Monday, 27 October 2014

Game 9: Canadiens 0, Oilers 2

For the first time in a long time, watching the game early on,  I thought the Canadiens were clearly better than the team they were up against on the ice.  The reason I haven't had that impression in ages is in large part due to the inferiority complex I've developed after years of organizational mediocrity, or worse.

In the seventies or eighties, I never doubted we were more powerful, more talented, and that we had a just cause, the favour of the gods on our side.  The seventies was easy, with the slew of Hall  of Famers on the roster.  Ken Dryden, the Big Three, Guy and Shutty, the opponents were beaten before the puck was dropped.

The eighties teams weren't quite so dominant, but had legions of thumpers to ice in front of Patrick Roy, an intimidating goalie if ever there was one.  Every season one or two or four more youngsters would come up from Sherbrooke to shore up the ranks, and we'd go into Philadelphia or Boston and make them lose their minds.  Someone told the story recently of how when General Manager Serge Savard walked into a rink huffing on a huge cigar, with Patrick Roy in tow, the opponents thought they were beat right then.

These days, my natural pessimism makes me cautious of supposed weaker teams, and wary of powerhouses.  I don't expect we'll lose, exactly, I think we have a good shot, but when it's happening I'm thankful for bounces, for chemistry, for momentum, for superior work ethic.  In my mind, it's not preordained.

The telecast itself was a bit jarring to watch.  The Sportsnet broadcast team I was unfamiliar with, the onslaught of ads during the broadcast, during the action, with every line change having a sponsor, which had to be bloviated on by Gene Principe, usually running over the puck drop.  The tinny echo-ey classic schlock music in the arena, miked very loud, continuously during the timeouts.  The comparatively muted crowd noise.  The weird camera placement, which at Northlands are set up facing the penalty boxes instead of the players' benches.

As far as the game itself, early on, if featured lots of skating, and not a lot of tedious crashing and banging and finishing your checks, just good exciting uptempo hockey.

And yeah, with the trademark skating style of the Canadiens in the first, the crisp, one-touch, smart passes, the numerous rushes on Ben Scrivens' net, I felt the result wasn't in doubt.  We were going to take these minor leaguers to the woodshed.  As soon as we buried one of these chances.  Any time now.  Whenever you're ready boys.

That advantage appeared to wane as the fancy plays didn't click, as they didn't get cashed in.  By the second period that clear superiority had vanished.  But we did have opportunities, close calls.

For example, the disallowed goal by Max Pacioretty, due to goaltender interference.  I want to argue this one a little bit.  Okay sure, Ben Scrivens didn't have a chance to make the save due to contact by Brendan Gallagher, but I have to ask: why was that not an interference call on Jeff Petry?  He clearly pushed Gally into Ben Scrivens.  Since Brendan didn't have the puck, Mr. Petry wasn't allowed to touch him.  So yeah, Ben Scrivens didn't have a chance to make a save, but Gally didn't have a chance to stop before making contact with the goalie, which he could/would have done, if he hadn't been shoved.

And what was with that David Desharnais massive crosscheck to the head of Andrew Ference, which negated a man advantage?  I don't think anyone should ever do that to another human being.  Now, to Andrew Ference, sure, fill your boots.  Except maybe wait until after we have a big fat lead before you get even for whatever unspeakable act he committed, back when he was a dirty Bruin or now that he's a dirty Oiler.

At the end of the first, the Oilers lucked into a lucky goal by Benoit Pouliot, who eventually picked up an assist on his team's second goal.  But I don't care.  He could score four goals, I'd still think it's good riddance for us to have let him go years ago, and a horrible signing for the Oilers.

The Oilers scored again in the second, and on that goal Nathan Beaulieu made a peewee mistake.  He was unfortunate to blow a tire in the neutral zone which precipitated the crisis, but he had time and the skill to recover, get back into position.  Still, a scramble was on, and Topic-of-the-week Nail Yakupov ended up standing off to the side of the net.  Somehow, Nathan found himself facing the net, standing in the crease, ineffectually trying to sweep the ice clear of any puck that might skitter by.  He was also leaving his guy alone off to the side, unchecked.  And it's not like he just didn't see him, he clearly knew he was there.  Mr. Yakupov potted an easy goal when the puck did in fact come right to him, while Dustin Tokarski was scrambling on the other side of the crease.

Often, there will be discussions on defensive systems, and which player is reliable or weak in defensive coverage.  These concepts are often too advanced for me, my coaching having consisted of very basic concepts, nothing too elaborate.  One of these fundamentals is that as a defenceman, you face the opposition, not your own net.  Basic stuff.  More importantly, you have to cover your man.  Anyone near the net in the wrong colour jersey, you stay close to them, tie up their stick, push them out of the area with fraternal crosschecks.  You don't leave someone uncovered like Nail Yakupov was, waiting for the puck.  Especially if you don't have anything more pressing to do.

I suspect that Jarred Tinordi will draw back in for a while, and Nathan will be asked to put in extra practice time with Jean-Jacques Daigneault in the near future.  He looked really bad on that one, and it wasn't a bobble, or a gamble that came back to bite him.  He broke one of the Commandments, that he's had drilled into him since he started playing.  Not good.

After the second goal, the boys seemed to tighten up.  They worked hard, tried to create something, to no avail.  Of note, mighty mites Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais were relentless in the offensive zones, digging and battling along the boards, taking the puck to the front of the net, digging and fighting the whole way.

An empty-net goal by Taylor Hall sealed our fate.

Stray observations:

I want P.K. to never look at the ref when he's playing.  Stop wondering if a penalty will be called, or appealing for clemency, or protesting your innocence prematurely.  Just frigging play hard, concentrate on the play, until the whistle goes.  The perception is, it's an admission of guilt when you look at the ref like that.

What are the chances that in the camera shot of Mads Eller sitting in the crowd, a stunning young blonde Valkyrie is seated next to him?

With Keith Acton and Craig Ramsey balding it up behind the bench, is that why Dallas Eakins has that ludicrous Flock of Seagulls hairdo, feeling he has to make up for it?

Further thoughts after watching 'Canadiens Express':

-René Bourque sure didn't play like he had multiples family members and friends in attendance at Northlands.

-P.K. got a little obstinate in trying to blast a puck through everyone past Ben Scrivens, but overall he's improved so much on that score.  Three years ago we despaired that he'd ever learn to just put the puck on the net instead of on the glass, or five feet wide.  He's now very consistent in that regard, maybe learned from watching Andrei how to fake and deke past defenders, and how to change his angles to find a lane.  Last night, maybe the whole team felt the pressure to score after a while, and he kept thinking "This one HAS to get through."

-Lars Eller forgot to "play like a big forward with skill, rather than a skilled forward with some size", as Marc Bergevin wants him to do.  On the two-on-one with Brandon Prust, he had a clear shot at the net, with lots of open mesh since Ben Scrivens had to play back.  He should have fired the puck on net and then driven the net, and hoped for a rebound for him and Brandon Prust to cash in.  Instead, he stickhandled, went east-west, and then used a wrist shot as he was about to be checked by a collapsing forward.  Not optimal play selection by him.  Gally would have taken the puck to the net, not tried to get fancy.  It's a process I guess.  Analog, not digital.

-I know there will be game to game variations in faceoff percentage, but I wonder what the Oilers did that tilted that stat so far in their favour, when the Canadiens were league-leaders in this area, and Edmonton is known to be weak at the centre position.

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