Saturday, 8 March 2014

Game 66: Canadiens 0, Sharks 4

Oyoyoyoyoye! as Benoit Brunet might say.  That was a solid spanking the Sharks administered to the Canadiens.

One thing about the Sharks, when they take over the puck, it gets going the other way in a hurry.  Guys like Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, they act like they want the puck, and know where they want to go and what they want to do with it.  Just that mindset, that hunger, would serve guys on our side, guys like Lars Eller and René Bourque, who don't always seem clear on what's going to happen next.

It's hard to find a culprit for the loss, aside from the obvious gaffe on the first goal by Peter Budaj, it was a team loss.  Looking at our lineup, some aspects don't inspire confidence.  The fact that only one line is clicking, while the Plekanec line is testing the waters and Lars' line is rudderless, makes our squad much less formidable than it seemed to be early in the season.

On defence also, with an Alexei Emelin still rounding back into form after ACL surgery, and a third pairing of Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver, we seemed to have taken a step back.  A couple years ago, I thought at least one of Raphaël Diaz or Yannick Weber would become a useful puck mover, and that Alexei would be a pillar on a second or third pairing.  And just over the horizon were Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, young princes who'd ace the AHL exam and quickly graduate to the NHL, seamlessly.  We were going to have a solid defence corps, for years, no doubt.

Instead, I'm reminded of the motley crew from back then, when Jaroslav Spacek and Tomas Kaberle would take shifts, and we relied on long-in-the-tooth vets Roman Hamrlik and Hall Gill, and had to call up Frédéric St-Denis.  We have some work to do on our 'D', and it's not just a matter of waiting for Josh Gorges to heal.  Mike Weaver is a capable #7, but that's it, asking for any more is clearly outside his range.

Jarred Tinordi came to the defence of Lars Eller, who was body-checked hard into the boards, somewhat from behind, by recidivist cheap-shot artist Raffi Torres.  Jarred jumped him immediately, and Mr. Torres dropped his gloves and seemed as if he'd be a willing combatant, until he realized he was in over his head and allowed himself to fall on his butt, so as to end the bout.

Trouble is, Jarred was awarded an instigator penalty, which is fine according to the rules as they are written, he did accost Raffi Torres and goaded him into a fight.  Except these incidents, when a teammate 'avenges' a hit on another, are routinely accepted as fair play by indulgent refs.  Anyway, Jarred received a 17 minute timeout, and all of a sudden, we received generous helpings of the Douglas Murray-Mike Weaver pairing.

The latter looked relatively inept on one sequence, in which he missed a pass from Max at the offensive blue line and had to retreat to the defensive zone to retrieve the puck.  Which was fair enough, the pass from Max was at least imprecise, and could be ascribed to the lack of familiarity between two new teammates.  Where it really went south was when Mr. Weaver, skating the puck out of his zone, tried to make a stretch pass which ended right on the tape of a Shark, and the Canadiens spent a furious 45 seconds in their zone trying to defend.  Mr. Weaver was spinning like a top in front of the net, flailing this way and that, flopping down a couple of times to try to block a shot and end the onslaught.

I'm sure he's a gamer, and after all the travel he's just as tired as all the other players are, so there's that to consider, but on this sequence at least, he was noticeable, and for all the wrong reasons.  A steady-eddie type defenceman would have smoothly made a smart, easy play and we would never have known that danger was afoot.

Speaking of easy plays, let's discuss the first goal allowed by Peter Budaj.  On that long shot from Logan Couture, I had the time to think about the debate on these types of Hail Marys.  On the one hand, I thought, as the old saying goes, it's never a bad play to put the puck on the net, since you never know what can happen.  Plus, the Sharks were short-handed, so it allowed Logan Couture to hang back and defend the next attack.  On the other hand, the problem with this type of dump-in is that now the goalie has full control of the puck and can launch the attack again.  Also, old coaches exhort their players to not give a cold goalie an easy shot from far away, since it gets them into the game, gets them into a groove.

So really, there was no way to know if the shot from Mr. Couture on net was a good decision.  Until the loose puck flubbed by Peter Budaj was tapped into the net by a streaking Tommy Wingels.  That was a pretty good indicator.

Cross our fingers, Carey Price is ready to go on Wednesday.  As well as Brandon Prust, and Michaël Bournival.  Our fourth line isn't useful right now, as constituted, and Michel Therrien limited their ice time, being forced to overuse Tomas Plekanec among others.  Ryan White and Travis Moen were used sparingly.  If we can get back to a fourth line that flies around and caused havoc and which the coaches trust, it'll even out the load, and maybe inject some energy into the forwards.  Which we'll need in the next game against the Bruins on Wednesday.

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