Saturday, 25 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 5: Canadiens 1, Senators 4

The Canadiens, looking a little feeble offensively, failed to bounce the Senators out of these playoffs, losing 4-1 and setting up a sixth game in Ottawa.

I don't want to get off my rant here, my sensibilities are hair-trigger, uh, sensitive, but the game started out decently, as far as the 'physicality', 'la robustesse' was concerned.  If anything, the Canadiens were a little more insistent on finishing their checks than the Senators, but overall, it was played relatively cleanly.  Even after whistles, with an opponent standing in front of a goalie, no tiresome, low-level-concussion generating scrums erupted, with all the jabbing and cross-checking and ref blindness that results.  Aside from Erik Karlsson putting Lars Eller in a headlock, and a Senator knee-on-kneeing Jeff Petry, it was downright gentlemanly out there sometimes.

I fast-forwarded through Don Cherry's Sclerotic Brain Spasm Hour, but I bet he revoked a few 'good Canadian kids' licences.  I think Andrei Markov might have actually apologized for falling into Craig Anderson on one of his sneaky rushes in the first, but the ole' Bruin would have been ready for something like that coming from a Commie.

The Sens had jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the third and there was little life left in the Canadiens it seemed, until Tom Gilbert threaded a shot in on Craig Anderson, who was ably screened by Dale Weise.

There was a bizarre but all too normal sequence in the middle of the third period, an infuriating one for Canadiens fans listening in to Paul Romaniuk, Mike Johnson and Glenn Healy.  First, we saw Brendan Gallagher try a sharp angle shot from a distance which was stopped.  The whistle blew.  A scrum ensued behind the net, with neanderthals Eric Gryba and Mike Borowiecki taking evident pleasure in jabbing at Tomas Plekanec's and Max Pacioretty's head.  Brendan, of course, joined the fray, but the good guys were outmanned, since by rule their defencemen had to stay at the blue line, or see the subsequent faceoff be moved out of the offensive zone.

I want to take the time to emphasize how the Senator twosome reveled in this situation, wallowed in this mire, like the proverbial pigs in shit.  The rictus on Eric Gryba was telltale, as he had a grip on Tomas Plekanec's jersey and kept jerking and jabbing at his head.  Two linesmen were trying to intercede, and literally having a conversation with him, probably telling him to stop, but he debated the issue and kept throwing jabs.  The camera didn't show as clearly what was going on with Max, but I feared for him too, due to his recent concussion.

The powerlessness, the toothlessness, the lack of seriousness of NHL officiating was again, unsurprisingly, but still exasperatingly in evidence by this sequence.

A couple of seasons ago, after a Competition Committee or other such body had met, the word came out that any blow to the head of any player would be proscribed, and met with a penalty when it happened.  This was a progressive, forward-thinking move, with all the concussion research coming out that shows that it's not just an accumulation of diagnosed concussions that causes CTE, but also a lot of blows to the head that fall below what would trigger a concussion but still adds up.

Anecdotally, there are a lot of boxers out there who claim to never have been 'knocked out', but still end up 'punch drunk' later on.  Also, a lot of football linemen would say the same, that they might have seen stars once in a while, but had never suffered a concussion, but still later in life showed signs of CTE.  So the NHL was on the right track in limiting willful, avoidable blows to the head.

And while it seemed like it might be an impossible change to manage in the game, the NFL had actually had robust success in doing so with its quarterbacks, training teams and players and refs that any contact with the head, neck, or helmet of a quarterback, however minor, while he is in the pocket is an automatic 15-yard penalty, and ejection from the game for flagrant offences.  While there was a lot of gnashing of teeth from the football versions of Don Cherry, the game endures, and thrives, and fans get to see the star quarterbacks on the field as opposed to on the sidelines, and players are marginally less susceptible to brain trauma.

Unfortunately for hockey fans and players, someone got cold feet and this change was never enacted as reported in the NHL, and we're where we are, with anti-hockey perpetrators like Messrs. Gryba and Borowiecki, who can do nothing to actually contribute hockey-wise, leaping into these scrums with both feet and trying to do what they can to 'help their team win'.

So after the smiling and sneering Eric Gryba was cajoled and convinced to let go and be on his way, the HNIC hacks took over, showing replays, and their bias was on display.  Again.

After explaining that the three Montréal Canadiens in the scrum couldn't dare take a penalty, since they were essential to their team, and Max and Tomas were able penalty killers, Glenn Healy intoned "Of course it all instigated by our favourite player, (chuckles) Brendan Gallagher."

Which is completely wrong.  Gally had been away from the action, had heard the whistle, had stopped playing.  He was one of the three Canadiens not daring to take a penalty while being swarmed by thugs and watched by lickspittle zebras, but he hadn't been anything close to the instigator.

Minutes earlier in the broadcast, when Paul Romanuk was chiding him on a prediction that didn't pan out, Healy had responded "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story".  In this case, Mr. Healy was not letting the facts get in the way of his biases, and was too lazy and hidebound to change his set narrative.  Brendan Gallagher is an instigator.  The Sens play 'physical'.   So it will come to pass.

Mike Johnson: "Pack mentality takes over.  Everybody in there."  Well no Mike, it was 5-on-3, the Canadiens defencemen were pinned at their blue line.

More Johnson laughing, approvingly: "Borowiecki and Brendan Gallagher have had it going on since Game 1."

As if that is laudable, or appropriate.  You have a small talented hockey player being mugged by a 6'2", 205 lbs player, who scored 12 goals in three seasons of college hockey, and has 2 in a little over 80 games played in the NHL.  The Senator goon went right at Gally's head, poked him in the eye under the visor in the process.

Later, he chortled about it on the bench, and the on-air hacks praised his "Bobby Clarke smile."

Hockey is a great game, but it's so easy to hate the NHL.

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