Douglas Murray, or maybe the contract talks are having an effect (did Marc Bergevin lowball him, and light a fire?), but we saw flashes of the player we expected, in the better-case scenario at least, in that he was dependable defensively and creative and dangerous offensively.

On one sequence, he covered Chris Kelly in his zone, and bodychecked him behind the net to neutralize him.  This was not a punishing blow or anything, but an effective play that will make his coaches smile.  He then rushed the puck up the ice and created a scoring chance, and this was the kind of rushes he's shown the last couple of years that have been strangely absent this season.  On another sequence, he took a couple of dangerous shots at the net, and again this aspect of his game has been lacking.  Finally, in the third period he set up the winning goal by Max Pacioretty on a pretty play when he drove the net and deked around a sprawled Tuukka Rask, almost potting the goal himself.

Alexei Emelin continued his solid play, and may have exorcised some demons by putting a solid hit on Milan Lucic along the boards.  Alexei landed on his butt as a result, but his limbs were intact, and that must have helped his confidence.

Lars Eller also laid a crunching hit, on Gregory Campbell to boot, and was solid and dependable all game long.

George Parros was a presence that possibly cooled the Bruins' baser instincts, and even took a pretty good shot on net, although he went high glove-side, the scorer's equivalent of fool's gold.  Georgie, there's a reason there's all that room, all that net to shoot at, it's the goalie setting a trap for you, hypnotizing you with what seems like a can't miss option.  Next time, at least freeze the goalie before trying that.

David Desharnais won an honest-to-goodness puck battle along the boards with Jarome Iginla late in the third, while protecting the slim lead, and that flies in the face of the truism that he's too small to be effective in the defensive zone, and that he gets knocked off the puck too easily.  I don't know if he's playing more confidently due to his recent successes, but he did the same things he used to do, which is get way low and wide in his stance so that the big Bruins winger couldn't get a good lick on him or lever him off the puck.  He then used his quick stick and smarts to shuffle the puck along the boards for a few precious seconds before he squirted it loose to Josh Gorges, who was able to easily clear the zone.

And finally, Canadiens fans could take some schadenfreude in how poorly Zdeno Chara played.  I challenge anyone who states that he's still one of the Top 5 or even Top 10 defencemen in the league to watch the game and see his many gaffes and mistakes.  Poor shifts followed bad shifts which came after catastrophic shifts.

Brendan Gallagher started off the festivities early in the first while forechecking and racing him to a puck in the corner.  Brendan braced and 'pre-hit' him, then finished his check after the puck was gone.  Not that it affected Mr. Chara physically, but it may have set the tone.  Michaël Bournival forechecked him to great effect, stripping him of the puck on a couple of occasions.

Mr. Chara also looked bad against Lars Eller on one sequence, during which he initially gave away the puck, then bobbled it when it came back to him, which led to a Lars scoring chance.  He then was too immobile to corral the puck on the rebound, or catch up to Lars who skated away easily with it.  It was like dessert for the soul.  In advance of the main course, of the win.  Cue the angel choir.

Oh, and he was on the ice for the Tomas Plekanec goal, having started the whole thing with a giveaway.  His ineptitude during and expression after were priceless.

If he's a top defenceman with such a fierce shot, why are they putting him in front of the net on the powerplay?  Doesn't that raise a question as to how effective he is on the blue line?  It's not like the Bruins don't have a bunch of big bodies to put in front of the net, they have options, yet they waste this Norris Trophy-candidate as a forward to screen the goalie?  Really?

It wasn't all sunshine and roses for Les Glorieux though.  We saw a curiously disjointed powerplay, with forwards going offside when our defencemen were trying to gain the zone.  And again, Tomas Pekanec went on a two-on-one during a penalty kill with Travis Moen, and chose to shoot instead of passing.  It's almost like he doesn't trust Travis to bury the puck, or send it back with a pretty pass.

We also saw Max Pacioretty get sent off for a two-minute boarding penalty, which was disputable since Max hit Dennis Seidenberg on the side, rather than clearly from behind.  Further, Dougie Hamilton seemed to hit Brandon Prust squarely from behind, an apparently much worse hit, but Chris Lee being one of the referees officiating the game, it went unpunished.

All that remains now is for us to savour this win, and for our focus to not wane in advance of Saturday's game against the punching-bag Sabres.

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