Sunday, 12 October 2014

Game 3: Canadiens 4, Flyers 3 (SO)

Your 2014-15 Montréal Canadiens are a runaway train of in extremis comeback wins.  And emotion.

Tonight, they spotted three goals by the second period to the ignoble Philadelphia Flyers, an amoral enterprise composed of characters such as Zach Rinaldo and Vincent Lecavalier and helmed by Charles Manson protégé Ron Hextall, before roaring back to life in the third and shelling goalie Ray Emery with 19 shots.  They outskated and bewildered the ponderous, slow-witted Flyers defencemen, notably Nick Schultz and failed-Leaf Luke Schenn, the once future-face of that other sorry franchise.  The gallant Habs righted the wrong and evened the score, before winning the game 4-3 in the shootout.

As they did in Washington, the Canadiens had a torpid start to the game, but found their legs as the game advanced.  It seemed unfortunate that they were three goals down, as opposed to a mere single goal in D.C., but at least the game grew more entertaining, one was moved to optimize.

Among others, P.K. Subban had a really difficult start to the game, epitomized by a muffed bodycheck along the boards against Nick Schultz early in the first, his fabled 'bee sting' hip check.  In another of many instances, P.K. didn't get the timing just right, possibly because Mr. Schultz anticipated it, but anyway the Flyer squirted past it and managed to create a scoring chance.

One of the clichés of sports is that certain players need to have a short memory, be it a goalie, a cornerback in football, a closer in baseball.  The concept is that this position places great pressure on the incumbent, and mistakes often result in a spectacular failure, a goal against, even a loss.  These are inevitable, no player being perfect, and when they do occur, the player has to forget about it, and move on to the next play, the next game, with the same cocky confidence as ever.  If he starts to doubt himself, second-guess himself, he won't play on instinct, he'll hesitate, and won't be as effective.

So we'll say that a defenceman has to have this same mindset, he needs to have this ability, this short memory, so that when he gets beat and the puck ends up in his own net, he can put it behind him and move on to the next shift, the next game.

This model, this analogy works, but only to a certain extent.  Yes a young defenceman has to be able to rise above his mistakes, forget about them, and play with confidence, but in another way we want him to also learn a valuable lesson from them, and seldom if ever repeat them.  In that regard, we'd rather that a player had a 'long memory', that he vows "never again!", and that this is largely the case.

In P.K.'s case, he's had spectacular success in the past with the bee sting when everything falls just right, as can be seen on YouTube and as Brad Marchand can attest.  Unfortunately for him, the league has learned this too, and has adapted.  Most players now see him coming and take evasive action.  Often, this is when P.K. is on the tracks, on final approach, and can't really deviate course anymore.  So he's been whiffing on quite a few of these bee stings, as he did tonight.  And it's about time he figured it out.

P.K. can be very frustrating sometimes, when he makes the same mistake over and over again, the same play that leads nowhere.  It took him two or three seasons to rein in his golf swing slapshot, that he scored with a few times early, but which became imprecise and would more often than not end up in the glass rather than on net.  After a lot of angst from Habs fans and forwards who had to stand in front of the net with pucks whizzing by their ears, he cut down on the backswing, took a little off the shot but made sure it hit the net, and his point totals jumped.

He needs to understand that the bee sting is the same sort of situation, a high risk-high reward play that you don't necessarily rely on as your go-to move.  It's a club you take out of your bag only in specific circumstances.  Most times, you need to drive your shoulder into the chest of your opponent until you garydornhoefer him through the boards.  That's your go-to move.  Make use of your strength and overpower your opponents, prevent them from evading you and having a clear run to the net.

Same with the stickhandling through the neutral zone and not utilizing his forwards.  How many times does he have to do that, force them to brake at the blue line, and be stranded there with no momentum, while he tries to knit his way through a forest of defenders and coughs up the puck?  When does it sink in for him that the right play is to pass the puck to a speeding forward, or to at least take or put the puck in deep, but not to scottgomez it along the sideboards, a metre up the blue line?  How many times does he have to make that mistake, before he learns from that mistake?

And I don't want to hear that he's still young, he's still learning, that he's improving all the time.  That went out the window when he signed that $72M contract.  It was okay for him to be the frisky colt his first couple of seasons, and the nervy thoroughbred for a couple more, but now that he's taking that gigantic bite out of the team's salary cap, he has to be the best, smartest player on the ice, all the time.  He can't be uneven, have ups and downs.  I'm not taking the good with the bad.  At 9 mill per, he needs to be as much of a blemish-free game-changer as Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

With great lucre comes great responsibility.  I didn't have much sympathy for Roberto Luongo when he said that his contract sucked.  He didn't need to sign in Vancouver.  He knew they were overpaying him to make him stay, he could have been truthful and said his heart wasn't in it.  Instead, he took the overpay, and when Corey Schneider outplayed him, demanded a trade.  When he knew he was supposed to be the face of the franchise with the Sedin brothers.  He needed to be a huge pillar everyone relied on.

P.K.'s been told a thousand times by his coaches, teammates, the media, the fans, he needs to understand it.  Make the right play, the safe play.  Develop your pieces on the board, control the centre, don't go for the checkmate right away.  Move the runner by making contact with the pitch instead of going for the home run all the time.  Make the quick pass and trust your teammates instead of trying to do it all yourself in a highlight reel move, even though you did it once and it worked.  Remember all those other times that it didn't.

You are getting paid too much to be making rookie mistakes, we have Nathan and Jarred for that.  They need to see you being the smartest, best player on the ice, not the most spectacular player.

Because early on there needed to be that example.  Our defencemen made error after goof after flub.  In a short span in the second, Nathan Beaulieu whiffed while making a pass as he approached his blue line, and Sean Couturier gathered the puck and went right after Carey Price with a deke, hitting the post.  Five minutes later, Mike Weaver, trusty dependable veteran that he is, skated out of the corner to the right of Carey Price and, faced with two forecheckers, coughed up the puck to them, again on a whiff, giving Brayden Schenn a clear shot at the net.  If they were watching, Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren and Darren Dietz must have thought that they're not that far away from the NHL after all.

After Head Druide Michel Therrien fed his boys their potion magique in the second intermission and they stampeded onto the ice, they at times seemed to be on a 5-on-5 powerplay.  The Flyers rope-a-doped, and the Canadiens won every battle, cycling the puck along the boards, passing it with ease, Andrei Markov sometimes double and triple-clutching on passes or shots, so little pressure being exerted by the Flyers.  Andrei started les boys off with a shot through traffic after lots of pressure in the Philly zone, and lots of scrambling and bumbling by the guys in orange.

Tomas Plekanec, rejuvenated by the support from Manny Malhotra for defensive duty at centre, has transformered into a snipering goalbot.  He potted his fourth of the season shortly after Andrei's.  His goal was an archetypal Steve Shutt goal, in that he was standing on the far side of the net, just minding his own business, when the puck bounced his way and he tucked it under the crossbar before Ray Emery could grab a taxi and make his way back.  Magmatically hot, Tomas also took the shot that Alex Galchenyuk tipped in to tie the game five minutes later.

The Flyers had a couple of opportunities the rest of the way, but they were the dead-cat bounce, the death rattle rather than any show of spirit and character from these guttersnipes.  They couldn't cash in a powerplay during the overtime period.  Instead, the best chance came on a breakaway by Alex Galchenyuk, who was a little too close to Ray Emery when he gathered the puck to set up properly.  He tried a forehand-backhand move but it went straight into the goalie's glove.

During the shootout Alex tried that move again, probably wanting to prove a point, with time to execute the manoeuvre, but again Mr. Emery plucked the puck with his mitt.  Four shooters a side were needed, with no one scoring except the last, P.A. Parenteau with a nifty shot glove side.

So the Canadiens head to Tampa with three wins to open the season, and a day to rest tomorrow and catch their breath.  Maybe the sun will get them a boost, and they can come out charging and put the game away in the first this time.  Especially if Anders Lindback is in nets.  Or the current reasonable facsimile.

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