Sunday, 15 February 2015

Game 55: Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1 (SO)

Forget being able to handle the Bruins, the Lightning, the Rangers in the playoffs, can we handle the Albany Devils or the Rockford Ice Hogs?  Because we can handle the Bruins, we get up for games against the Penguins, but have recently lost against the Sabres, the Coyotes, the Oilers, and now barely beat a dispirited, zombified Toronto Maple Leaf squad 2-1 in the shootout.

Would the Orlando Solar Bears give us all we could handle?  How about some of those Pee Wee teams at the Colisée?  

The Maple Leafs have given up on their season, and on its constituent parts, with the frame about to be stripped and sold for parts.  Might as well, this jalopy has been on blocks for over a decade.

Obviously, based on video evidence, Phil Kessel has given up on himself.  Late in the third, the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast showed footage of the Leafs getting off the team bus this afternoon, and the Leafs' sniper's appearance was shameful.  His beefy face, his big gut straining his shirt buttons and spilling over his belt, they bring to mind a college-aged fast-food franchise assistant manager, not an elite athlete, outside our 1988 Olympic curling team.

I think I can, uh, stomach a hockey player who in the off-season prefers fishing and hanging out with his buddies rather than maniacally hoisting iron or pushing a SUV around a parking lot.  It takes all kinds.  We can't expect them all to be like P.K. or Max, workout warriors who love the gym almost as much as the ice.  Someone has to be at the bottom of the fitness test rankings.

But this is letting yourself go, rank indiscipline.  Ease off the french fries and beer Phil, people are paying hundreds of dollars to watch you play and wear your jersey.  You owe them that.

The Canadiens didn't exactly loaf through the game, we can't fault their effort, but the scoring talent is being confirmed as too thin.  P.A. Parenteau can't return from the injured list fast enough.  
In this climate, it was hard for me to not bolt off my couch and yell at David Desharnais to shoot on a couple of occasions.  During his purgatory on the third line's left wing, he would take a shot or two on net every game when in the slot.  He's been returned to his position of comfort centering the first line, but unfortunately he's not retained the lessons from the past couple of months, and has reverted to his pass-only setting.  On odd-man rushes.  On static powerplays.  Even near the net with a clear shooting lane.

It's been discussed how teams scout opponents extensively, and players are briefed that David will look for Max, to a degree approaching neurosis, so they're defending the pass against him.  He needs to use the relative latitude he's given by defenders, and let his shot rip once in a while.  Heck, cue it up, look off the defender, and do a no-look shot and try to surprise a goalie.

Jacob de la Rose continued to impress, being smooth, strong and determined, breaking up plays in the defensive zone, dishing out hits, and generally making a strong case for continued employment.  As a fan, I love to see him out there, good-looking rook, all rangy and swoopy, he's eye-candy.

Christian Thomas caught my eye tonight, with a lot of battle, fighting through Leaf slashes and hooks and holds, trying to get the puck for a good shot on net.  He and Michaël Bournival did their job, running around and causing headaches for defencemen with their forecheck and their effort.

The experiment with Lars on the wing is inconclusive, but we can't expect definite results so soon.  I did see him throwing some hits, and getting off some shots on net.  The obvious benefit of taking him off centre is to lighten his load, reduce his workload and responsibilities, to simplify things and hope he gets off the slump he's in.  Maybe he's taking it to heart and embracing it.  Maybe Prusty spoke with him and encouraged him: "Hey Larry, let's just go out there and throw some hits and cause havoc, have fun."  

There was some discussion on TV early in the season about whether Lars should be on the wing, and one analyst thought that he should because "Michel Therrien, and pretty much every coach likes having big wingers who can skate."  His counterpart retorted that Michel Therrien and every other coach loved having big centres who can skate also.

It was a humorous exchange, but the kernel of truth is that Lars can help this team, by using his size and speed, at whatever position he plays.  He, and I'm repeating myself, needs to apply Marc Bergevin's maxim that he play like a big player with skill, rather than a skill player with size.  Those no-nonsense shots he took at the net and bodychecks he threw are a good start.

Nathan Beaulieu stole my heart on this Valentine's Day, with his no-hesitation fistfight with Leaf luxury pugilist David Clarkson.  The Leafs forward had just rammed Sergei Gonchar face-first into the boards and stunned him.  Nate, two steps away and already on the approach, didn't jaw at Mr. Clarkson or dance a minuet to invite him, he just dropped the gloves and went at him, and gave a very good account of himself.

It was a baffling showing by Dave Clarkson.  Earlier in the game, he broke the Code by harassing Brandon Prust, goading him into a fight even though it was the end of his shift, a big no-no among those samurais.  Brandon just grappled with him, tied him up and kept out of range of any punches.  For his troubles, the Leaf got an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.

He also got five minutes and a game for his dangerous boarding of Sergei Gonchar, on top of the five minutes for fighting.  Sergei skated off under his own power but was knocked out of the game.

This showing evidenced Mario Tremblay's laconic assessment of the player he coached with the Devils, that he's a good kid with lots of heart, but there's not much more there.

Later in the game, Nathan wowed spectators and Jim Hughson with a backcheck after a foray in the offensive zone.  The HNIC crew lauded his effortless skating, and supposed that he wouldn't be seeing any time in Hamilton or the pressbox from now on, that he was in the lineup to stay.

I agreed with their assessment, but really liked the heart and courage and team spirit for taking David Clarkson to account.  It's on par with Francis Bouillon taking on Derek Dorsett after his knee-on-knee assault on David Desharnais, Ryan White's beatdown of Johnny Boychuck after a similar attempt on P.K., and any number of Josh Gorges sacrifices against other teams' heavyweights.

I don't know what to say about P.K.  How can you fault his effort and energy during the monster shifts he had to pull in Nathan's and Sergei's absence?  You'd hope that he'd understand the situation though, and pace himself, understand that passing the puck instead of skating it away from a forechecker will conserve his energy and serve the team better, in this specific situation at least.  And that the cross-ice cross-crease through-the-box pass on the powerplay is a low-percentage play, along with the blind behind-the-back spinorama backhand pass.  Just give the puck back to Andrei, P.K., he'll tee it up for you so you can shoot it.  And hit the net with it.

In any case, this Leaf team, without Mike Brown and Mark Fraser and Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren and Dion Phaneuf, they're not detestable, but there's also not much fight in them, in every sense of the word.  You wonder if Brian Burke had a point there...

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