Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Game 4: Canadiens 1, Lightning 7

This one smarts, an ugly 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were obviously eager to avenge their loss to the Canadiens during last year's playoffs, like the Canucks did against the Bruins in the famous "Game 8" of January 2012.

Tampa Head Coach Jon Cooper was interviewed on the pre-show on RDS.  When I first got to know him I was impressed by his attitude and communication skills, but he kind of lost it I thought during the playoffs, maybe like Michel Therrien did in the series loss against Ottawa the previous season.  Tonight though, again he was impressive.  For example he didn't whine about having had to play the series last spring without his #1 goalie Ben Bishop, but rather stated he's not sure he would have made a difference, that his team got beat cleanly and decisively.

I'd set up my PVR to the free Center Ice preview to record the game, but when I checked in early on, being careful to not spoil the score for myself, I realized I was tuned to the Tampa Bay feed on Fox.  I searched and found the RDS broadcast and switched to that instead.

I may have taken Pierre Houde and Marc Denis and the excellent technical work of RDS for granted last year, would sometimes watch on TSN or CBC just for the change, but not this year.  Now that I don't have the option to see and hear them work every game, I'll watch them any time I can.

The thing is though, my concern as to the Tampa coverage was unfounded.  I had to watch them for the first half-hour, and they had a good to excellent pre-game show, which set up the game very well for viewers.  They took it down a notch possibly for an audience that may not be as sophisticated as a Canadian audience, but they covered everything.  They reminded us of the playoffs, again with no whining, put Andrei and Tomas under the spotlight, and spoke of the Canadiens' hot start.  Someone coming into the game cold might have had most of the information they needed to enjoy it.

Same with the play-by-play team.  They didn't only focus on the Lightning, but gave some background on who the Canadiens were, spoke of the young defencemen, mentioned that Dustin Tokarski was a former Lightning.  The colour man was amusing when he explained that even though P.A. Parenteau has been in the league for years, only today had he learned what it stood for: Pierre-Alexander.  He riffed on that for a minute or so.

They had a good delivery, in a tone that spoke of their love of hockey, and their anticipation of a good game, with little to no homerism.  They did their research before the game and delivered information, mispronounced 'Plekanec' and 'Beaulieu', but had a good handle on who these and other Habs were.  They mentioned that Jarred was the son of Mark Tinordi, and gave a brief background on the latter.

So not an orgy of one-sided hyper-focus on their home team, but rather an enjoyable, competent job of a broadcast.  Which made me wonder why the Bruins' team can't do the same, give a more even-handed slant on the game.  And more topically, why not the CBC or TSN or Sportsnet when they cover a Leafs game?

Jarred Tinordi had a good start to the game, highlighted by an assist on his slap pass to Brendan Gallagher for a goal.  I did notice however an instance when he was behind his own net, with the puck and time to move the puck, and his partner Mike Weaver to his right, free and clear with no one around him.

The easy, safe, correct play would have been to draw the forechecker in a little more, make him commit, then swing the puck to Mike Weaver and allow him to break out the puck, with no pressure on him.  Instead, Jarred hesitated, then tried a high-risk pass through the forechecker, between his skates and stick, which got through and reached his winger, who safely got the puck out of the zone, but this was symptomatic of what Jarred has been doing, which is make things difficult for himself.  Instead of keeping things simple, playing hard defensive hockey and a physical role, which is all that's expected of him, he's trying to make the fancy passes that are more the domain of Andrei and P.K. and Nathan.

It is interesting how Andrei, with All-World skill, with all his experience, often makes the simple play, and keeps the puck moving that way.  Tonight, while skating towards his net to retrieve a puck at his own blue line, he was pressured by a Tampa forechecker bearing down on him.  Andrei calmly faked going backhand to clear the puck against the boards, to which the forechecker reacted to and started skating that way to intercept.  Andrei then calmly went forehand to his partner Jarred, who was wide open and facing the right way.  Lots of skill used to make the simple play.  It all took less than a second, but Andrei chose the safe option, only with a bit of panache by steering the defender in a different direction first.

It reminded me of an interview with Jim Kelly, the Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback, in which he was asked in what situations did he ever 'force' the ball, rather than just finding the open receiver.  Mr. Kelly was perplexed for a moment, then explained that he always passed to the open man, and only in 'Hail Mary' situations did he ever force the ball.

But what about all those times when he squeezed the ball into those tight windows, over a linebacker and between two defensive backs, insisted the interviewer?  Jim Kelly laughed, and explained that on the field, unless he missed seeing a lurking defensive player, every player he ever threw to was open.

It's only later, viewing film of his games, that he realized that his standard of 'wide open' evolved as he gained experience, that what he might have felt was a covered receiver in college, with a defensive back half-a-step behind him, became an open receiver in the pros, and at the height of his powers all he needed was a quarter-step.  But he wasn't thinking to himself, "Whoa, that cornerback is all over Andre Reed", just "Open."

Jarred needs to make simple passes to open teammates, quickly and without overthinking, and not giving time to defenders to adjust.  See a good guy in the right colour jersey who's open?  Give him the puck.  Automatically.  And as he gains in experience and confidence, as he puts in the minutes and the reps, he'll unconsciously need his teammate to be less and less open, imperceptibly.  He'll notice two or three players who are open at the same time, or one who if he takes an extra stride he'll have an open lane for.

I teach snowboarding, and one of the principles I hold to is that a beginner who is just learning how to turn should never try to make a turn unless she's completely confident she can achieve it.  You can't accomplish a sliding turn on a snowboard unless you're loose, relaxed.  Being tense with knees locked up is a guarantee for failure, and a rider pitching over and falling, and maybe getting hurt a little bit, and having to waste precious energy struggling back to her feet.

So I repeat to them, again and again, don't challenge yourself, there's no benefit to it.  If it's too steep, too icy, too slushy, too crowded, too close to the trees, to the ditch, if that rocky outcrop looks like it has your name on it, just sideslip away from there.  When you reach an area with a gentle enough slope, with good conditions, and there's not a herd of skiers and riders rocketing by you stressing you out, then, and only then, perform a turn, and another, and another, until it gets wonky again, and then we'll sideslip some more to find more appropriate terrain.

After a few runs, inevitably, the rider brightens and says: "Hey, I just turned down that entire slope!  My first time I sideslipped down that whole thing on my heelside edge!"  And that's what happens.  As you gain confidence and coordination, your comfort level increases, and what seemed too steep and icy at first now is easy terrain.

I bring up the example of golf to my students, that you can't force a golf swing, you have to be smooth and relaxed.  If you tense up, or really try to muscle it, your ball and/or divot will land in the trees.  But if you just relax and take a nice, easy swing, the ball leaps off your club, down the fairway.

Jarred has to work through this stage, where everything looks fast and congested, acclimatize to it, by at first making the simple pass to his partner, or to the winger up the boards, until the game slows down for him, and he finds he has many more options.

By comparison, we saw that Nathan's mobility and confidence is more developed than Jarred's.  On a powerplay, Tom Gilbert tried to pass him the puck but it was cut off and J.T. Brown raced after it, trying to turn it into a breakaway.  Nathan calmly raced back, pivoted, and effortlessly while skating backwards fronted the Lightning forward and prevented him from getting by, and gained control of the puck.  A nice display of skating and awareness from Nathan.

More than the Dustin Tokarski experiment or the Jiri Sekac trial period, the Jarred-Nathan indoctrination must succeed.  Those two fellows will have the largest say on how our season goes.

Second period thoughts:

-Steven Stamkos is pretty good.  Is he the best in the league, even with Sidney?  Just about?  Better?

-Jason Garrison has had a nice array of teams he played for, from Florida to Vancouver to Tampa.  Does he end up in Phoenix or with the California teams in the future?  He's a useful player who didn't quite fit in Vancouver, big, some toughness, dependable.  His left shot didn't click on the powerplay, the Canucks' is set up with the Sedins so that the right shot of Kevin Bieksa and formerly Sami Salo is key.

His cap hit now seems more reasonable than when he was signed by the Canucks in 2012, $4.6M a season.  Maybe important for the Lightning, the Canucks paid him six of his $9M signing bonus in 2012 and 2013, and his salary will decrease to a mere $2.5M in 2017-18.

-With the powerplay flatlining, it's about time that René Bourque got some of those minutes.  He's a big body with a good shot, he might be a better option that Brendan Gallagher right now, as hard as it is to fault Gally on anything.

While it may have been anathema to the coaches to give René PP time last year, to 'reward' him when he did nothing to merit that, this season he's coming off a great post-season.  It might be a good move to acknowledge him for that, to put him in a position to succeed, to feed his confidence and keep him rolling.

It's a chicken and the egg thing, he's got confidence because he's been scoring, and if he scores he'll gain more confidence.  He's come close a few times this year, worked hard, let's harness this boy up.

Third period throughts:

- It's unfortunate that P.K Subban is a villain in the eyes of other fans, a player who is routinely booed in other rinks.  P.K. should be a player who is feared, respected, grudgingly admired, hated for being a reason the home team loses, but never booed.

I hate when we boo Erik Karlsson and Sidney Crosby at the New Forum.  Eric Gryba, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, sure, boo those guys mercilessly, every time they touch the puck, but not the opponent's star player, just because, for no real reason.

-It's harder to win when Tomas doesn't chip in his customary two goals.  WTF, Tomas?  Get in the game.

- Nathan Beaulieu ran into the Gary Roberts-trained Steven Stamkos and probably realized he has some work to do in the gym still over the next few summers.  He made up for landing on his keister in that collision by timing a nice hit on Brian Boyle, where his great mobility compensated for the Lightning forward's greater size.

- Not a great ending to the road trip, getting three wins out of four was nice, but to collapse this way in the last game, with a complete loss of competitiveness and cohesion, will leave a sour taste as they head home.  The Habs played the role of the Washington Generals at the end, and the Lightning lifted off the accelerator, sending out their fourth line for a game-ending powerplay.

Ideally they'd come home with a win in their last game, or at least a moral victory, not this debacle.

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