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.