Friday, 19 December 2014

Game 33: Canadiens 1, Anaheim 2

Canadiens Express thoughts on the Canadiens 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, I had to pirate the Saku Koivu ceremony on a stream that was difficult to find, with popups and delays, etc.

Thank you Gary Bettman.

Right at puck drop, I heard some low boos when Ryan Getzlaf was on the ice, and I was puzzled as to why.  I guessed that he was getting the business from the fans since he's the best player on the Ducks team.

Now, I dislike the practice of booing the opposition's best player as a matter of course, putatively to get them off their game.  I don't think Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or Erik Karlsson deserve this treatment, we should appreciate their effort and artistry, as hockey fans.

Then I realized that the New Forum crowd was booing René Bourque, and to me that was just as dumb.  René underperformed for most of his stay here, he on some nights, and even some long stretches of games seemed to be sleepwalking, but I think it was beyond his control, it wasn't a conscious decision to play soft, uninspired hockey.  Certainly compared to Michael Ryder or Andrei Kostitsyn or Thomas Vanek it didn't seem so.  Those guys seemed to not care whether the team won or lost on some nights.  René was just lost in a fog in my opinion, and not to get too technical.

So yeah, disappointing showing for René while he was here, but he did have these enticing peaks in performance, when he dominated games.  The Tampa Bay series last spring for example.  He can still get it done under the right conditions.  So why would we do anything to add any further motivation, on his return to Montréal?  Why not let sleeping dogs lie?

It's not as if René was not likable as a person.  He was a popular teammate, thoughtful and humble when cornered by the press, we can wish he could have done more, but I don't think he did anything to draw the average Hab fan's enmity.

Speaking of big forwards who underwhelm, Eric Tangradi, who some may have thought could perform the role that Travis Moen did lately with the team, and I may have verged on that position myself, showed tonight definitively that he's not at all at that level.  During a sequence that Pierre Houde said lasted almost three minutes, he and Manny Malhotra and Michaël Bournival were backed up in their zone, unable to clear out.

Mr. Tangradi at first looked like he wasn't playing smart, by just staying in his position rather than pressuring the puck, and letting the Ducks cycle it easily along the boards.  Then I realized that it wasn't a tactical mistake, he's just immobile.  And on top of being slow, he was gassed early on in that sequence.  It seemed inevitable that the Ducks would burst through and they did taking a 1-0 lead.

After the game, Guy Carbonneau and Benoit Brunet both discussed the wisdom of having him in the lineup, and sending down Sven Andrighetto to the Bulldogs.

Based on my edited viewing of the game, Nathan Beaulieu and Tom Gilbert were effective and are rounding into form as a pairing.  One situation I noticed was when Andrew Cogliano was skating the puck out of his zone, trying to get it under control.  Instead of backing off, both defencemen stayed close, and Nathan actually skated right up to him and pokechecked the puck off him before he could get his wits about him.  All that was left was for Tom to skate after the puck in his zone and calmly retrieve it.

Our ideal partner for Nathan would have been a big tough defensively-oriented steady-eddie type who would stay back and cover for him while he charged to the attack, kind of what the Senators had in mind when they traded for Marc Methot so he could play alongside Erik Karlsson and mind the store.  We don't really have that guy in our arsenal right now, so maybe Tom Gilbert is a good option.  Together they're going to be mobile and effective in puck retrieval situations, and to make that proverbial first pass out of our zone.

The game, and a good chunk of our season potentially, turned on a typical NHL play, one where an undertalented player "finishes his check" against a more skilled opponent.  Clayton Stoner, who was in the Ducks' lineup because Sheldon Souray, François Beauchemin and Eric Brewer were on the injured list, hit Max Pacioretty in the back, a full two strides after Max had passed the puck, projecting him awkwardly into the boards.  Max left the game and didn't return.  No penalty was called on the play.

This is the kind of suicidal thinking that is keeping the NHL from taking flight, the idea that a Clayton Stoner must be allowed to do this, to equalize things a bit, or else he's going to get eaten alive, like Tim Gleason did on Tuesday when the Hurricanes were in town.  Somehow, Colin Campbell and Don Cherry and Mike Milbury, guys who hung on to an NHL career because they were allowed to live in the margins of lax refereeing, now set the agenda, and hammer the point ceaselessly that hockey is a rough and tumble game, that bad things are going to happen, that you need to keep your head up.

This is how an Antoine Roussel and a Jordin Tootoo has a career in the NHL.  Somehow the game is tilted towards them and away from the Max Paciorettys and the Teemu Selannes.  Hockey is the only game that does that.  Basketball, baseball, football, all foster a more offensive game with their rule-making to make the sport more exciting and fan-friendly, and as a corollary safer for the players.  This is how a Clayton Stoner, a fringe player who has four goals to his credit in 255 games in the NHL, has a more important effect on the game than a young star like Max Pacioretty.

After the it's-all-good business as usual non-call, Dale Weise tried to get some retribution by throwing a few hits, and drew a penalty from Patrick Maroon when the latter pushed Dale in the back, with the puck nowhere near.  Of course, Bruce Boudreau was incensed at the call.  I guess he would have been arguing that Dale dived on that call, and I have to wonder how it wasn't clearly, obviously a case of interference, in anyone's eyes, how this was up to debate from any observer, regardless of whether Dale had fallen or not.

David Desharnais tied the game up during the ensuing powerplay, he had to play sniper with Max unavailable, and he demonstrated again on that play that his shot is effective from in close.  We all know this, he just needs to believe it.

Unfortunately, the Ducks took the lead again soon after, on a nice shot by Matt Beleskey from the slot.  At first I thought Carey went down early, but on replay saw that he was in the Reverse VH position and guarding the post against Richard Rakell, who was coming in along the goal line.  Carey had to be up tight against his post and low, so the quick pass in the slot gave him no chance.

Down 2-1, the Canadiens tried to take the advantage, but any last gasp chance was nullified by a P.K. Subban interference penalty with two and a half minutes to go.  P.K. didn't play it smart on this one, Pierre Houde had remarked that he was lucky to not have received a penalty on a slashing he dished out seconds before.  We can guess that the refs were loath to hand out a late penalty, as is the custom in the NHL, but that their attention was drawn to P.K. on that play, that he was on super-duper double probation for the rest of his shift.

Instead of playing it cool and being a good boy, of capitalizing on this indulgence, he doubled down and threw a pick on Devante Smith-Pelley, a player he'd clashed with all game long.  P.K. tried to act nonchalant, as if they'd just happened to collide in the neutral zone while his teammate tried to skate away with the puck, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Again we have to call into question P.K.'s situational awareness.  Down one goal, late in the third, it wasn't the time to continue his little battle with Mr. Smith-Pelley.  This is the kind of dumb penalty that was completely avoidable.  He should have been concentrating on getting the puck into the Ducks zone, on getting his shot to the net, instead of his in-game rivalry.

The RDS boys were discussing other elite NHL defencemen, and explained how guys like Shea Weber and Drew Doughty are in the vast majority of cases the reason you win a game, while P.K. this year has often had at best a neutral influence, if not being the reason we lose.  It's one step forward, one step back with our boy this year.

The Sven Andrighetto decision may be reversed almost as soon as it was taken.  Apparently Max was taken to hospital after the game, so we'll have a big, big hole on our Top 6, one that Lars Eller's return will not start to fill.  Maybe Sven doesn't get to unpack and comes right back to Montréal.  Or would it be Charles Hudon who gets a kick at the can next?


  1. Another fine post Normand. Frankly, I can't understand why I don't see comments following them. Your posts are as insightful and thoughtful as the most Habs-aware pundits. It doesn't hurt that I usually agree with you. Speaking of "hurt", let's hope that Max is not too much so and will return soon.

  2. Agreed. Most underrated hockey blog on the internet!