Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Game 32: Canadiens 4, Hurricanes 1

These are my Canadiens Express thoughts on the Canadiens' win, I had to resort to the condensed RDS version of the game, since I was blacked out of the game by the new whiz-bang TV deal that's going to last 12 years and is going to serve me so much better as a hockey fan.

Thank you Gary Bettman.

"Y'en aura pas d'faciles", as Claude Ruel used to say.  I tempted fate after the Kings game when I wrote that this next game against Carolina should/would be an easy two-pointer.  The Canadiens let them hang around instead of finishing them off when they were down, and in the third I started having a bad feeling about how it would all go down.  We had the makings of a Buffalo Sabres situation, again.

The Brandon Prust, David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau line seemed to have a great start to the game, unless the Canadiens Express editors had an agenda and cut out all the sequences where they struggled.  The trio was dangerous, buzzing around the Hurricane zone.

On the Canadiens' first goal, P.A. made a good cross-ice pass giving David a great look at the net, and forcing Cam Ward to push out and challenge him.  David showed patience, skated around to behind the net while the 'Canes goalie slid far out of his net, helpless to stop himself.  From then it was a simple matter to slip the puck to Brandon Prust who tapped it into the empty net.

This misstep by Cam Ward is reminiscent of situations Carey Price would get himself into a few years ago, how he'd end up far, far out of his net on goals against.  He never, ever does that anymore, since Stéphane Waite has become the goalie coach.  We can guess that there was some communication between the brass and the goalie, and he'd explain that he was doing what he's coached to do, what he's been practicing, and that this may have among other factors triggered the coaching change from Pierre Groulx to Mr. Waite.

During the game we saw various examples of 'strong plays' on the puck, and not so strong plays that drive coaches crazy.  This is hockey newspeak, and a strong play simply means being decisive and safe with the puck, especially in your own zone, rather than making a fancy stickhandling play in your zone that is riskier.

One example of a not-strong play was when P.K. deftly intercepted a Zach Boychuk pass in front of his own net, and ended up with the puck right at his feet.  He tried to take a moment, a mere second to reposition so he could pass the puck and start the breakout, but he didn't have the 'time and space' (another buzzword) and got pushed off the puck from behind by Mr. Boychuk, which created a scoring chance for the Hurricanes.

This is one of those plays that gets evaluated based on the result.  If as a result of his hesitation he'd made a nifty pass out of the zone he'd have gotten a pat on the back.  Since he got burned, it looked bad on him, he didn't make a strong play, which in this case would have been a quick wild stab at the puck as soon as he possibly could to sweep it into the corner or bang it off the boards.  Josh Gorges and Hal Gill were great at those.

Another not-strong play by P.K. happened during a four-on-four in the second period when, on the offensive blue line with the puck, he was being pressured by Eric Staal, and instead of flipping the puck in the corner and out of harm's way, where one of his forwards could go retrieve it, he tried to stickhandle and protect the puck, with no one backing him up.  Mr. Staal stole the puck and skated off on a partial break.  Again, no harm done, so no spotlight on this poor decision by P.K., there was no need to try the impossible when his team was already ahead 2-0, and he was in such a precarious position.

Another example of a player failing to make a strong play was Tom Gilbert with the puck behind his net, covered by a Hurricane forward, during the second period.  He'd been given the puck to allow a line change, so he was on his own and in a bit of a bind, and when he bobbled the puck and the Hurricane closed the distance, he gave the puck away and caused a half-minute of panic in his zone.  The easy Don Cherry play would have been to bang it out of his zone off the glass, a strong play, instead of the fancy whatever he was attempting.

The thing is, if a team or a defensive squad does nothing but strong plays all game long, it will in effect be a succession of giveaways, and these will come back to haunt a team as surely as a gaffe in front of one's net.  So the hallowed safe play is almost akin to putting off the inevitable.  Which is why a defenceman is forced to make decisions based on the risk and reward of his options.  A flip pass out his zone to a streaking Tomas Plekanec to potentially send him on a breakaway is low risk-high reward, while a cross-ice pass from his own zone to Dale Weise blanketed by forecheckers is high risk-low reward.

Sven Andrighetto fell off his expected scoring pace by 100%.  Playing with Manny Malhotra and Michaël Bournival for part of the game instead of Tomas and Jiri Sekac may have played a role.  With Lars Eller about to return to action, Sven can't mess around.  We'll be wanting two goals out of him against the Ducks Thursday.

Alex Galchenyuk on the other hand did meet expectations, bagging his first career hat trick, with all three goals featuring a sweet pass from Max Pacioretty.  This is similar to last season when Thomas Vanek played on Max's line, and his role wasn't so clearly defined anymore, he wasn't solely the sniper on the trio, but rather could pass Thomas the puck for good scoring chances.  So that may be a benefit of the switch at centre, Alex is a dangerous sniper too, he and Max can play off each other, at times playing the setup man, at times the triggerman.

Alex's first goal came in the second period, on an odd-man rush created by Andrei Markov, who skated up the middle and dished off to Max to his left, who spotted Alex trailing up the middle and slipped him the puck.  Alex had a wide open net to shoot at, Cam Ward having committed to Max's side.

The Hurricanes made it closer in the third with a goal that trickled in on Carey Price.  Jeff Skinner got the puck over Carey's left shoulder, it rolled down his back and landed on his leg pad, pressed against the post.  Victor Rask came in and poked at the puck, dislodging it so that it ended up in the net.  David Desharnais did what he could to prevent Mr. Rask from doing this, trying to tie up his stick to no avail, and I thought how a Bryan Allen or Douglas Murray or Craig Ludwig would have simply barred his way to Carey, and never allowed this goal to happen.

Carey was otherwise solid, notably stopping Nathan Gerbe on two rushes to the net, when he beat Andrei and then P.K. on the left side and wheeled to the net.  Meanwhile I wasn't so solid, fearing déja vu.

Alex put the game away with two more beauties, and comforted my fretful self, short-term and long-term.  He's going to be a good one.  I don't have buyer's remorse, or long for Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray or Mikhail Grigorenko.  Or even Filip Forsberg.

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