Tuesday, 29 October 2013

24 CH, 2013-14 season, Episode 2: Notes

1)  The show starts with most Canadiens players being asked what their nickname is, and the much-joked about practice holds true, most are arrived at by adding a "ie" or "er" to their name, so Jarred becomes "Tinner", and Francis Bouillon is "Frankie", etc.  One of the few exceptions is Douglas Murray, whose nickname is Crankshaft, which is awesome, I'd kill to have a cool nickname like that.  As to how it's come about, we can all surmise, but let it be noted that he did date Elin Nordegren for a while.

2)  The team practice in Lac Mégantic is treated soberly enough, nothing too maudlin.  We see the boys seeing the devastation for the first time through the windows of the team bus, and the mood is understandably subdued.

What can't be debated is the natural affinity the locals have for the French-Canadian players.  We see the reception Daniel Brière enjoys with the locals running the show at the arena, easily exchanging with them about the catastrophe and the impact it had, and Francis Bouillon joking around with the fans in the stands after the practice, asking the crowd if they want P.K.'s gloves, and in the autograph line how David Desharnais along with Francis and Daniel enjoy an instant connection with the fans.  Not that the anglophone players are left out, we see a fan ribbing Ryan about why he shaved off his hair, and a kid agog at being so close to P.K. Subban.

3)  Cool moment when we see Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Brendan Gallagher playing video game hockey with Daniel Brière's son, he and Brendan are chirping each other pretty good.  It confirms with me how much I want to be a pro hockey player: how cool would it be to play hockey for a living, and have a huge catered lunch supplied by your employer every day.  It might be too late for me though.

4)  Nathan Beaulieu is called up, and Michaël Bournival is told he's playing his first ever NHL game against the Flyers.  He's so giddy he can't stop himself from giggling.

5)  How scary does that lineup look at the centre position?  Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, and Sean Couturier.  On paper anyway, they're not quite firing on all cylinders yet, but still.... 


6)  It's up to Daniel Brière's dad to establish his bona fides as a Canadiens fan.  We see the ice rink he built for his son in the back yard, and every picture shows him in a Canadiens jersey.  

I still don't like the signing, still think he's the wrong fit for the team, but it's hard to hold a grudge against the guy when you meet his family like that and see him dealing with others in a genuine, humble manner.  I just hope he can prove me wrong.

7)  Now we meet Maman Bournival.  How weird must it be to be sitting in the stands watching your kid play his first NHL game in the New Forum.

8)  Ryan White with the quote of the night, when told that his penalty might expire and allow him to get back in the game if there's overtime:  "Well I haven't seen a shift in overtime in about ten years, but..." 

9)  Stroke of luck and of genius by the producers of the show, they film a young fan who happened to catch a signed puck from Carey Price, the game's first star.  They follow him home on the Métro, and the boy explains what he'll do with the puck.  We're let into his home, and see him place it on his bedside table next to other Canadiens paraphernalia.  

The thing is, Carey Price is actually his favourite player, he's wearing a sweater bearing his name.  If Carey Price doesn't derive extra motivation from this scene and make an extra five saves this season because of it, I'll eat my Canadiens towel.

Game 13: Canadiens 2, Stars 1

Surprising how invisible Erik Cole was tonight for the Dallas Stars, who took a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Canadiens relatively peaceably.

I thought Erik might want to put on a show, streak up and down the ice and distribute a few hits at least.  I don't think I saw him more than once or twice, and he was standing still at the time.  The boys on RDS said there's a rumoured injury hampering his play, and harped on his notorious slow starts, but for a player coming into a game with a chance to haunt his old team, it was a listless effort.

I've been ruing the Erik Cole trade since the signing of Daniel Brière.  Although I applauded the trade at the time, and thought we were getting out of an onerous contract with more than two years left on it for a player with waning ability, the way the dominoes fell and we ended up with Daniel Brière for two years with a No Trade Clause, I wasn't sure we'd won out in the end.  I thought Erik was younger and more able to play a physical style, therefore a better fit for our smallish forwards.  I was 75% convinced of that, but after tonight, I'm 60% convinced.  The surge of production I thought could happen for Erik with a good off-season of conditioning is looking more and more unlikely.

Let's just go ahead and measure Michaël Bournival for the Calder Trophy, why don't we.  Not only is he playing great, but he's reinvigorated Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.  That duo looked moribund the first few games, but are now reclaiming their 1A line status, pushing the kids back to 1B.  Chalk up another goal for Mr. Bournival, who played on the first wave of the powerplay, no less.  

Two assists for Raphaël Diaz will also be very welcome.  He's had a couple of difficult games defensively to start the season, and he'll never be confused for Brian Engblom, but he can pitch in by doing what he did tonight: be first on the puck in the defensive zone and clear it out quickly, and create some goals on offence.  He doesn't have the rocket that Yannick Weber has, but he's a headier, more dependable player, and he'll get some pucks on net with a quick wrister rather than trying to blast it through shot-blockers.  I'm keen to see Raphaël paired with Douglas Murray or Alexei Emelin, I insist that with the right partner he can help the team.

René Bourque continues his quiet campaign.  He's also taken flak by fans lately, for not being Rick Tocchet mostly, but we knew that going in.  René is a big, strong, fast winger who can snipe goals.  He's relatively streaky, but he's not dogging it, he still works hard on defence, he's getting shots on net.  His fourth goal has him on pace for 25 for the season.  That's exactly what we were projecting/hoping for him this year.  Again, when Max comes back, I'd be eager to see what those two can do with David Desharnais, maybe they can recreate the magic the 2 1/2 Men line had.

Carey Price racked up another win, but lost the shutout on a shot some may think he flubbed.  I think he was more surprised by it than anything, Cody Eakins timed his wrist shot perfectly so that Carey couldn't pick it out from behind P.K.'s skates and legs until it went by him.  In any case, we're not expecting him to bat a thousand, as we've discussed before, he just need to stop 19 out of 20 shots.  That's all we ask.  Sure enough, tonight he finished with a .963 save percentage, slightly above that mark.  He raised his season percentage to .939, which is fifth-best in the league, and roughly where it needs to be for the team to be successful and for him to amply justify the contract he was awarded last season.

The crash back to earth that a lot of us were expecting with the team's numerous injured players and tougher schedule isn't materializing.  It's three wins out of four starting since the game against the Oilers, and while there was a clear gap between our team and the Sharks, the boys kept it close.  With Max potentially back this Friday, and George Parros, Travis Moen and Brandon Prust poised to add depth and size soon enough, enabling us to return Patrick Holland and Mike Blunden back to Hamilton where they belong, I may have to temper my natural cautiousness/pessimism, and expect even more from Nos Glorieux.

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!"

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Canadiens' new goal song: "Le But" by Loco Locass

For everyone asking what is the 'new goal song' they're playing at the New Forum, it's called "Le But" by Quebec rap artists Loco Locass.

The song itself is a punchy rap with lots of catchy rhymes, and it does the neat trick (for a rap song) of turning in the end into a mass singalong.  Which I guess isn't that singular, come to think of it, since we've all sung along to "Hot in Here" and "Gin and Juice" and "California Love" and ...

Anyway, the song does a good job of speaking to the attachment Quebecers have with the Canadiens, through the generations, as well as the impact the team has had on our society.

There are many videos and montages made of this song available on YouTube, you can explore them at will.  This one has the lyrics to go along with the song.

This one was the absolutely fantastic job done by the Hockey Night in Canada crew for their musical intro to the broadcast of a playoff game in 2010 between the Penguins and the Habs, using "Le But" and their treasure trove of archival footage.  I know a lot of people think it will be great if CBC loses the broadcast rights to the NHL, but I fear the clowns at Sportsnet more than I loathe Don Cherry and facepalm at Bob Cole.  We might lose these magic intros that HNIC does so well.

So the snippet they use for the 'goal song' is obviously the "Allez Montréal" refrain at the end.  Whether it works or not I can't say.  I'm not sure if I hear the crowd get into it and sing along as much as we'd like.  Maybe it's misused, I'd like the New Forum wizards to fashion it into a chant/song the fans can break into, with prodding from the video boards, an alternative to the "Go Habs Go" or "Olé" song, when the team needs a pick-me-up.

[EDIT: Further reading: CBC montage sparks controversy before Habs game]

Game 10: Canadiens 4, Ducks 1

Everything seems better when the team is winning.  What appears as a giant lacuna after a loss is a mere foible when digesting a win.

Take Josh Gorges' giveaway midway through the third that led to the Ducks' only goal.  If that had been the winning or clinching goal, we wouldn't be so sanguine, but in this case, we can look at it as a prime example of what happens when a defenceman has to play on his off-side.  Josh, who's usually reliant on the safe play, opted on this one not to make a quick safe pass or to bang it off the glass, but rather to skate it out on the breakout.  Trouble was, he was on the right side of the ice, by happenstance and not necessity, since he was paired with rightie Raphaël Diaz.  But that's how it happened, he corralled the puck while wheeling around the net, and as he approached his blue line and felt the pressure from forechecking Duck, had to play the puck on his backhand.  He bobbled it to a pair of Ducks, and it ended up in the back of the net.

If Josh had been skating on the left side, he would have had the puck on his forehand, from which it would have been much easier to saucer a pass or deke or bang the puck up the boards.  He could have faked, delayed, withdrawn the puck away from the forecheckers, away from the centre ice and closer to the boards, and shielded it with his body, protected it.  This situation is one of the countless reasons that it's better to play a defenceman on his side rather than the opposite.  Sometimes you can't help it, but in this case, Josh put himself there, and then made a higher-risk play rather than a safe dump out of the zone, so he bears responsibility.

The mistakes didn't end with Josh though, since Raphaël Diaz, who was defending the resultant 2-on-1, messed up one of the most basic plays a defenceman has to make.  In this situation, defencemen are taught from a very young age that their main job is to take away the passing lane, prevent the puck carrier from passing the puck.  The idea is that a goalie, squared up and ready to stop a shooter, has a good chance to be successful, but not so much if he has to slide over to another angle to make that save.  So defencemen routinely try to stay between the attackers, his stick ready to intercept a pass, positioning to apply a modicum of pressure on the puck carrier, but really cheating over to the other guy to defend the pass.  A good result is a broken pass, or even making it so the carrier has no option but to shoot.  In these instances, the defenceman did his job.  Even if the shot eludes the goalie, the d-man did his job, he did what he could.

Mr. Diaz did anything but that though, he kind of cheated over to the puck carrier and left the eventual pass recipient uncovered.  Further, when the time came for the carrier to either pass or shoot, Raphaël apparently tried to slide to intercept the pass, but he ended pitching forward awkwardly and accomplishing nothing.  Patrick Maroon easily converted the Nick Bonino pass, which is saying something, since the former is known more for his fists than his hands.  

So, dispassionately, both Josh Gorges and Raphaël Diaz goofed on this play, but in the grand scheme of things, their error will be more quickly forgotten, and we'll focus on the positives.

On René Bourque, for example, who was starting to attract some negative attention.  He's not involved enough, some thought, he's not physical enough, he should bang more, even fight.  Which reminded me of what Gaston Therrien said about Michael Ryder, that as long as he's scoring, you can accept the rest of his game; he's not hurting you when he's scoring.  It's when he's not that you worry.

In a somewhat similar fashion, if René Bourque is skating and creating chances, and taking a couple of good shots at the net, and he's diligent in his defensive game, he's not hurting you.  He's a big guy who, even if he's not crashing and banging and dropping the gloves, still instills some respect in opponents, when he's cruising around their net or going up against them in the corners.  The coaches feel confident enough in him to send him on the powerplay, he has killed penalties in the past, he's a cost-effective player who brings a skillset, the big winger who can play in traffic or when the going gets tough and who can put the puck in the net.

Tonight, we saw him take a pass in the offensive zone, skate through a busted Anaheim defensive zone coverage, and roof a backhand shot for his third goal of the season.  At this pace, he'll bag twenty-four this season, and that's a great contribution from him.  He comes to us as advertised from Calgary, a big speedy winger who can snipe but can be streaky and moody.  So far, he's been generally much more good than bad.

Another player who was the target of mutterings was Tomas Plekanec, who had a quiet start to the season offensively, but tonight continued on his streak, adding a goal and two assists to his recent haul.  He was superb in all three zones, shone on a backcheck, and won 56% of his draws, an area of focus for him.

His linemate Michaël Bournival continues to live the dream, skating hard all over the ice and upsetting opponents' plans.  We tend to think that Tomas and Brian Gionta need a bigger body, a thumping winger to shield them from the atrocities the Bruins and Leafs regularly perpetrate, but recently their young winger has shown that another dose of pure speed makes this line lethal.  At least until the playoffs start.  Mr. Bournival added a goal and an assist to his tally, and a wag tweeted that Marc Bergevin has now given him the go-ahead to buy a house and enter into a twenty-year mortgage.

The third linemate, Brian Gionta, also scored a goal and an assist, and quelled the rumours that his arm injuries had finished him.  At least for now.  The Captain is regularly asked to answer to charges that he's 5'8".

And we can't overlook Carey Price's performance, which has ranged from strong to excellent early this season.  He stopped 31 of 32 shots, some of them difficult, and we didn't have to explain away a couple of goals due to a putative screen or slight deflection or poor defensive coverage, or ...

As we've discussed, he's in a business that measures productivity in various ways, but the main stat we look at for him is wins and save percentage.  He raised his save percentage to .936, tied for fourth-best among starting goaltenders.  There's a lot of hockey yet to be played, but so far he's piling up the wins and the saves, and that's all we can ask of him.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Claude Julien, Buffoon In Charge of the Bruins, has his sensibilities offended by those nasty Sabres

So Claude Julien is outraged that during his team's 5-2 win over the Sabres, Buffalo's John Scott headhunted Bruin Loui Eriksson and knocked him out of the game, and perhaps for a few more.  He had this to say about it:
"The referees called it the way I guess everybody saw it.  It's unfortunate but the guy (John Scott) who did it did his job tonight. He's out there for two reasons and that's either to fight or to hurt. He did his job tonight."
The sad truth is that Claude Julien and Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli are reaping what they sow here.  Their intimidation tactics along with Brian Burke's “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” in Toronto have forced the Sens to go out and get Matt Kassian to add to Chris Neil, the Canadiens to sign Brandon Prust and Douglas Murray and trade for George Parros, and the Sabres to add Steve Ott and John Scott to Patrick Kaleta.  These moves were a direct response to the Bruins' headshots and crosschecks and thug tactics.  So Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli created an unsafe working environment that is blowing back onto them.

Meanwhile, the submoronic Colin Campbell is somehow still in charge of the way the game is played in the NHL, despite the mortal wound to his credibility, and Gary Bettman is in Chavez Ravine making ice.  Thumbs up!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Lars Eller thinks the Oilers play like a junior team,

I know everything gets magnified and acidified amidst a losing streak, but we need to calm down on our latest scandal, namely Lars' unwise remarks, and Michel Therrien's comments on this.

As others commented on social media, it's probable that Lars heard these comments on the Oilers in a pre-game meeting, from his coaches, and his goof was in repeating them.  It's the second example of Lars being a little goofy that I can remember, the prior one being when he was unaware that an opponent had made a goalie change during the game, he hadn't noticed the guy he was shooting at was different.  So Lars may be a little scattered at times, he's not Guy Carbonneau or Jonathan Toews.

Michel Therrien did exactly the right thing when answering questions from the media, in saying that Lars had made a mistake and he'll learn from it.  Nothing inflammatory about that.  If he'd said that the Canadiens would have won if not for Lars' stupidity, then we could say he bungled it.  As it is, his measured remarks were appropriate to the situation.

As far as whether he "threw Lars under the bus", that's off-base.  Just so we're all clear, to 'throw someone under the bus' doesn't mean to rebuke someone, or to be mean to someone.  What it strictly means is to unjustly blame someone (else) for something that's gone wrong.

From Wikipedia:
To throw (someone) under the bus is an idiomatic phrase in American English meaning to sacrifice another person (often a friend or ally), who is usually not deserving of such treatment, out of malice or for personal gain.

The phrase has been widely popularized by sports journalists since 2004[citation needed] and was picked up by the mainstream media during the 2008 primary season. It has frequently been used to describe various politicians distancing themselves from unpopular or controversial figures. David Segal, a writer for The Washington Post, calls the expression "the cliché of the 2008 campaign".

From Urban Dictionary:
One is thrown under the bus when they are made the scapegoat or blamed for something that wasn't their responsibility in the first place. A coverup for your mistake.

So this didn't happen in Lars' case, he wasn't blamed for the loss, wasn't made the scapegoat, didn't take the fall.  Michel Therrien instead spoke of following the game plan and problems in the second period, nothing targeted at a specific player.

Monday, 21 October 2013

NFL 2013 Week 7: Chargers 24, Jaguars 6

To quote Chris Rock, the Chargers did what they were supposed to do on Sunday, going to Jacksonville and beating the hapless Jaguars 24-6, in a relatively unexciting game.  The Chargers were unimpressive in their win, and I fear this is the end of the line for their moderately surprising start to the season.  The creampuffs are behind us, after the bye week the real schedule starts, and it won't be all Raiders and Jags anymore.

There's another reason for my pessimism to endure, in spite of consecutive wins, and that's the concussion suffered by left tackle King Dunlap, his second this season and third in his pro career.  Not to be a broken record, but King Dunlap's presence on the line has solidified last season's disaster zone into a remarkably effective unit, all things considered.  When he was knocked out of the game, D.J. Fluker switched from right to left tackle, and Jeromey Clary moved back to his former position at right tackle from right guard, and Rich Ohrnberger took over at right guard.  With chip blocks from the tight ends to help out D.J. Fluker, this patchwork line was enough to 'contain' the inept Jags pass rush.

However, with road games coming up against Washington, the Dolphins and the Chiefs, and home games against the Broncos and Bengals, any prolonged absence from Mr. Dunlap will sewer any chance the Chargers have of winning.  Already depleted on defence, the offence, meaning Philip Rivers, has to produce if they are to have a shot, and that starts by protecting him from the predations of the Cameron Wakes and Von Millers they'll face in the near future.

The positives were the same as last week's: strong leadership from Philip Rivers and his decision making, effective passes and low-risk approach; decisive running from Ryan Mathews who again piled up 100 yards and finally scored a touchdown, his first since the middle of last season's schedule; a no-name defence that mixed up blitzes to apply pressure on besieged Jags quarterback Chad Henne.

A pleasant surprise was the effective play of the defensive line, after a couple games of relatively quiet performances.  Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget were actually noticeable in this one, blasting through the line and disrupting plays in the Jags' backfield.  How much of this was attributable to the horrid O-line they were facing is a good question to ask, but again, this was an opponent ripe for the picking and the Chargers line responded.

A shocker was how well the linebackers played, while missing Jarret Johnson and Donald Butler.  Someone named Thomas Keiser had two sacks.  Larry English continued to try to live up to his first-round draft pick status.  Just how bad are these Jags anyway?  Wasn't Justin Blackmon and the return of Marcedes Lewis supposed to make these guys dangerous somehow?

So a win in the bank for the Chargers, and a milestone for Philip Rivers who reached 30 000 yards passing in his career.  A nice job by all, a well-earned week off due to the Week 8 bye, until the real shelling starts in Washington on November 3.  We'll see how many bodies we have back by then, against a reviving Robert Griffin III and his boys who hung 45 points on the competent Bears defence.  On the road.  An additional two more weeks of RGIII rehabbing his knee and gaining confidence and mobility does not bode well for us.

Game 8: Canadiens 1, Predators 2

1) So Paul Gaustad was very circumspect a couple years back when Milan Lucic demolished his goalie Ryan Miller in the mother of all cheap shots, but quite brave in running 5'7" Daniel Brière into the stanchion.  Mr. Gaustad is a very thoughtful guy who considers all options before acting.  He above all must be very aware that George Parros, Douglas Murray and Alexei Emelin are injured, and that Brandon Prust is walking wounded.

I already didn’t have much respect for that guy, he’s lost of lot of what was left.

2)  Proost? Troba? Greg Millen is at it again, lost in his pinwheel.  If these were difficult names to pronounce, and relatively obscure players, maybe I'd understand, but any play-by-play professional should have these names down now.  Any pro would, even if he hadn't followed hockey for the last couple of years, with only a few minutes of preparation.

Bob Cole and Greg Millen are very hard on the ears.

3)  The kids have the right idea. If the Preds can bulldoze Carey Price, then maybe we can get in Pekka Rinne’s blue paint once in while too.  Good on Alex, Brendan and Lars.  René, Travis, take note.

Now if we could just buy off the officials like the Bruins do…

4)  That diving penalty on P.K. was well within the NHL norms.  The Nashville forward was clearly beaten by the skill of a better player and skater, he was a couple steps behind, so he had to resort to the hook and hold and do the little slashes, that's par for the course in Don Cherry's game.  

If P.K. had stayed upright and accepted to be held/interfered to a 30-45% degree, all would have been well.  He has to tolerate it, if other players don't hook and slash him, he's liable to score a couple goals a game.  Let's be reasonable, how can we have parity if the best players on the best teams are allowed to benefit from this advantage?

Now, if the opponents go over the limit, and hook-interfere-slash-hold-trip him to an unacceptable degree, somewhere in the 18-100% range, and the conditions are propitious, if it's early in the season, and the score isn't too close or it's not late in the game, most probably there will definitely be a penalty, in most cases, generally.  P.K. has to understand that and fight through the holds until the refs are cornered into blowing the whistle.  If he doesn't do his utmost to stay upright, he's making a mockery of the sport, sullying its proud tradition of making rules up as it goes along and selectively enforcing them sometimes, when it doesn't disadvantage the Bruins in any way.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Davis Drewiske has shoulder surgery. Habs fan base absorbs the blow.

The Canadiens have announced that Davis Drewiske will be out for five to six months after undergoing shoulder surgery.  He suffered an injury in training camp that they tried to rehab, evidently, but did not respond to treatments, so he had to go under the knife.

Those of you who worry about Davis Drewiske's cap hit, be aware it absolutely is not a problem.  He is making $600 000 a year.  Right now he will go on LTIR, so his tiny cap hit will still be on the books, but the Canadiens could go over the cap a corresponding amount of money to replace him if they needed to.

More practically, he's a body making minimum NHL wage, so whoever might have been signed in his place would make at least that much.  We couldn't have saved cap space by not signing him, not if we planned to carry 23 players.  Also, if Davis was sent down to Hamilton, his wage would come off the cap entirely.  If he's claimed on waivers on the way down, same thing, no more cap hit.  The fact that he's signed for two years does not change that fact whatsoever.

We need to understand that he was signed to a two-year, one-way contract for minimum wage.  Both sides were happy with the deal.  He got two years of NHL wage security, the team got a #7.5 to 8-ish defenceman who could plug in in emergencies, and would provide options if the kids weren't ready or injuries struck, as they did Douglas Murray, and as they are Francis Bouillon and Josh Gorges, who are both currently playing through them.

As noted before, the management team must have seen something in him to trade for him, it's his bad luck that he's not able to play and practice and show us that something.

The fact that he got injured does not make this a bad signing, it's just unfortunate, but it's better than the alternative of P.K. or Andrei getting hurt and he being healthy and being made to play.

Yannick Weber back on the 13th forward-7th defenceman shuttle

Something most Canadiens fans may not be aware of, but Yannick Weber is realizing that 'plus ça change, plus c'est pareil'.  Our young friend wasn't qualified last summer, the Canadiens deciding that paying a million dollars for another year of his services was not good value.  They couldn't find anyone to trade him to, not at his qualifying wage, so they let him become a UFA, and he quickly signed with the Vancouver Canucks at a bargain basement $650 000 for one year.

The Canucks seemed to have a more likely opening for his services.  They have a relatively strong Top 4 on defence, but the third pairing was wide open, with youngsters like Frank Corrado and Chris Tanev taking turns last season, along with bruiser Andrew Alberts.  The Cam Barker experiment was not a success and he was let go.

The thing about the Top 4 though is that while Alex Edler and Jason Garrison are great on the powerplay, and Kevin Bieksa is a decent option, Dan Hamhuis is a bit of a stretch.  Further, all of these guys are lefties.  Since the Canucks ill-advisedly let rightie Sami Salo take his bomb to Tampa, the powerplay hasn't been the same.  Jason Garrison struggled to get good shots on net last season, the setups seemed off.

So the narrative was that Yannick would walk in, win a #6-7 job out of camp, pull heavy powerplay minutes, and restore the threat of their man-advantage squads.  It kind of worked in pre-season, with Yannick scoring a couple and picking up assists, and I read bloggers idly speculating whether he was the key off-season pickup, and what a find he might become.  There were countervailing voices though, who pointed out how he struggled at killing penalties and in general defensively.

The plan seemed to be, after the addition of Andrew Alberts as a late signing, to rotate him and Yannick in and out of the roster based on the opponents, with Mr. Alberts taking on the more physically tough teams, and Yannick sitting out those games.  Frank Corrado would be sent back down to the AHL to get more playing time and work on his game.

Then, at cutdown day, the Canucks claimed leftie Ryan Stanton, a journeyman undrafted defenceman, from the Chicago Blackhawks.  He's got decent NHL size, around 6'2" and 195 lbs, and is good on defence and can play with the puck.  Apparently he was the most improved player on the Rockford IceHogs, and ready for the NHL, so we can think of him as a fully developed Morgan Ellis.

Claiming him seemed to negate the need for a platoon at the #6 D-man spot, he would pair with rightie Chris Tanev and give the team a more stable third pairing.

But still, it would be nice to have that bomb of Yannick's on powerplays, the Canucks coaches thought.  And, to be sure, their third and fourth lines are nothing to write home about, what with Zack Kassian suspended and all...

You guessed it, Yannick started the season playing right wing on the fourth line, getting few minutes but lots of powerplay time.  He is, again, miscast as he was in Montréal, the seventh D-man plunked in on an awkward forward line with Dale Weise and Zac Dalpe and duct tape and spackle.

He's had a chance to play defence with the Alex Edler suspension, but judging by his icetime, he'll go right back to being the accidental fourth-liner as soon as the Canucks can manage it.  Which will be when Mr. Edler returns to the lineup on Saturday.

I kind of wished things would work out for Yannick in Vancouver, hoped that with the right team and the right mix on defence he could be the #6 powerplay specialist.  He's often derided as being too small, but the guy is really stocky, powerfully built, and he obviously doesn't stint on the off-ice conditioning.

Some have compared him to Gaston Gingras, who was a bit of a one-trick pony too, great shot from the point, but with serious deficits in other areas.  It seems like a valid analogy, but I still hope he can work on his game and put together a decent career.

NFL 2013 Week 6: Chargers 19, Colts 9

I have to admit that this is a hard Chargers team to figure out.  Will the real Chargers please stand up?  Are they the buffoonish squad which was humiliated by the clown-posse from Oakland, or the squad from two weeks ago that traded offensive aerial blows with the Cowboys, or this week's team that ran the Colts out of the game?  For yes, the Colts, who had just last week taken care of the powerhouse Seattle Seahawks, fell to the Chargers 19-9 on Monday Night Football.

It's dawning on me that the secret to our success this year will not only be the offensive line generally, but specifically the presence or absence of 6'10" monster left tackle King Dunlap from the active roster.  I'm not sold on him, not yet, mostly due to being burned by another giant re-tread last season in the form of Jared Gaither, but when King Dunlap reigns, his subjects are happy.  With the line clicking, the disjointed, shameful offensive performance from last week was transmuted into a play-it-safe offensive clinic.  Philip Rivers completed 22 of 33 passes, was (only) sacked twice, did not throw an interception, nobody fumbled, and the ground game racked up 147 yards.

So the good thing is that King Dunlap is actually signed for another season beyond this one.  I thought he was a one-year stopgap, but the Chargers tacked on a second year for little guaranteed money, and it looks like they'll benefit from that.  The urgency to pick up a premier left tackle at the next draft, one who can start right away, has been dulled to a great degree.  The team can possibly choose to go 'best athlete available' in the first round, and pick up a developmental tackle in the lower rounds.

It's amazing what a player can achieve with focus.  Mr. Dunlap apparently lost a lot of weight before Chargers camp, and it has apparently helped his quickness and stamina.  He handled the Colts rushers with relative ease in this game.  His athleticism has never been in question, he used to play basketball also in high school, so with the right combination of coaching and conditioning, he may be reaching his potential for the first time in his pro career.

John Pagano stifled the Colts and Andrew Luck somehow, he had to use smoke and mirrors, with Tourek Williams and Larry English as his outside linebackers, and Donald Butler out, meaning naif Manti Te'o had to make the defensive calls.  With this no-name group, John Pagano dealt all sorts of junk from his bag of tricks, including a couple of plays where the Colts O-line faced no down linemen, but a gaggle of defenders milling around, as if standing around at the bus stop.  This play, and a couple of exotic stunts and blitzes that paid off, were enough to stop an offensive team that was rightly feared before the kickoff.

The D was helped immensely by drops from Coby Fleener, Reggie Wayne and Trent Richardson among others.  One drop by Raiders draft bust Darrius Heyward Bey was spectacular, as he was behind the coverage and would have raced into the endzone unopposed, but to be fair to JaMarcus Russell's former colleague, the ball was a touch overthrown.  My coach used to say: "If you touch it, you catch it."  I'll allow that Mr. Heyward Bey could have reeled it in, since it hit him in his outstretched hands, but also have to admit that it was half a step too far for him.

Another way the D was assisted was the Chargers' ground game, which rolled up yards, ate up the clock, and kept Andrew Luck on the sidelines growing increasingly frustrated.  By the time the Colts would get the ball, they never seemed able to get into a rhythm.  Penalties, drops, something would come up and force them to punt.

Speaking of the ground game, Ryan Mathews racked up a hundred yards, and ran with authority, making the right reads, not side-stepping or hesitating and allowing tacklers to stuff him.  He seemed energized, determined, which hasn't always been the case.  A big blemish on his performance though was the decision to run out of bounds on the final Chargers drive as they were trying to drain the clock.  This allowed the Colts to save a precious timeout, and caused coach Mike McCoy to become visibly agitated on the sidelines.  Ryan is talented, but it's still valid to question whether he has the mental makeup to be a successful running back in the NFL.

Conversely, Keenan Allen is a young player who is meeting and exceeding expectations this season.  The talented Cal receiver whose final college season was marred by injury, was drafted in the third round, and the plan was to ease him into the offence, with Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander doing most of the heavy lifting at WR.  With season-ending injuries to both veterans though, Mr. Allen has been forced into a frontline role, and he is responding well.  On this night he caught 9 balls for 107 yards and a touchdown.  If he can keep up his excellent play, and Vincent Brown can bring it up a notch, it may help decrease the amount of double-teams Antonio Gates is seeing.  For this game, the Colts blanketed him and dared the Chargers to throw to their WR's, and Keenan Allen burned them.

So with a 3-3 record and a game in Jacksonville coming up, my semi-serious pre-season prediction of a 4-12 record for the Bolts is now looking unduly pessimistic.  Again, the offensive line was my big worry, I felt that the team would implode around it, but rather it has kept the team afloat.

All hail the King!

The Canadiens benefit by having a strong local contingent on their roster

About the Canadiens' roster makeup, some are generally dismissive of having francos on the team as nothing more than pandering to a few journalists’ need to ask a few meaningless questions is off the mark. That familiar refrain usually ends with a mention that the reporters all speak English anyway and can translate the answers into French, so why bother.

That is missing the point. The issue is that we need our team to be reflective of the fan base. The little kiddies need to recognize themselves on the team. If they hear David Desharnais or Mathieu Darche speaking to them directly, either by answering Chantal’s questions, or at a Caravane event in the summer, there is a much stronger connection created, a real bond. “Wow, Mathieu is so big, and he looks like my cousin François!”

Unfortunately, a lot of English speakers may not understand this, as there are few opportunities for them to experience it. A unilingual French-Canadian kid, immersed as he is in North America and English culture, is faced with that daily, when he can’t understand what Lil Wayne is singing about, or what Alex Galchenyuk is thinking, or what the people are yelling at each other on the “Walking Dead”. There are cheats, and ways around this, and most kids today eventually learn enough English to get by, but as a five or eight year old, it’s huge to be able to relate directly with your heroes and your team. For me, hearing Ken Dryden and Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey make an effort to speak to me in interviews on “La Soirée du Hockey” was very important. I could always get the thoughts of Réjean Houle or Jacques Lemaire or Claude Larose, but it was neat to see Steve Shutt try so darn hard to talk to me, helped along by Lionel Duval.

So separate from the debate over the icetime and line combinations of David Desharnais and Daniel Brière, I think we need to understand that having some local boys on the team is a strategic advantage and an important factor to consider when building long-term. Instead of having a generation of kids like Vincent Lecavalier, who grew up unimpressed with the Canadiens and was kind of a Red Wings fan, and later didn’t place much import on the opportunity to sign here, we need to develop a close bond with our boys, and have them jump through hoops for a chance to play on the team of P.K. Subban and Charles Hudon.

Nail Yakupov steps into the bear trap, admits he'd rather not forecheck if possible, please?

Nail Yakupov is recognized as a singular talent, a player who reminds some of Pavel Bure.  He's also a bit of a wildcard, and has now fallen prey to the vagaries of expressing himself in a second language, and of being honest when speaking to reporters instead of reciting clichés.

Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins has reason not to be happy with his team's performance and to try different tactics to obtain better results.  One method he tried was sitting out Mr. Yakupov for a couple of games, possibly to send the youngster a message.  It seems the message was received loud and clear, but the end result may make Don Cherry swallow his tongue.

This is what the Oiler sophomore had to say, from an Edmonton Journal article by Joanne Ireland:

“I wasn’t happy about it last night,” said Yakupov. “You can say a million words about getting better but coach says I’m not playing, so I’m not playing.
“I’m not happy about it. I just want to play every game.
“I’m going to play my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.

Just to explore the other side of this issue, and stick up for the archetypal 'enigmatic lazy Russian', there’s some merit to the statement that he doesn’t like to play that style of game.

To take an example from a different sport, some offensive linemen are better at run-blocking than pass-blocking. Most prefer run-blocking because you get to beat on defensive players, as opposed to the reverse when you’re pass protecting. If a lineman says he doesn’t like a gameplan or Offensive Coordinator because they’re pass-oriented, it’s not a mortal failing, it’s just a preference. Whether that jibes with the team’s philosophy, whether he should be on another team’s roster is a valid question, but the statement itself is not that big a deal unless it’s said in an inflammatory or insulting way.

To take it back to hockey, if a Mike Bossy or Michael Ryder plays to his strengths, he may give the forechecking, finishing his checks angle less focus than lurking in the neutral or offensive zone, seeking to cut off a pass and take off in the other direction, or an open space where a teammate can feed him for a shot on net. Now some teams will accommodate for that. Then-Islanders GM Bill Torrey was told at the draft that there were two players left on the list for them to pick in the first round: “Mike Bossy, can score but can’t check, and Dwight Foster, can check but can’t score.”

He famously replied: “Get me the scorer, we’ll teach him how to check.”

So if an offensive player is stating a preference, or explaining that it would suit his skills better to not be a crasher and banger, but to prowl like a shark, maybe that makes sense. It might offend Don Cherry, but it may be true.

Mike Cammalleri had essentially the same complaint about the Jacques Martin system, that it was so defensive that the whole team was playing to not make mistakes, to defend, instead of trying to create, to score. His words came out wrong, he called it playing and practicing with a losing mentality. He was pilloried for it by lots of fans, after being traded in short order by his GM, but it makes sense that some players don’t like the style of play their coach advocates.

Look at the fascination with the “Coach Swap: Cross-Continent Edition” show, featuring John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault. The buzz at the start of the season was that the Canucks were too small and effete and sophisticated to play the brutish system demanded by Torts, with a heavy defensive bent and lots of shot blocking. Meanwhile, AV was supposed to release the shackles on Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Michael Del Zotto. The season is young and the results are different than expected, but it wasn’t heresy then to state that a team or certain players would thrive or suffer in a different system.

So it’s not that controversial a quote for me for young Mr. Yakupov to say he’s not all that into forechecking and bodychecking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we got Alex instead of him, but this might just be the case of a kid who has a motormouth (remember his Twitter misadventures) who said something that is impolitic but true.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Game 6: Canadiens 3, Jets 0

The Canadiens have overall been effective on this road trip.  They got in a hole in the Calgary game, and couldn't make up the deficit in a furious third-period comeback attempt.  Josh Gorges says they had a team meeting afterward, even if I was prepared to be charitable and not demand they go into crisis mode, due to the long layoff after Game 2 against Philadelphia, and the long flight out West.  In any case, the team regrouped, got their legs underneath them, and comes back from that historically difficult road trip, after tonight's defeat of the Jets, with 3 wins out of four, which is more than respectable.

Not that they faced any powerhouses.  Bob Hartley has his young Flames playing an apparently furious forechecking style, and it will be interesting to see if they can sustain their surprising start, but aside from that the other opponents have been underwhelming.  The Oilers have a lot of talent, and admittedly a few roster holes, but this is the second season that they're expected to charge out of the gate, after years at the bottom of the standings.  It looks like if the Dallas Eakins régime will be successful it will be a process, rather than a Patrick Roy-style electric reanimation.

As far as the Canucks are concerned, the pessimists were apparently right.  The window is closing fast, if not already shut.  I wouldn't trade our fourth line for their third, or our third for their second.  They have Daniel and Henrik, Ryan Kesler, and a quartet of dependable defencemen but no stars on the blue line.  No one else on their roster is playing well or inspires confidence in the future.  Their farm team is barren.  

And the Jets, well, I don't know them too well, but I used to consider them a young team on the rise, one that would eventually reap the benefits of their many years of picking at the top of the draft.  Looking at their team on CapGeek though, we see that they are paying average to above-average players very well, and are very close to the salary cap.  I would have expected them to not be so close to the cap.  Their serviceable players like Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little carry a high cap hit, for a lot of years.  We're familiar with how the Canadiens evidently have to overpay to offset the high taxes players incur in Montréal.  It appears that the Jets have to overpay plus, for nebulous reasons.

The upshot is that while I expected a young hungry team to come out firing like the Flames did, we saw more of a confused, uninterested team, who gave up two goals early and then didn't seem to be able or willing to battle back.  The guys who should carry this team, Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane, did not impress.  Mark Scheifle played himself closer to being dropped off my fantasy team.  The only bright spot was Jacob Trouba, the 2012 9th-overall draft pick, who only played one NCAA season, and who looks like he'll stick around for a while.

For the Canadiens, Carey Price is quelling some of the rumblings.  While I was ready for a longer process, whereby new goalie coach Stéphane Waite and he would work on some new approaches and drills, and it would take some time to lose some habits and pick up new ones, we might be witnessing the harvesting of some low-hanging fruit.  I get an inkling, which is somewhat confirmed by observers more steeped in goaltending technique, that he is playing a more basic style, more instinctive, rather than the butterfly system which defaults to dropping down early and covering the bottom part of the net.  In the past, I'd fault Carey for almost 'flinching', dropping to his knees early, at the merest suggestion of a shot.  It wasn't noticeable when it worked out for him, but was glaring when a sniper would wait and pick the top corner on him.  

In any case, there was a lot of noise about how Carey plays, and whether the defencemen were to blame for the precipitous drop in his save percentage at the end of last season.  I tended to think not.  A lot of the goals which went in on him were bad goals from a distance which he flubbed.  There seemed to be a crisis of confidence.  And at the end of last season and the start of this one, I made the point that the distinction between a great goaltender and an average to mediocre one is very thin, almost like the milliseconds which separate luge medalists from the rest of the Top 30.  

In the NHL, a goalie is expected to stop 9 out of 10 pucks at the very least.  If he flirts with or falls below this level, he'll be out of a job.  A Vezina winner All-Star though, instead of stopping 9/10 shots, will stop 19/20.  That works out to one more puck every twenty shots.  And as someone pointed out in response to an earlier post, that is a record breaking pace, a .950 save percentage has not been sustained for an entire season.  The NHL record is .940, set by Brian Elliott in 2011-12, but he only played in 38 games, which is a smallish sample size.  Dominik Hasek, Tim Thomas, all the best goaltending seasons, have yielded a smaller save percentage.  Last season's winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, maintained a .932.

So we can see that the difference between a champion goalie and one out of a job is something like .025, which works out to one shot out of 40.  Over the course of 50 games of facing 30 shots or so per game, thus is the wheat separated from the chaff.

Last season, Carey finished with a .905, after the late-season swoon dragged down his record.  This year, after tonight's shutout, he's at an excellent .944, which is fifth in the league if we look at other goalies with at least four starts, behind Semyon Varlamov, Josh Harding and, interestingly, Tuukka Rask and Robin Lehner.  Jonathan Bernier is in sixth place with a .939.  So Carey is where he should be, in the lead pack, but so are our closest rivals' goalies, so we can't start snapping our suspenders just yet.

Daniel Brière responded to the coach's challenge with an assist on the opening goal by Brandon Prust, and the empty-netter to close out the game.  Mr. Brière may be called upon to replace Max Pacioretty's scoring for the next while, so his purgatory on the fourth line may have been short-lived.  Max took an awkward fall early in the first period and immediately grabbed his left leg, it looks like a hamstring injury or worse felled him, and he was escorted off the ice and didn't return.  Judging by the fall and the degree of pain he showed, he may be out for a while, but we shouldn't assume anything when it comes to Wolverine.

P.K. Subban had his usual strong performance, committing a couple of giveaways early, but came out of it with another goal off a booming shot from the blue line.  If that's what we can expect from his 'bad' games, we'll take it.

Ryan White again took on a giant in 6'4" Eric Tangradi, who is listed between 220 and 230 lbs.  Whitey got the takedown, but I'll feel more comfortable when Douglas Murray and George Parros are in the lineup and can match up with the opposition's goon who is trying to start something and spark his team, maybe he won't be so eager as when he's facing Ryan or a diminished Brandon Prust.

Josh Gorges and Raphaël Diaz were regularly singled out during the game for praise by Pierre Houde and Marc Denis, but their efforts were not of the eye-catching variety.  I did try to focus on Mr. Diaz, and saw him skating quickly to retrieve pucks and making good passes to clear the zone, nothing fancy.  I think these instances are often overlooked by fans, who will notice when a player is bottled in his zone or fails to clear out opponents in front of the net, but not realize when crises are averted before they begin by his steady, heady play.

So again, a good win for the good guys, who pick up the two points that were there for the taking, and bank them now rather than fumbling the opportunity and having to chase them later.  

Sunday, 13 October 2013

On Daniel Brière; or, Regretting Large Purchases

Daniel Brière's performance and production so far have not been inspiring.  The grumbling is getting louder, and it was pretty significant to begin with, from the moment he signed.  

I'm normally patient and cautious, try to not rush to judgment, but this contract struck me as ill-fated from the moment it was announced.  I had a bad feeling, not quite as bad as for the Tomas Kaberle trade announcement, but in the same ballpark.  

And I take no comfort in the reminders that Daniel Brière’s contract is only for two years. I think that it will be an interminable two years, hogging salary cap space that could have been spent on better, cheaper free agents, on stopgap contracts while the Hamilton brigade marches to our rescue. We’re also locked in on those two years with a No Trade Clause.

I don’t like the person, his claims that he always wanted to wear the bleu blanc rouge feel empty. I don’t like how his skillset lines up with the listed needs we had before the free agency period, it's almost a perfect non-fit. I don’t like how it flies in the face of Marc Bergevin’s stated goal to build a team bigger and tougher to play against.

I don’t want him to fail, I want him to prove me wrong, but I think the only time period that could feel longer than the two-year wait to eke out this contract would have been the final year of Tomas Kaberle’s contract.

Louis Leblanc vs. Chris Kreider: did the Canadiens mess up at the 2009 draft?

Regarding the Louis Leblanc vs. Chris Kreider draft decision in the 2009 NHL draft, a topic of some discussion among Canadiens fans, some revisionism is being aired  that claims Chris Kreider was ranked higher by NHL Central Scouting than Louis, and that is demonstrably false.

Louis Leblanc was ranked #13 among North American skaters, Chris Kreider #14.  Here are the Top 30 ranked North American skaters for the 2009 draft.

North American Skater Final Rankings


Why this is even being debated is mysterious to some, as both prospects are experiencing growing pains, and still apprenticing in the AHL.  

One reason is that Chris Kreider's flash was more intense than Louis', since he produced in the playoffs.  Louis Leblanc had some good moments in what was a disastrous 2011-12 season for the Canadiens, so his NHL accomplishments are devalued somewhat.

Chris Kreider also looks better on paper, meaning he's 6'3" and 230 lbs, a notable advantage in Colin Campbell's NHL.  Louis Leblanc is still listed at a slender 6'0", 178 lbs, although he's had encouraging results growing his frame in this off-season.  But Mr. Kreider will always have that size advantage, that's in large part why we have some armchair scouting directors re-writing history.  

I didn't do any pre-reading before the 2009 draft, so I didn't have any opinions one way or another.  Now I understand that some fans may legitimately have had a preference for one player or another at the time, but after the draft, all the writeups I read presented it as a draft that worked out perfectly for us.  The local boy who was highly rated happened to be there when we were picking, and we didn't have to skip over any more highly rated prospects to take him, as some would have wanted to do with Angelo Esposito a couple years previous.  

Louis Leblanc wasn't touted as a scoring superstar, just a skilled, smart player.  I imagined a Guy Carbonneau or Patrice Bergeron, a player like that, who'll be defensively responsible but has offensive skill, who won't hurt your team with dumb mistakes, a good skater who can play on a third line.  He still has a good chance to fulfill that promise.

Overall, we can appreciate what a player with Chris Kreider's profile would do for the mix in our prospect group, and we can argue the merits of both players, but we can't re-write the past.  Louis Leblanc was at least as good a prospect at the 2009 draft, the Canadiens didn't ignore a better prospect to take a lesser player just because he was French-Canadian, as is often stated or implied.  They picked the best available player, and for once it worked out that the kid was a local boy.