Canadiens Express thoughts on the Canadiens 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings.
-- Usually when I watch a game, I'll think that the Canadiens are a good team, who on any given night can beat any other team. I'll worry about reffing, scoring droughts, injuries, bad bounces, hot goalies, and any other details which can tilt an individual game one way or another, but generally I think the team can win any game.
I didn't feel that way after the Rangers kreiderated Carey Price. I mentally threw in the towel. I still watched and cheered and hoped, but I wasn't able to overcome my ingrained pessimism in these circumstances.
This season though I've had twinges when I feel the Canadiens are a dominant team, that the other doesn't stand a chance. Which has been rare for me for a couple decades, since the mid-nineties, since the John Leclair-Éric Desjardins trade, and the Patrick Roy trade. Against the Oilers in Edmonton, I felt that the Canadiens were a superior team, and not just better than the abysmal opponents.
Against the Blues, who we are constantly told is a powerhouse built for the Western playoffs, I just felt that they weren't that great, that if that's a Western powerhouse, then we can match up against anyone, anytime, anywhere. In fact, maybe we're the powerhouse.
-- The Canadiens Express version of the game on RDS was like a bucket of icy water dumped on this fan. It felt like men playing against boys, that we were playing in a different league. It wasn't a question of a hot goalie shutting us down, and taking our spirit with him, changing the momentum. It wasn't refs allowing the Bruins to cheat their way to a win, like the pro wrestling refs of my youth. We barely touched the puck. We couldn't mount an offensive sequence.
-- Like those movies where a torture victim retreats to a 'happy place' to endure the punishment about to be inflicted, I dissociated, and reviewed mentally which players on this team wouldn't be here next year and beyond. Which youngsters in Hamilton could develop into a player who could skate against the Kings and make a game of it. Which of the junior players could surprise and win a roster spot next season.
-- I despaired that our roster and farm system is still undersized compared to teams like the Kings. I revisited my contention that teams like the Kings cynically allow us to draft the Daniel Audettes, the Charles Hudons, the Brendan Gallaghers, it's not like we saw what they didn't and 'stole' a great prospect from them. They can see the talent, but just have taken the stance that size and bangitude and orneriness will win in the playoffs, not skill. They can slash harder, interfere better than we do when we have Christian Thomas and David Desharnais on our roster.
And Don Cherry will poison the well in their favour with his harangues for the refs to 'let them play', and Nick Kypreos barking and smirking that Ryan Kesler wrestling down P.K. long after the puck is gone might be a penalty, but only "in October and November".
-- And yet... Late in the second, long past the time when we'd been skated out of the rink, Tom Gilbert delivered on his promise of being a puck-mover and contributor on offence with a slick stickhandling effort, deking his way off the draw through the Kings roster and past Jonathan Quick. Dead-cat bounce, I mourned.
-- And then Brendan Gallagher did what he did, using his fighting spirit and quickness in front of the net to avoid beheadings and backhand a shot/pass from Tomas Plekanec into the net. And bafflingly, we were tied 2-2 going into the third.
-- And then, you won't believe this, David Desharnais, a sapling among the redwoods, managed to feed a puck to Max to put us ahead in the third, and I started to reconcile myself with hockey, that maybe it's not going to devolve into bumper cars, a demolition derby on ice. Maybe there was hope for us, for our team, our farm system. For the game.
-- And then... Lars.
I've been assured by Pierre Houde and Marc Denis that Lars played a very good game until then, that it was just an example of a player having rotten luck, that he of all the Canadiens would take that penalty so close to the end of the game. And that the Kings would tie it up on the resultant powerplay.
-- The way RDS condenses a three-hour game into a one-hour broadcast for "Canadiens Express", they have to make decisions, edit some sequences out. It's hard to quibble on any of these, absent any information on what is missed, but I have to object to how they hack at the shootout.
Instead of jumping right to the end and showing Max scoring, and the viewer being whiplashed and trying to make sense of the tote board at the top of the screen and the red checkmarks, and before you're quite sure of what is going on then Anze Kopitar is doing his thing, I'd like RDS to show us every shot, so we can get into the rhythm, the drama. The shootout attempts don't take long, five seconds each, if you don't show replays where they're not really needed.
The shootout is fan-friendly, a crowd-pleaser, at least on the same order as the fights. Let's not try to scrimp there.
--So yeah, Lars... It so happens that he took the fourth attempt by the Canadiens, needing to score to keep the game alive, and he deked Jonathan Quick and... put it off the crossbar.
"Why hast thou forsaken me?!" he probably railed to himself skating back to the bench.
--The RDS boys had an interesting take on L'Antichambre. Their take is that the Canadiens are giving Lars every opportunity to get out of his funk. By putting him on the second line with Tomas Plekanec, they're telling him he needs to be an important player, be in a front-line role, not satisfy himself with being effective on defence in the Bottom 6. They were saying that based on his results, he's had an extra-long leash, instead of being in the pressbox he's being sent out again and again.
Part of this was due to the coach trying to 'help his GM', work with him, since Lars just signed a contract extension, you can't cut and run. You have to get a return on the investment. Another reason is that the Canadiens don't really have many options, there aren't that many big skating forwards kicking around. If you have Lars you use him.
-- His being sent out as the fourth option on the shootout is another example of the long leash. Again, there weren't many snipers on the bench. Maybe P.A. Parenteau might have come in handy. But after a shootout where P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were used ahead of him, and the coach when pressed on this issue said that 'he hadn't scored in a month', or words to that effect, Lars got a shot, ahead of Brendan Gallagher, for example.
And you kind of wished that, like David Desharnais last season, he had scored a big shootout goal and it had jump-started him. But the gods have other plans for Lars apparently, more tribulations.
-- So a rollercoaster 'glass case of emotion' kind of game for this fan. I'd given up on this season, this team, the entire sport by the end of the first period, but the team-that-never-quits amazed me again, by weathering the storm with their backup goalie and almost coming out with the win.
And I'll never doubt again.