Friday, 30 May 2014

Pierre McGuire bungles his analysis of the Canadiens-Rangers series.

Pierre McGuire on TEAM 1040 is asked whether the series turned on Carey Price being injured:

"Hogwash.  Carey Price let in seven goals in Game 1.  I love Carey Price, he's a friend of mine, but he let in seven goals, whereas Dustin Tokarski blah blah blah...  If it hadn't been for Dustin Tokarski it wouldn't have been a six game series."

Now, it's not an exact quote, but the part of about the seven goals is absolutely what he said.  Which makes me wonder how much he gets paid to 'cover' the series, or even why, if he can't grasp the basic facts about games that happened less than two weeks ago.

1)  Carey Price did not let in seven goals in Game 1.  He allowed four, and was pulled in the second period.  Peter Budaj was in net for the three goals in the third period.

2)  Two of the goals Carey allowed, late in the second, occurred after he was run by Chris Kreider, and had injured his knee.  His mobility was compromised, so it's hard to say how much fault lies with him on those two goals.  I side with none.

I know Mr. McGuire is not necessarily a favourite here on HIO, but his comments are baffling and completely misrepresent the facts.  In his haste to sing the praise of the Rangers and hype the finals, he dismisses the Canadiens and their initial chances of winning this series if their best player hadn't been taken out on an blatant Nick Kypreos-style contract hit.

Dalton Thrower signs entry-level contract with the Canadiens.

I'm happy that Dalton Thrower was signed to his entry-level contract by the Canadiens, he took a giant step in his development with the Vancouver Giants last season.  The papers and Coach Don Hay couldn't say enough good things about him all season.  I didn't get a chance to see him live, but listened to a few game broadcasts, and he was all over the place, the play-by-play guys made it clear he was the leader of that team, in every aspect.

He suffered from bad luck with an ankle injury that ended his season.  He tried to rehab it and come back, but upon his return to the ice he either aggravated the injury, or it was never right to begin with, and had to undergo surgery.  I wondered whether that was playing a part in the delay in signing him, if Canadiens management wanted to have a talk with the doctors treating him, give themselves some time before committing.

If the team had decided to not lock him up, I would have had to trust their evaluation, but it's obviously preferable that a second-round pick stays within the organization and gets a chance to pan out.  It's better than the alternative, that we walk away from our draftees because they're too faint a hope of ever making it.

Of course, that means another rightie defence prospect on the farm, with Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz and possibly Magnus Nygren.  So almost too many.  We're struggling now with too many lefties on the blue line on the Grand Club, but in a couple seasons it probably won't be an issue any more.

'14 Playoffs Round 3, Game 6: Canadiens 0, Rangers 1

The fairy tale is over.  The Cinderella story Canadiens, who all experts (including your humble servant) discounted at the beginning of the season, raced to a hundred point season, swept the Lightning in the first round, bounced the Cup-favourite Bruins in seven games in the Division Final, before bowing out tonight against the also previously underestimated Rangers.  The Blueshirts played a hermetic game against a team that seemed finally out of gas, winning 1-0, and taking the series in six games.

The Canadiens needed to storm the battlements and take New York to push the series to seven games, but they didn't play like the team that slayed the dragon in Boston and chased Henrik Lundqvist from the net on Tuesday.  Instead, we got the team that we fear we have when we let our insecurities take over.

Tonight's incarnation was the team that critics have described all season.  A #1 line in name only.  Max playing on the periphery and providing few impact moments.  David Desharnais too small and too slow to make a difference.  Brendan Gallagher fighting alone for the win, not able to do it all himself, swarmed and slashed into submission by the bigger Rangers.  Thomas Vanek with Minnesota on his mind.  Brian Gionta and Francis Bouillon too old, too slow.  René Bourque floating, invisible.  Lars Eller and P.K. playing frazzled, ruined by their head coach.  Andrei Markov about to Sputnik-crash back to earth after a great career, diminished by too many injuries.  Tomas Plekanec running on fumes.

It hurts that we did the heavy lifting, outlasted the Boston Bruins and their allies at NHL headquarters, only to be deprived in the next series of our best player by a reckless play from a reckless (at least) Chris Kreider.  Crime does pay.  And the Rangers get to profit from the job we did, opening up the road to the Cup final.

Not that I had strong belief that our boys could win the Cup, but it would have been great to have a shot at the title, at least we'd have a puncher's chance.  And it's more fun to watch hockey when my team is in it.  June usually makes it kind of tough to focus.  Besides, I've already had enough of the myth-making around Martin St. Louis, and the Henrik Lundqvist sidebars, I don't know that I can stomach another two weeks of that.

The thing is, the Rangers took me by surprise.  I was well aware that they played better at the end of the season than they did at the beginning.  A coaching change and a lengthy road trip out West right off the bat kind of put them on their back foot, but they found their rhythm as the season progressed.

What I didn't know about them was how deep their roster is, how balanced they are, how big and fast they are.  I'd take in the highlights on SportsCentre, and see that Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis weren't producing, and that was enough for me to write them off.  Their big guns were silent, they can't possibly be any good.  And that's even with Derrick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on my fantasy teams for most of the years.  I shouldn't have slept on the Rangers.

So yeah, they have horses on the back end, and Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider are a handful.  Even Derek Dorsett, as brain-dead as he can be, can actually really skate and cause havoc when he forechecks.  If Rick Nash wakes up, and Martin keeps rounding into form, they could give their Western Conference opponent problems.

So a tough loss, but one which will be infinitely easier to digest than the debacle last season against Ottawa.  The boys did themselves proud, never backed down.  And with a lucky bounce here or there, this series could still be headed back to Montréal for a Game 7.  So hats off to the boys, take a break for a couple of weeks, then train like mad over the summer, because I'm already looking forward to training camp.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Dale Weise's concussion raises serious questions about the Canadiens medical staff and its procedures.

So the mystery deepens.  After the hit on Dale Weise by John Moore Tuesday night, the Canadiens forward was visibly unwell, and was taken out of the game, yet he returned to action later in the game, to mostly everyone's puzzlement.  Fast forward to today, and he is described as suffering from a "body injury" by his head coach, and will not play tonight.

It doesn't add up.  He was obviously concussed after the hit, but was 'cleared' and went back to the bench, but now he's no longer cleared.  Michel Therrien followed accepted practice during his press conference, refusing to pinpoint the injury Dale was suffering from, but all his circumlocution couldn't resolve the confusion, allay the doubts.

The only explanation I can come up with for Weezy being allowed back on the ice after his apparent concussion last game is a breakdown in communication coupled with a lack of training/awareness by the coaching staff.

That Dale was staggered was obvious to any observer on Tuesday, P.K. had to 'rescue' him and help keep him upright.  I thought that any time someone is dazed or stunned by a blow to the head, or is knocked out even briefly, it is an indication of a concussion.  Beyond that, someone can still experience a concussion without getting his bell rung.

So I thought the quiet room and concussion protocol are for the latter case, to give a player who received a blow to the head but didn't seem affected initially a chance to catch his breath, consult with team doctors, and have a chance to diagnose a minor concussion away from the heat of the game.  The doctors would ask the player questions, established 'baseline' questions, as well as general "What day is it?  What month are we in?  Where are we?  What team are we playing?  What did you have for lunch?" questions.  If he answered all these questions adequately, and didn't report any pain or symptoms, then he would be allowed back in the game, but only if he hadn't gotten dazed or knocked out.

When the player has been dazed, these questions are only to diagnose the severity, the degree of injury.  That's what I believe(d) is the case, that for him there isn't any doubt about whether there is a concussion, just how bad it is, and how long might the player have to sit out.  The questions and the quiet room protocol are only to help the doctors diagnose the extent of the concussion, the treatment required, the prognosis.  That the player would certainly not be put back in the game in these cases, no matter how much they claimed to be okay and begged to go back in.

So working off these assumptions, and setting aside the possibility that the medical team is incompetent or negligent, the only way I can excuse/explain letting Dale back on the ice is that the medical team didn't see him be all wobbly-legged on the ice, and they weren't told this by the players or the coaches.  So they took Dale back in the tunnel, he seemed fine and had his balance back by then, they went through the steps, and they cleared him as the protocols state.

While this seems unlikely, it happened a couple years ago in an NFL game when Chargers offensive guard Kris Dielman was knocked out on his feet, and wobbled and almost fell between snaps.  Referees approached him to ask what was wrong, he waved them off and assured them he was okay.  He gutted out the rest of the game, being the All Pro warrior that he was, knowing that there were already a few offensive linemen who had been felled by injuries during the game.  He figured he was the last man standing, and could play, whereas the others had 'real' injuries to their legs and arms, they couldn't block.  He managed to finish the game, but later suffered a seizure on the flight home, and this was a severe enough episode that he never played another game and retired.

There was a lot of finger pointing and soul searching, and it was found that the reason Mr. Dielman was allowed to continue to play, that no medical staff came to his aid and attended to him, was that they were all busy dealing with the other injured players on the sidelines, no one was watching the field.

Two changes came about because of this incident.  NFL teams now have to have at least one medical staff member observing the field of play at all times, they can't all get sucked in taping one guy's ankle or dealing with the QB's sore finger.

Further, the referees during the game now have the authority to stop play and signal for help from the medical staff when they observe a player in distress.  While they themselves don't have medical training and can't diagnose anything, they can use common sense, and make use of this provision when it's reasonable, like it would have been in the Kris Dielman case.  It's another layer of protection, and allows for more eyes and ears on the field to safeguard players who are potentially injured.

So on Tuesday, there was one big error, in that the medical staff didn't observe Dale staggering around and weren't told about this, and the other error came when the coaches allowed him back on the bench.  They should have a basic understanding of the concussion protocol, and they must have seen him on the ice.  They should have known right then that his night was over, that he wouldn't return to action.  When Dale came back to the bench, under whatever authority, the coach(es) should have said to that person: "Hold on a second, Dale could barely stand up after the hit, he can't be cleared to return to action, right?..."

For Michel Therrien to state in the press conference that player safety is primordial, but in the same breath say that Dale was okay and there was no concussion and that he was cleared, is contradictory.  If player safety is the most important consideration, then he should have the basic understanding of this critical aspect of the equation, he should have gotten clarification from his training/medical staff when they let Dale back on the bench, and probably over-ruled them, if they hadn't seen Dale immediately after the hit.

That's the best spin I can put on this cluster, that the Canadiens/NHL teams need to have better communication between their players and coaches and their medical staff after these kinds of incidents, and that the coaches need to have a better grasp of the fundamentals of concussion symptoms and treatment.  If that isn't the case, then we need to revisit the incompetence-negligence angle.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Bob Cole actively deters me from watching hockey.

I've been taken to task recently for being too harsh in my criticism of Bob Cole, that my take landed squarely in the realm of 'ageism', and I've taken those comments to heart.  I'm on record for wanting Mr. Cole off the air, and may have been too strident in my denunciations of his work.

The thing is, he actively detracts from my appreciation of a game, and causes me to want to watch something else, dive into my PVR'ed backlog of programming.  "I'll catch the highlights on SportsCentre later on," I tell myself.

Both during the Penguins series, and now the Hawks-Kings, I get home and consult the listings, see a game is going on, and think I'll have that as my viewing choice while I make dinner, but when I turn it on realize that he's the play-by-play guy, and boom, shrinkage.  "Mmmm, NOVA is on, "D-Day's Sunken Secrets", maybe I'll watch that right now instead of PVR'ing it..."

I understand you folks who've grown up with the voice of Bob Cole as the voice of hockey, you get the warm and fuzzies when you hear it, and want to phone your dad, but for me, I don't have those associations.  I grew up on René Lecavalier, Richard Garneau, Gilles Tremblay, Lionel Duval, Claude Quenneville, and they were awesome.

If anything, Bob Cole is to me the voice of a Canadiens game being pre-empted and me being forced to watch a Leafs game instead with some new friends at university, and instead of watching Guy and Larry, being force-fed Bill Derlago and Allan Bester.

He also represents the decline of a proud organization.  CBC Sports used to be a quality outfit, they did everything well.  CFL, NHL, ski racing, whatever they covered, was done with class and professionalism, especially when compared to the shoddy production values at CTV, with Johnny Esaw and the bad graphics with spelling mistakes, or Ron Reusch's stumbling delivery and whiny voice.  Olympic games covered by the CBC were flawless.  Those games whose rights were won by CTV were amateurish and paled in comparison.

The CBC, now gutted by budget cuts, have lost their way, lost some of their premier talent, like Chris Cuthbert and Dave Hodge, and held on too long to staffers who should have been ushered into retirement.  They chose ratings and buffoonery and stasis in the persons of Bob Cole and Don Cherry, instead of being leaders of the pack, setting the bar.

I'll say again, I fear what Sportsnet will do with the hockey games, we'll be told that the previous goal was brought to us by Del Monte's Rising Crust bandages, that Jarome Iginla is a Value-Village Veteran, the on-air staff will always have to 'V' up the word 'veteran', like they do with their constant whoring of the "MediumChef Memorial Cup".

So I'm choosing to not watch the Kings-Hawks game because of the way it's being brought to me, and as I often choose to not watch a Canucks game broadcast, because I don't enjoy hearing John Shorthouse and John Garrett natter on about ephemera.  I resent being subjected to in-game reminders that the previous goal earned Mrs. Tellefson from Abbottsford B.C. a toaster oven courtesy of the good folks at Sure Bargain Mega-Emporiums.

So the CBC have coasted on their reputation of excellence until their ship was dead in the water, and I stopped watching.  I'm a full RDS man now.  And next season, if Sportsnet overpaid and have to banner their shows to extremes to make us pay for it in return, I'll probably tune them out too.

But yeah, the Blackhawks should make for good viewing, except there's a 'Frontline' special from last night that I should get to.

'14 Playoffs Round 3, Game 5: Canadiens 7, Rangers 4

Michel Therrien vowed that his team would be ready to play on Tuesday.  Judging by the final score, a 7-4 convincing win on the failing-to-'Always-Be-Closing' Rangers, they were, although it wasn't easy.  It's not like the result was never in doubt however.

The Rangers have a little bit of Jason or mother Alien in them.  Whenever you think you've cracked their skulls or crushed them under the robotic forklift enough, that they're done, they come back to life, hideous, scary, and need another dose of 220 V or a timeout in the vacuum of space.  I have to give them credit, they show more fight, more spirit than the Bruins, who would lose their composure and act like petulant schoolyard bullies on who the tables had turned, they'd threaten you when the Assistant Principal's back was turned, but sidle off when they realized they were outmanned.

Special mention has to go to mandibularly-challenged Derek Stepan, who after missing one game went back to action with a bulky protective mask that had to be a distraction and must have impaired his vision somewhat.  Still, he found a way to score two goals, and be a factor all night.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens were approaching their potential, being all they can be.  Sometimes after a tough loss, when things look grim, a fan can catch himself reviewing the roster mentally.  "The Desharnais line didn't score tonight, the Plekanec line is ice cold, we didn't get a miracle performance from an unlikely source like a Francis Bouillon or a Mike Weaver.  Daniel Brière and Dale Weise didn't chip in their two surprise goals.  The powerplay is bogged down.  I wonder who we'll be able to pick up at the draft..."

Two players we tend to overlook out of habit, when we contemplate how we stack up against the Bruins, the Rangers, the Blackhawks or the Kings, stood up tall and made a difference.  Alex Galchenyuk missed about a month with a MCL sprain, and took a couple of games to find his touch.  He's now a threat on any presence on the ice.  He has the size and speed to shine in a series like this, and the hands and hockey sense to contribute some goals.  At times he was tentative during his sophomore season, but whatever killer never-quit tea they're brewing in the Canadiens dressing room, it's having an effect on him.  He picked up the first goal on the powerplay, deflecting a P.K. Subban shot, and added an assist.

René Bourque was the other difference maker tonight, after reverting to bad habits during the Boston series.  In the Tampa games he played like he wanted the puck, and once he had it he knew what he wanted to do with it.  This may sound trite, but it's meant in the most serious, specific way.  This season he often seemed to be aimless.  It's not like he didn't try, he'd finish a check here, take a couple of shots there, but it didn't amount to anything.  Tonight, when he didn't have the puck he'd go find it and fight for it.  He skated to support his teammates.  When he did have the puck he fired it on net, no fancy stuff, and it went in.  Three goals for our forgotten hero, plus a nifty deflection that bounced off a post, and a very worthy 1st star of the game.

So yeah, when your team has two horses like this, six-footers who weigh more than two bills and who can fly and finish, and they're going, it's a little more formidable.  And a somnolent, or potentially injured Thomas Vanek can take another game to find his groove, his funk is less fragrant, less flagrant.

And as the opposition scrambles to adjust, to account for these guys, now Max Pacioretty isn't blanketed, and David Desharnais has a little more room to manoeuvre, and they can burn the other team too.  Max scored a one-timer early in the second on a spectacular feed from a slew-footed Brendan Gallagher, and then sealed the win late in the third when he picked up a loose puck after a faceoff in his zone, skated it out to the neutral zone, drawing a defender, then flipping the puck high in the air for David to pursue and push into the empty net.

There is some cloud in the picture though.  Dustin Tokarski wasn't miraculous tonight, he made a few big saves, but whiffed on a couple, the kind that Carey would be unflappable on, would make look easy.  Further, the RDS gang pointed out that another way Carey was missed was his puck handling.  Sometimes Carey acts as a third defenceman out there, corralling loose pucks, clearing his own zone, setting up his defencemen for quick breakouts.  This isn't a strength of Mr. Tokarski's though, and Gaston Therrien was explaining that the extra hits the d-men are taking as a result are starting to add up.

In any case, even if Dustin was proven to be a mere mortal, Henrik Lundqvist was even more mortaller.  He flubbed a few himself, let in four quick goals on 19 shots, and was gone by the middle of the second period.  The Canadiens then staked his replacement Cam Talbot through the heart also, just to be sure, and potted two on him as well.  

One big hissing cockroach in the ointment is the goonery the Rangers tried to throw at our boys.  It's difficult to know where to start, which incident to single out.  The referees tried hard to make some penalty calls, to keep the game in control, but kind of lost it near the end.  

One blatant missed call was the Rick Nash pratfall on Dustin Tokarski.  How the Rangers get the benefit of the doubt at this point in the series makes the mind reel.  After the attempted amputation on Carey Price by Chris Kreider in Game 1, and Rick Nash's transparent "He pushed me" kabuki in Game 4, Mr. Nash again crashed on top of the Habs' goalie.  Mostly everybody should be dumbfounded that the refs saw fit to penalize Josh Gorges on the play, who was trying to actually prevent this from happening.  The Ranger used this as camouflage, steered into the crease and used Dustin as a bean bag chair.  

Again, I don't know how the refs don't see through this, don't get game notes telling them to BLOF goalie bulldozers in blue shirts.  They may have been trying to 'equalize' things, since they'd already called an interference penalty on Mats Zuccarello for pushing Mike Weaver into Dustin earlier in the first period, but the reasoning is unsound.  Mr. Zuccarrello fully deserved this penalty, and Rick Nash deserved his, it's not like there was a lot of grey area there.  At worst, both Josh Gorges and Rick Nash should have been sent off, Josh for holding, the Ranger for goalie interference.

There was also a flagrant head shot on Dale Weise by Ranger blueliner John Moore.  These guys had traded hits earlier in the game, and the Ranger probably saw an opportunity to get a good hit in as Dale was making a pass, but he goofed big time, and extended and reached to hit him in the head, instead of body-on-body.  He was given a match penalty, and the five-minute major that comes with that could have been the final nail in the coffin for the Rangers, but the Canadiens were remarkably lackadaisical and disjointed during their powerplay, and couldn't finish, or get any rhythm.

Dale looked stunned after the hit, woozy, P.K. skated up and grabbed-hugged him to help keep him upright.  Dale had to go to the quiet room, and I thought his night was over, which would have been the prudent move, but there he was back on the bench later on in the third.  Michel Therrien explained in his post-game press conference that the doctors followed the protocols and found he didn't have a concussion, which conflicts with what I thought I knew.  I thought that when someone is knocked out, or obviously has been stunned, in that they're not able to focus, have difficulty standing and keeping their balance, etc., that it's a given that they have suffered a concussion.  These symptoms are the diagnosis, I thought, not the player's self-reporting relative to how well they're feeling, whether they have a headache, whether they can answer the baseline questions, etc.  

We'll have to see how this develops, whether Dale can play Thursday.  He's been such an important part of this run, I wouldn't have taken any chances that his condition aggravate by returning to the bench, the action, the noise, the bright lights.  I would have called it a night for him and put the odds in my favour that he'll be available later.  Especially since the game was in hand at that time.

Finally, what can we say about Derek Dorsett?  This is the guy who almost took out David Desharnais on a knee-on-knee late in the regular season, that Francis Bouillon fought as a result.  During this series, while he was a pain, I thought he played under control, he was maybe a .3 on the Marchand scale.  I thought that reflected well on his coach Alain Vigneault, that he had his team playing hockey, relatively clean, notwithstanding the Kreider Strategy.

Possibly embarrassed at the end of the game, he first head-butted Mike Weaver, in a run-of-the-mill netfront clash.  He clearly, definitely crossed the line there.  Then at the end of the game, well after the horn had sounded, he cruised around looking for trouble, and skated past René Bourque and turned to 'front' him.  

Now, I think this may be adjudicated by the league, but I can't help but feel okay that René didn't hesitate to crosscheck him fully, strongly, in the chest, and that in his follow through, he caved in his larynx and renovated his chin.  I'm exaggerating, Mr. Dorsett didn't seem to be the worse for wear, but he did try to fight René, who wisely declined.  Luckily, a linesman was there to prevent the Ranger from getting free.

If the league looks at this incident, I hope they take into account the entirety of Mr. Dorsett's oeuvre, starting with his hard braking to spray snow at the Canadiens as they were jumping onto the ice.  From the very start of the game, he was out to 'send a message', the Nick Kypreos-favoured phrase that acts as a catchall for all sorts of goonery and lawlessness.  I hope the NHL observes that Derek Dorsett skated from the neutral zone into his zone, after the horn, looking for trouble.  I hope they evaluate what possible intention he could have had to target and accost the player who had just scored three goals in the game and beaten the Rangers almost single-handedly.  

I'd also invoke the Zdeno Chara defence, that René is so tall compared to his dance partner, he didn't mean to crosscheck him in the head, it's just the Ranger's fault for being too short, and not being at a crosschecking level convenient for him.  It always allows the Bruin to get away with his stickwork, so René should be fine too.

So we head back to New York, and have the tall task of beating the Rangers at home, without the benefit of our home crowd or last change.  Let's hope they've planted the seed of doubt in Henrik Lundqvist's mind, and that René eats his spinach before the game and that his 'potion magique' doesn't wear off yet.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The San Diego Chargers' 2014 draft class

I've been meaning to review the Chargers' draft this year, but have been sidetracked by the great run the Canadiens have made in this playoff season.  That, and also I'm not doing handsprings over our draftees, so I'm not looking forward to committing 'on paper' to be negative.  And that's my general impression about this draft.

Now, as a general disclaimer, one I can point to if one or two of the players I'm about to slag make it to the Pro Bowl or Canton, let me state clearly that I don't know any of these guys the Chargers drafted, or the other guys they didn't.  I almost never watch college football save for my Notre Dame habit, and a few Bowl games during the holidays.  My draft savvy on a scale of 10 would be 0.1 Kipers, if that.

Having established that, I'm still dissatisfied with the approach General Manager Tom Telesco took at the draft, his decision to generally draft on need rather than take the 'best player available' on the board.  Of course, we may be approaching this from different perspectives.  In fact we probably are.

Tom Telesco and his coaching staff have a 9-7 team on their hands, one that made the playoffs and won their first round.  They did this with Philip Rivers at quarterback returning to form, having changed his style from gunslinger to able manager, and smoke and mirrors on defence.  Defensive coordinator John Pagano's squad couldn't stop anyone, but would contain some teams enough, with cute designs and odd-looking formations, that the offence could pull off the win.  So the strategy for the Chargers' brain trust was to plug the holes on defence, keep the offensive ship pointed in the same direction, and that should be worth one or two more wins, and take you a round deeper in the playoffs, right?

So the Chargers, after picking up a cornerback in the first round, grabbed a pass-rushing linebacker in the second in Jeremiah Attaochu.  The pass rush is another area that the Chargers needed to address, and this young man has the tools and showed the production in college that indicate he should be able to bolster the linebacking corps.  Added in with a hopefully healthy Melvin Ingram, and veteran Dwight Freeney to help out and provide mentorship, the Chargers could have a pass rush in 2014.

We don't see Mr. Attaochu as a bad pick, he's certainly a better roll of the dice than Robert English was, in that he's a true 3-4 ouside linebacker.  What we're going to grouse about is that the Chargers spent a fourth-round pick to move up in the second round to claim him.  This after spending a fourth-rounder last season to move up in the second round for another linebacker in Manti Te'o.

This is getting spendy.  Tom Telesco claimed at the draft that this was the specific player the Chargers wanted, they didn't want to miss out on getting Mr. Attaochu, but the talking heads at the draft were clear that he was actually the last first-tier 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker.  So I suspect that we, instead of letting the draft come to us, fixated on a certain position, on a jigsaw puzzle piece we had to have, and overspent.

Now, if this young man comes into camp and impresses everyone, and can team up with Donald Butler, Manti Te'o and Melvin Ingram to give us a solid linebacker corps for the next four or five years, it will have been well worth it, but that's a big if.  And again, that's if the Chargers are a playoff team that needs just that final push to be a Super Bowl contender, which I highly doubt.

The Chargers have been mediocre, and devoid of depth for a couple seasons now.  Last season's incarnation was a pleasant surprise, but I suspect it may have been a mirage.  No team that finishes at 9-7 and loses to the Raiders and mediocrities like the Titans, the Redskins, and the Richie Incognito-stricken Dolphins is a powerhouse in the making.  What the Chargers need is talent, players, gamers, lots of them, at every position.  Not a specific player to get them over the top, like the Falcons' gamble with Julio Jones as one example.  What the Chargers should have done is to stay put, let the draft come to them, and taken the best football player who wasn't a quarterback.

The rest of their draft was relatively anticlimactic.  In the third round, they grabbed offensive lineman Chris Watt from Notre Dame, who most analysts were relatively cool on.  He's described as tough and smart.  He may eventually replace Nick Hardwick as the team's centre, but may not have the athletic skills to play in the NFL.

We then had to wait all the way until the fifth round before the most pressing need in my eyes was addressed, when nose tackle Ryan Carrethers was picked.  At this point in the draft, you're obviously not choosing surefire Pro Bowlers, so his skillset is somewhat limited.  We can hope he proves in camp that he can do the job, because with Cam Thomas gone we currently don't have a nose tackle.  Period.

In the last two rounds, San Diego took fliers on some depth at skill positions, going with running back Marion Grice in the sixth and wide receiver Tevin Reese in the seventh.  Mr. Grice had a good career at Arizona State, can catch the ball and projects as a third-down back.  Mr. Reese showed explosive ability at Baylor and the Draft Combine, but there are doubts that his slight frame can withstand the rigors of the NFL.  He may make the roster as a return specialist who can play WR and stretch a defence.

So in summary, a draft that leaves me somewhat unsatisfied, like last season's.  Only getting six attempts at the dart board hurts us, I wish we'd stockpile picks, trade down to get more picks, until we build up our team depth.  I wish we'd taken the patient route and grabbed the best player available.  I wish the 'board' had worked in our favour, like in 2012, when the best player available matched up well with our needs, and we grabbed Melvin Ingram, defensive lineman Kendall Reyes, and safety Brandon Taylor at the top of the draft, it was like hand in glove.

And of course I hope I'm proven dead wrong, as I was when I groused last season that grabbing D.J. Fluker, the fourth-best tackle in his class, and one who projected better as a right tackle rather than a left tackle, with the 11th overall draft choice, was a terrible decision.  I can only hope that all of these guys over-deliver, and are productive Chargers for years to come, and big contributors to a consistent winning team.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Grammar minute 3

Props to Mike Boone for his "About Last Night" column, and specifically for his use of the proper 'resilience', instead of the cromulent neologism 'resiliency', which is all the rage at HNIC and TSN, and with business consultants, a faux nouveau-speak buzzword that sounds smart, since it has a bunch of syllables and sounds cool, and Aaron Ward uses it, so it must be correct.

I'll bet that within a decade, we'll have talking heads and news anchors start to offer up the word 'resilienciness'.  It's coming.  It's inevitable.

'14 Playoffs Round 3, Game 4: Canadiens 2, Rangers 3 (OT)

A tough loss tonight for les Glorieux, 3-2 in overtime, in a game that they could have won to tie the series up at 2-2 and head back to Montréal with home ice advantage.  Instead, they're down 3-1, and need to win three straight to advance.  Nothing less will do.

The game started with an ugly undertone.  I had hoped that the series would feature skating and wide-open, gentlemanly play, a pleasant change from the idiots we had to play previously, but Chris Kreider barreling into Carey Price and injuring him took care of that.  It sent the average Habs' fan's persecution/martyr complex into overdrive, and that's understandable, especially given that it went unpenalized.  My personal narrative would include, offhand, Kyle McLaren on Richard Zednik, Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty, Milan Lucic on Mike Komisarek and on Alexei Emelin.  Dale Hunter.

Social media reflected this with conspiracy theories that held that Brandon Prust's hit didn't fracture Derek Stepan's jaw.  There's no way, he was yelling after the play, he wasn't bleeding, he finished the game, he was throwing bodychecks.  If anything, it must have been Mr. Stepan hitting the ice after the hit, not the hit itself, that broke his jaw.  The surgery he underwent must be bogus.  My brother-in-law broke his jaw and he couldn't talk, he had black eyes, how come Mr. Stepan didn't?  Paranoid fans wanted to see the initial X-ray so they could break it down like the Zapruder film.

We also saw Michel Therrien get drawn into a war of words over the course of the series against Alain Vigneault, fed by the numerous media sources present.  This reminds me of the playoffs last season against Ottawa, how things spun out of control in that aspect, how Paul McLean seemed more in control of himself, of his team, of the situation.  I much prefer the Michel Therrien from the first two rounds, who refused to comment on his lineup prior to a game, or on anything having to do with the opposition.  Against, the Bruins, he'd refer controversial questions to the other coach, to the League.

With this backdrop, the game started off in the Rangers' favour.  They seemed bigger, faster, stronger.  Our small players seemed easy to neutralize.  Our defencemen appeared vulnerable.  Again though, Dustin Tokarski kept our boys in the game, making save after save, until his teammates found their legs and their rhythm.

One way the Canadiens could have slowed down the Rangers forecheckers, dulled their temper, kept their elbows low and crosschecks few and far between, would have been for them to cash in some of their powerplay opportunities.  If the Rangers feared the Canadiens' man-advantage, they'd be more circumspect.  Rick Nash would put the brakes on when approaching the Canadiens' net, instead of going full-bore and crashing into our tender, and then feebly insisting to the refs and the net-cam that "...he pushed me!  He pushed me!", referring to Mike Weaver.

Unfortunately, the Canadiens scored only once in eight attempts on the powerplay, missing out on an opportunity to make the Rangers pay for their lack of discipline, and to make Benoit Pouliot the goat of this series, bring him back to his old self, his former role he used to inhabit so well.

Another area the Rangers dominated was the faceoff circle.  David Desharnais, notably, was much improved in the last few games in this area, but really struggled tonight.  Time and again, the Canadiens would have a faceoff in the offensive zone and a chance to generate some offence, but would lose the draw and see the puck cleared out promptly.

Still, the game turned into a tossup, and could have gone our way.  We can rue the crossbar hit by Alex Galchenyuk, but so can the Rangers look back to a few missed golden chances to score themselves.  Martin St. Louis had his pocket picked a couple of times by Dustin Tokarski.  Until it mattered, when left all alone on Mr. Tokarski's left, he had lots of time to pick the absolute top corner on the near side, and put an end to the game.

Les boys have two days to lick their wounds and win the next game, at home, in the New Forum.  We're there now.  We have to take it one game at a time.

Friday, 23 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 3, Game 3: Canadiens 3, Rangers 2 (OT)

After losing two straight games in the warm confines of home, your 2014 Montréal Canadiens went against script and got one back from the New York Rangers on the road, winning in overtime 3-2.  Alex Galchenyuk, freshly back from a knee injury layoff, went to the net and banked a rebound off his shin, uh, chin, from the stick of Tomas Plekanec, who had been somnolent offensively so far in this series.

I feel like I have to make amends to various actors and players, apologize, eat a healthy serving of crow.  As a fan, I'm supposed to believe, and psyche up my team, from a distance, telepathically.  I think it works through the noosphere somehow.  Synchronicity.  Yeah, that's it.

First of all, I stopped believing in my team once Carey got injured.  I threw in the towel possibly before it was even announced that he was gone from the series.  It looked bad.  Even if he kept playing, would he be 100%?  I was protecting myself from the certain series loss, telling myself I didn't care that much anyhow, eliminating the Bruins was all I really needed to keep me nourished emotionally.  I was already looking forward to the summer moves, the draft.

I didn't believe in Dustin Tokarski.  Sorry young dude, but you look small in net.  After years of seeing giants Ben Bishop and Pekka Rinne and Jakob Markstrom eclipsing any mesh behind them, it's jarring to see wee Dustin crouched in there during play, and especially on slow-mo replays.  I haven't seen that much cage since "Deadliest Catch".  

Even when I tried to convince myself that he may have a corresponding advantage in terms of agility, quickness, I couldn't get there.  A Don Beaupré or Jocelyn Thibault needs to be miraculous, unerring, while a Robin Lehner just needs to be show up, and cover 95% of the goal area just by standing there.

I didn't believe in the fight in the team anymore.  I thought they'd surrender with Carey no longer in the ranks.

I didn't believe that David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty could find another gear.  David has been a giant, often the best forward on the ice for the Habs, darting all over and creating headaches for defencemen.  He hasn't backed down, hasn't shied away from contact,  he's put up with the crosschecks and the slashes.  

And Max, who often falls back on old habits, cruising where the opposition isn't, looking for open space so as to get his shot off, has added another layer to his game.  I didn't think he could, or would, but he has started to fight through the tangles, to win puck battles along the boards.  He's adapted, finished a few checks instead of skating by after the puck, investing for later on, putting the idea in opposing players that they'll get thumped later on.

Michel Therrien I thought had gone to the well once too often.  He's taken some bold decisions since he took over, in terms of goalie starts, healthy scratches, line combos, but I thought this Hail Mary, of going to his AHL goalie, was verging on histrionics.  Unseemly.  Just put your veteran in there and lose with honour, I thought.  Keep your composure.  Don't Leask Manoeuvre yourself.

But the Head Coach has been clear that this wasn't just a hunch he played, but rather a group decision with the coaches and management team reviewing both of his goalies' track records and recent performances.  It wasn't just betting on youth, trying to capture another Steve Penney or Jaro Halak bit of lightning in a bottle.

So I watched last night's game as a formality, an obligation for a true fan, but not expecting a win.  I might have even hoped for a quick, merciful end, a sweep, so I could get on with my summer.  And I expected the dam to break, when the Rangers were pelting the Habs goalie with rubber, that the inevitable would come. 

The Carl Hagelin goal, a cheapie bounce/bunt after a last-ditch effort from Josh Gorges, but precipitated by the Rangers' team, was to be the first of many, I thought.  

The Habs stayed in it though.  The saves accumulated, and they absorbed the blows, and scored a beautiful team goal to tie it up.  Alexei Emelin rubs out a Ranger behind his goal, passes the puck up to David Desharnais, who takes a hit to push the puck up to Max and Brendan who streak up the ice.  Max takes it up the left wing in the offensive zone while Brendan goes to the net.  Max finds Andrei Markov on the right side with a great pass, and Andrei one-times it past Henrik Lundqvist.

There was talk on both sides of lucky or bad bounces.  Let's agree that both teams got lucky on their second goals, but they weren't fluky, they happened because they were taking the play to the other guys.  And the same goes for the overtime goal.  Lucky bounce, sure.  I hope Alex doesn't have too big of a bruise on his face this morning, for the sake of his teenybopper fans.  But it happened because of a fundamentally sound play, with a veteran taking a good shot on net, not really thinking it will get through, but hoping for a rebound or deflection.

Some heat, some controversy in the game too.  Brandon Prust put a late-ish hit on Derek Stepan, and though he hit the body the Rangers head snapped forward, so there was contact to the head as a result.  Mr. Stepan laid on the ice for a long stretch, and it looked bad, but then he jumped up and revived miraculously.  Maybe it's the fact that there wasn't a penalty called, but suddenly he was sharp, agitated, shouting threats.  

I wish players didn't feel they had to act injured to get a call.  You can't pick apart which are real and which are drama.  I was leaning to the latter, but now we get word that Derek Stepan has a broken jaw.  So, yeah, sorry about that.

Colin Campbell, you ridiculous, inept fool, take care of this.  First, assure players that they'll get the call, when they're restrained, hooked, hit from behind, they don't have to fall or feign injury.  Tell your refs to make the calls, never mind Don Cherry.  Whether a player falls to the ice shouldn't be the determining factor on whether a player was fouled.

Then, announce that embellishing is cheating, it's not gamesmanship, and it won't be tolerated, winked at as a strategy, a means to an end.  It's a fundamental attack on the game, like PED's.  It calls the honesty and fairness of the game in question.  That anyone deemed to have exaggerated their reaction, based on subsequent video review, will be suspended.  You will be caught.

The diving, the over-reacting, the Bruins-ing, it would disappear overnight if these simple steps were taken.  Fans wouldn't be so polarized, crying foul when their own player was the victim, but calling opponents fakers.

Hockey needs to address this, so that it doesn't fall into disrepute, like soccer is with the average North American fan.  That sport is harmed by the perception that players are overly dramatic, fall at the merest contact, and roll around on the turf clutching their knee when there's nothing wrong with them.  

Another noteworthy event was the ejection of Dan Carcillo for abuse of an official.  While Brandon Prust was fighting Derek Dorsett, who was trying to avenge Derek Stepan, Dan Carcillo was restrained by a linesman.  For whatever reason, the Ranger pushed/crosschecked/punched the official a couple times at least.  This is a great opportunity for the sport to rid itself of that clown for a long, long time.  I say suspend him three or four seasons.

So the Canadiens have assured themselves of another game at the New Forum, and get a little bit of momentum, a little bit of confidence.  Maybe they planted a seed of doubt in the opponents.  And my prediction that we'd win in four still looks precarious, but now I won't give up hope.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Beyond Dustin Tokarski and Peter Budaj

Comedy during the Michel Therrien presser: at the three-minute mark, a reporter asks him a "technical question", wondering what the reason is behind having Mike Condon in New York, and on the ice as a third goalie during the morning skate.

He answered "We have the right to have a third goalie for emergencies, and our options were either Patrick Langlois, the assistant equipment manager, or Mike Condon, so we decided to go with Mike."

The case of Devan Dubnyk was also raised, why he wasn't in the mix with Carey Price injured, and Michel Therrien explained that he decided to go home rather than stick with the Black Aces, so the team decided not to bring him back.  There was a hint of a smirk as he explained that, so we can probably deduce that Mr. Dubnyk didn't win himself any brownie points with that decision, and that he won't be back next season.

It does make me wonder again though, how do these guys get paid?  The Black Aces are not playing AHL any more, they're not earning a salary, and I don't think they're eligible for the playoff bonuses that the Canadiens players will get.  Are these guys practicing for free right now?  If you're a kid trying to claw your way up to the bigs, maybe that flies, but I understand Devan Dubnyk, with a newborn at home, choosing to go home.

Review: "Future Greats and Heartbreaks" by Gare Joyce

"Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts" by Gare Joyce is a terrific read for an NHL fan, especially those interested in the NHL Draft, and revisiting them years after they occur.

And that is a big reason for the pleasure I had reading this book, that it was written in 2006 and 2007, and centres on the NHL drafts of these seasons.  When I first picked it up, I thought that it might be dated, stale, but in fact it's the complete opposite.  Had I read it when it was published, it still would have been entertaining and informative, but doing so a half-dozen years afterward gives the reader the benefit of hindsight, a filter through which to digest what was reported at the time.

The author is a journalist who covered hockey for the Globe and Mail, and professes to have always been fascinated by the world of scouting, the fraternity of hockey men who don't get the spotlight but on who the fortunes of an NHL franchise are founded.  He decides that he wants to follow NHL scouts throughout a whole season, from one draft to another, and puts out feelers to various NHL teams that he'd like to have access to their boardrooms as they draw up their 'list' of draftable prospects and generally do their work.

He is mostly rebuffed by every team he approaches.  They are obviously leery of divulging trade secrets, some inside information, and breaching confidentiality with respect to certain issues, certain players.  He does luck out eventually though, and is given the green light by the Columbus Blue Jackets and their General Manager Doug McLean.

Mr. McLean is described as not shying away from the limelight, as gregarious rather than secretive, and it's observed that he sees as part of his duties as GM that he should sell the game, so he spends a lot of time doing interviews with the media.  Years later, with hockey fans familiar with his work as an analyst on Sportsnet, we can see that the author hit this one out of the park.

So very quickly we're inside the Blue Jackets' war room as they discuss their list for the 2006 draft, at the draft combine appraising cattle, in the interview room as they meet with potential draft picks.  And it's fascinating.  The players who are being considered, the names that are floated, are huge stars now, or well-known busts, or players who never really made it on the radar, and it's engrossing.

One quick hit: Erik John son is accepted as being the best player, the unquestioned #1 choice overall.  Jordan Staal is almost universally seen as the #2 prospect.  Jonathan Toews is the consensus #3.  There is a lot of discussion about the remaining prospects, but aside from a perfunctory discussion, how Jordan Staal at 18 is already physically stronger than his 20 year old brother Eric is currently, how young Mr. Toews could surprise you even though he's not a 'gamebreaker', the Top 3 are set.  They're no-brainers.  No one seriously considers anyone but Erik John son as the #1 overall pick.  They think St. Louis is leaning towards John son, but if the Jackets were picking first, they wouldn't think twice.

Another: We're told that the previous year, the Columbus team, holder of the sixth pick overall, "got a draft-day present" when Montréal decided to select Carey Price at #5, opening the way for the Blue Jackets to select Gilbert Brulé, who they "snap up", in their haste to not miss out on such a promising player.  The Canadiens' decision is even more of a headscratcher we're told, since they are described as being "set for years in nets" with the emergence of goalie José Théodore.

It's all endlessly entertaining.  The interviews give insight into how some prospects are already becoming the players we now know, how others still have a lot of development to do so.

Of special interest is all the questions regarding Phil Kessel prior to the 2006 draft, about his talent, but also his mental makeup, the way he interacts with his teammates, his conditioning.  Prior to reading, I knew the bare bones of his story, his reticence with the media, his struggle with cancer, but lots of the whispers and allusions we hear now about Mr. Kessel are more openly discussed in this book.  There are lots of questions about his dedication to his career, his professionalism, about how good a teammate he is and will be.

Reading along, I understood why the Bruins might have been inclined to sell so soon after picking him, and why the trade to the Leafs happened.  Boston historically has not hesitated to trade away talented players who didn't fit in with their team philosphy, with other examples like Joe Thornton and Tyler Séguin.  Of all the players left on the board, Phil Kessel might have been too talented to pass up when the Bruins' turn to pick came, but after a couple of seasons they must have realized that he would never be a Bruin, so, like in 'The Germans' episode of the Simpsons, you had one side desperate to buy, one side desperate to sell.  But the way the poker hand played out eventually, advantage Bruins.

There is so much more of interest, especially to Canadiens fans, how David Fischer is not even on the Jackets' list of draftable players, how highly they think of Claude Giroux, how Ben Maxwell is often mentioned, but Milan Lucic barely if at all.

There's the way Tom Sestito zooms up their list when, despite having been scouted assiduously during the season and given an 'objective' grade, one scout speaks up during a free-for-all and says how much he likes him, because he 'plays the right way', he's big, tough, he's a banger, he's old-school.  As a result, although he was originally given a fourth or fifth-round grade, he's bumped up to the second round on their list.  Whether that says a lot about the inexact science that is scouting, how subjective it is, or more about what kind of an organization Columbus was under Doug McLean, I can't say.

Mr. Joyce is at the draft itself and is witness to some of the misdirection and games that are played.  He describes how overjoyed the Blue Jackets are, after some manoeuvring, to get Tom Sestito in the third round, 85th overall, how he 'fell' to them, and what a 'steal' he is.  After all, he's a second rounder, they got him in the late third...

After the draft, Gare Joyce now goes around the world 'scouting' prospects for the 2007 draft, in the CHL, and at the Under-18's and the World Junior Championships.  He's not actually going to work as a scout for the team, but will touch base with them over the year, at big tournaments, to keep his finger on the pulse.  During the year, he develops a plan to do a 'background check' on a list of players that Columbus may be interested on, using some of his journalistic skills: calling family members, teachers, coaches, etc.  It's not clear how much the team was interested in this, or to what degree they were placating him.

The focus of the narrative is on a few players, one being Angelo Esposito.  We see how he starts the year as the putative #1 overall choice, but already there are rumblings about ill-defined issues like character, effort, leadership.  It's all very tenuous, and Mr. Joyce makes a point of describing how the draftees know what's being said about them, how much pressure they're under their draft year, to perform, and to perform at the right time, when the right scouts are in attendance.

Another player who gets a lot of coverage is Akim Aliu, who spent some time with the Bulldogs in October 2013 on a Professional Try-Out contract, before being released.  In that short time, we learned a few things about this young man, and the book fleshes out a lot of his back story.  So much of what we read in the book, where his career seems to be heading at the time, is borne out in hindsight, and it's hard not to feel badly about the outcome.  Not that his career is definitely over, but after getting a chance from the ex-Chicago brain trust of Marc Bergevin and Rick Dudley, and not being able to turn that opportunity into something, his prospects now seem dim.

Of course, Ryan McDonagh is one of the stars of the 2006-07 draft class, his name comes up numerous times, along with Max Pacioretty.  If P.K. Subban was mentioned, it was only once or twice.  I kept waiting for the long segment on him, but I guess he fell through the cracks of Gare Joyce's scouting odyssey.

Patrick Kane, James Van Riemsdyk, Kyle Turris, etc, etc, they're all there, in all their glory.  They shine, they befuddle, they're too small, they're too slow, they're all tremendous prospects, and the next page they're tremendously flawed.

One player who gets a lot of love from the author is Olivier Fortier, who was eventually drafted in the third round by the Habs.  I had stopped actively following the Canadiens for a long stretch during this time period, and when I got back into it at the start of the 2009 season, I checked out the team and the farm system.  His was a name that I'd see on the roster, with underwhelming stats in the AHL.  After a couple of poor seasons, and his contract expiring, I advocated online that we should cut the cord, that he'd probably not pan out, and was surprised at how many defenders he had.  Now that I've read "Future Greats and Heartbreaks", I understand why so many fans were in his camp, and I am sorry that he never managed to break through, due to injuries among other factors.

As the season winds down, we head into the draft process itself, with again interviews and the combine and other such events, but unfortunately by then, with the Blue Jackets finishing out another disappointing season, there's a shakeup in the management team, and Doug McLean is ousted.  Gare Joyce's permission to be 'in the room' is rescinded by the new régime, and it's unfortunate that we don't get to see how the process shakes out once again, with a whole year of scouting and backroom intrigue to chew on.

Nevertheless, that's not enough to detract significantly from the book, it's still a page turner.  The author is in attendance at the draft, but not at the Columbus table.  He's seated close enough to the Columbus crew that he can chat with them, and he gives us another good report of what transpires.  Again, the hindsight doesn't spoil the fun, it adds to it.

So I have no qualms whatsoever in recommending this book to fans of the Canadiens or hockey fans, especially those who like to follow the draft and pick over the past.  It's a great book on a subject many fans would love to learn more about, but which we are often shut out of.  A great read, your only complaint might be that it's over too quickly.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Crosby is brandondubinsky-ed. Carey Price is kreidered. The NHL must decide to protect, promote its stars.

Great article on all the hacking and slashing and goonery Sidney Crosby has to put up with, linking it with Mario Lemieux's famous call to end the clutch and grab and violence.

I think the Carey Price takeout, twinned with the abuse Sid the Kid had to endure from Brandon Dubinsky, may be a seminal moment in the NHL.  Sure, there are lots of the usual suspects who say it's just the normal playoff warfare, but a significant chorus of dissenters is being heard.

Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province was forceful in his denunciation of the play, and the effect it has had in the series and playoffs in general.  He makes the very cogent point that what could have been a memorable series between two high-profile goalies at the top of their game was taken away from fans, from customers.  He said his interest in the series is now nil, the result a foregone conclusion.

The Canadiens may be the least desirable team of the four remaining in contention in terms of the American marketplace, but the strongest the league could have hoped for in terms of the 'smaller' markets (better than Ottawa, Winnipeg, Columbus, Carolina, ...).  The Montréal Canadiens have an appeal as a glorious franchise and an Original Six team, they're an easy sell.

Hockey is often described as a 'local' sport, whereby fans tune in to watch their team in the playoffs, but then lose interest once it's eliminated.  Part of the blame goes to scheduling and a overly long season, people prefer being outside in May and June.

Compare that to football, where people watch the NFL playoffs because there will be exciting games, no matter the participants.  Even when the Detroit Lions are eliminated, the Detroit market will still tune in.  You don't need to be a Patriots or Broncos fan to enjoy a game featuring Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

The ratings this year were very strong from Wildcard weekend on, aided by the buzz generated by amazing games.  The NFL is not local, it's national, fans from all markets watch right to the end, when literally everyone watches the Super Bowl.

One way for the NHL to approach this level of success is to have stories to tell, stars to showcase.  More than a decade after he's retired, Wayne Gretzky is possibly the best-known hockey player in the U.S.  That's the fault of the suits in New York, who allow Mike Milbury to set the tone,. Grinding and checking take precedence over creating stars.  The NBA are all in on LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, whereas the NHL allow stifling defensive play, thuggery and Brad Marchand to succeed.

So yes, the NHL may have its dream L.A.-New York series as a final, but it also could have generated huge buzz with a Western Final pitting the Blackhawks, the current Stanley Cup winners from the third-largest market, against the Kings, and an Eastern Final between the glitzy Rangers and the storied Habitants, featuring the two marketable star goalies, King Henrik and Olympic gold medalist Carey Price.  It could have had huge ratings for the semis AND the finals, had Carey Price not been knocked out of the series on an unpenalized play.

But the NHL suicidally, boneheadedly deprived itself of that, and I hope that it registers in the, uh, cash registers, and that there's enough bad publicity about what can be characterized as a shrewd contract hit on one of its stars, that it will rouse the NHL from its slumber, and force it to act.  Before Nathan McKinnon is knee-on-kneed by Raffi Torres or elbowed by Jordin Tootoo and loses half a season or more.

I can only hope that the criticism is heard loud and clear at NHL head offices, and that there is a tangible effect on ratings, that show up on Gary Bettman's spreadsheet.  If there's a clear drop in viewership, less revenue flowing in, maybe it'll spur him to act, not for love of the game, but out of the fear of lost profit.

The NHL has already wasted the Wayne Gretzky-Mario Lemieux era, and is well on its way to doing the same with what should have been another golden age, the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry years.  Maybe it can get its frigging house in order, and we can enjoy the next decade as the McKinnon-Drouin-McDavid hockey explosion.  And not see them fall to unfortunate 'accidents' and 'heat-of-the-moment' regrettable plays, and we instead rue what might have been.

Pension Plan Puppets are funny when making fun of Leafs, scary when dealing with the Canadiens

I wonder why some media heads or fans don't like the Canadiens, hate them in fact.  I know why Don Cherry doesn't, or P.J. Stock, but why the odd average fan?  The Canadiens don't have a Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand triumverate of evil, they don't have any Steve Otts or Matt Cooks.  They divested themselves of Maxim Lapierres and Mike Ribeiros.  So with the Habs, you have a decent, hard-working team with lots of good personalities, mostly populated with nice guys like Brendan Gallagher and Francis Bouillon and P.K. Subban.

And then I run across this article from Pension Plan Puppets, who can be quite funny when they're tearing apart their own team.  This one however, is so over-the-top irrational, it doesn't serve to illuminate the reasons, but does give us a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Maple Leaf fans, you would think, after decades of Harold Ballard and Carlo Colaiacovo and John Brophy, would be able to recognize a quality organization by contrast, and give credit when it's due a team that's playing well and having success.  You would think that they'd be able to tip their hat to a team that managed to do what they couldn't last season, which is beat the Bruins, in a seven game series, and not choke it away.

You would be wrong.  And to twist the facts for their purposes, they don't stop at merely stating that the Chris Kreider job on Carey Price wasn't voluntary or reckless, but merely a good hockey play gone wrong.  Rather, they conflate this incident with how savagely Brian Gionta brushed by James Reimer outside his crease, and offer that up as proof that the Canadiens fans don't think clearly and are hypocritical.

So yeah, maybe Leafs fans are a lost cause.  The Stockholm Syndrome set in during the Borje Salming years and hasn't dissipated, but only grown stronger, deeper, more twisted.

Memorial Cup: Guelph Storm 7, London Knights 2

This game got out of hand early, the Guelph Storm being as predicted too much for the stalled London Knights.  The Storm won relatively easily by a 7-2 score, and my thumb got a workout on the remote control, hitting the 'Skip' button early and often.

I decided to concentrate on Canadiens prospect Michael McCarron, and noticed that he was in the roster as the right wing on the third line to start the game, as opposed to centering the fourth line as we've seen previously in this tournament.  Despite this bit of good news, things didn't start well for Mike, getting scored on twice in the first period, although one goal was on a penalty kill.

Generally, Mike has okay hands, he's not just a big strong guy with no skill like a Derek Boogard or John Scott, certainly.  He can take a pass and make one, but he's definitely not nifty, he benefits by playing it simple, shooting the puck, putting it on net, or failing that, just off the boards and deep in the zone, and then going after it.  He works hard, he definitely tries, effort is not an issue.  He finishes his checks, he gets in there, he's very willing.

His skating will definitely need to improve.  He needs a few strides to get up to speed, and then he's loath to lose the speed he generated, so he cruises around looking for a pass, a loose puck, a chance for a big hit.  He backchecks and protects his net, his positioning may need work, but that will come with experience.  He's definitely not floating, it's just that he's not a quick stop-and-start skater, and at his size that's understandable.

One player I noticed in the game is Bo Horvat, since I read a couple of articles in Vancouver papers that claim he will be in the Canucks' lineup in the fall, it's all but guaranteed.  The thinking is that the team isn't deep in forwards, they had a patchworked fourth line this year, kind of like when the Canadiens would work in a Frédéric St. Denis or a Yannick Weber, an Aaron Palushaj, a Mike Blunden on their fourth line two seasons ago.  So you may as well bring up a youngster, one who'll play a big role in the future, and let him learn the ropes on the job, to play him lots at a young age since he's not taking a better player's spot, he's not taking shifts away from players who give you a better chance to win.

Which is fine if the player you're targeting for such duty seems to have nothing left to learn in Junior, seems to be beyond that level, and appears NHL ready.  To make an easy example, Nathan McKinnon last season in the Memorial Cup seemed very ready, it didn't take a great leap to envision him in the NHL.  Meanwhile, that's not the case for Bo Horvat.  I didn't see a player who couldn't benefit from a season or two in the AHL.  Especially when applying the Marc Bergevin standard, that a young player has to make the decision for you, to force you to keep him on your big league roster, I didn't see that in this tournament.

So yeah, the Canucks don't have a Michaël Bournival or a Gabriel Dumont on their farm team, a kid who chomping at the bit for a bigger role, who are ready for a bottom 6 role immediately, but I still don't see that they should plop Bo Horvat in their lineup as a result.  They should think about getting a couple of very cheap veterans on short-term contracts in free agency this summer, and let their prospect fight his way up, earn his role.  Just because they have a hole in their roster, because they need bodies, shouldn't mean they parachute a kid in their roster, especially in light of a so-so Memorial Cup tournament.

The Sportsnet crew, while watching the debacle unfold, suggested that maybe the Knights' young pros, the guys who've been on an NHL path for a long time and were taking a third straight kick at the Memorial Cup, may have been 'over it', already looking forward to this summer's rookie camps with their respective teams, more preoccupied with the NHL rather than the CHL, and it got me thinking too.  There certainly didn't seem to be the fire, the emotion, the desperation in their performance.  Had the novelty, the meaningfulness of a Memorial Cup worn off for them?  It's certainly food for thought, although we might want to look at more proximate causes for their quick exit, like poor goaltending, for example, and the deflating effect that might have had.

One player who caught one's eye was Josh Anderson, the big winger who's a property of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  His game went a little more like what we'd have liked from Michael McCarron this season.  On one sequence, he skated into the Guelph zone with his teammates, and he carried the puck, got into position to make a good shot on net, then picked up the rebound and roofed it on a nifty backhand.  Later on, during a third period powerplay, he got off a few good shots on net, including a laser off the crossbar.  He showed great agility and fluidity on his skates, and good ability to create chances with the puck.

Of course, he has had one more development year than Michael has, it's his third season in the OHL, and he played on the World Junior team for Canada this January, so we can't make a direct comparison.  At 6'3" and 212 lbs, he's also not as gigantic, he's further removed from his growth spurt, so he's got that advantage, no wonder he's more ballerina less offensive tackle.

Mike had some up and down moments in the second.  He failed to clear his zone a couple of times on one sequence, which means he was bottled up with his teammates for a long, long shift before they could finally change.  On the very next one though, he entered the zone on a rush and he headed straight for the net, waiting for a pass or deflection, and caused a traffic jam in front of the goalie, as the Storm defencemen panicked and tried to contain him.

In the third, with Dale Hunter feeling the game and the tournament getting away, he again was juggling his lines, and Mike played at centre for a couple of shifts, but really came close to scoring when partnered with Bo Horvat.  On one shift he fought for the puck in a corner and passed to Mr. Horvat in the slot for a great chance to score.  Most shifts in the third, Mike would be around the net, sticking his nose in for a rebound, batting at them, making a couple of dekes to try to slide it by the goalie or through a scrum.  He'd get multiple scoring opportunities in one brief scramble, that he helped create by drawing the defencemen's attention.

And this is what gives me more hope, that he seems to play better when partnered with better players.  That seems like a truism, everyone plays better with better linemates obviously, but in his case, his size and strength and effort might be better used with a couple of linemates who can do the fancy work with the puck, do something with it after Mike digs it out of the corner, or cash it in when he's causing mayhem in front of the net.  There's a synergy there, a chance for complementary skills to feed off each other.

It's like the Canucks envisioned when the traded for big right winger Zach Kassian, he'd be the big winger who clicked with the Sedins, with his 'very particular set of skills'.  Not that he's necessarily a better player than Alex Burrows or Jannik Hansen, but that he might be a better fit on that line, his weaknesses would be offset by their strengths, and vice-versa.  Now, this hasn't yet come to pass in Vancouver, but that's the long-term strategy, the grand design.

And that's what we can hope for Michael.  He didn't have an easy adaptation to the OHL, he certainly didn't have an Anthony Mantha kind of season, but we can hope that in our organization, with the prospect mix we currently have, and with the troglodytic opponents we regularly face, that he'll mesh well in our organization and thrive.  We've had success using skills and abilities of players more effectively than their previous teams with guys like Mike Weaver and Dale Weise.  Conversely, we've seen players who used to be comfortable and productive in one system lose their mojo in another, with Dave Clarkson as an obvious example.

So all in all, not a great year for Michael McCarron, we could have and did hope for more, but he's a big kid who's still growing and learning, and has a long summer ahead of him to work hard and improve, and then another season in the OHL to polish up his skills, work his way up a roster and acquire more responsibility.  His calling card, the reason he was drafted by the Canadiens, his great size, that's not going away, that wasn't a mirage.  We now get to be patient and wait for him to arrive, and see how we can fit him in our lineups in the AHL and eventually the NHL, with good linemates who'll feed off him and benefit him in return.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 3, Game 2: Canadiens 1, Rangers 3

The Canadiens, missing their "best player" according to Head Coach Michel Therrien, took it to the Rangers early in the game and scored the first goal, but their energy flagged and they came out on the losing end of a 3-1 decision against the Rangers.

The coaching staff decided to go with Dustin Tokarski to replace their star goalie Carey Price, and he didn't play badly.  The first goal deflected off Josh Gorges right in front of him.  The second came on a three-on-two off the stick of Rick Nash, so kind of hard to fault him on that.  The third was from Martin St. Louis, on a powerplay that shouldn't have been awarded to the Rangers, it came on a completely unintentional trip from Alex Galchenyuk, if not a dive from Carl Hagelin.

Still, this is where Carey Price makes a difference.  While Mr. Tokarski didn't look bad on any goal, he finished with a .900 save percentage.  Carey might have made one or two of his miraculous saves.  He might have inspired his teammates to play with a little more confidence, more hope, more determination.  The Rangers might have had a little more doubt, might have rushed their plays, like the Bruins did.

The Canadiens started the game like lions, applying pressure, generating chances, and Henrik Lundquist looked very beatable, kicking out juicy rebounds.  Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais were giants despite their size, skating and buzzing around the Ranger zone, dishing out hits.  They manufactured the first goal by Max Pacioretty with their forecheck and passing.

Trouble is, less than a minute later, Ryan McDonagh's wrist shot from the side boards banked in off Josh, and you could feel the air being let out of the balloon a little bit.

The rest of the game, the Canadiens may have felt like the Bruins did the last series.  They directed a lot of rubber on the opposition net, but the other team was more opportunistic, cashing in more of their chances.  The goalie they were facing kept stopping pucks.

Overall, the game was more entertaining than some of the slugging that happened in the previous series.  I didn't cringe constantly when a Canadien headed into a corner.  The game was more end-to-end, more of a skating affair.  Daniel Carcillo is much more digestible than Brad Marchand, and the same goes for Brian Boyle and Sean Thornton.

I don't want to point fingers too much, but I think tonight's game seals the question of whether we should sign Thomas Vanek long-term.  Even when he was firing on all cylinders with David and Max, I feared the numbers being thrown around, six, seven, maybe eight years, at six, seven, eight million per.  For a 30 year old, that seemed very unwise.  I wanted to wait for the playoffs and evaluate then.  

My evaluation is fairly complete now.  Nice guy, but not worth what he will cost.  A team like the Penguins or the Bruins, maybe the 'Hawks might be able to carry him on their roster, their depth and talent might allow them to hide him in their lineup when he's not producing.  Our team isn't there yet.  And I don't want that cap hit on our books when he hits his mid-thirties.

One other thing I'd have liked to have seen is for the Canadiens to crash the crease a little more.  René Bourque, Lars Eller, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher on at least a couple of occasions, they could have taken the puck to the net with authority, with speed, and if the defencemen hooked or somehow contacted them, and it caused them to crash into Henrik Lundqvist, so be it.  My caveman side was coming out.  They started this feud.  They drew first blood.

Instead, all the Canadiens forwards seemed to be able to steer away from contact, to hit the brakes.  No one was caused to tilt backward and go in skates first, like Dave Parker trying to break up a double-play at second base.  Strange.

So a semi-solid effort, the Canadiens didn't get the bounces, the goals, the saves, the powerplay opportunities, in the right amounts to add up to a win.  

And now we head to New York, and we'll have to see what the coaching staff have in their bag of tricks, and what our team have in their heart and their guts.  We get to see if they can turn this series around, dig themselves out of this big hole.

Or else Gary Bettman's dream final of New York versus either Chicago or Los Angeles will be confirmed but quick.

Monday, 19 May 2014

NHL injures Carey Price; Lucy pulls football away before Charlie Brown kicks the football

Carey Price is lost due to injury for at least the rest of this series against the New York Rangers.  Radio yammerers right now are talking about retribution, explicitly stopping short of a Todd Bertuzzi on Steve Moore situation, but of 'sending a strong message', by bodychecking Chris Kreider somehow.  Or of making sure the Canadiens make Henrik Lundqvist equally uncomfortable.

Days like this, along with the day Zdeno Chara was cleared of any supplemental discipline for his 'hit' on Max Pacioretty that knocked him out for the season, or any day of any of the three recent NHL lockouts, that Gary Bettman assured us would ensure the very survival of the league, and lower ticket prices for everyone, they make me wonder why I invest myself in this whole charade.

For years the NHL has allowed coaches to stifle the game with defensive systems, and enabled grinders and tough guys and fourth-line 'energy guys' to hook and hack and slash and board and knee more talented down to their level.  The league has watched scoring totals creep down year after year, after the post-2005 lockout dead-cat bounce, brought about by the crackdown on obstruction.

But cheating has invaded the league, and we're seeing 2-1 or 1-0 games described as "tight defensive hockey", as being closely fought, instead of being boring, frustrating exhibitions of massing defenders at the blue line, of dump and chase.  The sport is an exercise in frustration, a succession of offsides.

The analysts, the reporters, the networks who cover the NHL are bought and paid for, they're fearful of endangering their access, so they don't rock the boat.  Ron McLean is a little too pointed in his questioning of Gary Bettman, and his network loses Hockey Night in Canada a few seasons later.  They learn.  Chairs that used to be filled by Dick Irvin and René Lecavalier now get offered to Mike Milbury and P.J. Stock.

When Matt Cooke injures another player with another dirty late hit, all the panel members furrow their brow and bemoan the situation, then opine that he should miss three or four games.  It's the playoffs after all.  Dylan Kleibold and Eric Harris, yeah maybe they get more, maybe up to ten games.  That's intolerable, the league should send a strong message.

The language gets denatured, in Orwellian fashion.  Interminable scrums along the boards are renamed 'cycling the puck'.  A centreman is supposed to 'get his man' after a draw.  Nathan McKinnon scores a goal during last year's Memorial Cup, and Sportsnet goon Nick Kypreos upbraids defender Seth Jones for not making an effort to "chop him down, to get a stick on him, to let him know you're there."  Delay of game penalties for flipping the puck in the stands are getting out of hand they fuss, there should be some latitude.  Refs should be able to overlook that call in Game 7's, or in playoff games, or tight games, or when the defender didn't really mean to do it.

So the NHL highlight reel contains less and less of the Patrick Kane "How did he do that?" goals, of the Evgeni Malkin weaving through opponents with the puck before roofing it past a hapless goalie.  We get instead pinball goals, that bounce through a thicket of shotblockers and goalie screeners.  We get goals during a mad scramble, with unrestrained slashing at the puck/sticks/legs/goalie mitts by both sides, while Pierre Houde shouts "La mêlée qui éclate..." and Bob Cole shouts "Everything is happening!..."

The NHL head office seeks to increase goal scoring, but does so by drips and drabs.  They hand over rule making and rule changes to General Managers, famously conservative men who are heavily invested in the current system.  Their farm teams are replete with checkers, crashers and bangers, with Eric Grybas and Jarred Tinordis.

Instead of ensuring that the best players will be allowed to ply their craft unfettered, they mess around with the hand pass, experiment with faceoffs.  They consider Brian Burke's 'bear hug' proposal.  They enact tough sanctions against slew-footing, against goalies using their blockers to punch an opponent, then howl when their team is assessed that very penalty.  So slew-footing is never actually slew-footing.  It's tripping, or more likely goes unnoticed, it's part of a scramble in front of the net.  You can't call everything.  Where would all the penalized players sit?

So we stay with the status quo.  And scrambles get more and more frequent.  Forwards skate through the goalie's crease for no real reason at all, except to 'get in his kitchen, get him off his game'.  They bump the goalie, prevent him from making a save, get in his way, and then it's a coin flip as to whether interference gets called.  There's no standard, it's subjective.  No one is ever happy.

The Euros are crazy though, the IIHF has this rule that prevents forwards from being in the blue paint, it's an automatic penalty.  Well we tried that before, everyone remember Brett Hull's toe in the crease?

So to get the goalie off his game, Milan Lucic runs Ryan Miller.  Then Jordin Tootoo does it.  We parse the intent, the effect on the game.  We get inured to the number of collisions.  Our tolerance increases.  It's not as bad as the old days, I tell ya, Don Cherry offers.

And we get to today.  After a visibly diminished Sidney Crosby gets knocked out of the playoffs after being brandondubinskied, now Carey Price is out too.  Alex Ovechkin's gets knee-on-kneed in the World Championships.  Marc Savard is still on the injured list.

Prediction:  The GM's will in their summer meetings seek to agree on tough new rules against running the goalie.  But discussions will bog down.  The Calgary Flames will want to enact an 'embrace the goalie' escape clause to reduce contact.  Ron Hextall will want to do away with the rules forbidding goalies from punching with their blockers, so they can self-regulate matters.  A significant faction will advocate for a zone around the net where crosschecking by defencemen is tolerated.  Explicitly tolerated, instead of the current practice.  And nothing will be done.  But look for amendments to the hand-pass rule.

So yeah, on days like this, days like today, I wonder why I bother with the NHL.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Memorial Cup: Edmonton Oil Kings 5, London Knights 2

  1. Did anyone know that Lars Eller's little brother Mads plays for the Oil Kings?  Because if I knew that before, I quickly forgot it.  The last I remember hearing from him, he'd gone undrafted in the NHL Draft last summer.  
  2. As a consolation prize, he got picked up by the Oil Kings in the third round of the CHL draft in July this year.  He also played for Denmark in the World Junior Tournament, but they were in the 'A' tournament, which was held in Poland.  They won it, and will be in the main tournament in Toronto/Montréal next January, so we can see Mads playing then.
  3. Mads is on the left wing on the third line for Edmonton.
  4. Michael McCarron bangs deep in the Oil King zone on his first shift of the game, and works the puck loose for a couple of decent shots/whacks at the net.
  5. He's penciled in as the fourth line centre for the Knights, but the announcers make the point that Head Coach Dale Hunter will mix and match during the game.  We'll keep an eye out for Mike, and see if he works his way up the lineup and gets more icetime than he had against Val D'Or.
  6. There are lots of penalties through the first half of the game, which means Mike McCarron is not getting many shifts.  Six minutes into the second period, the Knights go through another powerplay and come up empty.  The forwards skate dejectedly to the bench, frustrated and showing it.  That's just enough of a gap for Edmonton to take advantage of.  They rush the other way and score, just as Mike had stepped on the ice and was trying to catch up to the play, due to the lazy play of the Knights previous forward line.  So he gets a -1 to his stat sheet, which is undeserved.
  7. I haven't been following the Memorial Cup my whole life, and got back into it recently since the Canadiens have had a lot of prospects involved.  The last three years, the three host teams have had long layoffs before the tourney due to an early exit in their respective leagues.  
  8. Michaël Bournival's and Morgan Ellis' Shawinigan Cataractes are the poster boys for teams to use that long layoff productively and come into the Memorial Cup ready to go, they ended up winning the whole thing.  
  9. The two subsequent hosts didn't fare as well.  Last season, Darren Dietz's and Dalton Thrower's Saskatoon Blades were blown out of their playoffs, swept in the opening round.  They won one game in the Memorial Cup preliminaries, and lost in the semi-final against the Knights, and it wasn't close.
  10. This year, it's the London Knights who had the long layoff, and the buzz was that they finally are healthy and their roster is deep, but they're not clicking, they look rusty.  The Blades last season looked like they possibly weren't up to snuff.  The Knights look like they're a strong team, but definitely are struggling with their timing, and it's starting to show, they're acting frustrated. 
  11. Time for some of these vaunted first-round NHL picks, the veterans, to buck up, to play hard and keep everyone focused.  That last goal was due to their forwards limping back to the bench and making a show of how frustrated they are, of missing nets and hitting posts.  If they'd been in the game, they'd have hustled to the bench, instead of loafing back while the other team was breaking out on an odd-man rush.
  12. The Knights score one late in the second, defenceman Alex Basso rips one from the faceoff circle that Oil King goalie Tristan Jarry mishandles, and dribbles in off his glove, up his arm and over his shoulder.  Nice setup from Chris Tierney.
  13. Mike McCarron, who has been banging and winning scrums along the boards in his few shifts, gets put on a super-line by coach Dale Hunter for a late-period shift.  He's on the wing with Bo Horvat and Max Domi.  
  14. This was the putative line that got us all excited last summer when Michael decided to forego his commitment to Western Michigan in the NCAA, and go to London instead.  This was what Dale Hunter promised us.  I'll ask again, why did we ever trust this putrid ex-Nordique?
  15. Mike McCarron gets another late-period shift, this time with Josh Anderson on a power forward line.  They bang around a bit and almost cause a goal for their team.  
  16. Score is 3-1 for the Oil Kings when the horn sounds, Edgars Kulda bags another goal by buzzing around the net and banging at the puck.  He's got two goals and an assist, and is eligible for the draft in June.
  17. In the third, the Oil Kings increase their lead to 4-1, then the Knights narrow the gap to 4-2, on a nice play from Max Domi who jumped on the ice as an extra skater on a delayed penalty call.  He skated all the way around the offensive zone with the puck, behind the net and out in front again, before getting a good shot off, and having a teammate cash in the rebound.
  18. Mike McCarron's icetime is still limited.  He had a PK shift, and one other with the Rupert twins, and they buzzed around the zone pretty well, Mike getting a shot on goal.
  19. Mads Eller isn't jumping out at you in the play either, although he had a hand in the the Oil Kings' fourth goal, protecting the puck on a Nikita Zadorov bodycheck, with his teammate picking it up and taking it in for an odd-man rush and goal.  He is buzzing around, skating and checking, lots of energy.
  20. Mike McCarron finishes up his night with a shift in the offensive zone, in which he tried to stand in front of the net and cause traffic, but his angles are a little wrong, he doesn't quite follow the puck and position accordingly.  He later on gets a good shot opportunity, but the goalie saves it.
  21. He ends that shift with a shove/punch at Mitchell Moroz during a post-whistle scrum that at first looks bad, the Oil King forward drops like a sack of potatoes.  Upon replay, we see that what looked like a straight left to the chin was actually more of a shove on the upper chest that grazes the chin, and the Edmonton player sells it to the ref.  It's an embellishment worthy of the Bruins.
  22. Still, it's poor impulse control and situational awareness by Michael, he puts his team on the penalty kill when they're trying to make up a two-goal deficit with four minutes to go.  Essentially it's game over.
  23. Mitchell Moroz is on for the subsequent powerplay.  Like, a minute after lying on the ice as if he'd had an anvil dropped on his head, like Wile E. Coyote.  
  24. I really wish leagues used video replay and suspended players for being dramatic.  Mr. Moroz looked like he was knocked out, and now he's raring to go?  If he knew he'd get suspended for acting, he wouldn't have done that move.  And all the diving would immediately disappear from the game.
  25. Edmonton seals it with a powerplay goal with a minute and a half to go.
  26. Overall, I'm not impressed with Michael McCarron's game, beyond what we discussed already.  He won some puck battles along the boards, but whether that transfers over to the NHL, when his size and strength advantage dissipates, is questionable. 
  27. His skating is not very good, as far as I can tell.  He's more of a cruiser, who skates around in big circles once he has a head of steam and looks for an opportunity to finish a check.  He's not on top of the puck or on top of the play.  He's definitely not a stop and start guy, which is what the game is in the NHL.  It might work for Thomas Vanek, but very few can get away with that.
  28. I'm sure Canadiens Strength and Conditioning Coach Pierre Allard is all over this already, but he really needs to work on his leg strength and explosiveness.  He take big long chugging strides, he needs to have more jump in his step, to increase his cadence.  So Mike needs to do lots of squats and leg presses, and sprints and plyometrics and to run lots and lots of stairs. 
  29. He may also consider working on some aspects of his game that would help him attain the NHL.  With his size, he can make it possibly as a specialist, if his all-round game doesn't progress much.  
  30. For example, I read that Connor Crisp works on screening the goalie and tipping pucks in front of the net, that's a skill he should work on too, he has the size to be effective in that role.
  31. His shot also needs work, to get a better release.  While he had a few scoring chances, his shots were more swats at the puck, he was batting it instead of shooting it.  If he could work on corralling bouncing pucks and quickly shooting them, instead of merely sliding them along the ice, that would help him out.  He has chances due to his size, if he could improve his wrist shot, his hand-eye coordination, his timing, it would increase his shooting percentage.
  32. So this isn't a rant or a condemnation of the Canadiens prospect, but more of a reality check.  He'll have a lot of work to do over the summer, next season in the OHL (I expect he'll get traded from the Knights to a contender), and then probably at least a couple of seasons in the AHL.   If we apply the Chicago model, and the patience they showed with Brian Bickell, we can cool down our expectations and support the kid as he works hard to make his way onto the Grand Club.