Sunday, 1 November 2015

Game 12: Canadiens 6, Flames 2

Long-form thoughts on the Canadiens' 6-2 win over the Flames.

1)  People crack me up when they deny that the Canadiens’ players and management and ownership don’t read my posts. They get all riled up and throw shade, but fail to follow the chain of evidence.

Look at today:

1) I write a post about Dale, saying that he’s all heart and effort, he’s got size and speed, but no hands, no finishing ability.

2) I write another post exploring the topic of maybe disciplining players who miss offensive chances, in the same vein as those who flub defensive assignments, or loaf.

3) Dale didn’t have to read between the lines. I called him out. And he goes out and gets a hat trick.

Check mate.

This is a big win for me. Intended consequences and all that…

(Archived from HockeyInsideOut)
We had a discussion a few weeks back about how players get pilloried/benched for defensive mistakes or inattention, but get a pass for ‘offensive mistakes’, for missing on wide open nets, or putting the puck off the glass on a shot, or butchering a two-on-one.
We kind of agreed that defensive mistakes that draw the eye and draw the ire are the kind due to lack of effort. We thought that a player trying to block a shot who instead deflects it into the net will get a pass, compared to the player who doesn’t even try.
It would make sense in a purely philosophical sense to discipline Dale Weise also, for failing to put that loose puck into a wide-open net. Historically I don’t think it’s ever happened though. And practically, how do you ignore Dale’s effort and heart since the start of the season, since he got here?
We’re just programmed as fans to ascribe offensive gaffes like these to a lack of talent, or a result of bad puck luck. We can’t bring ourselves to blame him beyond an anguished “How could he miss that? My grandma would have scored on that! Even Réjean Houle could have cashed that in!”
Offhand, baseball operates differently. A batter who hits into a double play, fails to lay down the bunt, to make contact on a ‘courre et frappe’, who strikes out with men on base, he’ll face censure, especially if it’s habitual. Think A-Rod in the post-season.
Football too. A receiver who drops the ball is thought to show lack of concentration, falling on the elements of his job description, to catch the friggin’ ball. If one clangs off his hands at a crucial moment, prior history will come into play. If it’s a one-off, we’ll swallow hard and accept that he just flubbed it. “The sun got in his eyes.”
If it’s a recurring thing though, we start to talk about stone hands, and whether you should even throw to him, or use him at all. You start to question whether he’s a little yella’, whether he ‘heard footsteps’, bailed out on the catch or tensed up due to impending contact.
Same goes for the running back who fumbles or misses a blocking assignment (“Goddammit Donald!”), or a QB who throws interceptions.
So do you sit Dale because he failed to put the game away, he messed up offensively, like we did for Alex Semin who messed up defensively?
I can’t bring myself to do it. Sorry. I maintain that the scoring chance evolved because of his contributions on that line, his size and speed and effort. A lesser or different player mightn’t have caused the precursors to him standing in the crease alone with the puck.
At most, I keep this in the back of my mind when I decide on icetime and usage. As good as he looks skating and can-openering opposing defences, I keep that in context with how often he flubs on these chances.
In the last minute of a game when we’re ahead, I’ll put him on the ice to protect the lead. If we’re trailing though, and need a goal, I look elsewhere and make sure there’s not a better option before I use him.
(...) I think (...) that Dale is a poor finisher. He does bring a tonne to the table, in terms of effort and speed and heart and size and toughness, so it’s not really like he’s an anchor.
But he does have trouble finishing historically. In Vancouver, he was known for creating havoc for defenders with his forechecking, but when the puck came to him with a goalie at his mercy, he’d put the puck wide or solidly on the glass. In Montréal, he’s shown surprising touch with the puck, some of the plays with Max and David last year were beauties, but he may be falling back to earth a little bit this year, his puck luck regressing to the mean.
I think it’s a little bit of a paradox. Dale’s many gifts and work ethic may cause a lot of the offensive chances that line will create. His speed and size will cause defencemen to cheat over to him to contain him, and now David has room to roam, to dart into and control the puck. But then he has Dale as a passing option, a guy who’s been a little cold so far, who’s flubbed chances.
But if you switch it up, put in a guy who’s more liable to finish chances (leave alone who for now), you’ll miss all the work and the can-opener factor that Dale brings.

2)  An interesting point to consider with regard to Mike Condon is that he spent a lot of his minor hockey and college career as a backup, as his college coach explained in an article recently linked to. The coach said that Mike just accepted the role, kept focused and working hard and doing the best he could when he got a chance to play.

The Gazette writers were careful to keep pointing out when he was here that Peter Budaj was the ideal backup goalie. Unfailingly cheerful, supportive, upbeat, chattery. Supportive of his counterpart, his teammates. Acting as a sounding board for Carey during TV timeouts. Worked extra hard in practice, staying the extra hours to polish his game, stay fit, help teammates work on their game too.

Dustin Tokarski seemed a little more pensive, introverted, if not unpopular, he actually seemed to be a good member of the group, especially the former Bulldogs like Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu. Also, his background was more that of a workhorse, in junior and the minors, the guy who gets the regular starting gig, plays lots, plays often.

Beyond Dustin’s less-than-ideal size in today’s game, where having the lanky frame to layer on ever more padding trumps any other considerations like agility and reflexes, maybe another issue is/was that Dustin didn’t have the ‘backup mentality’. He may not have been able to do the job at peak efficiency when getting a week off or more between starts.

Whereas Mike Condon may have that facility, that mental makeup to sit for a few games, then get the nod and go out and do his thing. He’s no Carey, he flopped around last night a few times, and it was odd to see when you’re used to Carey being the Ambien Iceman out there, but he’s now got the job done three games in a row.

It’s early yet, but the choice of Mike Condon might be an inspired one, the right puzzle piece to fit that very specific hole in the roster.

3)  I don’t think there’s anything final about Alex Semin’s situation, that we’ve crossed a Rubicon. He didn’t commit the cardinal sin, tell Ronald Corey he had played his last game as a Canadien, or go drinking with Alex Radulov on a playoff game night. He just didn’t make the right decisions with the puck in crucial moments.

He got a timeout, like others have had in the past, P.K. and David and Lars, got a couple of games off to make sure the message sinks in. The Russian contingent will ensure he’s not isolated or discouraged, they’ll cushion the blow a little for him, reinforce the fact that the system is to be followed, unlike his experience under Bruce Boudreau in Washington.

There’s no other obvious replacement for Alex Semin as a scoring winger in the Top 6. There are promising pieces in the AHL, but none that are chomping at the bit, snorting in the starting gate. He’s safe for at least this season.

So as much as he’s made a career of lurking in open space, of hanging back in defensive situations to await a breakout pass, he has to learn how to lard into his game a little more backchecking, to dial up the intensity a smidge along the boards. To make a boring safe play with the puck, to try the savant low-percentage pass only in appropriate circumstances.

And as easy as this is for us to say, as easy as it might be for Alex to resolve, it’s going to be a work in progress. Old habits die hard. Reflexes are ingrained, he has to re-learn his game to a modest degree, make different decisions than he would normally make. That’ll take time. There will be progress and backslides. It’s analog, not digital.

With the winning lineup method Michel Therrien uses, I don’t think Alex gets back on the ice against the Jets, but he’ll be back in eventually. The story isn’t written yet.

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