Thank you Gary Bettman.
-Idle thought that upwelled in my mind during Saturday's loss to the Sabres: Are the Canadiens the worst in the league at committing offsides when entering the offensive zone? Is that statistic kept, somewhere we can look it up? Do the coaches notice that, and coach the players on this subject? As in, you have the puck, cross the blue line no matter what before you start dipsy-doodling, or else? Can they make this a point of emphasis?
On 24CH a few weeks back, Dan Lacroix was trying to fire up the guys, and gave them the mission to reach fourty shots before the end of the period. The Canadiens were trailing at the time, but he didn't focus on that, he focused on the process. "Fire pucks at the net! Let's get two more, get to fourty!" he told the boys, not "Even up the score!", which is tenuous direction.
Maybe one game, it could be "Headman the puck, or bang it in off the boards, every time." No stickhandling. No going East-West when a defenceman closes the gap, for cripes' sake.
-I won't go into how all these offsides are tedious and officious, they do nothing for the flow of the game and for the spectators. Hockey would do well to look at how rugby handles offsides. Instead, it's similar to how NFL football stringently enforces illegal procedure penalties. Sure, you don't want the offence to have an advantage over the defence, but so many of them are for technicalities like not covering up the tackle or twelve men in the huddle. No Fun League indeed.
Good thing I won't go into it.
-But sure enough, the first goal was scored when Brandon Prust carried the puck into the neutral zone on a three-on-two, but had Jiri Sekac ahead of him. He fed him the puck, and deprived the linesmen of an opportunity to whistle the play dead and wow us with their subsequent kabuki at a never-boring faceoff.
-Another good thing on that goal, once Jiri Sekac had the puck, both Brandon Prust and Lars Eller went directly to the net. It didn't directly result in the goal, I think Jiri beat him clean, but maybe they gave the Avalanche goalie something else to think about, maybe he couldn't go and challenge the shooter freely. And, we had two big guys in front of the net ready to bat in a rebound if it came to that. Nice work.
-This line had gone a bit cold over the last few games, after a torrid start post-René Bourque. As I posted during the playoffs last season, when René and Lars were scoring, and Alex Galchenyuk found his stride, we suddenly had three lines that were clicking, and a formidable lineup. Lately, not so much.
If the Canadiens can get back on the winning track, it will probably have to come from the other lines taking pressure away from the Desharnais line.
-The Ironic Department of Irony brought us Daniel Brière's goal against his former team, ironic in the same sense that the cat burglar Malloy was caught by Homer Simpson, the very same person that was trying to catch him.
-On that play, Lars Eller was caught trying to poke at the puck with his stick and missed, he was already turning up-ice, leaving Danny a clear path to the net. Lars missed a great opportunity to bury his shoulder in Danny's xyphoid process and essentially take him out for the rest of the game, but I guess that's not the type of player he is, and not the way we coach. A Shawn Thornton or a Ryan Smyth would have slavered at being given the same opportunity, but our boys look for the quick break out, they're not out to thump and outhit other teams.
To flip it around, other teams know this too, and may be a little more confident when playing against the Habs. Daniel Brière's head would have been on a swivel against the Bruins or Kings with the puck at his feet, he might have backhanded it behind the net at the first opportunity, 'cycled' it. Against the Canadiens, he doesn't need to play 'du bout de la palette', as Mario Tremblay would say, he can take a few more chances, hold on to the puck a little longer, keep his head down to find the puck.
-I know this stat is unreliable, but the Avs were credited with nine hits in the first period, the Canadiens three. See?...
-Early in the second, we see a good illustration of the maxim that there is no defence against perfect execution. Alex Tanguay makes a perfect pass from behind the net to Ryan O'Reilly in the crease, who puts the puck in a small opening above Carey Price's shoulder. Pierre Houde seems to think that Alex Galchenyuk was caught out on this play, but short of tackling someone, I don't see how you stop that play.
-Same principle applies to the Canadiens powerplay goal to tie it up at 2-2. Alex Galchenyuk from behind the net makes a perfect elevated pass to Andrei Markov who's sneaking in back door, and immediately shoots the puck in the deserted net, with goalie Calvin Pickard still hugging the other post.
-Imaginative use of personnel on this man-advantage, the coaches had Lars and Max with David Desharnais up front, and P.A. Parenteau on the point with P.K. I fear poor Bob Cole having to call the play for this combo. In any case, the puck moved well, the players roamed around, and that's two big guys up front who can shield the goalie.
-I've been hard on P.K. Subban and Nathan Beaulieu in the past for making a singularly dumb play, and breaking one of the Commandments for defencemen, which is that you don't pass through the middle when in your zone. Sure enough, Andrei did that tonight, but it didn't end up in our net this time. He had a clear lane to pass to Jiri Sekac who was open along the left side boards, but instead he tried to sneak a pass behind two Avs, to go counter to their flow as it were. It was a risky move, the danger being that the pass might be intercepted. Sure enough, he flubbed his pass, and Daniel Brière pounced on it.
A few seconds of scrambling later, the crisis was averted, but it's a surprising mistake from a vet, an error of execution, yes, but more grave, a mental error, a move which he knew he shouldn't do but still went ahead and did anyway. There's no risk he'll land in Hamilton for it, he's earned our indulgence, but it was startling to see it happen, and not from Bryan Allen or Gaston Gingras, but our most trusted and smartest defenceman.
-Mike Weaver earned some quality bench time for being indirectly responsible for the third Avalanche goal. He pinched deep into the offensive zone but the puck skittered by him on the boards, and suddenly they were off on a four-on-one. Tom Gilbert did the dead-man-sprawl and defended it well, but a backchecking Brandon Prust also slid in extremis, and once Tyson Barrie threw he puck at the net it went in off Prusty.
Have I ever told how much I hate the slide? It's anti-hockey, no skill needed. I can make that play, anyone can lie on the ice.
When I'm NHL Commissioner, that's one of my first decrees, no sliding to block shots or defend odd-man rushes. Stay on your feet boys, use your stick. Or go to the box and feel shame.
-P.K. Subban tied it at three on a blast from the blue line. The Avalanche's Maxime Talbot had broken his stick on the faceoff, and les boys controlled the puck and took advantage.
P.K. played an excellent game. He skated hard, was creative without taking gasp-provoking chances. When he makes his tight turns and protects the puck, and uses his moves to can-opener a team's defence, it's like an aardvark busting open an anthill, with opponents flailing around in panic.
-We see the pressure on David Desharnais to score more, to shoot more. On a couple of occasions he took an extra second to shoot instead of passing, and nothing came of it. Justin Bourne wrote about this, how a player's game should be instinctive, and when they start to try to do something different, it can sometimes hurt their game, not improve it.
-David made up for it with an assist on Max's go-ahead goal. It was noteworthy that Max scored on a two-on-one with Dale Weise, using him as a decoy and taking a great snipe. David had the same situation thirty seconds earlier, but he tried to toe-drag to the front of the net to improve his angle and got stick-checked.
-I like the way Michel Therrien and Dan Lacroix have been sprinkling Dale Weise on various lines for effect, it's like a shot of adrenaline for whoever gets him for a shift. In keeping with Michel Bergeron's principle that you have to reward your heart-and-soul types, not bury them on a fourth line, and especially since I've started to note what an offensive black hole his centreman Manny Malhotra is, it's not a bad practice to give him some shifts like that on Tomas' or David's line, to mix things up, and keep everyone on their toes.
-Tyson Barrie, a player I shrewdly acquired for my fantasy team when the computer auto-drafted him for me, was a whirling dervish in the last couple of minutes. Off the faceoff, he carried the puck to the net, wheeled behind and passed in front, creating a great scoring chance for the Avalanche. Later on the same sequence, he drew Pierre Houde's admiration for a poke-check at the blue line that prevented the Canadiens from breaking out cleanly. As it was, Eric Tangradi ended up with the puck in the neutral zone, but his long-range wrister missed the net.
Later, he twice prevented Max Pacioretty from scoring again and putting the game away, once by playing goalie behind Calvin Pickard, who had gone in for a neutral zone faceoff, and once by playing goalie, without a stick, and deflecting away Max's shot at the yawning cage.
-I'll ask the question again: are the Canadiens the worst team in the league at scoring into an empty net? Is there a stat for that?
-Excellent game overall, as these Avalanche tilts have been lately, with lots of skating and end-to-end action, but no goonery or mindless antics after the whistles. Lots of scoring chances, posts hit, lots of chances to ooh and aah for the crowd. I'd watch games against the Avalanche rather than the Leafs or Senators any day.
-Lars Eller should play like this every game. Strong on the puck, decisive, shooting at the net rather than trying to dangle through the entire team. He got credited with six shots, but RDS noted that he had six in the second alone, so he must have had at least double that in attempts, with a few being deflected or blocked.