Sunday, 16 November 2014

Game 18: Canadiens 6, Flyers 3

You know that dude who wanted to 'go steady' with your older sister in high school and got shot down, and tried to push you around because of that, and then you run into him later on when you're full grown, and you look at him and think: "Well what now, tough guy?"  That's the same thing as the Habs playing the Philadelphia Flyers now.

They're faintly ridiculous, with Vincent Lecavalier and his anchor contract being unmovable from the "good sports town" he crowed Philadelphia was.  Their tough guy is Zach Rinaldo, and Brandon Prust did him a favour and let him have a go.  He beat him so handily that at the end I half-expected Brandon to give him a noogie and pinch his cheeks.  They have an elephant graveyard of a defence corps, with at the top of that dung heap failed Leafs Carlo Colaiacovo and Luke Schenn, who were great-white-hyped before being dumped for the next flavour-of-the-season. 

(Did you hear that Morgan Rielly was a healthy scratch?  Did you hear that Jake Gardiner was a healthy scratch?  Did you hear that Mike Kostka was put on waivers by the Rangers?  Because they may need the room for Tomas Kaberle?)

The story of this game is the resuscitation of the Canadiens' powerplay, which had been ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of efficiency, but went 3-for-3 tonight, including two early ones.  At 3-0, the game was essentially over, although the Flyers and the refs conspired to make it interesting, but the Canadiens won going away, with a final score of 6-3.

So all you naysayers who castigated Marc Bergevin for the Sergei Gonchar trade, time to self-flagellate.  You were wrong.  I believed in him all along, and said as much, I'm on the record.  I think I posted on this somewhere.  Or said something to someone at the pub.

In any case, while Mr. Gonchar had two assists, he didn't do anything remarkable, he just was effective with his passes, and when he shot the puck it got to the net.  The main contribution he brought was a change in the setup and execution of our powerplay.  He is the catalyst for a change in philosophy, by which instead of having P.K. and Andrei Markov playing most of the time on the first wave of the powerplay, and having a second pair do mop-up duty with the remaining twenty seconds or so, we now have two equally balanced pairings splitting up the time.

Further, instead of having a Mike Babcock-approved left-right combo for each pairing, we're now using two lefties, Andrei and Sergei, and two righties, P.K. and Tom Gilbert, as pairings.  What this does is it allows one player to be on his strong side and pass from his forehand, and the other to be set up for one-timer slapshots.  

Last season, P.K. and Andrei would often switch sides after a faceoff and thus were both ready to unleash one-timers, but penalty killers figured this out and squeezed them tight against the blue line and got into the shooting lane, so this method was scrapped, but I always thought we should revert to it once in a while, for variety, and especially since the 'one d-man/shooter, three forwards and Andrei goes in for a wander' strategy wasn't getting us results either, after a while.

Regardless of the preceding, I think the main effect this is having is by giving the powerplay a changed look, it changes the luck, and is a break with the system that brought on this streak of futility.  Sometimes that's all that's needed.  It's as if the Canadiens man-advantage team got a placebo effect from Sergei Gonchar.

Another point, and I think the boys on L'Antichambre discussed this also, is that it removes some pressure from P.K. to do it all himself.  Sometimes I sensed a lassitude in him, physical and mental, when he went back to retrieve a zone clear.  It's like he wondered what he could try next, nothing was working.  I was afraid he might be pacing himself too, so he'd coast up with the puck rather than race with it up to the offensive zone.  

Now, there's another pairing that's on the ice, getting results, it's not all on his shoulders, it relieves some pressure, but also kind of lights a fire, he's not getting 90 seconds of automatic PP time by default.  He has to earn it. 

Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau has received grudging assent on social media, but he continues to produce, and it's hard to argue that the Canadiens are getting the better of this trade.  While Daniel Brière didn't work out at right wing, and was miscast as a fourth-line centre, but couldn't dislodge David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec or Lars Eller, P.A. is a very good addition to our roster.  He is a natural, effective right-winger, has played up and down the lines in the Top 9, and has worked hard.  We could wish that he was bigger or tougher or better in his own zone or that he was more of a sniper, but with two more goals tonight, and some big shootout goals this season among other highlights, he's a puzzle piece that fits very well in the overall picture.

His linemates also picked up two points each, so David and Max are busting their mini-slump.  If the powerplay continues to click they should get their fair share of points, and will relieve some of the pressure for Carey to, uh, carry the team.

Carey Price wasn't spectacular stats-wise, or compared to his lofty standards, he just made all the saves he needed to make.  Which is more than Flyer goalie Ray Emery can say.  Carey fell victim to some bad bounces and scrums in front of his net, but it's good when he can rack up a 'W' without being miraculous.

Dale Weise, after a start to the season that more closely resembled his tenure in Vancouver, in that he generated a lot of heat but little light, hitting posts and flubbing shots, has seemingly found his range.  He potted two goals tonight after his Gordie Howe hat trick the previous game against Boston.  Again, when he's fired up and skating with abandon, that big boy can do some damage, and not just with his fists as the Canucks thought he should focus on.

The only discordant note about the game was the predictable horrid work by the referees.  Now, I may not be the most objective observer, but after les Glorieux notched two quick powerplay goals, I said to myself: "Self, get ready, the refs will now try to even things up."  Which they did.  A blatant trip of Alex Galchenyuk right in front the referee?  Nope, he didn't see it.  

On the other hand, a Flyer defender holds Brendan Gallagher's stick in front of the Flyer net, has it nice and tucked in his armpit?  Yes, let's call Brendan for a penalty on that, and wave off a Habs goal while we're at it.

It's ridiculous how referees officiate based on the score.  You wanted to scream at this crew "All the penalties you called on the Flyers early were deserved!  They've got horrible defencemen, you can expect them to trip and hook and slash, they're outmanned!"  

In football, when an offensive lineman false starts, holds, false starts again, then holds again, he'll get penalized, four times, on four successive plays.  The referees won't think to themselves "Hey, let's give that guy a break, we'll pretend we didn't see that hold.  And let's call penalties on that other team, fair is fair, gotta keep the game close."  Instead, it will be up to the lineman's coaches to make adjustments, call plays that limit his exposure, get him a tight end to help with the blocking.  At the end of the game, if one team has had twelve penalties and the other two, nobody will blink.  It will make sense to anyone reading a recap of the game that one team was outclassed or undisciplined, not that the referees goofed by picking on one team.

So despite the refs' best efforts, the Canadiens still won, and now sit at the top of the NHL standings.  Since the swoon that started with the trip out West, the Canadiens have won five in a row, starting with that halting win against the Sabres, and they're picking up speed.  Next up, Dustin Tokarski takes on the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

1 comment:

  1. I think part of the penalty problem is the Therrien effect. He's burnt his bridges with just about all of them and refs hold grudges for decades as Kerry Fraser reveals unintentionally in his columns.