Friday, 13 March 2015

Game 68: Canadiens 2, Senators 5

While watching RDS' "Canadiens Express" broadcast of the loss against the Senators, I thought during the first period that this is the team Habs fans have come to expect, if not demand, even if it doesn't always transpire on the ice.  The Canadiens capitalized on a powerplay, as well as an error by the Sens to score on a shorthanded breakaway, the third and fourth lines buzzed all around the enemy zone, and as a result our boys jumped to an early 2-0 lead against an inferior squad.

This is how it should be.  No overconfidence against a weak sister.  No being lulled to sleep.  No taking heart based on the fact that, gosh darn it, we came really close a couple of times.  The Senators are desperate to stay in the playoff race, let's not give them hope.  Let's put them away early.

Max Pacioretty scored both goals, the first on a deflection of a P.K. Subban blast from the blue line, which was later credited to Max.  His second goal was another beauty, pulling away cleanly from the Sens' defencemen to swoop in on Andrew Hammonds, deke him and put the puck up top on the backhand.

One noteworthy aspect of the first period was the Tom Gilbert high-sticking penalty on Bobby Ryan.  The fans at the New Forum and Pierre Houde on RDS quickly twigged on the fact that it was a glancing blow to the visor of the Senator forward, and that the latter may have exaggerated his reaction to ensure the refs didn't miss the call.

To me, this is where the Mike Milburys and Nick Kypreoses take us.  A clear, blatant, unquestionable infraction is glossed over to focus on the possibility of embellishment.  Spears are 'love-taps', forgivable transgressions for an impish Milan Lucic.  Shea Weber grabbing Henrik Zetterberg's head and smashing it in the glass like a pro wrestler would do to another on the turnbuckle is just an excess of competitiveness.

What is more important to get right?  A player diving to draw a penalty, or a player carelessly swinging his stick around, liable to bryanberard anyone in the vicinity?  Doesn't the Tom Gilbert play amply justify a penalty strictly on its own merit?  Might not have Bobby Ryan been injured, perhaps seriously, if he wasn't wearing a visor?

Tom Gilbert fully deserved this penalty, no ifs, ands or buts.  Here is the wording of NHL Rule 60 on the subject.
60.1 High-sticking - A “high stick” is one which is carried above the height of the opponent’s shoulders. Players and goalkeepers must be in control and responsible for their stick. However, a player or goalkeeper is permitted accidental contact on an opponent if the act is committed as a normal windup or follow through of a shooting motion. A wild swing at a bouncing puck would not be considered a normal windup or follow through and any contact to an opponent above the height of the shoulders shall be penalized accordingly.
60.2 Minor Penalty - Any contact made by a stick on an opponent above the shoulders is prohibited and a minor penalty shall be imposed.
60.3 Double-minor Penalty - When a player or goalkeeper carries or holds any part of his stick above the shoulders of the opponent so that injury results, the Referee shall assess a double-minor penalty for all contact that causes an injury, whether accidental or careless, in the opinion of the Referee.
There's not a lot of room for debate.

The NHL has had its ham-handed GM's trying to find ways to increase scoring, to add some spectacle to the proceedings.  Preventing the cyclopsing of Bobby Ryan is a good place to start.  Let's not do to high-sticking penalties what has happened to holding, hooking, tripping and other such matters, becoming these impenetrable grey areas that can go either way depending on the mood of the refs and Don Cherry.

We saw a great example of that when Mike Hoffman took a penalty for tripping Lars Eller early in the second period.  He was a clear two steps behind the Canadiens forward, and tried to impede his progress or, to be charitable, maybe tried to poke at the puck.  The result is that Lars fell to the ice, due to the Sen's stick tangling in his legs.  Yet Mr. Hoffman seemed to disagree with the call, talking to the referee on his way to the bench, in what I assumed was an attempt to blame Lars for falling too easily.

And this is why scoring is falling in the NHL.  If Lars fights through the check, manages to stay upright and keeps advancing the puck, the refs will overlook the Senator's clear attempt to impede his progress.  This advantages the slower players, the out-of-position players.  This is what allows Chris Neil and Jordin Tootoo to remain in the league.

Every trip, every hold nowadays, the guilty party, the coach, they impute responsibility on the player who was the target of the infraction.

In any case, the Canadiens weren't able to cash in the powerplay, to put the Sens away.  And our bête noire slowly reeled us back in, getting a beauty goal from Erik Karlsson in the second, tying it up later on a goal set up by Hab-killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and then taking the lead early in the third on Mark Stone's powerplay goal.  So that good start, the way we took control of the game 'as we should' in the first, that was all for naught.

So a bitter loss for the Canadiens, who let in five unanswered goals after seemingly taking control of the game.  With Carey Price unmiraculous, it wasn't meant to be.

Meanwhile, the Bruins and the Lightning gave each other a point, before the Bruins won it in the shootout.

Vincent Damphousse on L'Antichambre was not impressed with P.A. Parenteau's game, calling it unconvincing, but I thought he injected a bit of creativity and skill in the lineup.  I'd give him a couple of games to get back in sync, and to mesh with his linemates.

And I want to renegotiate P.K.'s contract.  Not to reduce his cap hit, I'm almost over that whole deal.  What I want to do is add a clause, a rider, a codicil that he must shoot five times a game.  With this clause, maybe he'll stop trying his fancy little passes and unnecessary dekes and feints and showboaty moves.  P.K., shootdapuck P.K.  Focus on your own game, on your strengths, instead of trying to outshine Erik Karlsson.

So now we have to start asking the question, was the team's chemistry harmed by the acquisitions a the trade deadline?  Because since then, we've only won once in six games, against the lowly Coyotes, and that was a close one too.

Michel Therrien, after being generous and conciliatory in his post-game remarks after the overtime loss to Tampa, was clearly in a more somber mood tonight, calling into question his team's competitiveness and focus.  He didn't get too dramatic, soft-pedaling this with the observation that there are fifteen games left, that there's time to right the ship before the playoffs.

But there's obviously work to do, by the coaches and by the players.  The offence needs attention, desperately.  Maybe with so many 'puck-movers' on our blue line, we need to unleash them to allow some Erik Karlsson-style odd-man rushes.  Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry seem eminently qualified to spring some of those on opposition Bottom 6 lines, as are Sergei Gonchar and Nathan Beaulieu.  They can skate up with the forwards and handle the puck, receive and make a pass, take a good shot on net.

One aspect for which Michel Therrien's coaching staff gets plaudits for is the fact that their practices are always targeted at fixing problems, they're always working on improving facets of their team's game.  They make somewhat controversial adjustments sometimes to shake things up.

Well, the table is set, let's see what they do with it.

1 comment:

  1. I think they need Emelin or Tinordi or at least Pateryn. You don't want too many of those guys because they don't play the puck as well but you need one or two so that the other team doesn't stake out space in the zone. The habs looked scared in the offensive zone all night, giving up the puck because they knew they would get hit at some point (possibly very late or very cheaply).

    The Senators were both more desperate to score and very much less worried about being hit. They took time to set up and did as they liked. If they had needed to at least check that Emelin or Tinordi weren't switching on to hammer them they likely would not have run up the score.

    The contrast in level of comfort for forwards in the attacking zone was impressive. Of course the habs are probably just trying to stay healthy at this point.