Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Game 70: Canadiens 6, Avalanche 3

On a night when I was primed to experience jealousy with respect to the opposition's head coach, and social media centered on the Canadiens was ready to self-immolate in case of a loss, the Canadiens competed for two periods with the hottest team in the Western Conference, before pulling away in the third for a convincing 6-3 win.

All the media appearances Patrick Roy put in over the last couple of days, in which he was confident, thoughtful, calm, humourous, eloquent, and inspirational revived my belief that the Hall of Famer and legend should be behind our bench.  Dagnabbit.  As I wrote in May 2012:

Which brings me to state, again, that especially with the dearth of great coaching candidates, either guys with lots of experience and a winning background, or up-and-coming natural choices like Guy Boucher or Kirk Muller, we should not try to bunt our way on with a safe choice like Bob Hartley or Marc Crawford.  We should swing for the fences and hire Patrick Roy, instead of hiring a more middle-of-the-road candidate and then watch Mr. Roy go to another franchise within a couple of years and make us regret it.  It's kind of like when you're at the bar: you don't sell yourself short and just talk to the plain girls, you suss out the best-looking one and then go for broke, despite the hurdles and that little voice in the back of your mind that's telling you you're wasting your time.
Patrick Roy would bring fire and passion behind the bench, something we've been missing for a few seasons now.  He would bring instant credibility, no one would disrespect the Hall of Famer.  Kids would have stars in their eyes.  Much is made of his volatility, but to hear him speak nowadays you get the sense that he's a grown man, in full command of his team.  He's respectful, humble, frank, insightful. 
I could go on and on.  And I did.

The perfect methadone was a good win by our boys and stepchild of a coach.  There were many factors in this victory.  An obvious one was a more comfortable Carey Price in net, and the resulting surge in confidence his teammates seemingly play with when he's backstopping them.

Another bright spot was the play of the fourth line.  They kept the Avalanche bottled up in their zone for long sequences, and they created a lot of chances for themselves.  But we can say that often about a fourth line, what was unusual was that they actually cashed them in.  Brandon Prust, who I've thought this season sometimes tries to make too-pretty plays, and loses opportunities or causes turnovers in the process, tonight was strong on the puck and was rewarded for his efforts.  He set up a beauty goal by Travis Moen with a great diving effort, and scored himself on a one-timer, cashing in a pass from Andrei Markov.

To cap things off, the third member of the fourth line Dale Weise scored the empty-net sixth goal, on a generous play from Tomas Plekanec, who recognized that Dale had created the turnover and goal opportunity.  Good for Dale, who played a great game, and good for Tomas, who is himself in a bit of a dry spell, of which I'm very much aware due to his presence on both my fantasy teams.  Tomas nevertheless fed the puck back to Dale as was fitting, and we can hope that the centreman can use this game to break his unproductive streak.

I thought Thomas Vanek's dam-breaker would be the game against his former team in Buffalo two nights ago, but it finally came tonight.  He played as he has for the last few games, always lurking around the net, somehow finding the puck and putting it on net.  Tonight, luck was on his side, and instead of coming oh-so-close on a number of occasions, he scored a hat trick.  The third was a beauty, with a waist-high deflection of an Alexei Emelin shot that was going to be wide of the net.  He ticked it in on the inside of his stick blade, and we can hope that we'll see many more of these in the near future.

David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty both picked up two assists.  There was some worry on the pre-game show on RDS that having two shooters on the same line might not work, but I think that's not a concern.  If anything, it opens up Max more, since he won't be blanketed by other teams as closely now, the defence has to worry about two snipers.

Also, it opens up more options for David, who can be magical with his passing, but previously had to key on Max, and failing that, tried to create an opportunity to a trailing or pinching defenceman.  This is no knock on Brendan, who often couldn't be the target of an intended pass since he was tied up absorbing crosschecks with his occipital lobes.  Now that Thomas is lurking around the net, defencemen won't be able to collapse so tightly around the opposition net, and Max will find the open space he seeks to get his shot off closer in, whereas before he had to circle farther out in the periphery.

While the Gallagher-Plekanec-Brière line didn't get on the scoreboard except for Tomas' pass on the empty-netter, they're also a work in progress, with some promise showing tonight again.  If the refs allow them to play, if they 'let them play', and by this I don't mean the Clarke MacArthur interpretation, but the logical, sensible one, whereby the skilled players are allowed to play hockey and the puck without being elbowed, boarded, slashed or cross-checked, but if that happens, that line, loaded with quickness and smarts, can be lethal.  The proof may have to wait until the playoffs.

And the playoffs look more and more likely, after a bit of a scare while Carey was injured.  With the Leafs and Blue Jackets losing tonight, we get a little more breathing room.  It looks like the Bruins are in the clear now, with that ten-game winning streak, but we have a chance in the next games against the Jackets and Leafs to take a stranglehold on a playoff slot.

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