Wednesday, 30 April 2014

NHL philosophy and lax refereeing favours Bruins over Canadiens

Now that we have a schedule for the games to be held for the Canadiens vs. the Bruins series, I can't stall on this any longer, and with a heavy heart have to say that I don't hold out much hope for our team against the NHL's preferred team.  I think the latter win it convincingly.  If we play well, we may stretch the series to six games.

I'm not ignoring that the Canadiens historically have played the Bruins tough, even when the latter were favoured, or that the Canadiens won three out of four games against them this season.  I'm just discounting it a little bit.  The Bruins can get rattled or lose focus when they see red, or when they see bleu-blanc-rouge, but I have to believe that this veteran team will keep their eye on the ball in this series.

While I enjoyed the series against Tampa Bay that the Canadiens swept, I think that the Canadiens weren't dominant so much as the Lightning were undone by poor goaltending.  Anders Lindback had a .877 save percentage, and Kristers Gudlevskis, in his limited appearances, couldn't overcome that with a .900 himself.  And it wasn't a case of them being beat by shots or plays they had no chance against, but rather that they appeared weak on many goals.  Some shots that went in on them should have been saves, plain and simple, and probably would have been had Ben Bishop been in nets instead.

The Canadiens did what they had to do in the previous series, didn't trail for more than a few minutes, didn't lose a game, but that was against a diminished opponent.  And it wasn't a flawless series for the Habs.  The top line of Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek didn't produce as much as we'd have liked.  The powerplay underwhelmed, with a success rate of 15%.  The penalty kill was uncharacteristically poor, finishing up at 71%.

So now the Canadiens will go up against the Presidents' Trophy as a decided underdog.  And they have a chance, it's certainly not that I have no faith in my team, but I definitely have no faith at all in the NHL, in its approach to the game and more specifically how it administers the playoffs.  I have no faith that the referees will do the job they are entrusted to do, the job that they should do, and this will be all to the advantage of Boston.

Talking heads often say that the refs are 'letting stuff go', not injecting themselves in the game, and conclude that this evens out at the end of the game, or certainly at the end of the series.  Both teams get away with acts or plays that should have been penalized, both team miss out on powerplay opportunities roughly equally, no one benefits, the refrain goes.

Except that this breaks down when the Bruins play the Canadiens.  The tolerance of hooking and obstruction isn't an equal boon to both teams, but will instead tilt the balance towards the Bruins in helping them contain the Canadiens' skating and speed.  Also, the sudden-onset blindness that strikes referees when confronted with a scrum in front of a goalie will also play in the Bruins' favour, where they'll try to run Carey Price and elbow and slash and crosscheck their way to goals.  The Bruins do this more, and do it as part of their game plan, as a strategy.

Don Cherry thunders that the refs should 'let them play'.  Well, Let Them Play=Let Them Cheat.  The Bruins will get away with more cheating.

Think of it this way.  The Bruins commit five times as many infractions as the Canadiens, will slash and rabbit punch and facewash five times as often as the Canadiens, or at least will start these instances five times as often and the Canadiens will have to defend themselves and respond in kind.

So when the refs only call, let's say 10% of the infractions committed by either team, the Bruins will get away with five times as many instances of cheating that the Canadiens will, and these instances will add up in terms of missed passes, flubbed shots, turnovers, missed clearances, etc.  Over the length of the series, this will be a great advantage for the Bruins.

Except it will be worse than that.  The Bruins won't even get five times as many penalties as the Canadiens will.  The referees are under pressure to 'even out' the penalties to both teams, so one isn't on the penalty kill an 'unfair' amount of time.  Which is nonsense really.

In the NFL, there is no such compulsion.  A undisciplined, poorly coached, poorly led team, say, for example the Oakland Raiders, is understood and expected by everyone to amass more penalties than your average team.  So as the game progresses and the Raiders jump offside, and are caught with twelve or fourteen men on the field, and get a player ejected for throwing punches in a post-whistle melée, and get called for roughing the passer, and their penalty yardage climbs, no one bats an eye.

The commentators will refer to the historic 'mystique' of the team, how toughness bordering on dirty play has always been part of their identity, and will mention how their total yardage lost on penalties in this particular game is a big factor in how they're losing by four touchdowns at this point.  No one will squawk that the opponent's penalty yardage is too low, and that it should be equalized as the game advances.  Everyone understands that the opponent is disciplined, well-coached, hasn't jumped offside repeatedly, hasn't taken a cheapshot spearing penalty on a downed opposition receiver, that's why their penalty yardage is correspondingly, logically lower.

The Raiders act tough and try to play tough, but often cross the line and draw proportionately more penalties, and often implode in a maelstrom of stupidity and misdirected aggression, and that ends up on the scoreboard, and that's a reasonable result that no one moans about.

Compare and contrast with the NHL, where announcers will during a game tell their viewers that one team needs to be extra careful, as they've benefited from a couple of powerplays, or worse cashed one in lately.  When the red-striped arm goes up and the whistle inevitably blows, they nod and explain that it was destined to happen, that a penalty had to be called to even things out.  Nature abhors an unequal penalty tally.

Last season if I recall correctly, a TSN Montreal personality appeared on a call-in show in Boston, where the hosts made the point that the Bruins were targeted by the refs, and that the Canadiens were divers, using as evidence the fact that the Bruins had incurred more penalty minutes and more minor penalties than anyone in the league, whereas the Habs had one of the league's lowest totals.  That was their proof.

In their eyes, the fact that the Habs had comparatively fewer penalties and drew more from the opposition was due to their diving and embellishing, not their speed causing problems for overmatched opponents.  In their world, every team should have an equal amount of penalties for and against, regardless of playing style or the presence or absence of Gregory Campbell on their roster.  This is what passes for logic when appraising the NHL.

So in our theoretical example above whereby the Bruins will slash and crosscheck and charge five times more than the Canadiens, and the refs let most of it go, it won't be a proportional show of indulgence.  Brad Marchand will eye-gouge P.K. and get a penalty, and later on Zdeno Chara will perform a tonsilectomy with his Warrior AK27 on Brian Gionta and also have to go feel shame for two minutes.  Johnny Boychuk will try to unscrew Brendan Gallagher's head from his neck, as retaliation for the crime of being near the crease and attempting to score, and the Bruins defender will lament his fate as he goes to the box as well, and will be incensed and really let the refs have it when he's let out early after a Tomas Plekanec powerplay goal.

As the period ends and Sean Thornton pastes Andrei Markov head first into the boards, the refs will waver, wary of the squawking Claude Julien has done regarding Montréal's propensity to dive or embellish.  They'll consider that the Bruins have already served three penalties, they're already down a goal, so they'll look the other way, and consider it a hockey play, certainly no worse than the Brent Seabrook hit.  Why inject themselves into the play?  Why not let the players decide the outcome of the game?

In the second, Alexei Emelin will slash at Jarome Iginla as he wheels around in the Canadiens' zone, the refs will let out a big sigh of relief into their whistle and get to work 'equalizing' the game.

And that's how the series will go.  The Bruins will play with 10 Bingo cards while we play with our one, and Daddy Campbell will spin the Bingo cage, and Mike Milbury and Don Cherry will call out the numbered balls as they see them.

Monday, 28 April 2014

With the 25th pick, the Chargers select Louis Nix, from Notre Dame. And the crowd goes wild.

Anyone else ready for the NFL draft?  Talk about interminable waits.  Let's not do this late date draft again next season, okay Commissioner Goodell?

I thought I'd have to juggle watching Game 1 of the Canadiens-Bruins series with the first round of the draft on Thursday night, I thought the schedule was decided already.  I was wondering how the heck I was going to set my PVR to watch the game plus TSN/ESPN and NFL Network.  Now I don't have to worry, apparently the earliest Game 1 can go is Friday.

As far as the draft itself, as long as the Chargers don't draft a cornerback in the first round, I'll be happy.  I'm having Mossy Cade flashbacks.  It rarely goes well when we pick a cornerback in the first round.  Antoine Cason anyone?  Sammy Davis?  Antonio Cromartie?

Aside from Gil Byrd in 1983 and Quentin Jammer, we come up snake eyes going cornerback early.  If we need DB's, let's find some athletic diamonds in the rough later in the draft this year.

Let's grab a big lineman in the first round to shore up the defensive line instead, that'll help the defensive backfield, hit the proverbial two birds with one stone.  Whatever cast of characters we have back there, missing assignments and whiffing on tackles, if we have a good nose tackle to help out Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget, if we can cave in the offensive line and stop running backs at the line of scrimmage instead of having them hit third gear running through it, we'll manage.  The defensive backs won't have to cover anyone quite so long, the passes from opposing QB's will be rushed and won't be so accurate, and our DB's won't have to play so close to the line if they're not frantic about stopping the run, if the linemen and linebackers are taking care of that.

So I'm crossing my fingers for a defensive tackle/nose tackle, someone we can slot in for the next ten years.  I have a soft spot for Louis Nix from Notre Dame, love that big boy, and it looks like the other conceivable candidate, Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh, will be long gone by the time our pick comes around.

And it would be great if the Raiders drafted Johnny Manziel and that whole thing imploded over a few seasons, like the JaMarcus Russel saga, that was an entertaining train wreck.

George McPhee's contract is not renewed, AFTER he deals Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat.

So the Washington Capitals have cleaned house, letting General Manager George McPhee and Head Coach Adam Oates go after another disappointing season.  It's a sad outcome for Mr. Oates, it'll be hard for him to find other employment, trapped as he is within the confines of that horrible facelift.

On the subject of youthfulness, I have to say I didn’t realize how long George McPhee had been in charge in Washington, he’s been the GM for 17 seasons. That’s really good longevity in that business. Part of the confusion might stem from the fact that he looks pretty young still.  According to my math he was 38 when he first got the job, and at 55 now he'll be eminently employable.

It's probably not a huge surprise for him though, the handwriting was kind of on the wall, the Capitals let his contract expire on him this season. They basically gave him at least one year’s notice, that he had to produce or ship out.

And in there maybe do we see the roots of the disastrous Martin Erat trade. A GM who was under the gun, couldn’t be patient, felt he had to pull a rabbit out of a hat before last season's playoffs. Which is why it’s probably wiser to not have staff on expiring contracts, it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to try to save a year or two of salary on these guys if it means you lose a prospect like Filip Forsberg in the process.

This trade deadline, a less blatant 'future is now' move was acquiring Dustin Penner for a draft pick, which was a bit of a puzzler, but can be explained as betting on a longshot and hoping it pans out, that maybe he can catch fire on a line with Alex Ovechkin.

And now we get to be on the Alexander Ovechkin watch, for the next couple of months at least.  There are rumours, or rather guesses by pundits, that he'll leave the NHL for the KHL as Ilya Kovalchuk did.  A limited no-trade-clause kicks in this July for the Caps' captain, whereby he can name ten teams he can veto a trade to (the Edmonton-Winnipeg prophylactic clause), updated annually.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Ron McLean tries to sink HNIC, and go down with it.

What a crock that apology from Ron McLean is, and the statement from his boss, that said it had "nothing to do with francophone..."

First HNIC and TSN, to feed their news cycle, hype up a controversy about a disallowed goal, when experts like Kerry Fraser and Stéphane Auger clearly explain that it was a correct call.  They blithely ignore them and immediately pass the mike to Jeff O'Neil and P.J. Stock so that they can 'disagree' and ramble on how that goal should have counted.

Then Ron McLean, after the win, when the series is over, keeps feeding the 'controversy', clearly stating that the French-Canadian referee shouldn't have been appointed to work that game, to quell any suspicion Tampa might have had.  Yet Tampa was quite sober in its post-game comments, they were measured and fatalistic, not really blaming the officiating.  Ron still took the two extra steps to feed the beast.

In the olden days it would have been phone calls he'd have to worry about, but now it's instantaneous, he gets shelled on Twitter, and clumsily backtracks, trying to indicate that it's the 'local' angle he's worried about, not French-Canadian refs per se.  Except in his decades on air, he's never, ever raised the issue of a Port Alberni ref working a Canucks game, or a Brampton ref working a Leafs game.  Canadian citizens John Smith or Joe Brown can work any game coast to coast to coast, but Canadian citizen Jean Côté must be restricted to only certain games.

HNIC used to be a quality program, almost stodgy in its approach.  Dick Irvin, Dave Hodge, there were excellent broadcasters working there who provided valuable programming to the Canadian public.  Now that they're a lame duck, I get pangs of regret, I fear what the clowns at Sportsnet will do, the onslaught of cretinism and commercialization that will swamp us next season, but I have to be realistic.  The putrid corpse that is being "Weekend at Bernie's"'ed as the current incarnation of HNIC, with P.J. Stock and Don Cherry and Gary Galley and now even Ron McLean, must be interred.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

'14 Playoffs Game 3: Canadiens 3, Lightning 2

I don't want to characterize the Canadiens 3-2 win in Game 3 of the series as lucky, but let's allow that it's inconclusive, gracieuseté of Tampa goalie Anders Lindback.  The Canadiens played well, but benefited from an early goal by René Bourque on which the Lightning goalie was not sharp.

From there, the Canadiens essentially battled the Lightning to a draw, scoring two more goals to match Tampa's two, and being favoured by referee decisions that in the past have tended to go against our boys.  Especially when playing against the Bruins or the Leafs, or when Chris Lee or Tim Peel are in the building.  In such a tight game, lucky bounces could go either way, a few posts were struck by either side.

It remains for Tampa coach Jon Cooper to bemoan the refereeing without falling afoul of NHL discipline.  Because in the NHL, you can pitchfork someone in the nuts, with malice and forethought, and do so repeatedly, with little consequence, but beware calling into question the rulemaking or refereeing.  That the league doesn't take kindly to.

René Bourque was bitten by a Bizarro-world tsetse fly which gave him anti-sleeping sickness, or something like that.  He's energized, playing with a purpose, using his size and speed.  He acts like he wants the puck and knows where he's going with it, whereas for much of the season he hesitated and fumbled.  Gaston Therrien wondered on l'Antichambre whether General Manager Marc Bergevin had made up his mind to unload him during the off-season but might now be reconsidering.  It's only three games, but they offer a glimpse of what René can be, of what has always been envisioned in his case.

Apparently Marc Bergevin told him around the trade deadline that he wasn't going to trade him because he didn't want him to land somewhere else and immediately pot twenty goals.  But even if he wasn't so productive right now, I kind of think that Marc Bergevin's hands are tied, seeing as René's trade value was so low, it didn't make sense to just dump him for no return, unless there were character issues, which has never been a problem for the big winger.  By all accounts he's not a problem with the coaches or his teammates, he's well-liked.

So as an alternative, it's not unlikely that the Canadiens might have held on to René as a virtual penny stock, a longshot who could pay off huge.  A $3.3M cap hit is not inconsiderable, and Marc Bergevin has proven to be decisive, in dealing with Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle and Erik Cole, for example, but he might have wanted/been forced to stand pat in this case, and hope it turns out.  We can hope that René has turned a corner, his confidence has returned, any lingering effects from his concussion last season have dissipated, and he's able to produce in a manner commensurate with his skill and potential for the remainder of his contract.

His linemate, centre Lars Eller, may be feeding off René's surge, he also seems more focused, driven, taking a couple of good shots with the puck today, and we didn't see any of his puckhandling exhibitions that take the puck away from the slot to the periphery.  Together with Brian Gionta, they're forming a reliable, effective second/third line that Michel Therrien can ice in most situations.

It's amazing how much two players rounding into form can change a lineup.  We worried about secondary scoring at the onset of the playoffs, and looked at the lineup and wondered who was going to contribute beyond the Desharnais trio.  Having René Bourque and Lars Eller rolling, suddenly, is having the effect of adding two more effective forwards at the trade deadline.

P.K. played a solid game, and was rewarded with lots of ice along with his partner Josh Gorges.  He kept things simple, played hard, and turned it on at an opportune moment, when he stickhandled around the Lightning zone when playing 4-on-4, confusing their defensive coverage and setting up Brendan Gallagher's goal.  Creating a goal out of thin air, to give his team the lead, this is the P.K. Subban who is invaluable to our organization.  P.K. picked up two assists, and the second star of the night for his troubles.

So it's Jon Cooper's job now to try to turn the tide, to jumpstart his team to eke out at least one win, and to do so another way than the clumsy, snide remark from earlier in the day when he alluded to the Canadiens' history recently when jumping out to a 2-0 series lead.  The thing is, he didn't have the courage to let fly, he kind of mumbled and butchered the statement, and his sly kid look didn't wear well.  And it blew up in his face anyway.  He looked petulant and at a loss for word during his post-game presser.

The Canadiens are sitting pretty, clearly bound for the second round, but I worry.  As much as we repeat to each other that playoff hockey is a different beast, that the refs will let things slide, it's been taken to a shocking extent so far.

The Milan Lucic pitchfork to the groin.  Everything that Duncan Keith has been lowlighted doing with his stick against the Blues, especially with the mindless goonery he's demonstrated in the past, notably against the Sedin brothers as a backdrop.  Brent Seabrook's charge against David Backes, which is noteworthy only because the Blues' captain was knocked out, not because it was particularly egregious, given the tolerance shown repeatedly by refs in similar instances of players 'finishing their checks'.  Everything that's been happening between the Sharks and the Kings, which is more of a war of attrition than a hockey series.  Brandon Dubinsky's calculated, blatant muggings of Sidney Crosby, under the indulgent nose of the referees.

And talking heads wring their hands and speak about this as if it's an intractable, pervasive problem, something that's bigger than we are, that has so many causes and so few easy solutions that we feel powerless.  Which it isn't.  All that has to happen is for the league to realize that Sidney Crosby is a treasure who must be allowed to thrive, as opposed to torn down.  All that has to happen is for the refs to call the penalties as they happen.  You see a slash, call it.  You see a double-check, don't fret about the repercussions of a penalty during the playoffs, call the penalty.  Duncan Keith threatening Vladimir Tarasenko with his stick before a faceoff?  Misconduct his ass off the ice.

Milan Lucic not getting suspended because no one from the Department of Player Safety thought to call him after his braindead spear of Alexei Emelin a couple weeks back, which make him, technically, a first-time offender?  Gimme a frigging break.  Use your power to discipline players, point out the fact that it's not a 'hockey play' perpetrated in the heat of battle, as the hit on David Backes' was, but rather a deliberate attempt to hurt or injure.  It's an attack on the fabric of the game itself, as intolerable as Sean Avery's antics against Martin Brodeur a few years back.

Show some decisiveness.  Protect your game.  Convince fearful mothers that their precious little boys and girls will be safe taking up the sport of hockey.  The goonery will rapidly be stamped out.

Earlier in the day, I tuned in to the Bruins-Red Wings game, hoping for good news, but found that the bad guys were already leading 2-0.  As I vacillated between watching this game or enjoying the sunshine outdoors, a play developed in which Pavel Datsyuk raced to the Boston net, checked closely by Designated Rat Brad Marchand.  They jostled as they came to a stop, wrestling with their sticks, and Mr. Datsyuk got the better of his adversary, dumping him to the ground.  The ref blew his whistle, the play over.  Brad Marchand got up, skated to Pavel Datsyuk, and, as the ref watched them, and only them from two metres away, crosschecked Mr. Datsyuk a few times, violently.  And the referee kept watching.  He didn't see an infraction in this.  A scrum ensued, lots of milling around, and the ref continued watching.

No penalty was called by the apparently myopic ref.  Either that or he's getting a  swimming pool put in this summer at his house by noted contractor and philanthropist Jeremy Jacobs.

I turned off the TV and went outside.

CBC should think of spoiler-proofing its HNIC on-demand menu

I had the Blue Jackets-Penguins game on PVR, but I’m more of a casual fan with that one obviously, so I didn’t think to allow for overtime. So after the third, with my recording running out, and being too late to catch up to the live game, I tell myself maybe I can watch the overtime on on their ‘On Demand’ service.

Now, I was as careful as I could to not see a score or news headline telling me who won, shielding my screen with my hand to block out any potential spoilers. I keep clicking until I get to the menu screen, where you can choose which game you want to watch. Here is the way they labeled the game:

Columbus 4 at Pittsburgh 3 (2OT)

Wouldn’t it make sense, for the first 24 hours maybe, to title the game as “Game 2″ or with the date or something?

There’s a serious disconnect between the administrators of that site and the goals and needs of their potential clients. Which I am no longer,since now that I know the score, I’ll just watch the highlights on SportsCentre.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Hockey Night in Canada invites Nazem Kadri as guest host, turns its back on all Canadian hockey fans outside Toronto

A thought about the revolting decision of Hockey Night in Canada to have Nazem Kadri sitting in on their panel tomorrow night. Why they would ask that cheating dirty punk to be a part of their show demonstrates how far out of touch they are, how they think their market consists of Toronto and the irrelevant boonies.

Why not a Jet like Andrew Ladd or a Canuck like Kevin Bieksa, a Senator like Chris Phillips? Why does it have to be a frigging Leaf, like we don’t already suffer from overexposure on those guys?

Is it the Team Canada at the World Championships angle? Like I said, there are other Canadian boys out there who’ll be on that team and who we barely ever hear from on HNIC or TSN. Mark Giordano had a tremendous season for the gutty Flames, yet we don’t know anything about him. Let’s get him in the studio.

Do you want to dissect the soap opera that was the Leafs this season? Well how about a young Oiler, a Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, they’re camera-friendly and well-spoken, and can touch on the tumult at Northlands this winter, if it’s the drama you’re after.

But no, again with the Nazem Kadri, I bet Don Cherry is already salivating.

HNIC is circling the drain, but is determined to go down in a blaze of suckiness, and wrap itself in the most mediocre hockey team in the nation, resolute to abdicate its role as a national broadcaster.

Milan Lucic is an irredeemable thug, who epitomizes the dirty Bruins' 'style'.

Milan Lucic is a craven thug, who runs amok in the National Hockey League because of incompetent refereeing, and an impotent Department of Player Safety.  The League is run by former thugs such as Colin Campbell, and by an ignorant troll who knows spreadsheets more than he does hockey.  The league is proselytized by blood-thirsty former goons such as Mike Milbury, P.J. Stock and Don Cherry, who equivocate and dissemble, and trumpet a 'style' of play that validates their shameful playing careers.

So what did he do now, our black-and-diarrhea-yellow-clad orangutan?  He did this.

Irked at having been cleanly bodychecked by Danny Dekeyser, he responded in a dirty, underhanded way, spearing him from behind in the groin.  Which is shocking, but not really surprising, seeing as he already pulled the same dirty deed on Alexei Emelin a couple weeks prior to this.  And, in the grand tradition of the Bruins, or Andrew Ference and Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien, lied about it afterwards, denying he'd speared Alexei.  No way no how.

Like when he ran 170 lbs. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, then lied how he only had time "to brace himself" before contact, pretending he didn't take two extra steps to deliberately knock him out of the game.

Some analysts will slurp Milan Lucic, about how tough he is and what a good player he is, but that's just the twisted narrative of the NHL, where great transgressions are glossed over, and Zdeno Chara is a 'leader'.  Tough is one thing.  Tough is Jarome Iginla, or Scott Stevens, or Larry Robinson.  Tough is Chris Chelios, playing hard in every rink, against every opponent, all the time.

Milan Lucic fakes being tough.  He's mean, he's nasty, he's big and strong, but he's not tough.  He's a bully.  He cheapshots, he picks his targets, but he doesn't play tough.

Milan Lucic will run away from Georges Laraque, claiming that his coach told him not to fight with him.  So Milan scrupulously follows his coach's instructions.  When it means not having to take on someone at least as big or strong as he is.

Which leads us to believe that Claude Julien never specifically told him not to crosscheck Dominic Moore in the face.  He was free to do that.  Go for it Milan.  Don't mind the fact that you outweigh him by fifty pounds.  All's fair and all that jive.  You don't want to mess with a fourth-liner like Georges Laraque, don't waste your time, but go ahead, mess up a fourth-liner Dominic, fill your boots.  Eric Brewer, size him up, make sure you're not taking on someone you can't handle, but if it's to your advantage, make juvenile mouthpiece Jack Edwards so happy he wets his pants.

But when you bite off more than you can chew, when Zdeno Chara isn't around to save your bacon, and you have your hands full, as when you foolishly took on Colton Orr and it wasn't to your liking, by all means, run away from him, and hide behind the referee.

I've had it with the faux-tough Bruins, who beat on Jaroslav Spacek and Raphaël Diaz, but are wittle purring kitty-cats when they're up against George Parros, Douglas Murray, Brandon Prust, Ryan White and Travis Moen.  They're opportunists who gang up on hockey teams who want to play hockey, but cower when they're facing Chris Neil and Matt Kassian, or Colton Orr and Mark Fraser and Frazer McLaren.  Don't think we didn't notice how well-behaved you were against the truculent Leafs during the playoffs last year, Milan.

Again, I'll call on the NHL to scrupulously enforce its own rules.  Spearing another player in the groin should be something that isn't tolerated, in terms of defending its image, in terms of player safety, and in terms of fair play.  Milan Lucic is a repeat offender, with no valid defence for his actions.  Just because the referees didn't call a penalty shouldn't whitewash his actions.  It's time the NHL entered the 21st century, made use of the video evidence, and threw the book at one of its most egregious cheaters.

Friday, 18 April 2014

'14 Playoffs Game 2: Canadiens 4, Lightning 1

This is the Tampa Bay Lightning you kind of expected at the start of the season, having lost their captain Vincent Lecavalier, and especially once they traded away Martin St. Louis.  A good young team, with two pillars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, relying on skating and youth, but which would need a couple of seasons to get back into contention realistically.

Except they had Ben Bishop in nets this season.  Whereas the atrocious goaltending in Tampa led to Guy Boucher being fired last year, it made Jon Cooper look like a genius this season, overcoming the loss of frontline players, injuries, and leadership to charge to second in the division.  We expected a fade in the standings when Steven Stamkos went down with a broken leg, but they kept it together, kept plugging along.  Much was made of their team spirit, how many of their rookies had played and won under Coach Cooper in Syracuse, and how that carried over to the NHL.

With Ben Bishop sidelined, the Lightning are showing cracks.  Their defencemen, who look good (read, 'big') on paper, are shown to be slow, inelegant, and poor in their decision making.  They made the same errors tonight that they did on Wednesday, allowing the Canadiens to gain position on them.  Putting a knee down to block a putative shot, and taking themselves out of the play.  

Their forwards are speedy, but may not be ready for the big leagues, at least not all at the same time.  Michaël Bournival is the only Canadiens rookie forward, and his icetime is judiciously managed, playing as he does on the fourth line, whereas the Lightning have Tyler Johnson on the first.  

Their offence is lagging.  The loss of Ondrej Palat, their leading scorer this season, certainly doesn't help in that regard.  Tonight, with the Canadiens committing to blanking Steven Stamkos, no one else was able to step up for the Lightning, who lost 4-1 and went down 0-2 in their series.

While Anders Lindback didn't play badly, exactly, he again had a poor outing, and didn't provide his team with the one or two extra saves that Ben Bishop has chipped in this season.  The RDS crew mentioned that this kind of performance affects everyone on the team: defencemen play more nervously, forwards can't take off on breakouts, fearful that any mistake will end up in their nets.  Everyone grips his stick a little too tightly, and rushes his play.

Meanwhile Carey Price was back to his usual form, after a shaky game Wednesday, in which he'd let four goals in on sixteen shots in regulation.  He made up for it with a strong overtime period to earn the win.  Tonight he built on that, and had a shutout going until late in the third, when he surrendered a meaningless powerplay goal.

There was much discussion after the first game about the importance of the save percentage statistic, specifically when it's looked at over a short time span.  The argument goes that it should only be considered when you have a significant data sample, namely twenty games or so at least, since there is too much variability from game to game.  Further, there's an argument that not all shots are equal, some are more difficult to stop than others, notably those on two-on-ones, or from the stick of Steven Stamkos.

While there's truth in that, I don't think it's correct to say that we shouldn't look at save percentage for a single game, in the same way that it would be incorrect to say a pitcher's ERA in a game of baseball is irrelevant.  These stats allow us to gauge how effective the player has been in the crucial, central matter of how well they did at preventing the other team from putting up points.  Sure, only one game isn't statistically significant over a season or career, but it does allow us to distinguish a good outing from a bad outing.

So Carey had a better game, and so did P.K. Subban, and I wasn't the only one to notice.  During the game, I unfortunately would become a little tense when P.K. had the puck on his stick.  I observed though that he would quickly move the puck, either to a teammate or off the boards.  He was making quick decisions, opting for the safe play more often than not, and he was rewarded for his steady game with two assists on the night.  

The CBC crew also praised P.K.'s game, but did show a couple of situations when he grew agitated at the referees, and where Assistant Coach Daigneault, as well as Alternate Captain Andrei Markov and veteran Francis Bouillon were taking turns talking to him on the bench, obviously trying to calm him down.  So not a flawless effort from our intrepid young defender, but a much more focused game, and we can hope that it's a portend of things to come, that he'll regain his focus and his touch as the playoffs advance.

Another instance of me being Captain Obvious was how often I noticed Alexei Emelin being outskated to the outside, and he having difficulty keeping up with the play.  It seemed glaring, and sure enough, the HNIC crew spent a good amount of time on this subject between periods, showing the 'lowlights', and even having P.J. Stock demonstrating in-studio the difficulty for a left-shooting defenceman having to play and defend onrushing forwards on the right side.  

It wasn't all bad though, Alexei played well with Andrei in terms of puck retrievals and zone clearances, and laid a crushing hit on J.T. Brown.  So he's contributing, and we can hope that this is a blip in performance.  He's been getting better as he recovers from his knee reconstruction, he'd played much more steady hockey in the last few games of the season.  Hopefully next season he'll be even further removed from the injury, and that much stronger and agile.

René Bourque had a strong game, and not just in terms of buzzing around the net this time, he actually produced some tangible offence.  He scored two goals on strong individual efforts.  Is this the dam breaking?  Because I've always thought that the effort was there for René, as far as that goes for him.  The problem has been confidence, he seems lost sometimes, like he's unsure what he should do.  

I can't remember what the situation was exactly, but as an example, there was a scrum after a hit, I think it was when Steven Stamkos went after Andrei due to his late, post-whistle hit on Ondrej Palat.  René was second on the scene, and could have tried to pull Mr. Stamkos off, but a linesman was kind of in the way, so he tried to go to his right around him, but that wasn't any better, so he kind of turned around and looked for someone to hang on to, but there were only smaller Tampa players around, so he tried to skate around the now rapidly growing pile, couldn't find anyone to rip out of there, ...

We can imagine how much different this would have gone had Brandon Prust or Brendan Gallagher or even Tomas Plekanec been in René's position.  They would have barged in and grabbed Steven Stamkos, or someone.  With René, there's lots of confusion, indecision.  We can hope that the two goals tonight give him confidence, give him wings, and he can contribute this post-season, and the next two years his contract runs.

Our top line scored a goal, on the powerplay no less, on a clean faceoff win by David Desharnais that went to P.K., who walked the line, waited for a lane to clear, and slap-passed to David for the tip-in.  Again, Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty and David have to contribute, and not just when they're rolling and getting hat-tricks in a 7-1 laugher, but also in closer games where they're being checked closely.  That line is stacked, by design, and they need to perform in proportion.  

Thomas Vanek also competed in other ways, by standing up to Lightning fourth-liner Cédric Paquette, who he thought was taking liberties.  Thomas isn't expected to goon it up, but he is a bigger forward, and it's entirely appropriate that he assert himself in these situation, show the opponent that we're not going to be ottawa'ed this series.

The Canadiens' powerplay itself was also a good sign, in that the previous game, they had trouble just setting up shop in the offensive zone, whereas tonight they were a constant threat, passing the puck at will and getting lots of shots and lots of chances to score.  

The Antichambre boys thought that Brandon Prust shouldn't have fought with Radko Gudas, to preserve his possibly fragile health, and also to not offer the Lightning a chance to spark things up.  Personally, I felt Brandon was sending a message to the Lightning's bruiser to not stray over the line, as he is wont to do.  The AC crew were fearful of the tactic, but I applaud the result.

So we do sweep the opening two games, and do get the opportunity to step on the Tampa team's collective throats this Sunday.  Let's be coldly efficient about it, and be in a position to dispatch them quickly, so we can get ready to face the Red Wings in the next series.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Francis Bouillon wants to play for the Canadiens next season

Interesting article on RDS, an interview with Francis Bouillon, who states that he still wants to play next season.  Which shouldn't be surprising, who would really want to walk away from a job like that, but I'd conditioned myself into thinking that everyone knew, the fans, the team, the coaches, the management team in the offices upstairs at the New Forum, that this was Francis' last season.

I kind of thought that he might play in Switzerland or elsewhere in Europe for a couple of seasons, to finish out his career, ease out of it with a nice experience.  When I learned that he has a son who plays minor hockey on a line with Mathieu Darche's twin boys, I realized that was less likely, that he'd uproot his family for a sinecure in Europe, but still, I thought the NHL was out of the question for him.

Personally, I want the Canadiens to refrain from re-signing Mike Weaver or Francis next season, we need to clear out the roster for the Magnus Nygrens, the Tinordi-Beaulieu-Pateryn triumvirate, whenever these guys are ready.  And if we find that we do need a veteran placeholder, let's sign up a Jeff Schultz or a Ryan O'Byrne, a big rightie to be the #6-7 d-man, not a smallish leftie.

So like I said, interesting, in that I thought this decision was already made, by mutual consent, but apparently not, the Bull would like to return.  If for no other reason, that may play in our hands, in that he'll be super-duper extra motivated these playoffs, to prove he's still got it, as he did on Saturday against Derek Dorsett.

'14 Playoffs Game 1: Canadiens 5, Lightning 4 (OT)

My PVR played a nasty trick on me.  I had set it up to record every program on RDS from "Hockey 360" until 0200 hr PDT, which I thought would be sufficient for any overtime, including a Capitals vs. Islanders-style marathon.  Somehow though, I got robbed of the entire overtime period, jumping straight from the end of the third period, to the next program when Jacques Demers and the rest of the crew on l'Antichambre were gladhanding and backslapping.  Odd, since I was expecting them to comment in between periods before resumption of play in overtime, but they were definitely in a celebratory mood.  I really thought there was no reason to celebrate at the end of the third.

So that blows, I didn't get to see the Canadiens win it 5-4 in OT.  I've seen the Dale Weise goal, but I'll definitely watch the end of the game on "Canadiens Express".  And I'll manually program my PVR the rest of these playoffs to prevent this from re-occurring.

What's even more odd, and blows much more, is how many Canadiens fans felt their lineup was inferior to the Lightning's prior to puck drop, and were somberly predicting doom for les Glorieux.  Which I absolutely don't get.  I think the Lightning are, like the Canadiens, a good but not flawless team, with strengths and weaknesses.  Further, I feel we match up quite well with them.  With rampaging rhino Ryan Malone on the sidelines for disciplinary issues, there's no monster player who'll bulldoze a swath through our lineup, we're facing a fast, skilled team that will try to skate with us, which we can handle.

One post on social media which made me gasp described the Tampa Bay defence corps as "pretty awesome" and containing "no weak links".  Now I have to differ on this, any team which puts out failed-Leaf Mike Kostka as their #6 defenceman ipso facto relinquishes any claim to awesomeness in any form.  Your weakest link is wearing #21, plainly, for everyone to see.  The brittle Sami Salo is 39 years old.  Radko Gudas is statuesque, but in his case it's not a flattering term.

RDS had a lowlight segment of Tampa Bay d-men gaffes, and it wasn't pretty.  Matt Carle getting down to block a shot and letting Lars Eller skate around him for a score.  Radko Gudas stumbling and, uh, letting Tomas Plekanec skate around him for a score.  Flubbed passes, for glaring giveaways.  Then the Dale Weise goal with both d-men wrestling behind the net with titanic Daniel Brière.  That's a lot of lowlights for one game.

I'm not saying that our defence is leaps and bounds better, we have our own issues, but there's no way that we should have d-corps envy when it comes to the Lightning.  Save that for when we're up against the Blackhawks in the finals and look upon their first pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, as big of a preck as the latter is.

No envy then, especially if P.K. can find his form.  He looked scattered again tonight.  Ineffective offensively, spraying passes, not reliably gaining the offensive zone on the powerplay, he was also out of sorts on defence.  He tried a few times in the second to deliver his 'bee sting' hip check, but mostly missed his man and had to scramble back.  At one point an opponent tried to retaliate with a hip check of his own, P.K. took offence and delivered a weak one-handed slash, and then faked an injury for a few seconds to try to draw an offsetting penalty.

I'll say it again.  I want P.K. to play tough, to play hard, but to stop with the cheap slashes and spears and slewfoots, to stop gaping at the refs, arms in the air, shrugging, while play continues around him.  I want him to stop the diving and the maudlin act for the refs.  I want him to be tough, to fight through checks and slashes and play with a purpose, not distracted by what the refs may decide.  Keep playing hard until the whistle blows, you'll get more calls that way.  I want him to stop trying to instigate, he's too good a player, too smart, too valuable, too likable to take the Brad Marchand path.  Play tough, play hard, and if you cause a fight, decline it, or finish it yourself, don't wait for Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, Brandon Prust, George Parros or Francis Bouillon to come in and save your bacon.

But this is a side rant, meant to clear the air, P.K. didn't win the game for us, but he certainly didn't nearly lose it for us.  There's plenty of blame to go around.  Mike Weaver for pinching, holding the blue line, when his team was up one goal, drew a lot of negative attention.  If we were trying to tie up the game late in the third, the risk would have been justified, but as it was, he sprang the Lightning for a two-on-one that Steven Stamkos cashed in for his second goal of the game.  Andrei Markov didn't cover himself in glory on that one either, his slide was mistimed and ineffective.  And I hate that play anyway.  He focused on the puck carrier instead of blocking the pass and letting Carey worry about the shooter.

Carey had an awful game in terms of his results going into overtime, stopping 12 of 16 shots.  Pierre Houde during the game idly wondered whether Carey was suffering from the lack of work, whether more shots might have been better for him, and it's hard to argue against that hypothesis.  The Antichambre crew assure me that he made up for this with his play in overtime, keeping the boys in the game until Dale Weise ended it.

One other goat who jumped out at me, and everybody else on RDS, was Brandon Prust on the third goal against, when he had the puck on his stick in the defensive zone, with a slim one-goal lead.  This is the kind of situation of which coaches will plead requires a 'strong play', meaning banging it off the boards, clearing the zone, not messing around.  But Brandon tried to finesse the puck, to stickhandle his way out of danger, and he coughed it up and it ended in his net.

He was properly contrite, immediately, and we'll have to give him a pardon on this, seeing as it's his first game back in a month, but I'd like to caution Brandon that when he plays on a line other than the fourth, he gets too fancy.  He seems to think that he needs to match pretty plays with his linemates, whereas all he needs to do is skate hard, gain possession of the puck, and the opposition zone, bang and crash, be physical and a handful in front of the net.  Let your linemates do the embroidery Brandon, you just be yourself, do your job, move the furniture around, that's all that's required of you, and you'll do fine just doing that.

It's worthwhile to go over the contributions of our fourth line, and the greater depth of the Canadiens at forward.  From the lowpoint of two seasons ago when we had the likes of Aaron Palushaj, Mathieu Darche, Yannick Weber, and Mike Blunden among others filling in on the fourth line, and bleeding up into the third, we now have a comparative embarrassment of riches.  Making lemonade, Michel Therrien played Daniel Brière at centre on the fourth line, between two fast young wingers Dale Weise and Michaël Bournival, who have the ability to cause havoc in the offensive zone.  Against a tougher, more physical team, Ryan White might make more sense on the fourth line, but this combo was the right choice to counter Tampa's speed.  They spent a large part of their shifts in the offensive zone, sending pucks skittering across their crease, and had them on their heels for a large portion of the evening.

With Travis Moen coming back from injury soon, Michel Therrien will have lots of options to mix and match youth or experience, speed and offence or defensive reliability, scoring or grit, when he makes up his lines.

So we've wrested home-ice advantage from the Lightning, even if it wasn't pretty or decisive.  "They found a way to win", on a night when Carey was off and every mistake ended up in his net.  Let's hope for a better result from him on Friday, so we can go home up 2-0 in the series, and step on their neck on Sunday.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Daniel Sedin gets rammed into the boards from behind, NHL impotent to fix itself.

So I just saw the hit on Daniel Sedin that required him to be fitted with a neck collar and stretchered off.  A fairly routine hit/shove from behind in the NHL, in terms of its perfidy and intensity, but the result was anything but routine.

And that's another in a long list of problems with the NHL.  People are always getting hit from behind, constantly, thirty or fourty times a game.  Hockey players are gamers though, they absorb the contact, smear their snot on the glass, shake off the cobwebs for a second, then keep playing.  They keep grinding, and cycling, and finishing their checks.

Unless you get a dirty Bruin, one of Don Cherry's noble warriors, one of those guys will give you the mother of all fake dives.

I'll ask again: why is hitting anyone in the back, permissible, or tolerated, in any circumstances, at all?  Why is it just penalized when a victim's head is projected into the boards, but not the rest of the time?

In football, you can't block from behind.  If you're behind someone, he has the advantage on you, plain and simple.  He's faster than you, quicker than you, closer to the play, and that's just too bad for you.  Run faster if you want to make the play.

Why can't we make that very simple change to the game, that would benefit the skill players, would increase scoring, and improve player safety?  Because it makes too much sense?  Let's give the player with the puck the advantage, he can't be hit from behind, ever, in whatever manner or with any level of force.  No tolerance.

If Sidney Crosby has the puck and you want to hit him, and he turns his back to you, that's fair game for him.  He has the puck, he has the advantage.  Be quicker, more agile.  He's allowed to protect the puck from you, to play keepaway.

Currently, you can push, shove, crosscheck, crosscheck harder, slash, spear, you name it, whatever you want to do to someone in the back is fine, unless that person falls or dives, and what the state of accounts is currently in the game/series.  If you've already had a couple of powerplays in the game, be careful, since the refs will want to even things up.  A penalty is not a penalty unless a debit exists somewhere.

Yesterday, Kris Letang, freshly back from a stroke and a thirty-game absence, while trying to get a shot off on net from the slot, was crosschecked from behind by Scott Hartnell, who then proceeded to fall on top of the Penguin defender.  After the resultant scuffle, both were sent to the penalty box for a minor roughing penalty.

What absolute madness is this?  Why is a thug like Scott Hartnell allowed to bludgeon a player trying to play hockey.  Why didn't he get six or seven penalties, a mix of minor and majors and misconducts and 'attempts to injure'?

Hey, Gary Bettman, you mendacious fool, I'm talking to you!  Stop peering at spreadsheets and fix your broken league.  Stop paying lip service to player safety and do something tangible about it.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Game 82: Canadiens 1, Rangers 0 (OT)

A feelgood win for les Glorieux, with Brian Gionta scoring on a penalty shot in overtime to beat the Rangers 1-0.  Lots of smiles and happy faces in the New Forum, amongst fans and players, very nice.

We have to worry though whether this just wallpapers some fundamental issues with our team as we enter the playoffs.  We had a streak recently in which we won 10 out of 12 games, we were counter-Leafing, as it were, but since the win against the Panthers, things have been more difficult.  In six games, we have three wins, including one against dispirited Ottawa and tonight's unconvincing affair.  We lost in overtime against the Blackhawks, which is forgivable, but also against the AHL squad iced by the Islanders, and against our rivals the Lightning.  

All in all, it's not as bleak as it looked last season going into the playoffs.  We're healthier, and more importantly, Carey Price looks as good as he ever has.  But there are important areas of concern.  The powerplay has died.  Team defence has suffered also, surrendering way too many shots, certainly compared to earlier this season.  P.K. Subban looks confused out there, and compensates by trying harder, and making more mistakes.  Our #1 line has stopped gushing goals.  

We saw some boneheaded play out of Ranger Derek Dorsett, who stuck a knee out when beaten on a play, twice in one game.  This is the type of player that needs to be removed from the NHL.  He only has a job because of his knuckles, and has to scramble to keep up with the play.  His reaction, his response to his lack of hockey talent, could have led to a serious injury tonight.  Hey Gary Bettman, get these goons out of your league, if you really care about player safety!

Francis Bouillon, who has become a whipping boy for the intolerant on social media, showed his mettle by taking on Mr. Dorsett to make him account for his cheap, dangerous knee on David Desharnais.  The tale of the tape might have showed that this would be mismatch, but Francis got in some good shots and had Mr. Dorsett in trouble the whole fight.  Maybe it was his sheepishness at being such a bonehead that got in his way.

P.K. Subban was subjected to a thorough dissection on l'Antichambre, for his scattered play, but also for his response to Derek Dorsett's initial knee on David Desharnais.  P.K. charged at Derek Dorsett and swerved by, but didn't engage.  I think everyone is unanimous, if P.K. wants to be a tough guy, a Chris Chelios or a Lyle Odelein, that's fine.  Be tough.  If he's not going to be tough though, he shouldn't act tough.  He shouldn't accost Derek Dorsett if he's not going to stand up to him.  

The game ended on a spectacular note, with the Canadiens captain being awarded his penalty shot for being tripped while on a clear breakaway chance.  He deked out  and put the puck in on the backhand on Cam Talbot, who was subbing in for Henrik Lundqvist tonight to give the latter a rest before the playoffs.  

So a 100 point season, a very good result for our boys.  I have to tip my hat, I had them pegged for an 80-90 point year, and to be in a dogfight to even make the playoffs.  So more than mission accomplished for the Habs, but then again not really, all this can be completed obscured by a poor showing in the playoffs.  So rest up boys, practice hard, and let's start strong on Wednesday night.

Hamilton Bulldogs 3, Rochester Americans 4 (SO)

Notes on tonight's Bulldogs game against the Rochester Americans:

Connor Crisp "best player on the ice for the Bulldogs" according to the radio broadcast team.

Brady Vail didn't play, apparently injured, Morgan Ellis a healthy scratch, among others.

Darren Dietz still has an injured hamstring, out for the season.

Jack Nevins first point as pro, picked up in a goalmouth scramble that Nattinen cashed in.

Gabriel Dumont scores on a 2-on-1 with Justin Courtnall, he uses the latter as a decoy and shoots, beats the Americans' goalie, ties it up at 3-3.  Louis Leblanc picks up on assist.

Mr. Dumont went up against Don Cherry wet dream subject Mike Zygomanis, trying to get him to atone for spearing Sven Andrighetto.  The 6 foot 200 pounder refused Gabriel's invitation to fight.  The Bulldog, uh, bulldog picked up a double minor in the deal.

I think Gabriel Dumont can play the role of a cost-effective Brian Gionta next season.  Half the point production, all the effort and determination, more toughness, at 10% of the cost.

Nathan Beaulieu playing on a pair with Davis Drewiske.  Both are lefties, yet they seem to be a pairing that the Bulldogs plays regularly.  Nathan has the puck on his stick a lot, draws a tripping penalty midway through the third.

"Crisp and Sorkin have been eye-openers tonight Derek (Wills)!"

Nick Sorkin had a good late shift in the third with Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, wheeling around the opposition zone with the puck, dekeing out defenders and taking the puck to the net for a close call.

Game goes to overtime.  Good end-to-end action, good chances to end the game on both sides.


Sven Andrighetto shoots, glove save.  Americans score, nice deke.

Gabriel Dumont races in, brakes, saved five-hole.  Joel Armia scores.

Patrick Holland dekes, saved by Andrei Makarov.  Americans score again, no need for the next two round of shootout.

Americans win 4-3.  Apparently they scored a couple of flukey goals after the Bulldogs had opened the score, and went out to a 3-1 lead.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Nathan Beaulieu sent down to Hamilton again. This time it's a test.

I can’t help but think that Nathan Beaulieu is being tested. He’s sent back down the Hamilton again, and he’ll be watched closely. The Bulldogs are still in it mathematically, he’ll be expected to show up for every practice and every game and work hard, be positive and show leadership. This is an opportunity for him to go through the steps, to show a change in behaviour. As soon as the ‘Dogs are eliminated, he’ll be called back up as one of the Black Aces, and he can position himself for a great summer of training and a great showing in training camp that forces the team to keep him with le Grand Club.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Alex Galchenyuk suffers mild MCL strain in his right knee, out for a few weeks.

Interesting that Alex Galchenyuk has a 'mild MCL strain' on his right knee, since that's the injury I suffered about three weeks ago.  When he skated away after the contact with Marian Hossa, and I saw him shaking and testing his leg a little bit, and then left the game, I thought that might be what happened to him.

I incurred my injury while snowboarding, hitting a tree at low-ish speed on the outside of my right thigh.  This caused the classic cause of the MCL sprain, the inward-lateral buckling of the knee under load.  After extricating myself from the tree hole I was caught in, and clambering up a steep bank to get back to flat ground, I felt a looseness in my knee, on certain movements.  No pain really, just something wonky.  And I knew instantly what it was, because I'd done the same injury years before when I slid off a rail and hit it with my left thigh.  That one was worse, a second to third-degree strain, but at the time I'd felt the exact same looseness, with no pain, and something wonky while I slowly made my way back down to the base, riding as cautiously as I ever have.

What worries me about Alex's is that he was on crutches yesterday, whereas in my case, with a very mild strain, I didn't need to dust off the crutches.  I have a neoprene compression knee brace, with metal hinges on the side, and I've been able to walk and weight-bear from the get-go with that on.  Maybe his physios are being very aggressive, not taking any chances.

The first couple of days the knee swells up and the pain gradually builds, but it's not intolerable, I didn't even have to take a Tylenol with my current injury.  The rehab work is very simple at first, following the RICE principle: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.  So Alex will have a compression or tensor bandage on, probably the same brace I'm using, to minimize swelling.  When he takes it off, it's only to ice, ice, ice the joint, baby.  He'll have his leg propped up while he watches quality TV programming, maybe he catches up on his "Game of Thrones".

At first, he'll spend a lot of time on the exercise bike, at first just going back and forth on the pedal according to his range of motion.  He may only be able to go through 180 degrees on the pedals at first, then slowly increase the range, until he eventually can go all the way around on the pedal stroke, and will slowly spin, with no resistance.  The goal here is to increase circulation in the joint, and preclude the formation of scar tissue.

When the pain is mostly gone and he has almost full range of motion with no stiffness, they'll add some light resistance to his regimen, and some balance work with his body weight, on the BOSU or balance board.

Based on the severity of the injury, or lack thereof, and the fact that Alex is a young buck, a teenager who's still growing and in peak physical condition, I could see him being back in two or three weeks.  Or it could take longer.  My first time around, for a bad second degree/mild third degree injury, with a good level of fitness and diligent rehabbing, I was back on snow within three months.

The thing Alex will need to understand, and I'm sure the docs and physios will explain this to him, is that even when he feels 100% in the gym and on the examination table, and he gets cleared to return to the ice, he won't be back to 'normal'.  He'll feel twinges in his knee, some transient instability during certain movements or in certain postures.  He'll instinctively feel cautious, he'll guard against re-injury in certain situations, and this will be almost impossible to control.  It'll take him a while (months) before the knee injury is well behind him, something he doesn't think about anymore, and is truly 'one hundred percent'.

He'll probably have to wear a brace while he plays too, it won't have to be a honking RoboCop brace like Alexei Emelin wears to protect his ACL reconstruction, probably more of a neoprene jobbie with hinges like the one I have, that provides compression and some stability, and doesn't impair movement too much.  Don't sweat it Alex, it's not that bad having to wear it, it keeps your knee nice and warm, and it'll come in handy the next time you get hurt.

Game 81: Canadiens 0, Islanders 2

What a clunker.  The Canadiens, knowing they were facing a trap game, approached it, peered at it, tested it by poking and prodding it dubiously with a toe for two periods, and sprang it on themselves.  The little surge of energy in the final five minutes were the proverbial dead-cat bounce.

How the Canadiens can lose 2-0 to an already poor team ravaged by injuries, icing a lineup composed of 11 AHL'ers, can't be explained rationally.  Sure, they were playing the second game of a back-to-back, after a longish flight back overnight from Chicago.  Yes, the lineup was a little jumbled after an injury to Alex Galchenyuk.  Um, bad bounces?...

It was actually a poor effort, and I couldn't shake the feeling that, even though the team might be fatigued, it was also maybe hoping to win the game without having to try too hard.  We did see blocked shots, which are usually an indicator of effort, but there wasn't this coordinated hunger, this determination that you see from the lineup.  The Habs could have won it with an early goal or two to pop the Isles' balloon, but individually the boys were looking to someone else to get the puck in the opposition zone, to win a puck battle, to get to a loose puck in the crease.

After the loss in Tampa Bay, I formulated the thought that the first line's effort wasn't acceptable.  It's one thing to rack up three or four goals when the whole team is flying, but it's quite another to get a crucial goal when things aren't rolling your direction.  Not to set the bar too high, but when the game was tight and the elbows were flying, Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt didn't sit back and think "Maybe this isn't our night."  They'd actually bear down, and this may be myth-making, but they'd get the hard goal that would get the team going.  As the Canadiens head into the playoffs, the top line has to produce.

The RDS crew mentioned that Thomas Vanek and David Desharnais are trying to feed Max for his 40th goal, passing up shooting opportunities for themselves, but I think the problem is more generalized than that.  The boys are still feeling each other out, and generally tend to try to make too many passes.  We thought that Thomas Vanek was another pure shooter, that he'd fire everything at the net, but we learned that he's actually pretty creative too.  Max has gotten into the act as well.

Erik Cole had a bit of a hunger to score, when he had the puck, he'd want it and take it to the net.  Brendan Gallagher, when he gets the puck near the goal line, doesn't look to pass, he makes a beeline for the net and tries to jam it in.  Our top line has to have a bit of that drive, not to make the perfect pass all the time, but to take the puck to the net, create a rebound and a scoring chance for their linemates this way.

And again, it's not acceptable for them to be shut out, not with the stakes such as they are, against the horrid lineup they were facing.  We critique Peter Budaj for a flubbed shot when he loses us the game, or Josh or P.K. when they lose their man in coverage, or Lars when he commits a giveaway.  Ryan White when he takes a bad penalty at an inopportune time.  Michel Therrien for showing up to work in the morning, still employed.  Tonight, we can criticize our top line for failing to do their job.  Their job is to score, and they shanked it.

With the Alex Galchenyuk injury, we'll probably see Brian Gionta move back up to the second line with Tomas Plekanec, and René Bourque and Daniel Brière fighting with each other to play left wing with them.  Losing Alex is painful, but it's not like his line with Tomas was clicking, so it's not crushing.  Brandon Prust coming back is no longer a luxury though.

So the Canadiens had a little cushion, they've spent it, they may need to win on Saturday to keep home-ice advantage from Tampa, and may need help from the Lightning's opponents as well.  Stupid Leafs, even facing elimination on Tuesday, they couldn't manage to beat the Lightning and help a brother out, now we have to do our own job.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Marc Bergevin interview #2, on RDS' "Hockey 360"

Since it was the first Canadiens game in Chicago since former Blackhawk Assistant General Manager Marc Bergevin took over as GM in Montréal, Pierre Houde invited the Canadiens' boss for an interview before the game.  No great insight was revealed, but it was interesting if only to hear him reinforce some of the points he made during his recent interview on l'Antichambre.

Here is a loose translation of the interview:

Pierre Houde began by asking how he felt upon returning to Chicago, where he lived and worked for so long.
It's the first time since I've gotten to Montréal that I've come to Chicago (note: meaning, coming to Chicago with the team, since he has been there on personal business regularly, his family still living there), but so far I'm not nervous at all.  Maybe when the game will start, but so far I'm okay.
Pierre asks if he feels any pride at the work he did in Chicago, with the 'Hawks a powerhouse in the league.
Yes, definitely, we did it with players we drafted, that we were patient with, like Bickell and Crawford.  Certainly, players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, those were easy decisions to take, but with the kids, we were patient, they spent a lot of time in the AHL, but they became frontline players.  I think that's important.
Pierre points out that after the Stanley Cups, due to the salary cap, good players had to be let go, but they're still successful.
After the Cup in 2010, players like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd had to go, replaced eventually with players like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, who were drafted.  Saad didn't go through the AHL, Shaw did, but it's important to build through the draft, the best example is here in Chicago.
Pierre congratulates him on the Canadiens' season thus far, and asks which aspect makes him most proud.
The teamwork.  The coaches have done excellent work, we had difficult periods but the players worked through it.  Like I always say, you don't play 80 games without going through some rough patches.  So we were able to get through it as a team, and now we're stronger and have more character.
Pierre asks if he was a little scared to find out what his team really was like, with a full season ahead instead of last season's shortened one.
No, afraid is not the right word, I was excited more than anything to see the team over 82 games.  For sure last season with 48 games, we had an idea, but a little bit different... we were excited to see the results over a full schedule, and up to now we're proud.  But we know that in the playoffs the level rises,  it's a completely different game, and we're eager for the first round.
Pierre asks what is the key element in the playoffs.
Injuries, they're very important.  You can't hope to get far in the playoffs if you have many injuries.  So you have to be lucky.  We talk about goalies a lot, but a strength of a team which goes far in the playoffs is goaltending and defensive play.  With Carey we're in a good position, but we're going to take it a game at a time, a series at a time.  It seems that Tampa Bay will be our opponent, so we need to be ready because it won't be easy.

Game 80: Canadiens 2, Blackhawks 3 (OT)

A discomfiting 'mission accomplished', I guess...  The Canadiens eke out a point without Carey in nets, and without two of their Top 4 defencemen, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin having been left in Montréal to rest up for the playoffs.  So a 3-2 overtime loss, one point gathered, 98 in the bank, moral victory right?

It doesn't feel that way though.  For much of the third period, the Canadiens led and seemed poised to beat last season's Stanley Cup champs in their rink, a nice confidence boost for everyone.  But I guess they're the champs for a reason.  A late equalizer by Marian Hossa from Patrick Sharp with their net empty tied up the game in the last minute.  Then a flubbed shot from Patrick Sharp that shouldn't have gone in, and the Canadiens slinked off with their loser point a bitter pill to swallow.

Peter Budaj had done the job most of the night, and he'll have nightmares about this overtime goal, a weak wrister into his pads that somehow deflected up and to his right, but sloooooooowly, so that he had time to spot it over his shoulder as it was going in, and to lunge at it with his stick.  Upon replay, I wasn't sure if it wasn't going to miss the net, until he bunted it in.  Peter does surprisingly good work sometimes, but then he brings us back to reality, like last spring in the playoffs, or on the West Coast trip when Carey was injured.  He reminds us that this is who he is.  A backup.  A #2 goalie, valuable for the role he plays, but not able to assume the starring role.

Some of the Canadiens depth, which we were getting ready to take for granted again with Dale Weise and Josh Gorges returning, will be tested, since Alex Galchenyuk hurt his right leg and left the arena on crutches.  We saw Francis Bouillon and Ryan White take shots on their hand, and manage to finish the game, but it will be interesting to see if they don't have to take time off to heal also.

Once we've shaken off the loss though, the takeaway is that we can skate and compete with teams like the Hawks and the Red Wings.  With the debacle of last spring fresh in my mind, I'm still leery of a series where the goons run wild and free, but against Tampa or Detroit, I don't feel fear.  Or envy.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The best and worst fighters in the NHL

TSN's Scott Cullen looks at fighters who can do more than fight.  Warning, he uses Corsi among other stats to rate these guys, but the results line up with what we can tell from casual observation.

The worst fighters in terms of playing hockey are Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, John Scott, Matt Kassian, and George Parros.  So the Bruins and Brian Burke's pugnacity and truculence movement have had their effect.

Former Leaf and current Oiler Mark Fraser is #7, which lines up with what Mario Tremblay says about him, great kid, he'll take on anybody, but he can't play.

Onetime HIO favourite Zenon Konopka comes in at #11.

The 'best' fighters (described as players with five or more fights) are *gulp* Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic.

Travis Moen and Brandon Prust and Dale Weise make an appearance in the rankings.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Should the Canadiens re-sign Mike Weaver for next season?

Like Marc Bergevin assures us he's doing,  I want to concentrate on the playoffs, but it's hard to not look ahead occasionally at the moves required this summer to build the Canadiens' and the Bulldogs' roster.  

One of the questions debated on social media is whether the Canadiens should re-sign Mike Weaver for next season.  A virtual unknown before the trade with Florida, he had an uneven start to his tenure in Montréal, but found his stride after a couple of games and has progressed ever since, to the point where he's now surprisingly effective.

I have stated earlier this season that we should consider re-signing Douglas Murray, as his play was effective, once you considered the healthy injection of size and toughness he brings to our otherwise smallish lineup.  At the time, I thought his $1.5M wage, even with a modest raise, was easy to support for the Canadiens.

But that was before the acquisition of Thomas Vanek, and the great positive effect he's had on the team, which means that we now have to try to sign P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, our 'rental' top-liner, and possibly Brian Gionta over the summer.

Which means we’ll be tight to the cap next season, so we need to be cost-effective on our third and fourth lines, and the bottom pairing. So I think it’s unlikely that we re-sign Mike Weaver, as reliable as he’s been.  Or Douglas Murray for that matter.

Instead, we have to give Magnus Nygren an honest try, like happened with Alexei Emelin and Raphaël Diaz when they both came over from Europe. They were more mature than the usual rookie, and skipped the Bulldogs stage, and it looks like that’s the way we’ll have to go with Magnus.

He fits in better to our puzzle, in that he’s more of an offensive-minded player, so he can carry the puck and help out on the powerplay. And he shoots right.

I understand he won't be acclimated to the NHL, he'll make some mistakes, we might compare him unfavourably to Mr. Weaver at times.  But that's the business of pro hockey, sometimes you have to let trusty veterans go to promote a youngster, even if it means a momentary step back at that position.  

Plus, our surplus of young defencemen is starting to strain the system in Hamilton, we need to open up opportunities for them. While I often preach patience, and letting the kids learn the ropes in the AHL, in Magnus’ case our hand is forced, since the guy is mature and has options, and has shown he’ll use them.

Scotty Bowman was on Sportsnet today and told the story of Bill Nyrop retiring at the young age of 28.  He was a little distraught to be losing a player who he considered his #4 defenceman, but then spoke with Frank Selke, who told him that "number 17" hadn't played much the previous season, but had looked pretty good when he had.  Number 17 was, of course, Rod Langway, and Mr. Bowman tied up this anecdote by explaining that sometimes you have to improve your club by removing someone, the old 'addition by subtraction' concept.

So next season we should have P.K. and Josh, Andrei and Alexei, and then Magnus with a leftie, whether that be Jarred or Nathan or Davis or Douglas or whoever.  As long as he’s cheap.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Marc Bergevin interview on RDS' "L'Antichambre".

Montréal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin appeared on RDS' "L'Antichambre" following his team's 5-3 win against the Red Wings.

Here is a loose transcript of what was discussed.

Host Yannick Bouchard starts off by asking if the results in the standings are above and beyond the expectations he had at the start of the season.
Our primary goal was to make the playoffs, that was the most important thing for us.  The points in the standings, we'll take them, we're trying to secure second or third in the division, home-ice advantage is the next goal for us.
Mario Tremblay asks if the arrival of Mike Weaver and Thomas Vanek allow him to be more calm when he watches games with his staff.
Never (everyone laughs).  You saw what happened tonight.
Benoit Brunet asks if he's satisfied with Jarred Tinordi's progress this season.
Yes.  I think defencemen take longer to learn their trade.  He spent almost two full seasons in Hamilton, but we can still see some little flaws in his game.  Eventually he needs to take the next step, but I think he's really close, he's getting there.
Gaston Therrien asks a meandering question, with a preamble that everything that Marc Bergevin has done so far has worked out, he offers Mike Weaver, Thomas Vanek and Stéphane Waite as examples, and states that it's 'mission accomplished' for the GM.  He then asks if we can say the same about the head coach, is Michel Therrien one of the best coaches in the NHL.
For me, I'll never be satisfied.  I'm here to continually improve the team.  The day you sit back and you're happy with what you've done, that you're satisfied, that's when you start going backwards.  My job never ends.
As far as Michel goes, I got here in May 2012, the job he's done, we're among the top ten teams in the NHL.  I'll give credit to the players first, always, you can have the best coach in the world, if you don't have players working hard you're going nowhere.  So the players get the most credit, and I think Michel and his assistants have done excellent work.
 Mario Tremblay comments that when the team is winning, the players get the kudos, but when it loses, the coach and GM get the blame, and everyone laughs.
It's okay, when I took this job, I knew I would be criticized, I have to expect it.  Sometimes you have to make decisions that aren't popular, but in the end you have a vision, and you have to do what's best for the team.
Yannick Bouchard says that in terms of improving the team, the latest move was obtaining Thomas Vanek.  What is the next step that will be taken to move the team forward again?
Right now the important thing is the playoffs, that's what we're focused on.  As far as my job specifically, it's the draft, I've always believed that, the draft is how you build a team long-term.  So the next stage for me will be the draft in June in Philadelphia.

Gaston Therrien asks if after two years, he thinks the team is a little further ahead than he thought it would be, specifically as it relates to the young players' progress on the team.
The young players, it's them who make the decision, it's not me.  Take Brendan Gallagher, after the lockout, his attitude, his behaviour on the ice ("He forced you to keep him", Gaston interjects)...  I'm not a genie, or a magician, it's the players...
Gaston persists in asking if they're where he thought they'd be, or further ahead.
It's certain that we've come a long way, but we still have lots and lots to do.
Mario hits on the young player theme, and asks about P.K., who won the Norris Trophy last season, but is having difficulties this season, and that it seems the coach wants to send him a message.  How does he see that from his GM position?
Since I've been in Montréal, P.K. has come a long way, last year with his Norris Trophy.  This year, he's had some difficult periods, but on the whole, I still see P.K. as a young defenceman, with lots of talent.  For sure he has things to improve on, but we spend a lot of time with him, the coaches, and the goal is to take him to the next level, to be a complete defenceman.  We're proud of P.K.  Like all the other players, we spend a lot of time, on video, with Galchenyuk, with Gallagher, with the youngsters who have so much to learn, they're like little sponges.
Benoit Brunet asks if he thought Max would be so dominant, then adds the awkward note that his contract is a bargain, which makes Marc Bergevin a little uncomfortable, I think.
Before I got here, I think he already had a season with over thirty goals.  What we want to see in a player is consistency, and right now, Max is showing that.  You can see, he likes to score goals, what you saw in Ottawa last night, the way he got off that shot, you can't stop that in whatever league you are.  He's a guy... he and David have a very special chemistry, and you add Thomas, that's a dangerous line.  But in the playoffs, it won't be the same kind of hockey.
Mario says that even though Thomas preferred to play left wing, they managed to convince him to try right wing.
The credit goes to the coaches.  And he was receptive to that.  Some players can be a little stubborn, they have their way, but he showed character in saying "I'll try it, we'll see how it goes." So far the results are there.  But you know as well as I do, the playoffs, that's another, higher level, it's a lot tighter.  
Yannick says that he'll have some big contracts to deal with this summer, and rattles off P.K., Markov, Gionta, Vanek.  He asks how difficult will it be to set priorities.
For now, the playoffs are what matters to me.  For sure, these are important files, I'm aware it's of interest to the fans, but I keep that confidential.  We'll take it one at a time, or even two at a time, I don't mind at all, but for now the main thing is the playoffs, going as far as possible.
Yannick Bouchard asks a confusing question, asking him to put himself in the shoes of a Habs fan, and to imagine what that fan would want the GM to do to improve the team.  Marc is stumped for a second.
Good question... (he laughs).  Look, I'm not a fan, my vision, the way I see things, like I always said, is to continue to have good drafts, to keep building the team going forward.  We have good young players who'll turn pro next season, without naming names, but that's how we're going to build.
You saw tonight, a team like Detroit, the best example, with Jurco, Tatar, good youngsters.  The results are there, Detroit is a very good hockey team.  We have to continue with the same idea. 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Game 79: Canadiens 5, Red Wings 3

Most reasonable Canadiens fans have some qualms about their team going into the playoffs, even with the recent string of success.  After the difficult West Coast trip, and suffering through Carey Price's absence, the Canadiens have won ten out of twelve games, starting with the record comeback win against the Senators.  More pessimistic fans will point out that the most recent losses have come against likely playoff opponents Boston and Tampa Bay, and a Columbus team that played us tough, playoff style.  There is also the bitter memory of the disastrous, embarrassing playoff loss to the Senators last season.

So how do we evaluate tonight's 5-3 win against the Red Wings.  Was it a sign of a team that can turn it on when needed, can adapt to its opponents and match their style?  Are the Canadiens a team that finds a way to win, no matter how bizarre the game is?  Should we be encouraged that the Canadiens are managing to weather through injuries and suspension to important members, and that the team will only get stronger upon their return?  After all, the first line is pumping, Carey Price is masterful and inspires confidence in his teammates.

Or are we overly reliant on Carey, lately getting outshot by healthy margins?  Is our defence squad a concern, starting with our putative ace P.K. Subban, who is going through a slump at the worst time?  Has the team actually been relatively healthy, lucky when it comes to injuries, and will the depth be severely tested if a frontline player is hurt, as the Wings were with the loss of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and the Penguins with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang the latest, biggest name in their long injury list this season?

As the pundits say, that's why you play the games.  Going into the playoffs, the Canadiens are on a roll, and are primed to claim home ice advantage against the suddenly flagging Lightning.  A 100-point season is well within reach.

The Canadiens stretched out a three-goal lead, with goals from three different lines for a change.  In the third period, they seemed to coast coming out of the dressing room, and the desperate Wings scored two goals quickly, and after a Canadiens timeout, a third on a powerplay.  So the Habs had to open her up again and score two more to put the game away.  No biggie.

It was an enjoyable game, as wins tend to be, in large part because while it was hotly contested, there was no goonery or nonsense after the whistle.  Both teams skated hard, competed, but played clean and fair.

Alexei Emelin showed flashes of the physical play that were his calling card the previous two seasons.  His returning mobility and strength allow him to hit a ton, but not the ridiculous 'finishing your check' kind of hit.  He actually gets to the play, gets to the puck carrier, and separates them from the puck.  Along with their breath, and their desire to try going wide on him ever again.

Mike Weaver continued his poor Paul Coffey impression with another assist in the second period.  And we're going to say it's poor because he actually stays back and plays defence.  What an addition he has been, the solid right-handed defenceman that we were missing this season, even before we traded away Raphaël Diaz.  He's a fifth-round choice well spent.

I noticed Lars Eller still stickhandling with the puck in the offensive zone towards the blue line, then passing it to his defencemen and handcuffing them. If only Lars would take the puck the other way, strong and deep into the offensive zone, instead of dribbling with it on the periphery.

Prior to that play, he made a nifty pass back to Andrei on a 4-on-2 rush, but then went for the net and cut himself off from a possible give-and-go return pass. There were already two Habs in front of the net, he should have positioned himself as the outlet guy for Andrei to have an option. As it was, a Wing player was blocking the passing lane, Andrei was forced to shoot, and the Monster made an easy glove save.

Still, Lars is showing signs of life, picking up assists on Brian Gionta's two goals.  The captain may be having a settling effect on Lars.  When he centered the kid line, he was expected to be the guy with experience and leadership, and he may not have been ready for that yet.  With Brian and sometimes Daniel Brière on the ice with him, he can concentrate on his own game, take some direction from his linemates, and learn alongside them.   It relieves a lot of pressure on him and may allow him to get back in a groove.

Is it too soon to congratulate Michel Therrien on a shrewd personnel move, or is the coach brain-dead for taking so long to figure it out, as his critics might jump to point out?

Carey Price stopped 34 of 37 shots, but seemed to be headed for a shutout for a long while, so steady did he seem.  As usual, he made things look easy.  His puck handling is a joy to behold, having him back there is like playing with a third defenceman sometimes.

Michaël Bournival and Ryan White combined to open the scoring.  These two seem to mesh very well.  When Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and Dale Weise return from injury, it will be interesting to see which players the coaching staff will deploy on the third and fourth lines.  It's a better situation to be in than to weigh whether to use Aaron Palushaj or Mike Blunden.

So bring on the Blackhawks, we can take them.  Especially when they're missing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews...

Game 78: Canadiens 7, Senators 4

Another wacky games against the Senators, which again goes in the Canadiens's favour, for a 7-4 win, which should catalyze the summer of change coming in Ottawa.

There were many stars for the Canadiens in this game, many had a hand in the come-from-behind win, but none looms larger than Craig Anderson, who allowed the Canadiens back in the game after his team took a 3-0 lead.  Mr. Anderson clearly flubbed the assignment, starting with Andrei Markov's goal on a weak shot from behind the goal line that he knocked in his own net, which triggered the avalanche of seven unanswered goals.  From there, he didn't butcher anything quite so badly, but was so feeble generally that he finished with a .696 (!) save percentage, and that's after he padded his stats with a few routine saves at the end of the game, easy ones that earned him some derisive cheering from the crowd.

Peter Budaj also looked like he'd be in for a rough night, letting in three quick goals within the first five minutes of the game, and which caused everyone to wonder if he should be pulled and replaced with Carey Price.  Marc Denis on RDS was categoric that you couldn't put in Carey after deciding he should get a night off in preparation for the game the following night in Detroit.

So Mr. Budaj toughed it out, and got back on track, heartened by the offensive support from his teammates, who managed to tie the game before the first intermission, and get him the lead shortly into the second period.  Peter also got help from the referees who waved off one goal that looked upon replay as if it should have counted, and from his posts twice.  At the end of the night, he'd picked himself off the canvas and won an impressive game, in which he'd made 39 saves on 43 shots.  He deserves some accolades for his hard work, and permitting the coaching staff's intent to rest Carey to go ahead as planned.

We saw some pre-playoff refereeing in the way the officials allowed the Senators to attempt to intimidate and thug away when they thought the game was out of reach.  They let a lot of things slide, and the Sens 'tough' guys, emboldened, took the proverbial mile.

Brendan Gallagher was bodychecked twice, before being hit a third time by Erik Karlsson.  I have to applaud Alex Galchenyuk for rushing in and taking on the Sens' defenceman in response.  While the hits on Brendan were legal for the most part, Alex took a correct reading of the situation, and realized that the Senators were going to try to beat on the Canadiens, taking advantage of their size advantage.  If the Canadiens were going to retaliate, who better to do so than on their All-Star, and send a message that there would be consequences for their actions?  While the ensuing scrum was not highlight worthy, with Erik Karlsson grabbing Alex in a headlock and wrestling him to the ice, it still was a worthwhile effort.

Later in the second, after Eric Gryba boarded Daniel Brière, Jarred Tinordi stepped up and fought him, again responding to their attempts at intimidation.  While the Gryba hit was not penalized as it should have been, and Jarred picked up an extra two-minutes in the box, that he tempered the Sens crosschecker and neutralized him again sent the right message.

As the game wore on and seemed to fall out of reach for Ottawa, Chris Neil did his thing and tried to take on Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher.  Alex Galchenyuk swooped in from behind and put an end to it, and the refs sent Mr. Neil off for fourteen minutes.

This is where the injuries to Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, Dale Weise and the suspension to Douglas Murray hurt the Canadiens, in that we didn't have enough bodies to counter the Sens when it came to the rough stuff.  We can hope that this situation will resolve itself in time for the playoffs.

The refs were surprisingly effective in the third, when they banished Zack Smith, who had been running around picking on everyone smaller than him, ending his night with a two and ten minutes for slashing Alexei Emelin.  The Sens' centreman had been warned by the refs yet continued his nonsense, and they nipped any further mayhem in the bud.  Good call by them, and a late goal by the Sens also helped to cool off tempers, narrowing the gap to 7-4 and giving them a reason to focus on hockey rather than thuggery.

In this last two minutes, when Chris Neil had returned and the result was no longer in doubt, Coach Therrien again deployed George Parros, who had been used on an earlier shift to parry with Zack Smith and give him a worthwhile foil.  Messrs. Neil and Parros lined up for the faceoff, jawed at each other for a second, jousted with their sticks, and immediately the refs stepped in and sent them both off the ice with misconducts.  Again, very wise and appropriate moves, surprisingly so, and it makes you wish that this sort of thing happened more often, that these types of players be removed before they engender their mayhem, not after the ice is covered in sticks and helmets and gloves and blood, as occurs usually.  And I let out a sigh of relief, that George managed to play a role and deter some lunacy, without actually having to fight and risk his noggin.

Speaking of lunacy, let me speak of Eric Gryba, the 6'4", 225 lbs 'defenceman' of the Sens, who stands astride the NHL as a titan with his four-year, six-goal collegiate career, and his fourteen-goals-in-200-games stint in Binghampton.  We saw him out of his depth tonight, chugging ineffectually after Max Pacioretty, falling on his keister and batting the puck through the slot right to Brian Gionta which led to Lars Eller's goal, generally being Chara-esque in his confusion, ineffectiveness and ungainliness.

The only reason Eric Gryba is in the league is because he's big and strong, it's not because he can play hockey, because he can't.  The only reason he can stay in the league is that for every crosscheck or slash or elbow he dishes out that draws a penalty, nine more go unnoticed/unpunished.  With these odds, Eric Gryba becomes a way for a desperate coach/organization to counter the Daniel Brières and the Brendan Gallaghers, so he pollutes the league with his thuggery.  There's a value proposition for having him on your team.  If the game was refereed by the book, as it should be, he would disappear from the game, and be replaced with a smaller player who can actually play.

And the game would be safer.  Gary Bettman looks pinched and supercilious when the question of player safety is brought up, he condescendingly rattles off measures taken and stats to indicate there's no problem with his league, but there is.  And he's responsible.  There's a pervasive, structural unsafe work climate in the NHL, and he's not doing anything about it, because Don Cherry.  He doesn't want to upset Mike Milbury and weather his "pansification" tirades, so he keeps the ship pointed in the same direction, right at the iceberg.

There's a misconception that if all the penalties that should be called were called, the game would lose its toughness and physical side.  It wouldn't.  The big lummoxes who can't play, they'd get lost, but they'd be replaced by guys who are 5'11" who can actually skate, who can actually play.  They'd be just as intense, just as physical as the 6'4" statues, but the show would be much better, and the risk of injury for all players would go down.

A quick word about the #1 line, which did its job tonight chipping in four goals, three by Max.  As was pointed out on RDS, while Thomas Vanek doesn't wow anyone on the backcheck, when he's cycling the puck in the corners, he's surprisingly physical and effective.  After shouldering aside Niklas Kronwall in Detroit, tonight he brushed aside Chris Phillips on David Desharnais' goal.  David is starting to shoot more, which is a positive.  On this goal, he outwaited Craig Anderson and put the puck in the open net.  We often talk of his small size as a detriment, but this was one play where his agility and quickness, which he derives from his stature, were too much for the opposition goalie.

Max's hat trick gets him really close to fourty.  I wrote that I thought he had a shot at it after the Panthers game, now it's all but in the bag, right?  At the rate he's going, we should set the bar at fifty now.  He's confident, his teammates are clicking, let's go for it.  Watching them smile and celebrate together, you got the sense that they were turning it down a notch, trying to not rub it in in front of the Sens, but there's a bonne entente there, and I hope it carries into the playoffs.

So mission accomplished, two points in the bank for les Glorieux, and the Sens' playoff chances stand at 0%, according to the Sports Club Stats site.  Actually, it's a 0.024% chance of making the playoffs.  Not to short them or anything.