Thursday, 16 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 1: Canadiens 4, Senators 3

What an ugly, dirty, ugly game.  Unlike a few of my compadres who couldn't wait for the playoffs to start, I wasn't that keen, fearing just the type of spectacle that was delivered to us tonight, courtesy of the Ottawa Senators.

Sure, the Canadiens won 4-3 and take an early lead in the series, but I cringed while watching, or my mind wandered.  There was no flow, and certainly no beauty.  Intensity, desperation, there was lots of that, but this was a battle of stickwork, of hacking rather than handling the puck, dumping rather than shooting, mucking and clutching rather than skating.

This is the parity that Gary Bettman wanted, where talent and swiftness are relatively immaterial to the end result.  It's a game for grinders and checkers, a game of lucky bounces and questionable refereeing.  5-3 is a decisive win.  6-2 is a blowout.

The big talking point will be P.K. Subban's slash on Mark Stone, for which P.K. got a game misconduct.  The CBC talking heads thought it could draw supplemental discipline, that it bordered on the egregious, but to my trained but inexpert eye, it seemed relatively routine.  It wasn't a baseball swing à la Bobby Clarke, it was all wrist.  It just got soccerific Mark Stone somewhere he didn't have any padding, and he took that and ran with it a little.  That was emoting on a Nicholas Cage level.

But this is the circular nonsense the NHL bogs itself in, by saying, in its very own rulebook, that slashing is not permitted, but that incidental and non-aggressive slashing isn't slashing.  So the refs have to somehow figure out a malleable, variable limit from game to game and period to period, and they tend to 'let the little stuff go', but to me a lot of it is medium to large stuff, but never mind.  They just stand there and watch, phlegmatically, arms at their side, secure in the knowledge that Don Cherry will give them a thumbs up for 'letting them play'.

Still, P.K. needs to control himself.  He's on a streak of five or six penalties over the last few games where he contorts himself in paroxysms of disbelief and outrage at being called, following which the replay clearly shows that he did indeed trip or hold or clock someone flush on the helmet.  

P.K., keep your cool.  Again I'll point to Chris Chelios as your model, give them hell, give them all you got, but when you get a penalty just skate to the box and let your buddies kill it off.  Don't grandstand, don't show up the refs, and give them another extra additional reason to pick on you or the Canadiens in the future, to just slaver at an opportunity to whistle you for another call for the merest pretense.

The fourth line was lauded by Glenn Healy over the last few days, he kept repeating that the Canadiens "didn't have that last year", which is odd, because I remember Daniel Brière leading a pretty effective if unconventional unit, feeding Dale Weise for some big goals.  But maybe the CBC blowhard knows a little hockey after all, since Torrey Mitchell, Brandon Prust and Brian Flynn scored two goals, and the latter picked up three points.

Another story line was expected to be the battle in net between Andrew Hammond and Carey Price, but that didn't materialize, they weren't a deciding factor one way or the other.  The Hamburglar in particular looked unimpressive, flailing and foundering in his crease, being more lucky than adept in my opinion.  Of course, we used to say the same about Dominik Hasek, and Tim Thomas, but I'm not shaking in my boots, and I don't think the Canadiens are either, they have bigger fish to fry.

Stray observations:

--Eric Gryba tries to scythe off Brendan Gallagher's head with a vicious reverse hook, and complains about the two minute penalty he receives.  Hockey would be better if he was removed from the league.

--Mark Borowiecki's only function on the Senators is to insulate Mika Zibanejad from accusations that he's the ugliest man in show business.

--I assumed that we'd get Jim Hughson to call our series, but I was being an East Coast élitist probably, forgetting about Mr. Hughson's background working Vancouver Canucks games.  Paul Romanuk isn't bad, overall, and Mike Johnson is excellent as the analyst, so I'll live with that team.

--Every whistle, every stoppage in play, a Senator is crosschecking and facewashing a Canadien, and the refs wade in and do their "Break it up.  Break it up." no-harm-done routine.  So tiresome.  Such a change from games against the Lightning and the Red Wings, that flowed back and forth, with none of that nonsense.

--I know the Sens are still PTSD'ing over successive losses against unskilled Leaf teams that would goon them out of the playoffs, their current roster reflects a conscious decision that Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker wouldn't run them through the boards anymore, but it's been a while since then.  They have to realize that they're wearing it now, they're the goons.  

--Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert, the two righties remaining after P.K. was ejected, played 24 minutes each, and Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov did the heavy lifting on the left with 23 minutes each.  Nathan Beaulieu got 15 minutes of icetime.

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