Saturday, 31 January 2015

Game 48: Canadiens 1, Capitals 0

The rope-a-dope Canadiens, who hang around and depend mostly on six or eight miracles by Carey Price to keep them in it and win late, and who were on hiatus Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, were back this morning to face off against the Capitals as part of the traditional back-to-back matinées on Super Bowl weekend.

They were up to their old tricks, getting outshot 9-7 and 17-6 in the second, before turning it on and winning the shot battle 15-10 in the third and 2-0 in overtime.  Max Pacioretty scored on a two-on-two rush with Tomas Plekanec, tipping in crossing pass from his centre, giving the Habs the 1-0 win.

Max was full value again today, playing 22 minutes, being a constant menace with his breakaways, especially while killing penalties, and unleashing seven shots at Braden Holtby.  His growth, the full expression of his potential and physical gifts, is a treat for Canadiens fans.

Carey Price had the Capitals shaking their heads at times, especially in the third period.  He made some amazing, Capital-deflating saves, and pulled a Patrick Roy by letting his posts bail him out three times.  After the game, as usual, he skated around looking for children to flip a souvenir puck to, in his role as the first star of the game.

The Galchenyuk-Desharnais-Gallagher line has been too quiet lately, and Lars Eller was marked for another beating on L'Antichambre.  Like me, the panel members were crestfallen at his non-event of a three-on-one shorthanded break, in which he didn't find a way to pass off to Tomas Plekanec or Andrei Markov, waited for an opening, an option, and ran out of room, flipping a puck weakly at Braden Holtby when he was right on top of him and no longer had any angles.

The panel members were suggesting that he should move to the wing, where he could still use his skating and size but with more limited options and decisions to take.  They believe that with his tools, he can be a very effective left winger, one who'll charge the net and shoot more, instead of hesitate with the puck on his stick, hemming and hawing until an opponent takes the puck away from him.

I think, with the struggling Coyotes coming into town tomorrow after a game in Ottawa today, that this might be a good time to shuffle things up, and try to jump start Lars by putting him at centre with the kids.  I don't necessarily think this is a long-term solution, but it might give all these guys a boost, putting them in a new situation, but one that they've had success with in the past.

I noticed Nathan Beaulieu again today using his mobility, his agility to good advantage.  He was standing in front of his net when a puck directed at the net got deflected off to the side board.  Nate spotted it and took off after it instantly, and easily corralled it and cleared it.  This is an area that a Josh Gorges excelled at, and where Hal Gill or a Bryan Allen or Douglas Murray struggled.  It's a truism that Nathan is an offensively-oriented defenceman, and will struggle on defence, but that's usually said when we mean banging in the corners or mucking in front of the net.  Clearly, Nate, along with P.K. and Tom Gilbert, other 'puck-movers', doesn't struggle at puck retrieval.

Finally, I tried to avoid pointing out the obvious flaws in Sportsnet’s coverage of the NHL, since these are already well established, but since it’s topical on social media, I noticed a couple of failings again today.

On a strictly technical point, they screwed up again during the Habs’ game. I’ll repeat, I’m not an broadcast TV expert or sophisticate. I only notice all these errors and goof-ups because they stand out, compared to the HNIC and “La Soirée du Hockey” and the RDS broadcasts. It’s kind of like dinner at the restaurant, you don’t really notice the chef(s) or waitstaff unless something goes wrong.

This afternoon, the rink sounds they had from their ice-level microphones weren’t synched with the image. I didn’t quite understand why the action seemed off, until the first post hit by Alex Ovechkin, I think. As he prepared to one-time the puck, you heard the ‘ping!’ off the post clearly, a clear beat before the puck actually got to the post. So much so that I knew the shot had gone off the post before it had been shot.

“That’s odd,” I thought, and hit rewind on the PVR, and I wasn’t dreaming. They flubbed it. Every shot that hit the post today was pre-announced as such. You’d hear the ping before the shot.

And that’s why the game seemed off, like I was watching the game on a poor stream, because Tom Gilbert would race off to a loose puck, battling to get to it before Brooks Laich, and you’d hear their sticks clashing before they got there.

I don’t know if Sportsnet is just needing a season or two to figure things out, or they’re running with a skeleton crew loaded with interns who’ll work cheap, but their broadcasts are larded with dead mikes, errant camera shots, highlights being run in reverse or fast-forward or in some comical instances both. The camera will purport to follow the puck carrier in an iso-shot, but the bottom half of the player is cut out, giving us no insight on his puckhandling. They’ll run a highlight, with a scrawl and banner with a misspelled headline blocking out the action they’re trying to show us.

Today, one of their teasers on the scrawl was that the “Leafs Look End Losing Streak”. No, I didn’t forget a word, that’s what it said.

And it didn’t get caught after a while, it ran for hours like that. No editor caught it before it went up, and no one saw it while it played on their screens over and over and over.

Thank you Gary Bettman, that twelve-year monopoly will serve me very well as a fan, and it may just reduce ticket prices to games while no decision has been made on a franchise in Vegas.

Another much more obvious problem was the in-between post-game show with Jeff Marek and John Shannon, who are good broadcasters, and P.J. Stock, who as expected wrested the controls of the ship from them and divebombed it into the ground.

He simply has nothing to bring to the proceedings, trades on his meager credentials for cheap laughs, goes into unfunny skits such as when he pretended to be talking on the phone to Dr. Phil, setting up an appointment for a colleague.

At one point, Jeff Marek, trying to bring things back on track, asked him about the best goal he’d ever seen scored, and after trying to veer off-topic, P.J. was forced to provide a Mario Lemieux anecdote. The very next question, the host asked him about the hardest he’d ever been hit, and you know that he was leading to something, trying to segue into another subject, but trusty P.J. brought the show to a screeching halt by blurting out: “My mother!”

Needle scratch off the record. P.J. beams to the camera. Ain’t he a card?

John Shannon, repeatedly throughout the show would look down, trying to quell a smirk, weary of the non-sequiturs and interruptions and absurdity coming from his left.

In “La Ligue Nationale de l’Impro”, the Quebec-born precursor to the much-reviled improv theatre genre, players wore hockey jerseys, had to play as a team, and cooperate with adversaries. Failure to do so would bring the very arch Yvan Ponton, acting as the referee, to blow on his kazoo and subtract points for the very grave infraction of ‘cabotinage’. Strictly translated, it means ‘goofing around’ or ‘acting like a jerk’, but it has a very negative meaning in French, not that of just regular people occasionally letting off steam. In the LNI, it meant that you weren’t working with the others to move the scene along, you weren’t playing well with others, to the detriment of everyone.

Anyway, if the scene was set in a kitchen, and you joined in and said “No actually, this is a spaceship and I’m the captain!”, you’d get kazooed quickly, that nonsense would get annulled, erased, and the previous scene which was building was thereby allowed to resume, oblivious to the previous interruption.

Today, while watching Sportsnet NoonDaySportsnetHockeySportsNewsCentral, I kept expecting Yvan Ponton to march into the frame and kazoo P.J. Stock back to the Stone Age.

Even Roger Goodell, Gary Bettman can't screw this up.

From a profile on Roger Goodell in GQ magazine:
Eric Winston, an offensive tackle for the Bengals and president of the NFL Players Association, says the NFL is simply too popular to screw up, and that its recent success has come in spite of Goodell’s leadership, not because of it: “You could be the worst bartender at spring break, but you’d still be killing it.

This article is recommended reading if you haven’t had a chance. It’s relevant to our discussions here, when some of us forgive Gary Bettman his foibles, his condescension to journos and the fans, his smarmy lectures, his reliance on his trusty, sole go-to nuclear option of a lockout, his treatment of the game as a commodity rather than a sacred trust, ‘because he raised league revenues’.

I’ve always contended that a trained monkey could be a league commissioner nowadays. Pro sports is in extremely high demand from media companies. While TV shows’ ratings are dropping, from the heyday of the seventies when there were only three networks, to today with the multi-channel universe and Netflix and streaming and other illegal options and PVR’s with their commercial-zapping properties, pro sports have risen in importance disproportionately. They’re a TV product that needs to be consumed immediately, since it rapidly grows stale. If you’re a true fan and want to follow along with Bruce Arthur on Twitter or the Headmaster’s Liveblog, you need to be watching as it happens, commercials and all.

These shifts are occurring in other media. Sales of movies (videos, Blu-Ray, I-Tunes, etc.) have cratered, but video games are now a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Movie genre segmentation is occurring as well. New releases are aimed at teens with 3-D frenetic action sequences to draw them to the theatre, while more sedate offerings are getting harder to finance and produce, since these can be pirated and consumed at home more easily.

So pro sports are what every network is clamouring for, and not just the traditional offerings. College football and basketball are now essentially a pro sport, a product. NASCAR, curling, poker, whatever fills air time will be snatched up.

Bud Selig, maybe the most hapless bumbler who’s ever presided over a league, retired recently and analysts had to grudgingly admit that during his watch, he presided over labour peace, and watched revenues grow from X to a number orders of magnitude greater. The proverbial rising tide is raising all boats.

So when Gary Bettman uses hockey as his personal fiefdom to settle old scores, and hands monopolies to Sportsnet and TVA in spite of their demonstrable relative incompetence, to spite CBC/Ron MacLean, and to hold off Pierre Péladeau while the Florida Panthers sitch plays itself out, production values and viewers and fans be darned, let’s not give him a pass because he got a lot of money for Ed Snyder in return.

He would have got a lot of money out of anyone. You or I and a couple of lawyers and agents to act as advisors would have gotten a lot of money. A trained monkey on roller skates wearing a tuxedo, taking a break from typing out the complete works of Shakespeare, while huffing on a cigarette and flinging his excrement at Colin Campbell, would have gotten a lot of money out of any network(s).

Martin Brodeur retires, is compared to other greats Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek.

Kirk McLean was on TSN 1040 and had an interesting discussion with hosts Blake Price and Matt Sekeres on the giants of goaltending of the previous era, in the wake of Martin Brodeur’s retirement. They generally agreed that Marty was, within the bounds of that strict comparison, kind of the ‘automatic’ or system goalie, a superb player who gave his team a chance to win every time he was in the crease.

Patrick Roy was the most intimidating, the guy who would psych out the other team most often right off the bat, making them think they didn’t have a chance to win. Dominik Hasek was the goalie who, on the other hand, made you think you were close, the dam was about to burst, you came so close so many times, there were so many miraculous or flukey saves, that one or three was about to go in. And then as the third period went on you got frustrated and started pressing and lost heart.

A mistaken conceit held by Blake Price is that, again within the bounds of that strict comparison, Patrick Roy could get a demerit or two for being on “strong teams”, that since he was on Cup-winning teams, he was better served than Dominik Hasek with the Sabres. And a few people who didn’t go through those eighties years believe that, that Patrick Roy’s teams were stacked. They don’t understand how much Patrick meant in ’86 and ’93. Sure the Avalanche years approached sinecure level, but within reason, Patrick single-handedly took the Habs to those Cups.

I remember that overtime game against the Rangers in ’86, how giddy we all felt in the nightclub-turned-pub for the occasion, that Patrick wasn’t going to let one in, that the game was over, the Rangers knew it, we just had to wait and see how exactly the details would turn out. It was academic. The result itself wasn’t in doubt, just the stats, the copy the journos would have to write.

How Patrick stood up in the dressing room and told the team to go out and score against the Nordiques in the opening series in ’93, he’d take care of defending against them, that gets forgotten. Because he had Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg on his side later in his career, his importance and leadership when the chips were down and the series seemed lost against the Nordiques seems to be downplayed.

Being realistic, the Canadiens were a little bit of a dark horse those seasons, we got a couple breaks along the way, with the Oilers getting eliminated in '86 and the Penguins being knocked out for us in in ’93, among other powerhouses. The Canadiens weren’t bad teams, they just suffered a little bit in comparison to the dynasty Guy Lafleur-Big Three-Ken Dryden teams, the Islanders or Oiler dynasties, or the Pens with Mario and Mario Junior.

They were still very strong teams, as I was reminded watching an NHL Classic broadcast of the 1986 Stanley Cup Final Game 6 recently.  But Patrick, with his guarantees and heroics and his wink and his overtimes, he was the biggest reason by far that we won those Cups, more than say Marc-André Fleury or Chris Osgood ever were on their respective teams, or Claude Lemieux or Bobby Smith or Vincent Damphousse ever were.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

NHL releases mid-season rankings for the 2015 draft.

The NHL's Central Scouting Service has released its mid-season rankings for the 2015 draft.  Offhand, it's great to see more representation from the LHJMQ, after a fallow year in 2014.

We note that there is a defenceman named Jérémy Roy from the Sherbrooke Phénix at #23, and a 6'4" centre named Nicolas Roy from the Chicoutimi Saguenéens at #25.  The funny thing is, there are so many players in the LHJMQ with the last name Roy that I don’t even try to keep track.  There were another couple draftable prospects name Roy last year or two years ago, and I still can’t keep Patrick Roy’s kids names straight.  It’s worse than the Sutters-Suters.

I went to high school with a Konecny, I wonder if he’s any relation to Travis, a smallish forward from the Ottawa 67's ranked 26th. There can’t be that many with that last name in our neck of the woods, can there?

I also note there’s a Jake DeBrusk at #24, wonder if he’s Louie’s kid.  A quick spin on Wikipedia confirms that he is.

Guillaume Brisebois at 6’2″ 175 lbs, a little too on the nose, no? We’d know if Patrice had a son about to be drafted?

I doubt we’ll get a shot at Lawson Crouse, ranked at #4.

Not begrudging our great season, but I wish we could accumulate draft picks and take advantage of more of this talent this June.

Hockey in Québec ain't what it used to be.

RDS did a poll of Quebecers playing in the NHL, and came up with the best local product in the league, along with a ‘Équipe Québec’. Patrice Bergeron edges out Martin St-Louis for the title.

Don’t know what brought this on, although this was a popular exercise in the seventies, probably due to the political situation back then.

Anyway, this isn’t a very strong team at all. Alex Burrows, Alex Tanguay, Mike Ribeiro, Antoine Vermette. Jason Pominville on the first line. Marco Scandella on the blue line. I note Vincent Lecavalier didn’t receive one vote.

How far Québec hockey has fallen. Back in the seventies, you had Gilbert Perreault and his French Connection linemates, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Pierre Larouche, all superstar scorers at forward. Two thirds of the Big Three with Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe on defence, with maybe Carol Vadnais on the blue line. Find a loophole to get Denis Potvin on there maybe? Rogatien Vachon and Bernard Parent in goal. Now that was a decent team.

Used to be les Québécois were battling for scoring titles, now we have a great two-way second-line centre as the best we can offer.

Canadiens recall Gabriel Dumont, give the Bulldog bulldog another kick at the can.

The Canadiens have recalled Gabriel Dumont from Hamilton, which is good news in this fan's view.  I’m partial to the kid, I have to admit. Last season, when there were more Hamilton games available to watch, I was impressed with how hard he worked, and how he backs down from no one, despite not being the biggest guy around. Talk to Don Cherry’s man-crush Mike Zigomanis about Gabriel Dumont, he probably still has lumps on his forehead from the last time they met.

Generally, about callups and Gabriel Dumont, we often fret that Sven Andrighetto or Christian Thomas are miscast as fourth-liners, they should play in the Top 6 where their offensive skills can shine, blah, blah, blah…

Well there’s no such worry about young Monsieur Dumont. He’s very defensively conscious, gritty, and tough as $3 steak. If we want someone on the Bottom 6, Gabriel can fill that role.

I hoped he'd get a callup this season, with the proviso that Marc Bergevin may be leery to bring him up if he plans to send him down again. Gabriel Dumont is no longer waiver-exempt, and there’s a chance another team might snag him when they try to send him back down to Hamilton.

And that may explain why the entry-level contract youngsters are getting the callups so far, or expendable Drayson Bowman. There’s no risk that another team will claim them on the way back down, or if they do in Drayson Bowman or Eric Tangradi’s case, no real harm is done.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Wanna trade for Phil Kessel? Buyer beware...

In his book “Future Greats and Heartbreaks”, author Gare Joyce is in the draft room when the Columbus Blue Jackets scouts are discussing Phil Kessel’s blights as a prospect.

These include:

1) Awkward personality and demeanor.
2) Trouble getting along with teammates and coaches.
3) Lack of effort in certain aspects of the game.
4) Poor physical conditioning.

These issues are brought up in a pre-draft interview, and Phil, not a polished speaker or a guy who relates easily to others, kind of flubs his answers to some tough-ish questions.

Some people try to defend the Toronto winger, saying he's being attacked for no real reason, but to minimize these problems or try to argue them away is futile it seems.  Phil never really has succeeded in putting them behind him.

Some players do grow and overcome. Patrick Roy used to eat fast-food to excess, earning himself the nickname ‘Casseau’ from his teammates, a French-Canadian term for the container french fries come in. In time, with Jean Perron offering a lot of coaching on this, he changed his eating habits.

Mathieu Schneider was knocked as having a shot that couldn’t break a pane of glass when he first came up to the Canadiens. He reflected on this at the end of his career, and explained that with a heck of a lot of work, notably with Jacques Laperrière and Claude Ruel, he developed a very effective slapshot.

So players do evolve, but it seems Phil is who he is, a sublime scorer with great big flaws. Comparisons abound to Patrick Kane, another player who isn’t the whole package, but surrounded by strong coaches and good leaders, finds a role and is influenced in the right direction. Phil doesn’t have that luxury in Toronto unfortunately.

Specifically to his physical conditioning, it’s often brought up that he scores well on certain tests, or that he’s still the fastest skater out there. Trouble is, that may be strictly natural ability. He might be one of those freaks who doesn’t look like much but get him on the field or on the ice and he wows you. And when he approaches his thirties, that natural ability will fade, or fall off a cliff, and he won’t be able to dominate based on that. Guy Lafleur experienced something similar the second half of his career.

Phil has never been a workout warrior, and admitted as much this fall at training camp, with his famous “I don’t think I skated ten times this summer” quote. Paul Maurice spoke of his players conditioning generally, and how they passed the ‘shirts off’ test. Phil fails that test, abysmally.

So any team that acquires Phil Kessel has to know that he is who we think he is, to borrow from coach Dennis Green. They better have that structure in place, the leadership corps that he can come in and complement, serve as an on-ice lieutenant at most, and provide a scoring threat who they desperately need.

Ideally, it will be in a city where the media glare will fall off, a Phoenix or Florida or Anaheim, because I don’t relish him being hounded for much longer. It’s not the guy’s fault he’s kind of quirky, and that he likes playing hockey but thinks the systems and crashing and banging and all that dryland training stuff is crap. He’s endured a lot in his life, notably a cancer scare.

A lot of his woes are self-inflicted, the biggest one being his decision to re-sign in Toronto, instead of pulling a Tomas Vanek and being very open about wanting to use his options as a free agent. But it’s getting a little stale to see him be pilloried on a daily basis. It’s probably time for a divorce with the Leafs.

Game 46: Canadiens 3, Stars 2

Watching the Canadiens 3-2 win against the Stars on RDS' condensed "Canadiens Express", having been blacked out by the new fan-friendly TV contract that gives the insipid Sportsnet and TVA a 12-year monopoly (thank you Gary Bettman), I didn't get a sense that the Canadiens were dominated to that degree, until the third period, where the edited segments had Pierre Houde and Marc Denis marveling at Carey Price's performance.  Until then, I felt the game was more evenly pitched, with both sides failing to convert on many opportunities.

I posted as much on after the game against the Predators:
One of the advantages of being forced to watch the Habs on RDS’ “Canadiens Express” is that you miss out on a lot of the little things, like the flow of the game. The only sense I got, while watching this condensed version of the broadcast, that the Canadiens were struggling against the Preds were the occasional mentions by Pierre Houde about the shot count.
“Mon cher Marc, les Prédateurs ont un net avantage au chapitre des tirs au but, car ils ont maintenant 18 tirs contre seulement 4 pour les Canadiens!”
“Ben alors, c’est maintenant 22 à 4 pour les Prédateurs.”
“Marc, les Canadiens n’ont pas dirigé une rondelle qui a forcé Carter Hutton à faire un arrêt depuis le milieu de la première période, et tirent de l’arrière 26 à 4 dans la rubrique ‘tirs au but’…”
So for the obliviousness and reduced stress level this provides me, I have to thank Gary Bettman. I do feel better served as a fan by this new TV contract. Now with Moar Kypreos!

One thought I had during the game was that Kari Lehtonen looked weak enough that maybe we had a chance to trade them Dustin Tokarski and steal a Brett Ritchie or Jamie Oleksiak in return.  That goal by Alexei Emelin was unforgivable.  He should be tending goal in the ECHL.  Or for the Oilers.

Lots of talk in the post-game press conference about Michel Therrien’s decision to send out Manny Malhotra to take the faceoff in his zone with 2.7 seconds left in the first period, but not a second centre in case he got tossed, which he did. The coach explained that he wanted to have Manny to have a good chance to win the draw, and Michaël Bournival and Brendan Gallagher, since they’re quick and gutsy enough to block shots if he lost it.

Also, he explained that Brendan takes a lot of faceoffs on his strong side, so there was that fallback option if Manny got tossed, which he did. But Gally lost the draw clean, Jamie Benn got a clean shot off and beat a screened Carey Price.

Earlier this season, when questioned on his faceoff prowess, Manny spoke about how it’s not just a physical contest, there’s a lot of mental gamesmanship, lots of strategy involved. He explained that in some situations, he’s not so much trying to win a faceoff, but rather ensure that he doesn’t lose it cleanly, he’s trying to mess it up more than win it.

On that period-ending faceoff, that’s what Brendan should have been doing, instead of trying to win the puck and put it harmlessly in the corner and waiting for the horn to sound, he could/should have tied up Tyler Séguin and his stick and muddled the play and prevented that clean pass backwards.

It’s not a slight at Brendan, just an observation, and a situation where a young winger was beaten where a grizzled vet of a centre would have done the job.

We talked about Gabriel Dumont a little bit over the All-Star break, he just got called up from the Bulldogs.  I wonder if they’ll try him at centre on the fourth line and sit Manny, or send down Christian Thomas.

Big win, over a team we need to beat at home, we need to bank these points when playing games at home against this season's also-rans.  We'd like the wins to be a little more convincing, a little more decisive, but if you're going to trip over your own member, it might as well be so as to cause you to fall ass-backwards into a win and two points.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Deflategate: Would you buy a used car from Roger Goodell, or ask him to investigate where we should have lunch?

Speaking of Roger Goodell, one of the findings of the investigation of his 'investigation' in the Ray Rice spousal assault was that he took very poor notes of their meeting, laughably thin, basically unusable.  To me, it demonstrated that he wasn't 'curious' during this investigation.  Whenever a manager is interviewing an employee for potential discipline/dismissal, it's recommended that you go in with an open mind, eager to get that person's side of things, her story, rather than with pre-conceived notions about what took place and what further actions 'should' result.

During their interview, with NFLPA staff and his agent present, Mr. Rice told the Commissioner that he "hit" his fiancée.  As this story unfolded, I wanted to know more.  What did he mean hit?  Did he mean shove, rough shove, slap, push, fend off?  Did he mean punch?  What kind of punch, a fake "Leave me alone beeatch or I'll..." that turned out horribad, or a full-on punch, with intent?  All these questions should have been asked, if the Commish had been curious.

During these kind of interviews, a subject will sometimes lapse into 'conversational-ese', and use figures of speech like "Well we walk into the store, and one thing leads to another, and..."  At which point the interviewer has to stop and backtrack, and ask, "What specifically led to what?  What do you mean one thing led to another?"  Any time you hear words like "whatever" or "blah blah blah", you have to stop the subject and encourage him to be precise, specific, and give a full account, that this isn't a bar tale that needs to get to the punchline, no pun intended.  You want the full story, the whole picture, not a sketch.

So that when Roger Goodell didn't press Ray Rice on what he meant by "hit", he wasn't doing his job, he wasn't being curious.  He didn't need information to make a decision.  He'd already cut a deal with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to go easy on Ray Rice since he was a fine young man who'd made a stupid mistake.  So he didn't really need the facts, the whole picture.  He didn't need to take any notes.  The decision had already been made.

This was almost a show trial, going through the rigamarole to give the impression of due process and an opportunity to express remorse, to make the slap on the wrist more palatable.

One of the excuses that Roger Goodell has used to explain the poor notes he took, and the botched handling of this case, is that he's "not a lawyer".  Which is a scream.  If you admit that, what the heck were you doing acting as a hanging judge in the Bountygate investigation, and suspending all these coaches and GM's?  If your incompetence is an excuse in the Ray Rice tomfoolery, then how do you stand by the penalties enacted on the Saints?

And now the league is investigating another darling franchise and owner, Robert Kraft's Patriots.  It will be interesting to see how involved Roger Goodell will be, or whether due to potential conflict of interest or bias or his tarred image or all three he'll maintain an arm's length remove.

But it will be difficult for the league to 'get it right'.  Its credibility has been damaged lately, so very few will be satisfied that justice was done in the deflation of footballs case.  Analysts say that the Patriots staff will stay mum, there won't be a 'smoking gun', but again, there didn't need to be one for the Saints, they used the lack of institutional control as reason enough for the harsh suspensions.

On the other hand, how can you suspend coaches and players and staff on the eve of the Super Bowl?  Do you rob your fans of the best game you can offer?  Or do you allow a team of cheaters to prosper, and defer punishment until later, when it won't matter?

He's learned this lesson too late, but Roger Goodell is better off having an investigating arm doing the review of cases like these, and maybe an independent arbitrator doing the final ruling.  We'll see how they handle this football.  Will he be curious, or will he have an idea of what 'should' happen, for the good of the league?

Deflategate: How do I cheat thee? Let me count the ways...

About the NFL letting teams ‘control’ the game balls, that was done with the expectations that the teams would go about this in good faith. As pointed out in numerous reports, some QB’s have different tastes as to how their football should feel, so the League gave teams latitude as to how their QB’s and kickers could prepare the balls, as long as they respected the standards. If it means more offence and a more fan-friendly game, why not, right?

What the Patriots did was to submit legally inflated balls for the pre-game inspection that the referees perform a couple hours before the game, to keep everyone honest. The Pats, and they’ll have to prove to me that this isn’t what happened, then went back into the bag before kickoff and actively deflated the balls. They queered the game, post-inspection. This wasn’t no accident no-how. There was clear intent.

The balls didn't deflate due to climate, as Bill Nye denied.  They didn't all magically settle at the very same deflated level.  Eleven out of twelve balls, with one mysteriously unaffected by the rigorous process Bill Belichick described.

This was done underhandedly. They tampered with the balls before kickoff. This is active cheating, like a race car being prepared in contravention to the standards of the governing body, or players using illegal sticks, or pitchers doctoring the baseball.

The fact that they beat the Colts handily doesn’t diminish their culpability. For me, this plus Spygate plus another episode brought up by a commentator who used to play for the Pats, and recalled a game when they were facing off against the Peyton Manning Colts at the height of their offensive prowess, and somehow accidentally the sprinklers were left on all night so the field was a soggy mess to slow down the Reggie Waynes and Marvin Harrisons, they prove that Bill Belichick will stop at nothing, not dishonesty or legality to win games.

If he got caught with Spygate and now this, there are twenty more incidents that he knowingly bent or broke the rules that he didn’t get caught.

Throw the book at them. Sean Payton took a year suspension in the teeth and never said a word. I want Bill Belichick to get the same treatment.

Once the dust settles, most probably what will happen is a system like in baseball, where the refs rub a certain number of balls prior to every game with a specific proprietary mud, to take the sheen off, and that’s the ball everyone plays with, no exceptions. And if a player is caught doctoring a ball by scuffing it or adding a slick substance to it, that’s outright cheating, it’s not a ‘little tug of the jersey’, it’s a suspendable offence.

But again, the Patriots are caught red-handed, not the Jaguars or the Browns, or the Raiders of old, who as Lisa Simpson said, were likely to win because “they always cheat.” The Pats, not the Raiders, are the new rogue organization, who don’t believe that there is such a thing as dirty pool.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 9: Notes

Well, there's nothing to watch during this All-Star weekend, so let's catch up on these episodes.

This episode again looked at how the team dealt with the equipment they have to cargo around with them on road trips, something they highlighted also last season.  It's also the week of the Mothers Trip to Boston and New York.

1:15  The moms, along with a couple daughters and sisters, tour the facilities.  P.K. grabs hold of his mom's elbow before she treads on the logo in the center of the dressing room carpet.  He grouses to the camera that she just about cost him some money, but she gets it, and laughs at her near sacrilege.  "Never walk on the emblem..." she agrees.

2:20  Getting off the plane, Brandon Prust is ambushed TMZ-style by a cameraman about not carrying his mom's bags.  He brushes it off.

"Nah, my mom is stronger than me..."

2:40  Darlene Tokarski and Barbara Weise get a lot of camera time, they are both very well spoken and express the effect this trip has on them, how much they learn about what their sons do when they're at 'work'.

3:15  Bryan Allen joins the team after the trade that brought him from Anaheim.  He introduces himself to his new team members while they are having drinks prior to a banquet in honour of the mothers.  He's glad to see a familiar face in former Panther teammate Mike Weaver.

3:45  General Manager Marc Bergevin brought his older sister Paulette on the trip.  While he introduces her, another mom translates for her benefit, since she doesn't speak English.  It's arguable that Marc himself does so, but he fakes it well and pulls it off by the force of his personality.

Various players introduce their mothers.  Brandon Prust says that when he was younger she'd reward him for scoring goals by giving him Skittles.  "Needless to say," he cracks, "she saves a lot of money on Skittles these days."

Dale Weise: "This is my mom Barbara.  To this day I haven't played a bad game in her eyes."

P.K. to Bryan Allen: "Bryan welcome to the team.  I don't think there's any better day for you to come and see what this team is all about."

06:15  Team photo with the moms on the ice at the New Boston Gahdens, arrayed above the 'spoked B' and a slyly placed Canadiens carpet.

06:45  Segment with team photog Bob Fisher.  Some of the shots he took are breathtaking.  There's the memorable photo of Bob Gainey taking off his shirt, revealing a Canadiens jersey underneath, playing on the Clark Kent turning into Superman imagery.  There's the amazing shot of Craig Ludwig embracing an emotional Larry Robinson after the 1986 Stanley Cup win, with Mr. Fisher explaining that Craig was consoling Larry, who was coming to the realization this would be his last Cup.

And then there's the classic shot of the giants of my youth, taken with a fisheye lens from behind the bench, in 1974.  All these jerseys seen from the back, in the days before nameplates, when you had to memorize your team's numbers, and most of those from the opponents as well.  From left to right is Rick Chartraw, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Peter Mahovlich, Guy Lafleur right smack in the middle, and to his right Bob Gainey, Yvon Lambert, Henri Richard and Murray Wilson.

I've decided I need to get this photo and posterize it.

08:25 Quick shot of a bespectacled Jean-Jacques Daigneault giving a be-gym-shorted Bryan Allen a crash course in the team's system, drawing up diagrams on a dry-erase board on a travel trunk in the corridor before the game.

Then a quick shot of P.K. getting a photo with Bobby Orr.  It's understandable.  I approve.

08:55  We find out from Max Pacioretty's mom that they are sharing rooms with their sons.  Great idea for them to have this time together, but you wonder if that's what threw them off their routine, and played a part in the meltdown in New York.

10:15  Game time, we get Andrei Markov's 100th career goal, then the rematch between Dale Weise and Gregory "Sonny Boy" Campbell.  Barbara Weise can hardly bear to watch, cheers when Dale gets the takedown.

11:15  Nice scene of the moms celebrating and singing the "Olé" song while Bruins fans head to the exits in the third period.

12:00  If Barbara Weise has trouble watching when Dale fights, Darlene Tokarski can't bear to watch the entire game when her son plays.  She finds comfort and support from Carey Price's mom Lynda, who gives her tips on how to endure.

Soon after stating that she'd watch the game, we see Dustin getting scored on, and Mrs. Tokarski pacing in the corridor.

13:40  The Alexei Emelin giveaway to Martin St-Louis.  That one still smarts.  "Oh, no..." says P.K. in disbelief.

An ugly 5-0 loss I had almost forgotten about.  The moms console Darlene Tokarski.  "He played well," she concedes, despite the score.

15:30  The ugliness continues in Buffalo.  This is the game where Brandon Prust took on Chris Stewart, then was tossed from the game for unsportsmanlike comments to the officials.

Canadiens tie it at 1-1 early in the third, and P.A. Parenteau and David Desharnais celebrate and analyse the goal, en français.  Jiri Sekac, seated between them on the bench, bears it with grace like a good little rookie.

Alexei Emelin hits Brian Gionta, catching him on the head.  He gets up in a nasty mood, looking for revenge.  "Where are you going Gio?  Where are you going?" Dale Weise comments from the bench, skeptical that his former teammate should play the tough guy.

The goal off the lucky bounce off a stanchion in the final moments of the game hands the Sabres the victory.  Not even a loser point tonight.

17:15  We follow Pierre Brébart, who's in charge of transporting equipment from the plane to the New Forum and the practice facility in Brossard.  He's been working for the Canadiens for 34 years, and says they used to travel with 2500 lbs of gear, but now it's more like 5000.  He drives a box truck to Dorval and it takes him about two hours to unload all the gear, hang it up to dry, etc.

The guys have two sets of gear, one for practice and one for games, and they travel with both.  Cushy.  No moldy cold wet stinky gear for these guys.

Upon the plane's arrival, there's a lineup of cars waiting on the tarmac.  Is that spouses picking them up, or do they get car service back home too?

18:20  Marc Bergevin announces the contract extension for Brendan Gallagher at a press conference.  We see Brendan come in to the lounge to sign it in his workout gear, then dashes off for more hard work.

19:00  More Buffalo ugliness.  The second half of a back-to-back against the Sabres, this one at home.  P.K. clips Max in the mouth with his stick, goes to the first aid room to find out how he's doing.

The game tied at 3-3, it goes to the shootout.  Brian Gionta misses on his attempt, and gets chirped by Carey as he skates by the Habs bench: "Get some new material Gio."

Sabres win 4-3.  1 point out of a possible four against the weak sister.

21:30  Episode closes with the iconic shot of Jean Béliveau, seen from behind, skating with the Stanley Cup and looking back at us.

Anthony Beauvillier continues to impress, picks up another two points in shootout loss to the Remparts.

Anthony Beauvillier picked up a goal and an assist in a 3-2 loss in a shootout to the Québec Remparts in the Classique Hivernale in St-Tite.  He gets to add these to his four points the previous game against the Tigres de Victoriaville.  So, six points in two very media-hyped games, this can't fail to grab various scouts' and GM's' attention.

When they talked about this kid prior to the Top Prospects game, I dismissed him as a target for the Canadiens due to his size, currently listed at 5'10" and 181 lbs.  We already have a lot of slick or never-quit but undersized forwards in the system, I figure, he doesn't fit in our picture.

Watching him play however, I weakened.  I began to allow that if Trevor Timmins could make him one of his late-round specials like Brendan Gallagher, Charles Hudon or Daniel Audette, I could bear it.  Then as he niftied up my screen, I started to count him as a hatched chicken and feeling mighty good about this steal.  And then as he kept piling up the spectacular plays and points, I began to despair that we'd have to spend a third-rounder on him, maybe even a second if we wanted to be sure to snag him.  If Anthony Duclair went to the Rangers in the third round after a so-so season and whispers about his attitude, how the heck does this squeaky clean can-do super-productive kid last past the second round?  He's at 72 points in 47 games and picking up steam.

Canadiens goaltending prospect Zachary Fucale on the other hand wasn't as impressive.  The Remparts' netminder struggled on a couple of occasions with rebound control, something we've seen during his stint with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.

I know we need to be patient with prospects, but my expectations for the highest-drafted goalie in 2013 would be that he played at another level in Junior this year, that he be a couple notches above everyone else.  That's not what's transpiring.  His save percentage this season prior to puck drop was at a pedestrian .892, while his counterpart Marvin Cüpper, an undrafted German goalie, sported a .910 save percentage.

We can hope that gearing up for a Memorial Cup run with the Remparts will allow Zach to focus and improve on his uneven performance last season and so far this year.  He'll need to bear down for Québec to be successful, since based on what I saw they are far from a powerhouse, compared to some of the Memorial Cup contenders the past few seasons.  Sure there are some big names, Adam Erne, Anthony Duclair, Ryan Graves, but they don't inspire a lot of confidence in this fan's eyes that they'll win the Cup on home ice.

A word on Vladimir Tkachev of the Remparts, made famous this autumn by another Oilers bungle.  They'd invited the undrafted 18-year-old to their rookie camp, and he impressed enough that he stuck around for the main camp, and eventually was offered an NHL contract by the Oilers.  Trouble is, he wasn't eligible for such an offer, due to a technicality.  The fact that he'd played a couple of games in the KHL before coming over to play for Moncton meant that he had to go back in the draft.  Craig MacTavish's lame excuse was that he and the player's agent failed to read the relevant section in the Collective Bargaining Agreement completely.
"There's a subsection in the CBA that defines prior season. When we looked at it, it looked like Vlad fulfilled all the criteria to sign a Standard Player's Contract," MacTavish began. "He went through the draft -- 30 teams had a chance to draft him -- and he played the prior season in North America, which he did in Moncton.
"But when you go down two paragraphs further, in another subsection of article 8, it defines 'prior season' as a complete season. Vlad had played some games in the KHL and that went unnoticed."
 Tkachev's agent also thought that there was an opportunity for Tkachev to sign with an NHL club.
"I spoke with the agent and he read the clause and then stopped reading after it looked like he was eligible."

Well during this game, Steven Finn, the TVA Sports Junior Hockey colour analyst, mentioned a couple of times that Mr. Tkachev had showed frustration toward his teammates, and been undisciplined.  He alleged that it was in keeping with his season so far, that the young man is talented but a bit of a handful and a prima donna.

This is somewhat ironic, in that when it seemed that he would start the season in Edmonton, there was talk about how Nail Yakupov was one of his mentors, who was showing him the ropes and translating the proceedings for him.  Also, at the time, it was argued that having Mr. Tkachev on the team would help Nail Yakupov feel more comfortable, in keeping with Paul Maurice's take on the difficulty Russian players must face adapting to North America, and Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins saying that Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Alex Galchenyuk would play a role in helping Nikita Scherbak eventually integrate into the Canadiens' dressing room.

Based on Steven Finn's comments, it appears that Nail Yakupov and Vladimir Tkachev aren't what the other needs right now.

Anthony Beauvillier of the Shawinigan Cataractes has four-point night, improves his draft stock

Anthony Beauvillier of the Cataractes de Shawinigan had himself quite the game in the outdoor game in St-Tite against the Tigres de Victoriaville. With a goal and two assists in the second period, he led his team to a 4-2 victory. He also assisted on the empty-net goal to clinch the win.

What’s really impressive is that he played in the Top Prospects game on Thursday, captaining the Don Cherry team, and then flew home Friday in time for the game.

He’s going to be drafted this June, and is currently ranked the 49th-best prospect for domestic skaters by NHL Central Scouting. With 32 goals and 70 points so far, that might seem a little low, but scouts are going to worry about his 5’10”, 181 lbs measurables.

One slot above him at #48 is Gabriel Gagné who plays for les Tigres. With 25 goals and 39 points, that may seem odd, he’s not as productive as Mr. Beauvillier, but he does have a 6’5″, 190 lbs frame. He scored a goal tonight, potting a rebound after blocking the goalie’s vision in front of the net.

The NHL lunatically leaves P.K. Subban off its All-Star Game rosters.

There are All-Star snubs, and then there's lunacy.  That the league painted itself into a corner and somehow ended up without P.K. Subban as part of the weekend is not just ill-advised, but outright counterproductive, if not self-injurious.  If you want to sell the game, showcase the best of your organization, how does P.K. get forced to go to Cuba instead of Columbus?

Henrik Lundqvist is another glaring omission, he may be one of the few NHL'ers that the non-initiate American can recognize, and his Q rating is especially high among women, who'll vaguely know him for being that sexycool Manhattan guy who plays guitar, and also who was on Ellen and the cover of GQ.  But as a veteran goalie who's been there before and may benefit from the week's rest instead of a press junket, he may have ducked the proceedings anyway, had he been selected.

P.K. Subban is one of the players who would have unreservedly loved to go, who had a trick or two up his sleeves for some of these comps, would have gladly worn the GoPro, excitedly and all too willingly worn a wire.  He'd have been Pierre McGuire and Scott Oake's best buddy, the slot machine that pays off in quotes on every pull.  He would have palled around with everyone on his 'team', burned every 'rival', it would have been the same level of difficulty to pull the mike away from him as it was for Jim Nantz to do so from Ray Lewis.

Skills contest?  P.K. wouldn't have been aw-shucks sheepish, he would have been dying to show them off.  Everyone would have watched him in the hardest shot contest with bated breath.  How hard does he shoot anyway?  Not as hard as Zdeno or Shea Weber right?  Well we won't know, for now.

Have the fans vote players in, sure, but negate the obvious ballot stuffing like the Rory Fitzpatrick year with league overrule powers.  Have them insert obvious oversights like P.K. and King Henrik and Pavel Datsyuk, etc. into the rosters.  Inflate the roster beyond twenty if needed.  Have every team represented if you must, but in a Young Stars game or four-on-four, three-on-three shinny exhibition.  Don't end up bumping P.K. for Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Faulk because of your own stupid theoretically well-intentioned rule.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Packers had the Seahawks on the ropes, but couldn't finish them.

Watching the Packers-Seahawks game last Sunday was like watching a formulaic horror film, where the gunshot fleshwound-diminished hero has the monster/psycho/terrorist down but not out, and for some reason doesn’t finish him/it with a cinder block on the head or some definitive method like that. Instead he fiddles around with the controls of the time-bomb or straightens out the hair of the heroine, etc., until with a sudden crescendo of music, the baddie is up and out for mayhem again.

There were so many opportunities for the Pack to put them away. I puzzled at why the defensive back grounded himself after the interception with four minutes left, that didn’t make sense at all. He should have run it back as far as he safely could to give his team a field goal attempt at least. I understand that he didn’t want to fumble the football back, but you do that when you can drain the clock with your lead, not with four minutes to go.

And I suffered when the Chargers lost a game to the Pats in 2006, when Marlon McCree intercepted Tom Brady in the final minute of the Conference Championship, only to fumble the ball right back, so I get the general concept, only there’s a big difference between one and four minutes left.

As far as the Pack blowing the play on the two-point convert, again, bad situational awareness. You can’t return a pick or fumble for a touchdown, and a penalty does nothing except replay the down for the offence, and half the distance to the goal. So the plan for the defence is clear, on a pass, do anything you need to do short of getting yourself ejected to bat the ball down. That’s it. What Mr. Clinton-Dix was doing behind the player he was covering was baffling.

Brian Bostic will be the goat for muffing the onside kick reception. At first I thought it was just an error of execution, that he was part of the hands team and had a responsibility to catch it and just missed, but Chris Schultz of TSN broke the video down and showed clearly that his assignment was to block his opposite Seahawk, not attempt the catch. That explains why the Green Bay coach was so irate and vociferous on the sidelines, he wasn’t dressing him down for the flub, but for not doing what he’s been coached to do a hundred times this season.

The Packers could have put this game away, there would have been opportunities where a normally fit Aaron Rogers would have reeled off first-down runs, but couldn’t seize the opportunity, with his gunshot wound/torn calf. There was a play when he had open field and could have run in the second half, but unable to do so, he tried to pitch the ball to Eddie Lacy, but the RB had already turned forward to block for his QB, as he’s done all season, habits die hard.

We’ll think of this game as a memorable one, some will say it was a classic, but it’s more of a case of a team letting another hang around, rope-a-dope and cling to them, and overcome all the turnovers and mistakes until they caught their third and fourth and fifth breath and started rolling.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 8: Notes

Trying to catch up on these recaps.

One general point I want to make is that this season's episodes always show the players in the dressing room between periods, which gets a little repetitive.  The first season, we sometimes saw the coaches talking things through, trying to come up with answers and adjustments, scratching their heads, shrugging.  We'd see Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien meeting before and after games, talking things out.

I understand that it may be uncomfortable airing some of their discussions on camera.  I understand that the coaches may be fearful that their discussions may be too frank for public consumption, that even though they have editorial control, even though they can censor anything they don't like, that leaks can occur, unedited files can become public.  That's fair.  But if the players have to work under the microscope, maybe the coaches should also.  What's good for the goose, right?

Personally, I really enjoyed these behind the scenes peeks at what the brain trust was doing while the game unfolded.  It was good to understand that the coaches hash out the same things we do online in social media, they try to figure out line combinations that can work better too, or some way to counter the opposition's best players.  I wish we could see that aspect on 24CH again.

02:30  On a night off against the Wings in Detroit, we see Carey Price being very loose in the dressing room, clowning it up a bit.  All those stories about his calm, about how quick he forgets a bad goal or game, about how much he's a leader on the team, they're all true.

A few seasons ago, when he seemed besieged by the media and the fans, and Jaro Halak was eating his lunch, I wondered if he'd bloom in Montréal, if he'd reach his potential.  He seemed more dour, almost bitter sometimes.  I fretted that Bob Gainey 'ruined' him by bringing him up from Hamilton too soon, by trying to catch lightning in a bottle again, like we have with Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, and Steve Penney to a lesser extent.

He now seems to be at the peak of his physical ability, and has grown to deal with the spotlight quite well.  He seems unfazed by the media attention, to even enjoy it nowadays, and that the media scrum has learned to work with him, and is really eating out of his hand, truthfully.

03:30  After the win, Sergei Gonchar hands over the cape to P.K., for, as he puts it, spending fifty minutes of the game on the ice.  P.K. is overjoyed, and breaks into his Subbie routine.

As eager as Michel Therrien was to be given the cape by his charges before getting faked out by Weisy, so did P.K. seem to be.  The mark of recognition by a teammate means a lot to him, outwardly, more than say Andrei or Carey.  P.K. just wants to be loved.

04:15  Steve Bégin filming a commercial for the team's fan club at the New Forum.  He tours the facilities and notes with wonder at how they've been reno'ed and upgraded, at the staff scurrying around getting ready for the next game.  Again, this will possibly attract free agents who tire of playing for shoestring operations like the Coyotes or Panthers or Islanders.

07:20  One of the weaknesses of the show is how the French subtitles sometimes don't match up very well with what is actually being said by the players.  In English, you hear Assistant Coach Dan Lacroix warn his players: "Heads up when #17 (Pittsburgh forward Blake Comeau) is out there, he's going to run around."  With the footage of him delivering a few hits, the meaning is clear.

Yet en français, the subtitles read "Quand le 17 sera sur la glace, il va essayer de se défiler."  Meaning he's going to try to go around you, to evade.  Which could be strictly accurate, that would be one valid meaning, but based on context is completely, almost diametrically wrong.  He's doing anything but avoiding or evading our boys, he's actually running through them.

This is an area that needs to be looked at by the producers of the show.  I'm not sure if they're using translators who work off a text, without the images for context, or without a hockey background, if they're in a rush to tack these on to the images and there's no editing of the subtitles, but they're not just losing some of the nuances here, they're actually butchering the job.

07:40  Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk confabbing with Tomas Plekanec before a faceoff.  They're all "Yes sir, no sir!", attentive and respectful.  Good leadership by Tomas, but also good professionalism by the kids.  They're always goofing off and cutting up with P.K. and Brandon Prust during practice, off ice, with or against each other, it's great to see the friendship between these two, and their rambunctiousness, like overeager Labrador puppies.  But when appropriate, they cut that out and are all business, and follow the veterans' lead.  They know when to play, and when to shut up and go to work.

We've been comparing our team chemistry, our leader corps this season, since we decided to go wtih four assistants and no captain, and since the Oilers and Leafs have been in the news.  We often talk about the lack of leadership, about the defective organizational culture in Edmonton or Toronto.

Here we see two young players who've been inculcated in the team philosophy, the hierarchy right off the bat, with strong leaders like the departed Francis Bouillon, Josh Gorges and Brian Gionta, and Andrei Markov, and the new young veterans.  And they took to it like ducks to water.  As is often mentioned in various ways by different commentators, hockey players want to be lead, they want to be coached, they thrive in that environment.

One seemingly trivial example was how the kids kibitzed over who would have the 'Gally' nickname when they first joined the team.  This was cut short very quickly by the vets.  Josh Gorges told them curtly that they don't pick their own nickname, the team does.  And it was decreed that Brendan as the older player would be Gally, and Alex would henceforth be Chucky.

It may seem like small potatoes, but these boundaries drawn by the team, the way it polices itself, plays a big role in team identity and cohesion.  We can compare to the Oilers, with numerous stories about how the kids got leadership thrust upon them by virtue of their draft status and hefty contracts, with no vets to act as the greybeards to show them the way and nip them when they got out of line.

One aphorism about managing people is that you spend 90% of your time on 10% of your people, the square pegs and the malcontents.  Well Brendan and Alex are coaches dreams, they're in the 90% that you seldom have to worry about.

09:40  Jiri Sekac and Nathan Beaulieu compete at practice to see who can shoot a puck hard enough and with the right bank so that it travels all the way around the boards and back to the starting point and go the furthest.  What a job.

10:15  Marc Bergevin speaks to the media after the René Bourque for Bryan Allen trade.  "You can never have too many defencemen.  I know you'll say that I collect them...  He's a big guy, he's got character, he can bring something to this team."

"René understood, he was ready to turn the page.  I hope he can go to Anaheim and produce.  He can still play good hockey.  It's just not going to work out for him in Montréal.  I hope for the best for him."

11:00  Another note on subtitles:  P.A. Parenteau and David Desharnais, already speaking a robust joual, and by necessity earning a living while speaking the language of Shakespeare, have evolved like many Québécois players a kind of patois, a franglais larded with English terms.

"Si t'es loin du net, ton premier step, ..."

So much so that this is translated and subtitled for our easy reference.

"Si tu es loin du filet, un bon premier coup de patin va..."

11:35  An anguished Michel Therrien, while P.K. readies a slapshot: "Netfront!  NETFRONT!"  Then, defeatedly, "We got no one netfront!..."

Sure enough, a wide pan view shows five red jerseys about as far from the net as can be while still being in the offensive zone, and a clear line of sight for the Blues goalie.  We better understand the kudos David Desharnais got recently from the coach for blocking the goalie's view on a a P.K. Subban goal from the blue line.

Later, callup Drayson Bowman takes a hellacious crosscheck right in the chops from a Blue.  The coach is literally up in arms, standing on the bench, yelling at the linesman "You saw it!  You saw it!", the reproach being that he has the power to stop play for major infractions like this but is neglecting to do so.

Critics will say that Michel Therrien is losing his cool and antagonizing the refs, which will be counterproductive for the future.  If he'd flegmatically jacquesmartin'ed it, he'd be pilloried for not protecting his young players, for ruining them.  It's like the "'Man Show's You Can't Win Theatre."

And a stunned Drayson Bowman sits on the bench, trying to get a feel for his new and disimproved dentition.

It's ridiculous that these kinds of infractions, because the ref doesn't see them, get swept under the rug.  Again, there should be a video ref at every game, or at least a review of every game after the fact, with penalties for offending players and the teams that employ them.

12:50  David Desharnais passes to Max Pacioretty for a breakaway goal, with his whole body, he does a full, exaggerated follow-through.  I now understand why my passes weren't as precise, I'd just fling them from an arm's length position.  Much more hit-and-miss than Davey's passes.

After the win, Jean-Jacques Daigneault says to Geoff Molson in the tunnel  "Ç'tun bon club ça.  Très bon club."  The team owner also nods his head, assenting.

Max is the first star, and does an interview, talking about making a statement by beating a powerhouse rather than a weak sister.  We've covered how much Carey has grown these last couple of seasons, and we can say the same about Max.  He's fully embraced the increased responsibility and leadership opportunity.

14:00  Long segment on Brendan Gallagher, great background piece.  Former coaches speak glowingly about his talent, effort and competitiveness, how he overcame doubters who fretted about his diminutive size.  He benefited while growing up in Edmonton from a pond in his backyard that used to freeze over and serve as his personal ice sheet.

He and his father treat his small stature not as a hurdle but as an advantage, providing him with a lower centre of gravity, and a source of quickness and agility.

A friend of mine whose son played in many of the same tournaments and leagues as Brendan did in minor hockey had provided me with much the same scouting report a couple days after we drafted him, about an unfailingly polite and cheerful kid who took over games with his drive and hustle.

20:30  Maman Gallagher is in town and travels to the rink with Brendan on the first day of the Moms trip.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Max Pacioretty taking charge, lining up to be the next captain of the Montréal Canadiens.

Great background piece on Max Pacioretty in La Presse, making the case for him to be the next team captain. It goes over various stages of his career.

I like this part:

«À l’été 2009, il pesait alors 90 kg et son taux de gras était de 17 %. L’été après sa blessure, il pesait 99 kg avec 8 % de gras. Bref, c’était un adolescent avec du gras de bébé et il est devenu un homme. En deux ans!»

L’ardeur de Pacioretty au gymnase est maintes fois soulignée par ses proches. On ne s’étonnera d’ailleurs pas de savoir que Martin St-Louis, un exemple de forme physique, fait partie de ses partenaires d’entraînement en été, au Connecticut.

«J’ai assisté au mariage de Max [à l'été 2011], raconte Prentiss. Vers 2 h du matin, il me dit: «Hey, on fait mes jambes demain?» J’ai éclaté de rire. Il dit: «Non, je suis sérieux!» Donc, à 13 h le lendemain du mariage, on était au gymnase, en train de travailler sur ses jambes! Il ne manque jamais un entraînement. Il en comprend la valeur.»

“Summer of 2009, he weighed just under 200 lbs and had 17% body fat. The summer of 2011, he was at 218 with 8% body fat. In short, he was a teen with baby fat and he became a man. In two years!” (says Ben Prentiss, his trainer)

Max’s diligence in the gym is often noted by those who know him. It’s therefore no surprise to learn that Martin St-Louis, a model of physical conditioning, is one of his training partners during the summer in Connecticut.

“I went to his wedding the summer of 2011,” recalls Ben Prentiss. “Around 2 AM, he asks me ‘Hey, are we doing legs tomorrow?’ I burst out laughing. He says ‘No, I’m serious!’ So, at 1 PM the day after his wedding, we were in the gym, working on legs! He never misses a workout. He understands how valuable they are.”
Max is hitting his prime this season, he's on pace for a fourty-goal season, and his defensive play is no longer a blemish.  He's strongly in the 'plus' column and being used to kill penalties.

It grated on me recently when people on social media attacked Max as being ‘soft’ and ‘useless’, since he didn’t crash the net and muck and grind in the corners.  After the Two and a Half Men line season in 2011-12, things were great, but the season after he was being derided for not being Scott Hartnell, and this nonsense would crop up regularly.  I wonder where all these posters are now to defend their ludicrous position.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

On Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu's growing pains.

An article in La Presse states that both Maxime Macenauer and Michel Therrien are unconcerned that Jarred Tinordi will not have any lasting psychological after-effects due to losing that fight recently. They both describe him as having great character and attitude.

Canadiens fans were quick to say that Jarred shouldn't be fighting with AHL goons, but a little digging reveals that he's actually a Canucks farmhand, new to the organization, that GM Jim Benning has a hunch on and traded for recently.
…when the Canucks GM wandered up. Not surprisingly he was asked about the trade for Andrey Pedan earlier in the day. Considering this is a kid who is further down the depth chart than Peter Andersson at the moment, it was a bit surprising to hear that one day in the next two years or so he is expected to play some games for the big team.
And since Pedan’s miles down the pecking order it’s not really as though he’s just acquired Steven Stamkos. Nonetheless Benning does chapter and verse on this kid, talks extensively about his background, his family, their income status, how and where his brothers play or played, his deportment towards playing in the K as opposed to the NHL and on and on. It was virtually everything you could know about the kid before dating him and he could have continued had the period not been about to start.
So it's not like Jarred ran into a pure one-note heavyweight pugilist, but rather a former third-rounder who's trying to reach the NHL any way he can, and who has a new team that believes in him.

Another article focuses on Nathan Beaulieu and the positive steps he’s taken since his latest recall from Hamilton. His answers to questions and the frankness with which he addresses some of the issues he faced are arresting. He must have done some work with some sports psychologists or received extra media training, because it takes a big man to own up to mistakes like he does, to face that head on. Compare that to Nail Yakupov for example, another talented youngster who’s had issues with his coaches and under-delivered, who offers up a lot of excuses and explanations.

When in a position of leadership and having a multitude of staff to oversee, it’s great to have people who you can discuss mistakes or misses with, who’ll look you right in the eye and say “Yes sir, won’t happen again,” and they mean it, and excel and the next time you need to take them aside it’s to congratulate them for a job well done. What you don’t want is kids who whine and shirk and avoid and deflect.

I recently had to intercede in a situation where a worker barely out of her teens told me tearfully “My boss doesn’t understand me.” I almost swallowed my tongue. I had to work with her over a few sessions to make her understand that her boss wasn’t ‘being mean to her’ for the heck of it, that he was using discipline to be consistent with everyone else, and to make her understand she was failing the basic expectations. Ultimately, we were successful, she finally understood that the game was simple: show up to work on time, do your job to the minimum standards, then go home and do it again the next day. Seeing her getting along and celebrating with her supervisors and coworkers at the year-end party was one we could chalk up in the ‘Win’ column.

Imagine how great it feels for Marc Bergevin, Sylvain Lefebvre, Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Michel Therrien to hear Nathan say this about why he’s playing so much better now:

“Confidence. The team gave me a great opportunity by giving me more icetime. My first four games back, I approached them thinking I had to play my way. It started going well after that.”

(About a lack of consistency) “I completely agree with what (Michel Therrien) told me last month. I had no excuse. I didn’t always give the best effort, and the lack of consistency is a perfect example; I’d play two good games, then two bad games. It wasn’t good enough. I knew I could do better than that, and when I went back to Hamilton, I concentrated on what would make me a better player.”


“When the Canadiens drafted me, I thought I could play in the NHL immediately. You live and learn. It took longer than I hoped, but I think I can be a regular player in this league and I think management thinks the same way. That’s why they’re giving me this chance.”

About the Nate the Great nickname and his attitude:

“It was my nickname in junior, and my stick supplier made my sticks with that on them. I used them for one season, I thought it was cool, my teammates and I had a good laugh with those. That’s the kind of person I am, I like having fun, joking around. The sticks, the nickname, I don’t regret it, that was me at the time. That side of my personality, I still have it; confidence is necessary. There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance, you just have to stay on the right side.

“The Canadiens never spoke to me about that, but I know that there’s the concept of ‘respect’ in the pros. In Junior, I was a veteran, so I could get away with it. Here, it’s different.”


“I had a bit of luck since I got called up, playing with Sergei Gonchar, that helped me a lot. But the big change is consistency. I know that in this league, you can’t take a break, not even one shift off, that can be enough to get you out of the lineup.”

NHL Classics: Game 6 of the 1989 Stanley Cup Final, Canadiens vs. Flames.

Just finished watching the latter half of the "NHL Classic" version of the Game 6 1989 Stanley Cup Final between the Canadiens and the Flames.

--There has to be someone working on technology to HD-ify old video signal.  To me it's really easy, compare one image to another, maybe working off stills, telling the computer that that blurry stringbean needs to look like this harrowing picture of Bobby Smith, increase the resolution according to an algorithm or whatever, and then render, lots of rendering.  Presto!  HD quality versions of old classic.  Easy.  I should be in charge.

--I watched that game on Radio-Canada the first time around, so I can't say that I objected to Bob Cole's call of the game at the time, but I sense that my objection to his continued presence on current broadcasts isn't solely due to his declining faculties and muddled call.  I can't help but sense that he's calling the game as any-team-playing-against-the-Habs is the home team.

--I always liked Harry Neale though, witty guy.

--The little pop-up factoids that they sprinkle on the screen throughout the game didn't add much to the proceedings, even ignoring the typos and grammatical error.  Frightful.  Anyway, I didn't find that it illuminated the viewer or interestified it, it was mostly stuff someone can pull off hockeydb.  Compared to Popup Video, which is chock-full of humour and background, this is a bit of a dud.

--Maybe they should do these while some voluble former players give their comments, and pop these up instead of telling me how many points Joe Mullen scored.

--Not so much of a shock as watching games from the seventies with no advertising on the rink boards, all sparkly white, since by 1989 there were ads plastered all over the boards.  The ice however was pristine, aside from the markings.  No ads for the Benevolent Bank of Canadian Monopoly, brought to you by the Call Centres of Bangalore.  No bromides or slogans from Gary Bettman to let me know all is forgiven by now, since it's 'our game', ever since the days of the Original 14.

--Really liked the player benches facing each other instead of side by side as is mandated now, which leads to incessant, tiresome squabbles as opposing players circulate, perfect waters for the Brad Marchands and Steve Otts to ply.

--The Flames were stacked, but so were we.  Man, those were lines Pat Burns was sending out there.  And the defencemen, Chris Chelios, Larry Robinson, Éric Desjardins, Petr Svoboda, Craig Ludwig.  The least of them, the regrettable Rick Green, actually scored a 'Haley's Comet' goal in this game.

--I tried to play the 'Which one player would have the greatest impact on our roster if plunked in our team today?" game.  Interestingly, it wasn't the best player on the '89 team.  Patrick Roy would be an upgrade on Carey Price, but it would almost be marginal, I believe in Carey so much right now.  The net gain wouldn't be as great as if we went with another player, who'd substitute with one of his current counterparts.

--I'll bring up Bobby Smith as a candidate.  Big, smart, veteran productive #1 centre, he'd have a huge effect on the roster.  Let's accept Alex on the wing for now, we'd have Smith-Plekanec-Eller as our centres, that'd be hard to match up against for opponents.

--I'll regrettably discard Stéphane Richer as an option, if we're playing strictly by the rules.  1989 was a difficult year for him, not one of his peaks.  If he'd been clicking that year, he might have made the difference in that playoff, counteracted Lanny MacDonald's mustache.

--I think I'd have to go with Chris Chelios, with him on one pairing and P.K. on another, that would be quite the Top 4.  It would bump Tom Gilbert to the third pairing permanently.  Tempting to go with Larry Robinson, but by 1989 he wasn't the dominant force he used to be.  So Chris Chelios it is.  That's the answer.

--But then I get greedy.  Let's get Larry as well, and for my third pairing, Craig Ludwig and Éric Desjardins.

--And then I slip up a little more, and wonder what would be the harm in bending the rules a tiny bit more, and plugging in a blazing fast Russ Courtnall opposite Max Pacioretty, give opponents fits?  It's not like I'm pulling a Guy Lafleur or Mario Lemieux out of my hat.  This is kind of reasonable, Russ Courtnall was legitimately on that team.

--And so were Shayne Corson and Mike McPhee.  Talk about complete players.  They'd do nicely on our second and third lines as the guys who bring in the offence that P.A. Parenteau is struggling to generate, but they'd also neuter the Dion Phaneufs and Eric Grybas of the hockey world, the guys who are really tough when they're facewashing Tomas Plekanec.

--And I'll stop now before I go off on a paen to Mats Naslund, our leading scorer that year.

--Or how Jyrki Lumme and Mike Lalor couldn't crack that roster that year.

--Or how the Canadiens didn't hire the best coach regardless of language and settled for ho-hum Pat Burns in that era.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Review: "Ice Age: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever", by Bruce Dowbiggin

Sports books can take many forms.  There are the lyrical elegies like Ken Dryden's "The Game" or Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer".  There are the snapshot, 'one season caught in amber' tales like John Feinstein's "A Season on the Brink" or H.G. Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights".  There are the tell-all riproaring tales like Jim Bouton's "Ball Four", or the thinly disguised novels that serve the same purpose like Dan Jenkins' "Semi-Tough".

For each of these seminal books though, there are a lot of average books or even shlock out there, normally in the form of biographies or team histories.  Usually these serve a specific clientele, are targeted at local fans, after a specific milestone or a championship.  So a Stanley Cup is bound to mean a few books of varying quality rushed into print to cash in on the event.

"Ice Age: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever" by Bruce Dowbiggin is a little hard to understand thematically, since it doesn't quite fit into any of these categories.  The Mike Gillis era ended not with a bang, but an ouster.  There's no crowning achievement in the last chapter(s), but also, there's no illuminating look back through the lens of time, since the subject matter is so fresh.  Instead, it seems as if the author, who'd been following the team and more specifically its General Manager Mike Gillis, and missed out on being able to publish following a win in the 2011 Stanley Cup final, went to press with his manuscript this spring once the housecleaning in Vancouver appeared inevitable.

I heard of "Ice Storm" by accident, and was surprised that it didn't get much more hype in my neck of the woods, since the Vancouver Canucks hog the spotlight here on the West Coast, yet I never heard of it through a book launch or reading the local papers or through radio or TV coverage.  In any case, I was eager to learn more about the local team, the reasoning behind some of the decisions taken, to benefit from some background.

Mr. Dowbiggin is a respected journalist who has worked for the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and was one of the few Canadian reporters who collaborated with Russ Conway on his investigation and ultimate takedown of Alan Eagleson.  I've always enjoyed his thoughtful pieces on the world of sports, usually written, expressly, with a cynical outsider's view.

It's during his work on the Eagleson scandal that the author met Mike Gillis, a former NHL player and first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies who had a short career due in part to injuries.  Mr. Gillis, laudably, went to law school with the money he earned from a medical insurance settlement after breaking his leg at Bruins training camp.  Later, after being contacted by Russ Conway, he and his wife looked at his settlement documents and realized they'd been defrauded.  They sued Alan Eagleson and eventually were vindicated.

While finishing up law school, Mr. Gillis, with "no real plan to be an agent", started helping former teammate Geoff Courtnall with his contract, and then brother Russ Courtnall, then another player, and things snowballed.

Former teammates and law school classmates describe him as resolute, unshakable in his convictions, and direct, almost overly blunt sometimes.  He was also skeptical of the NHL and its owners and managers, and his personal experiences shaped his approach to the sport and business, in a way that is reminiscent of Billy Beane as described in Michael Lewis' "Moneyball".  In his case, Mike Gillis became a feared negotiator and player agent, before eventually being hired by the Aquilini family to lead the Vancouver Canucks.

While some view a player agent acting as a GM as a contradiction and a disaster waiting to happen, Mike Gillis sees the business as being all about player relationships now that the NHL is a salary-cap league, and believed that his skills as a negotiator and persuader were just as necessary in building a contender as those of a traditional 'hockey man'.

Sure enough, a cornerstone of the Mike Gillis régime was his ability to convince players to sign long-term deals at slightly lower-than-market rates.  He pitched the city, the organization, and the ability to win in a positive, first-class environment to attract and retain players while fitting them under the cap.

Also predictably, like his doppelganger Billy Beane, Mike Gillis thought outside the box in doing things differently, bucking the NHL system.  Much discussed in the press and in this book is the 'sleep consultants' that were employed to transform the Canucks punishing travel schedule, essentially ending the practice of flying home after games.  Instead, giving the players a more regular sleep schedule with a solid eight-hour window was prioritized, even at the financial cost of extra hotel room-nights.  There were shadowy psychological consultants with a dedicated room and equipment that reporters and outsiders were unable to enter.

The book also describes Mr. Gillis' belief in an offensive, uptempo, fan-friendly playing style, again playing against the current zeitgeist of toughness and truculence.  In terms of player personnel decisions, the Canucks also made some purposely unconventional decisions.  For example, they targeted for acquisition players who were unsigned out of the NCAA ranks, or who had slipped through the NHL draft once or twice out of the CHL, with the rationale that evaluating players at age eighteen is problematic enough, while more mature players are closer to their full potential and therefore easier to select.

Mr. Dowbiggin refers to the sum total of these forward thinking strategies as "Canucktivity" repeatedly, which he says was the buzzword used by staffers themselves, which is odd, since before picking up this book I had never, ever come across the word.

As described above, the loss to the Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2011 robs the book of its 'natural' conclusion.  Instead of a culminating Stanley Cup, that Canucks season finished with a loss on home ice and a subsequent riot in the downtown core.  None of the future teams come close again, and Mr. Gillis is let go in the spring of 2014.

This brings the unpleasant part of the book, where Mr. Dowbiggin, perhaps trying to salvage the thesis he'd been building in the preceding chapters, pens a poisonous epilogue, deriding new hires Jim Benning and Willie Desjardins as career 'hockey men' of the type Mike Gillis stood apart from, and who are ridiculed in "Moneyball", the old-school scouts who marvel at prospects' bodies but fail to understand the value of players who get on base.  It lacks grace, and is in marked contrast to the reputations of Messrs. Benning and Desjardins who are not buffoons and possess little ego to skewer.

Ultimately, the close relationship between the author and his subject is the undoing of this book.  Unlike Rosie DiManno, who had a personal relationship with Pat Burns but was able to author an even-handed, illuminating biography, Mr. Dowbiggin defends Mr. Gillis to the end and goes down with the ship.

Another problem which I fear may have happened is that a lot of the strategies employed and decisions made by Mike Gillis are trade secrets, proprietary, or confidential, and the author is loath to breach these, which is understandable, but doesn't sate the reader's appetite.

For the reader who is a Canucks fan and a completist, "Ice Storm" might be an enjoyable read, but it's debatable that it works on its own.

Game 43: Canadiens 1, Senators 4

About the Canadiens’ lack of physical play or response to the Senators’ hits during their 4-1 loss, and I do think of the Bobby Ryan hit on Alex Galchenyuk, there are two reasons that are foremost in my mind.

First, we’re not a team of thumpers. We’ve taken Travis Moen and Ryan White out of circulation out of a roster that is already fleet of foot but relatively lightweight, and we’re replacing them with Michaël Bournival and Sven Andrighetto, for example. We’re a quick, fast team, and it plays to our advantage when we outrun other teams and pot goals.

Now, we look ineffective when so many players are in a slump concurrently. P.A. Parenteau and Jiri Sekac looked fine earlier in the season when they were generating chances and clicking with various linemates. Now that their production has dried up, along with David Desharnais’ and Lars Eller’s and so on, it makes us look relatively impotent.

But another big component is the mindset of the team. Some teams like the Sens or the Bruins rely on hitting, it’s part of their strategy. They accept that they won’t get to a Tom Gilbert or Andrei Markov before they dish off the puck, but that’s fine, as long as they ‘finish their checks’. They play with a comparative disregard for the puck, they’re not chasing it, just the guy who last had it, and will lay the body on him. Even after the puck is clearly long gone. As a matter of course, of strategy.

Like a football team running the football early in the game, laying the groundwork, pushing around the defence and tiring it out, or a boxer mostly ignoring his adversary’s head and pounding his ribcage and wrestling with him during clinches, they’re interested in punishing opponents, wearing them out, making them skittish. They hope to make them rush their play, and cause turnovers.

The Canadiens’ system is all about ‘la relance’, getting the puck and quickly going the other way with it. One of the products of that is that our forwards will often look to break up a pass or steal a puck from a stickhandling player with a quick stick, a poke check. To the detriment of opportunities to lay a good solid bodycheck, one that will send a message to an opponent, that a defenceman will absorb and factor into his time and space analysis the next time he has to make a decision with the puck.

And it’s frightfully apparent. So often, we see a Max Pacioretty or P.A. Parenteau or Lars Eller fly by a defenceman who’s just cleared the puck and is bracing/cowering for a bodycheck. They do the quick attempted pokecheck, and if they miss they’re off again, skating with abandon, trying to get the puck back. And the opponent is kind of surprised that he didn’t even get a perfunctory bodycheck on the board, even a pro forma hit. On another team, that forward might get chewed out. For us, that’s how we play.

I’m not quite saying that the coaches actively encourage our guys NOT to hit, but rather that they emphasize breaking out with the puck with speed.

In 24CH the first season, there were two instances of this. Once when Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien were having a post-game meeting and discussing a player stealing a puck away and nearly going on a breakaway, once when P.K. was specifically shown video of him going for a big hit along the boards and almost ignoring the puck. Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Michel Therrien told P.K. that a hit is great, but if the choice is between dishing out a hit or stealing the puck away, go for the puck. They made it clear that the object of the game is to gain control of the puck, that’s how you score and prevent goals against.

In our last game against the Avalanche, Daniel Brière had the puck along the half wall, and three Canadiens in the vicinity, intent on turning the puck over and charging up-ice, they were all leaning that way. All three failed to poke the puck free, Danny deked and got in the clear, passed to a teammate for a relatively easy goal. Looking at it, anyone could have easily neutralized Danny with a simple bodycheck, not to kill him or liquify his brain, but just to get him out of action for that sequence.

So it’s a little hard to swallow, it’s actually infuriating when we’re getting thumped by the Bruins or the Sens, but being outhit and out-‘physicalled’, as P.J. Stock would say, is something that is endemic, it’s intrinsically part of our system, as much as being outshot was part of the Jacques Martin système during the Skillsie years.

And a Bobby Ryan will buy in and follow and lay a big hit on an Alex Galchenyuk when he has a chance, but a Kyle Turris will remain unmolested, even in response. That’s not our mindset, we don’t play that way, we don’t grybafy our roster, accept a plodding crosschecker who can’t make a play with a puck just to have his truculence in our lineup. We’re not predatory that way, we don’t value a hit as something to be pursued for its own sake, for its cumulative effect.

Maybe this will change in the future in the medium term, when players like Jacob de la Rose and Mike McCarron and Jarred Tinordi fold into the lineup, guys who are naturally equipped and inclined to dish out bodychecks, that will tilt the balance a bit, but until then, we have to tweak our mindset a little bit and ensure we don’t automatically, actively ignore opportunities to finish a check. Once in a while, without it needing to be a devastaterator, a bodycheck on a Cody Ceci or Jean-Gabriel Pageau is useful.

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 7: Notes

Way, way behind on these recaps.  The upshot is that you get to review previous moments of the season with a bit of perspective.  This episode deals with one of the highlights of the year, Dale Weise's Gordie Howe hat trick against the Bruins, and a subsequent win against the Flyers, nirvana for a Habs fan.

1:10  Off-ice conditioning with footwork ladder drills.  The boys throw the pigskin around afterwards.  Nice job if you can get one of those.

1:50  A peek at how the Canadiens handle social media.  It's a surprisingly big group that does this, no effort is spared obviously.  It's an investment in the team, so it's not like a charity endeavour, but still, again it's good to see the team spending its vast revenues back into the team and engaging the fans.  Nice job Mr. Molson.

3:45  The boys are pumping each other up before a game, and David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau greet Carey as he walks by and then stretches and psyches himself up.  David has the quote of the episode when he remarks to P.A. that "If (Carey) could score the goals, he could play the games by himself."

06:45  More charity from Max Pacioretty during the game against the Jets, as he flips the puck at Tomas Plekanec to deposit in the empty net.  Second tap-in goal for Tomas this season from Max.  Nathan hands the boxer's cape to Carey for his first shutout of the season.

07:30  Sergei Gonchar arrives in Montréal after being traded for Travis Moen, and is met by a press scrum at the airport.  He must have a sense of what playing in Montréal is like, having played often as a visitor when he was a Senator.

08:15  In the equipment room, P.K. Subban, Max and David are oohing and aahing at Sergei's sticks, marveling at the curve on it, checking its lie.  I note that the camera doesn't give us an image of the curve specifically.  To avoid giving opponents valuable intel, and forestall future illegal stick penalties?

08:50  Andrei Markov in conversation with Sergei in the dressing room.  Andrei seems relaxed, his smile is unsarcastic, which is a shock.  Maybe Sergei will do more than just help the powerplay, maybe he wasn't brought in just to be Michel Therrien's security blanket.

10:15  Dale Weise drops Gregory 'Sonny Boy' Campbell with one punch during the game against the Bruins.  I may have slow-mo'ed and replayed it more than is healthy for me.  Dale defends his quick-trigger on the bench with his teammates, notably a smiling Brandon Prust: "You come at me you better be ready..."

10:20  Defencemen's coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault yells "Subbie, there's a shot coming off the faceoff!"  Sure enough, Dougie Hamilton's knuckleball from the blue line goes through Carey for a Bruins goal.  Yet it doesn't sound like a Kreskin prediction, of course they were going to shoot right?

Afterwards, you hear the coach telling his charges that when they win a faceoff, the Bruins shoot at the net within four seconds.  Obviously intel they gathered through video study, that it be that specific, and we understand better what the coach was trying to impart.

12:05  I didn't know that a Bruins fan threw his jersey on the ice when the game was truly lost.  A complete overreaction in my book.  I think the message was/is fair in Edmonton, that the fans have had enough, and it was also when the Leafs lost 9-2 or thereabouts, but this devalues the gesture.

J.J. enquires with Sergei, how he feels playing twenty minutes, after being used lightly in Dallas.

Of course Dale gets the cape from Carey.

13:00  Again we see Pierre Allard working with the boys, notably a rehabbing Michaël Bournival.

A few seasons ago, it seemed the Canadiens were regularly ravaged by injuries, leading the league and even breaking records in terms of man-games lost, etc.  Now, we've had a run of at least a couple of seasons where we're relatively spared by the injury bug.  Even Andrei has a bit of an iron-man streak going, for cripe's sake.

I remember back then that the boards and glass at the New Forum and practice facility were changed from the seamless glass variety to one with more give.  The thought back then was that we were incurring injuries in part due to our own facilities.

Another reaction was at the end of one season to fire a lot of the therapists and conditioning staff.  Since Pierre Allard has been in charge, it seems the boys have been healthier than what could/should be expected with an NHL team.  He possibly deserves some of the accolades for the team's success since the Nouveau Régime took over.

13:40  We follow a young singer named Cherylyn Toca as she prepares for her evening's gig, singing the anthems at the Nouveau Forum.  She was one of the singers who went through the audition process this summer.  I guess I'm okay with the gig being rotated through a group of young singers instead of being the exclusive domain of Charles Prévost-Linton and Ginette Reno, as long as it is truly based on talent, and isn't a bauble given out to friends of the team's owner, as we see in other cases.

17:30  The Habs beating the Flyers.  Joy.

18:15  We've been told that Sergei Gonchar is the complete opposite of the 'taciturn Russian' stereotype.  We see him between periods talking out tactics with Max.  Who was it who said shortly after he'd arrived that he'd already chatted more with Sergei than in he ever did with Andrei, in total?  Good stuff.

18:50  Long sequences where Sergei and Alexei Emelin and Alex Galchenyuk speak in Russian to each other before faceoffs.

It was interesting how Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin made the point last June that these guys would be around to help Nikita Scherbak acclimate to the league and Montréal.  This seems maybe a blatantly obvious consideration, and not all that significant, until we consider that the Oilers this fall tried to sign Vladimir Tkachev to a contract that was eventually rejected by the league due to a technicality.  Certainly the Oilers were trying to add a talented player to their lineup, but also admittedly to provide some support for their underperforming first overall pick Nail Yakupov.

Add in Paul Maurice's statements upon returning from a one-year coaching stint in the KHL, when he explained that his biggest takeaway was that he'd never again underestimate the cultural shock a Russian player must endure in North America, and how that might affect his performance, and maybe there is a strategic importance to having this Russian presence in our lineup that made drafting Nikita Scherbak a safer decision.

21:00  Weisy fakes out the coach when announcing his choice as the next man to wear the cape.  He underscores that on this night he earned his 300th win in the NHL, and a shot of Michel Therrien shows him grinning from ear to ear, giddy to receive this mark of affection from his players.  But Weisy instead of zigging zags, and awards the cape to Sergei Gonchar for his 800th career point.

Personally, I hate the practice of awarding game balls to owners or coaches, so I'm very okay with Dale's choice here.  And so was the room, who all had a good-natured laugh at the expense of their coach.