Friday, 13 February 2015

Game 54: Canadiens 3, Oilers 4 (OT)

Observations on the Canadiens Express version of the 4-3 loss to the Oilers last night:

After their game in October at Northlands Coliseum, I wrote how the Canadiens felt, looked like the clearly more powerful team on the ice, that they were indisputably the better squad, that both teams knew it and played like it early in the game.  Then, the Oilers slowly ramped up their effort, their skating, and that clear disadvantage disappeared as the game progressed.

The same happened last night.  A couple of posts, missed opportunities, a few unnecessarily fancy passes, and the Oilers hung around and gained confidence and realized they could win this thing.

Watching Dustin Tokarski flail about must have been a big factor in how they were embiggened.  I'm no expert on goaltending, but he seemed often pointed the wrong way, unready for a rebound, one which shouldn't have occurred anyway, which he shouldn't have allowed.  Pierre Bouchard and the rest of l'Antichambre panel confirmed my evaluation; the former Habs policeman called him a 'land carp' at times.

It looked like the coaching staff protected Nathan Beaulieu on Saturday against the Bruins, limiting his time and exposure, after a stretch during which he increased in confidence and minutes.  I'm not sure if that has changed the dynamic or affected his confidence, but he had a difficult game last night, playing less than fifteen minutes.

He got hammered along the boards on one sequence, and seemed hesitant for the rest of the shift, making strange decisions and struggling to clear his zone, before heading to the bench.  I wondered if he was stunned, or whether an arm or shoulder was injured in the collision.  

We're focusing on the negatives, yet this could be another wrapup of a game the Canadiens won 'luckily', or by the skin of their teeth.  Tomas Plekanec had the game on his stick in the last minute, but flubbed the chance to confirm the win with an assurance goal, sending a weak-ish shot onto a defender instead of taking his time and burying it, or passing off to an oncoming Brandon Prust and Lars Eller.

Earlier this season, after a 4-3 win against the Avalanche, I wrote:
-I'll ask the question again: are the Canadiens the worst team in the league at scoring into an empty net?  Is there a stat for that?
What was an irking propensity of our team, mere missed opportunities for our heroes to pad their stats totals, to reduce the number of grey hairs on their coaches scalp, came back to bite us last night.

There's a Code to everything in the NHL, and this includes the whole subject of empty-net goals.  Generally, there's a decorum to be obeyed.  Players can't seem too eager to score such a goal, they have to act like it's a little bit beneath them.  At all times they need to defer to a teammate if at all possible, and be lauded by Don Cherry and Kate Beirness for their generosity.  Once the puck is in the net you can't celebrate too hard, you have to act like you've scored before, like 'you've been there before'.  So a sober acknowledgment of your teammates is all that's permitted, with maybe an uptick if you're picking up a hat-trick or a significant milestone like a 50th goal or something.

I think Tomas fell prey to this mandated good-guyism, and fumbled away the win.  Instead of stickhandling or skating and trying to get open, to act like a slavering dog after a bone in quest of that goal, he kind of desultorily gave it an 80% attempt, nothing too unseemly.  You wouldn't want to look like a Linus Omark or a Tiger Williams, right, a guy who's in it for himself and too showy, right?  To work harder to ensure a pass got through to Brandon for an assured assurance goal would have been rubbing it in, and we don't do that.  

Even at the cost of an overtime loss, of a point.

Recently, the Hurricanes played the Maple Leafs and during the game Eric Staal instigated a fight with Dion Phaneuf in retaliation for his hard bodycheck on his brother Jordan.  The Hurricanes captain lost the fight in a decisive fashion, and the rest of the game was reportedly chippy.  At the end of the game, the Leafs pulled their goalie and tried to even up the score, but the puck ended up on Eric Staal's stick in the Toronto zone.

To conclude the win, and put a bit of an exclamation point on it, Mr. Staal took a wicked slapshot to bury it, blasting it by Dion Phaneuf who was cromulating as the goalie in the crease.  There were a few mutters about this, how there might have been a personal angle to his play selection, how Eric Staal pulled the driver out of his bag instead of the pitching wedge, and we might have heard a little more, had it been a Jonathan Toews or Pavel Datsyuk in front of the net.  Since the Leafs and their captain don't have many defenders this season, the matter died quickly.

But at the time I thought the 'Canes captain had acted properly.  The game was still in doubt, the win was in the balance, he was supposed to try as hard as he could to score to seal the win.  If there had been no one in his path, sure, he could have lobbed it in, or dished to a teammate in need of an easy goal, but since the opposition was still battling, wasn't conceding the win, he was entitled to battle just as hard.

Generally, I wish the Canadiens would, when they're faced with an empty-net, play a little harder to score when they have that opportunity.  Too often it seems, and again I wish I knew how to look up this statistic if it exists, they scratch and claw to protect their own net in these situations, there's nothing to be desired in terms of effort on that aspect, but once they get over the red line and are no longer in danger of being called for icing, they ease off way too much, act a little too much like the courtly gentlemen instead of the junkyard dogs they should be.

I'm thinking it's a lesson learned for them this morning, and we'll not see them chipanddale themselves out of wins anymore, for a long time.

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