Saturday, 8 February 2014

Game 59: Canadiens 4, Hurricanes 1

"Y'en aura pas d'facile" -- Claude Ruel.

Loosely translated, the above quote from the former Canadiens coach and player development sensei meant "No game or win will be easy".  It was trotted out by journalists and broadcasters regularly, a truism/pearl of wisdom used to frame the discussion when the Canadiens would lose a game to the Scouts or the Golden Seals, or to congratulate the team when they jumped on a weaker opponent early and beat them decisively, earning a precious two points that was there for the taking.

The latter usage can be deployed tonight.  While the 'Canes have been on a hot streak, they're not a league power, and with the Canadiens scratching and clawing to pile up points to keep a high seeding in the playoff race, and with a post-Olympic break homestretch looming with a slate of difficult games, every point counts.  The Canadiens did their job tonight, working hard, cashing in on opportunities rather than cursing bad bounces, and scrambling to make up for the absence of a few regulars among the forwards.

David Desharnais had another strong game, against an opponent that didn't use thug tactics against the Canadiens but rather concentrated on hockey.  David used the open ice to his advantage, darting here and there for a loose puck or a savant pass.  He tallied two goals, which is good for him because at times he seems to have lost confidence in his shot.  It's accurate and he has a quick release, so when he pulls the trigger he can fool the goalie, but it's understood that it's not a powerful shot, so he has learned to not trust that he'll beat a goalie cleanly with it, like P.K. or Ovie can.

David also showed good rapport with René Bourque, who seems to be less and less torpid these last few games.  Some accuse him of being useless and/or lazy, but again I'll disagree.  His whole career, the 'problem' with René Bourque has not been that he dogs it, necessarily, it's more a of a problem between the ears.  He lacks confidence, he goes into a funk, and gets frustrated and it spins out of control.  René is the quintessential example of the player who doesn't need a kick in the pants but a pat on the back.  And being asked to replace the injured Max Pacioretty on the nominal first line seemed to spark something in him.  I'll say again, with this game as further evidence of my reasoning, that René Bourque should play with David and Max, and be the recipient of David's passes, and see if he can cash in a few and gain in confidence and get on a roll.

Another player I've spent time defending in the past but who had caused me to doubt whether our patience would be rewarded is Ryan White.  Based on the scouting reports and coach's recommendation coming out of Junior with the Calgary Hitmen, I thought that Ryan could become a third or fourth-line regular, a tough ornery hard-worker who coaches can count on to give everything he has, be responsible, and provide a spark with a few hits.  He clearly wasn't merely a scrapper.  I worried though when two years ago he had his bromance with Brad Staubitz and seemed to want nothing more than to get into fights, take on all comers.

Rather, with a few injuries behind him and a couple of scrapes with his head coach over incidents where he lacked discipline, he now seems to be coming into his own, with a growing maturity, and he is demonstrating very effective play with new sidekick Dale Weise.  As the only right-handed centre on the team, he's been delegated to take the faceoff in key defensive situations.

One instance was notable.  Late in the second, Coach Therrien sent Ryan in for a draw to the right of Carey Price, but not before giving him what seemed to be detailed instructions.  Ryan was raptly attentive, then skated into his zone and conferred with his teammates to let them know what play was on and what their roles were.

This was refreshing for many reasons.  First, it showed a coach in clear command of his team, and not a coach who "has lost the room" and is being tuned out.  Ryan wasn't yawning or scanning the stands for puck bunnies or gazing up at the Jumbotron, he listened to what the coach had to say.  This exchange also serves to nullify the argument that Coach Therrien only plays his veterans and favourites, and is too hard on the young players and 'ruins them'.  Instead, the coach was tough on his player when he gaffed, but now was rewarding him for his strong effective play by giving him increased responsibility.  Finally, the little confab that Ryan had with his teammates showed the command that a centreman is expected to have, the leadership he needs to display.  Maybe Ryan is taking himself more seriously than before, and is starting to believe that he should be more than just a face-puncher, and that belief is causing him to play with more focus and discipline, and that belief can be contagious.

I also wonder if the (and stop me if I've riffed on this before) acquisition of George Parros and Douglas Murray and Brandon Prust, along with the larger share of physical play being taken on by Travis Moen, has relieved some of the (self-imposed?) pressure on Ryan to be the enforcer of the team, the 'energy guy', the catalyst only.  Ryan seemed to act like a year-old Great Dane puppy, kind of big and imposing, but still gangly and uncoordinated and goofy and prone to chewing his master's Reeboks or peeing on the rug.  We're seeing a more restrained deportment from Ryan, like he's starting to think he belongs and needs to take on a bigger share of the load.

Carey Price put the last touches to his pre-Olympic tuneup, with only a brain cramp on a zone clear leading to a goal against.  Aside from that, he put fires out all night, stopping pucks and stopping the play when the Canadiens were being overwhelmed, allowing the faceoffs to reset the defence.  He made a few spectacular saves, got saved by his posts a couple of times, and generally kept the Hurricanes from making a game of it.  Despite the choppy waters in January when opponents were wide-open on cross-crease passes and his GAA ballooned, he's had a terrific season and seems at the height of his powers.

Let's hope that P.K. gains confidence and gets back into a rhythm during the Olympic break.  Again, P.K. needs to make the simple play more often, not to try to win games all by himself, or to make up for a giveaway with an end-to-end rush attempt that ends in another giveaway.  His play seemed to go south when he was announced as a member of Team Canada, maybe the anticipation was killing him, let's hope he gets it out of his system and he comes back re-focused and ready to resume his strong play from last season.

Finally, apparently Max Pacioretty was not hurt badly when he crashed into the Carolina goal post, it's being described as a back contusion.  So just a bruise.  Phew!

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