Thanks to Gary Bettman, I didn't see the Canadiens' OT loss to the Capitals, just RDS' "Canadiens Express" condensed version.
-This wasn't an easy game, one we 'should' win, like when we're faced with the Leafs or Sabres. The Capitals are a strong playoff team, energized by an excellent coach this season, with seasoned vets and talent.
So to come away with a point shouldn't be a disappointment, but coming on the heels of a loss to Tampa Bay, and in the midst of a post-trade deadline period when the team is struggling to play .500 hockey, it's a little sour, again.
Add in that you'd like the team to hit the playoffs at cruising speed, rather than with the engine misfiring, and Canadiens fans will fret over a loss, however close it might be.
-Lars Eller had a good game. Maybe playing with two no-nonsense vets like Dale Weise and Brandon Prust, who work and skate hard and drive the net will have a positive influence on our malleable, mercurial centre. When he plays with shifty guys, maybe he tries to match their artistry? Last night with his linemates, he simplified his game, drove the net, which is what we want from him.
-The defencemen chipped in offensively. Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry on the rush, and P.K. on a blast from the point with the man advantage all scored.
-David Desharnais had a really good game, working hard, battling with bigger opponents, being a constant threat around the net. He caused a Cap to take a penalty while trying to contain him on a rush, he got off shots, fought for loose pucks and rebounds. It's hard to fault him on a night like this.
-Special teams were the story, with the Caps cashing in three of four powerplays, while the Canadiens only had P.K.'s goal to show for their four chances.
Against the best powerplay in the league, as Pierre Houde reminded us, the Canadiens kind of gifted them the game, by taking some silly, lazy hooking penalties.
-P.K. had an uneven night. Strong on the scoresheet with three points, strong on Alex Ovechkin, but also showing lapses in judgment. The first goal by Joel Ward, he created the odd-man rush by getting beaten on the boards, pinching in but failing to make a 'strong play' on the puck. He tried to control the puck, handle it, instead of bashing it in deep with opponents bearing down on him and having no support. Mental mistake.
Gaston Therrien on L'Antichambre showed this play and made the same point, explaining that P.K. had only one hand on his stick, and was going to try to stickhandle the puck while he fended off his opponents with his free arm. Not the right time or place, when he was flat-footed and his teammates were in front of him.
Further, Marcus Johansson gave him a little tug on the shoulder with a free hand, and it was enough to bring P.K. down to the ice. Now maybe the hold was a legit one, maybe it caught him off-balance, but with his history, his reputation of embellishing, he didn't get the call. Daddy Campbell has told the refs to ignore it when P.K. and Brendan Gallagher are hooked or interfered with in any debatable manner.
P.K. needs to understand this, and play accordingly. They've won. The league has him in a box. That's the shoe he has to wear.
He now needs to take a page from Chris Chelios' book, and fight through these little tugs and hooks and keep playing, and respond with strong to savage elbows, slashes and crosschecks. Anyone tangling with him has to know that he's a porcupine. Chelly elevated this to an artform, he'd take it to the limit and then a shade over, and the refs mostly allowed him to do so, and it kept the abuse he received to a tolerable level.
-Another error committed by P.K. was when he pushed Curtis Glencross from behind so that he toppled onto Carey Price. Risky. I sweated bullets. P.K. got away with it, the refs actually whiffed on the call and gave the Washington forward a penalty on the play, on which Subbie scored, but this is a dangerous game.
It's not a mortal sin, every team and every player struggles with how to protect his goalie, and it didn't work out this time, but P.K. has done this a few times lately, memorably against Logan Couture of the Sharks. The way, the time to protect Carey is when you're in front of the opponent, between him and the crease, and can bring the shaft of your stick to bear, forcefully, on the situation.
-Alex Galchenyuk also played a strong game, picking up two assists, being creative and a threat out there. On a couple of plays I saw, he was the playmaker, wheeling around the offensive zone, and he found David as the triggerman, a nice change.
After a dozen or so games where he'd look ineffectual, a little lost out there, he's coming around, getting his bearings, at just the right time. If he can start to click with David or whoever his centre will be, if he starts to be a scoring threat on the second line, and provide offence for the Habs beyond Max Pacioretty, we'll be in good shape.
-It's very late in the game, and I'm not sure how realistic or practical this is, but maybe the Jacob de la Rose experiment has run its course, or at least the first phase? He's now confined to the wing on the fourth line, and he was largely invisible. He's not useless, he does contribute just by dint of his size, skating and hockey sense, but maybe it would be better for his development to be sent down to the Bulldogs? Playing more minutes in crucial situations in Hamilton instead of limited responsibility in Montréal?
We've burned out promising rookies before, so I'm gun-shy. Sure, other teams have done so too, and also there are exceptional cases, kids who are more mature and ahead of the curve, but isn't the proof in the pudding? His meager point totals, his declining icetime, his waning effect on the game, are these all indicators of a rookie who's running out of steam after a good start?
We haven't hesitated to send down Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, and others when their effectiveness declined. We should do the same if Jacob is now treading water. He'll gain confidence by playing more.
Gradual steps. Progression. Patience.
-Maybe this is where practicalities collide with the best-case scenario. And I speak of P.A. Parenteau and Devante Smith-Pelly. The former is playing on the Top 6 but is not hitting his stride or convincing me that he'll find his groove. Concussions are tough on an athlete, recovering from them is hard to plan for. I don't fault him for struggling, but you'd hope for more from him.
Same for Devo, he's still looking for his first goal, and is now relegated to fourth-line duty after a couple of games in the pressbox.
With such areas of need to address on the roster, there may not be the luxury for the team to spare Jacob de la Rose. Exigencies will prevail. I fear the short-term will carry the day, over the long-term.