Saturday, 6 December 2014

Game 28: Canadiens 3, Blackhawks 4

Dave Wannstedt, who's a dead ringer for Dennis Farina, and who was the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh and of the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears in the NFL among other stints, was introducing the PAC 12 Championship game between the Oregon Ducks and the Arizona Wildcats.  He talked about how both coaches had lots of freshmen and young players on their roster, and needed to approach the game in a positive, encouraging way, and set the right temper.

"In a game like this," he said, "as a coach, you're scared to death because you want your players fired up, you want your young kids playing reckless, you're talking about that all week.  But in the back of your mind, you're saying 'We don't need to force any big plays, just don't make the mistakes.'  That's what you're thinking, but you don't want to negative-coach.  So there's a fine line of a freshman going out there playing reckless, making plays, or making mistakes."

I thought of this analysis as I watched the football game and waited for RDS' Canadiens Express condensed broadcast of the game, since I was blacked out of the real-time version.  

Thank you Gary Bettman.

We've spent a lot of time angsting over the relegation of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu to Hamilton to make room for Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Allen, and earlier this season on Jiri Sekac being sat in favour of Travis Moen among others.  We try to balance the benefit of players apprenticing in a lower level, paying their dues, getting up to speed, versus being exposed to the speed of the NHL and learning on the fly.  So what Coach Wannstedt spoke of resonated with this Habs fan.

Of course, football and hockey are different in how players approach the game.  Certainly on defence and on coverage teams, you want football players to play with recklessness, with abandon, or at least controlled aggression.  Hockey requires a more cerebral approach.  By necessity, you need to pace yourself a little bit, you can't go all out for five seconds and then catch your breath for thirty. 

But it's easy to imagine Coach Therrien having the same inner battle when coaching his players, about wanting to foster their passion and creativity, but also wanting them to be positionally sound, and maybe wondering if one doesn't necessarily detract from the other.  

Lars Eller's injury, which seems relatively serious, and should require him to miss a few games, could crystallize this discussion.  There not necessarily being a centre in Hamilton who can step up and replace Lars as the third-line centre, even on a short-term basis, and Manny Malhotra being ill-suited for anything other than fourth-line duty, we may have to shift Alex Galchenyuk to centre for a few games, and live with the mistakes, and the games where he's just confused and overmatched and dominated.

And it does seem things will go that way, with the announcement that it's Sven Andrighetto who got called up from Hamilton, not centres Charles Hudon, Gabriel Dumont or Jacob de la Rose.

As far as the game goes, the fishtail ending was unfortunate, but this was certainly a better showing than the game in Minnesota.  End to end action, exciting play with lots of organized breakouts, scoring chances, pucks hitting posts, it's just too bad we came out of it with a 4-3 loss, when we were within a minute of sending it to overtime, and when we'd come so close to putting the game away ourselves.

Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert have received some deserved criticism lately, but they had some flareups tonight when they showed what they can do, why we can and should expect more.  Tom Gilbert had a couple of sequences in the third where he almost helped put the 'Hawks away.  Alexei earned an assist on Sergei Gonchar's goal, one that was fully deserved since he got the puck in the zone despite being slashed from behind.  We often talk about being strong on the puck, making strong plays, well Alexei's sequence could be the video exemplar of that.

Lots was expected of Andrei and P.K. tonight, having to go up against the dangerous Chicago forwards, and they mostly delivered.  P.K. seems out of his funk, and now has reverted to the incarnation from the playoffs last spring.  Just checking his numbers, he had 6 shots and 5 hits in 25 minutes of play, and scored a powerplay goal.  He just needs to do that 82 times a season, and shift into a higher gear in the playoffs, to earn his $9M.

Andrei had the unfortunate bounce of the puck off his backhand right to Brandon Saad for the game-deciding goal, and that was unfortunate, a little hard to overlook, but it's also true that he had that pokecheck off Jonathan Toews on the rush.  Andrei gets a warehouse full of mulligans from me.

But why is Dan Carcillo not in jail?  What possible justification can he have for his two-handed pile-driving of Alex Galchenyuk's face into the ice, a minute or so after the play was whistled dead?  And more saliently, why did the refs even listen to that maggot, instead of immediately sending him to the penalty box?  When they had grounds to assess five or six different penalties?  That's the NHL for you, killing hockey for decades now, for your enjoyment.

Well, it's "on to Dallas", as Bill Belichick would say, where a win will still salvage a .500 record for this roadie, which isn't half bad.

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