Monday, 30 March 2015

P.K. Subban a target of the NHL

If P.K. gets fined and publicly shamed for embellishment, I want Carrie Underwood’s husband to get the same treatment for that B.S. pratfall on Carey. The overhead shot of him throwing himself backwards was especially damning.

Those ineffectual GM meeting in Del Boca Vista Phase II are such a waste of time, focusing on puck-over-glass or handpass minutiae, and trying to rid the game of the horrors of the shootout (horrors!), instead of rectifying what’s truly wrong with the game.

After Milan Lucic on Ryan Miller, after Chris Kreider on human decency, the NHL should have dealt with this, decisively. Come out very clearly against any attempt to make contact with a goalie, to ‘get him off his game’, ‘make him less comfortable’. Make it a strict liability offence, if a player makes contact with an opposition goalie in any manner while he’s in his crease, he gets a penalty. No grey areas.

Anything cravenly deliberate, any Nick Kypreos dive onto Grant Fuhr to blow out his ACL, it’s an ‘attempt to injure’ penalty, with all that entails. Don’t wuss out of calling those.

If a defensive player steers-pushes him into the goalie, he gets an offsetting penalty, but these will drop off dramatically, since the opposition forwards will be trying to skate away from the crease, there won’t be a need to joust with them, like P.K. on Logan Couture.

Protect the goalies like the NFL protects its QB’s. If you want to generate offence, get rid of the trap, the officious offside penalties, the hooking, the slashing. Lord, the slashing.

The NHL quarter-measures and backtracks itself to death, votes in favour of 3-on-3 OT.

The NHL futzes around with details (the blasted ‘hand pass’ controversy) but refuses to deal with the major issues (violence, intimidation and concussions; lack of offence, scoring and excitement).

Note the agony over OT, the shootout, 3-on-3, definite kicking motion, when they really should address the fact that Sidney Crosby has been concussed down to size, that Pavel Datsyuk gets slashed fifty times a game without it drawing a call, it gets characterized as ‘defensive play’.

Remember the furor over Linus Omark? The kid had moves and skill, was flashy, and he got buried, he’s not even in the league now. Meanwhile, Brad Marchand is a ‘passionate’ player who sometimes strays over the line. It’s madness.

I don’t have much time for RDS analyst Benoit Brunet, but one of his comments is so dead-on: whenever adjustments are debated on OT rules, etc., he asks, “Can we worry about improving the quality of play over the previous 60 minutes instead of fiddling around with the five minutes of OT?”

Instead of allowing more crashing and banging in the crease to “create more goals”, which are ugly, unspectacular goals anyway, why don’t we allow Evgeni Malkin and the Sedin brothers to wow us with their moves, instead of lionizing a Daniel Winnik for his effort and defensive play.

Diving is such a non-issue. Let the players play, free of intimidation and check-finishers and routine slashing every second of every game, and scoring will go up, and diving won’t be necessary.

Then, address any further instances of diving after the fact, with video evidence, and suspend players, coaches, and dock teams some draft picks. State very clearly that it’s cheating, like doctoring the baseballs, it’s an attack on the integrity of the game, and it won’t be tolerated.  None of this $2000 business.

Get the teams and the coaches, and it will stop. But again, the league wants the players to bear the brunt of this, suffer the consequences when they try to win, try to find a way around the nonsense that is the NHL.

Manny Malhotra will probably not be retained, Sergei Gonchar may not play again this season.

Richard Labbé of La Presse pointing out what we kind of already know as fans, that Manny Malhotra won’t be back next year.

When he was signed last summer I was fairly certain that he’d be an improvement over Ryan White and Daniel Brière as the fourth-line centre, that his size and skating and defensive ability would be a great benefit. He caught our eye early with great faceoff numbers, a spillover effect on those of the other centres, and his penalty killing which relieved some of the pressure on Tomas Plekanec.

As the games piled on though, it became tougher to overlook his non-existent offensive contribution, how he actually made his wingers worse.

Torrey Mitchell is smaller, but does bring the experience and leadership angle, the skating. He doesn’t really bring more offensive skill, but his speed and forechecking can precipitate offence.

He’s been doing almost as well as Manny in the faceoff circle, and he’s a rightie, so he’s a better complement to our other centres, lefties everyone of them, even the part-timers like Jacob de la Rose and Alex Galchenyuk.

So yeah, I’d expect the Canadiens to thank Manny and let him walk this July, unless he experiences a rebirth during the playoffs. I envision the Canadiens making a pitch for Torrey instead, or checking to see what’s available on the UFA market.

Also from La Presse, an articles discusses Sergei Gonchar’s use lately, and the defencemen in general.

I don’t have a problem with giving Sergei more time off if he wasn’t out of the concussion fog yet, since we do have options.

Personally, I like the pairings lately, they’re my ideal pairings as a fan. Love, love Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu together, how they click, complement each other. Their time together in the AHL really shows, they’re not feeling each other out. They know each other and work well with each other.

It’s kind of the ideal pairing that you discuss in the theoretical sphere. A slick puck mover, a defensively-oriented guy with size who hits. But both have some elements of the other’s game, they’re not both unidimensional, stereotypical effete puck-mover paired with the plodding slow-footed brute. Nathan can play in the physical games, has shown he can drop the gloves. And Greg can skate, can pass the puck well, can shoot the puck.

Also, as much as I resolve to be patient, to allow our prospects to marinate in the minors, when some of them finally make it up from Hamilton, I want to see them play, want to see them stick, to be a solution, a harbinger of a brighter future.

I don’t want to tell the coaches what to do. I swear I don’t. But I’ll be happy if we see more of Nathan and Greg together, and if their minutes creep up, and if they get more and more difficult assignments, and they show they can handle it.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Michael McCarron playing centre? In the NHL?

I’m fast-forwarding through Friday night’s Generals-Petes game, and I’m intrigued by the fact that Michael McCarron is still playing centre, this time on the second line, after playing first line centre with Max Domi this season in London, and a lot of third and fourth-line centre last season.

We were surprised that he got moved to centre last season, almost suspicious, since it is Dale Hunter after all who made this decision, and I’m going to take anything he does with a shovelful of salt that’s being crosschecked in the back of my head, but his new coach in Oshawa kept up the experiment. And maybe experiment isn’t the right word.

Lots of players in Junior assume a role that they’re not destined to play in the pros. Two-way defencemen quarterback the powerplay in junior, à la Morgan Ellis. Checking, grinding centres play the first line, à la Bo Horvat or Jackson Houck. So yeah, against lesser competition, as they mature, junior players assume more responsibility that’s not likely to devolve to them as they move up the ladder.

And yeah, it’s common for forwards in the pros to have played a lot of centre in junior, and forwards in junior to have played a lot of centre in minor hockey. If you’re the best or one of the best players on your team, your coach will put you in the middle so you can have a greater impact on the game, but once you’re up against players who can compete with you, they’ll put you in a position where your skills align better with the role of your position.

So I don’t expect Mike McCarron to play centre in Hamilton, beyond maybe taking a few draws, something he’s apparently good at, and which he can do on his strong side if the coach prefers a rightie to a leftie. Martin Lapointe scoffed last summer when asked about this, how the Canadiens hadn’t expected him to play centre in London, but that it wouldn’t harm him, he’d learn quite a bit playing there.

Mike will be a rangy, heavy right winger in the pros, starting next season. Guaranteed.

Except, this year there aren’t ‘enough’ centres in the prospect pool in the AHL. So much so that Charles Hudon got an extended tryout there, and he said it was the first time he’d ever played centre, at any level. Next season, there is Jérémy Grégoire graduating to the pros who plays centre, but he might be one of those prospects who’s better suited to the wing at the next level.

Might it be possible that Mike McCarron gets some time at centre, a tryout? He’d need to radically improve his skating, but could he eventually be that big centre you deploy against a Joe Thornton or Ryan Getzlaf in the defensive zone? Someone who falls somewhere in the range of a Paul Gaustad to Joel Otto, in that continuum? Hopefully tending to the Otto end of the spectrum?

I know, pretty fanciful, but if other fans can trade Zach Fucale, Darren Dietz and a second for Nail Yakupov on social media, let me dream of better days too.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Game 75: Canadiens 2, Jets 5

--I watched the "Winnipeg Jets Pregame" show on TSN, instead of "Hockey 360" on RDS, just for a change.  It started with a back and forth between Sara Orlesky and former Hab Brian Engblom, focusing intensely on the Jets.  Very well done, Sara Orlesky is camera-friendly, and a polished pro, speaking easily and expertly, but allowing her analyst to make his points.

I wasn't as enthused with Brian Engblom for one reason, being that he went for the lazy-man's comparison when trying to lionize Brendan Gallagher, saying that he reminded him of Brad Marchand.  So facile.  They're short, so they're similar.  Coming up next, he'll explain why he thinks Tyler Myers is like Zdeno Chara.

--Asked by Sara Orlesky how his team would try to frustrate the Canadiens, Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice offered: "That's going to be a tough challenge, because that's almost their playbook.  They don't give you a whole lot.  They've got some good offensive skill in their lineup, they don't score an awful lot of goals, but they don't need to to win games.  So they've got a real good defensive structure, they've had for years.

"Our challenge, we've tried to frustrate offensive players through hard work and 'tight gap', we have to make sure we don't allow this to happen to us today and stretch our game out because there will be a problem, they'll take great advantage of that."

Clear as mud?

--Pierre Houde talked about what a great gift it would be for Winnipeg hockey fans if the Jets could make the playoffs this spring.  Dustin Tokarski did his part by wrapping up this game in colourfully patterned paper and putting a great big bow on it.  He was in a generous mood, giving up rebounds, softies, squeakers, dribblers.  Merry Christmas everyone!

--I wasn't crazy about Dustin's body language either.  After every goal, he'd a give a little shrug and hands-up gestures.  "How the heck am I supposed to block that, that shot was really hard!"

At least I hope that's what he was trying to impart, rather than that his teammates were largely to blame.  Because that's not going to fly.  Not when you let in 4 goals on 13 shots.

--In football, the rule of thumb for receivers is "You touch it, you catch it."  Simple.  If you can lay a hand on it, it's yours.  No "The sun's in my eyes" or "The rain sure is making the ball slick" or "QB didn't hit me right in the numbers, I had to stretch out, so it's not my fault."

I'm going to apply the same standard to Dustin's performance, and say he came up short.

--It's too bad, because for the first two periods, the Canadiens looked clearly the superior team on the ice.  They seemed too quick, too organized, too relentless for the Jets to contend with.  At best, they tried to throw bodychecks on the smaller Canadiens, but that didn't seem like it would be enough.

--The Canadiens threw 31 shots at Ondrej Pavelec in the first two periods, and that should have been enough.  The Jets goalie didn't make any miraculous saves, but he was solid, somewhat lucky on occasion.  Impermeable, as opposed to diaphanous.

--I would have liked Nathan Beaulieu's big huge attempted bodycheck on Andrew Ladd at centre ice to land square, instead of whiffing.  The Jets captain, as is his custom, threw his weight around, and 'finished' a few late-ish checks that were borderline.  It would have been nice to give him a taste of his own medicine, administered trans-cutaneously through his sternum, while he had his head down.

--And this would have been a good game for Devante Smith-Pelly to assert himself a little more.  That may have been a function of the "Canadiens Express" edits, but he was largely invisible, save for taking another penalty, which is troubling, since he came advertised as a player who hits but is disciplined, and doesn't take penalties.

Then again, maybe Devante is a victim of NHL officiating.  When he was a Duck, it was all fair game, but now that he's in bleu-blanc-rouge, whistles must be blown.

--And Lars, you're famously a big strong guy, a great skater, you need to be the best Canadien out on the ice on a night like this.  Step up.  You can't just wait to face Anders Lindback again.

--Blah!...

We lose, the Bruins pick up a point, Carolina and Phoenix both win while the Leafs continue to blow and sink further in the standings.

At least Tampa lost.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Game 74: Canadiens 2, Predators 3 (OT)

Some thoughts on the Canadiens 3-2 overtime loss to the Predators in Nashville.

1)  I watched on Canadiens Express, and it’s hard to get a sense of the flow when you do that, but the impression I got was of a game that can be decided by bounces, a bad goal.  Head Coach Michel Therrien acknowledged as much during his post-game interview.

2)  One tipoff as to the final outcome of the game on RDS' "Canadiens Express" is that they edit it to fit into a very tight 60 minutes, including commercials. So when you get to the third period, and see a lot of time left in your hour-long recording to fit it in, you start to suspect that there will be some overtime and shootout. Last night, I sensed right.

3)  I was a little miffed at P.K. a tiny bit, when he went on his stickhandling odyssey in O.T., and failed to shoot or pass at a very open Max in the slot, but took it in context and quickly let it go. I was glad to see the boys on L’Antichambre did the same, mentioned that and the fumble at the blue line which turned into a penalty, but they shrugged it off, explicitly excusing it as some of the stuff you accept, that comes with all the great stuff P.K. brings to the table.

I feel he had a lot of opportunities to get a quality shot on net, or pass to Max, but hesitated, kept wheeling around, and the play he made later was a lower-quality opportunity.

Again, not a capital sin, it’s not like he made a high-risk, low-probability play to give up the lead late in the game. He was trying to create to get us an extra point in OT, possibly made a sub-optimal decision, but overall in the context of the play he’s delivered since the All-Star game, not a wart I’ll pick at.

4)  If P.K. gets fined and publicly shamed for embellishment, I want Carrie Underwood’s husband to get the same treatment for that B.S. pratfall on Carey. The overhead shot of him throwing himself backwards was especially damning.

Those ineffectual GM meeting in Del Boca Vista Phase II are such a waste of time, focusing on puck-over-glass or handpass minutiae, and trying to rid the game of the horrors of the shootout (horrors!), instead of rectifying what’s truly wrong with the game.

After Milan Lucic on Ryan Miller, Chris Kreider on human decency, the NHL should have dealt with this, decisively. Come out very clearly against any attempt to make contact with a goalie, to ‘get him off his game’, ‘make him less comfortable’. Make it a strict liability offence, if a player makes contact with an opposition goalie in any manner while he’s in his crease, he gets a penalty. No grey areas.

Anything cravenly deliberate, any Nick Kypreos dive onto Grant Fuhr to blow out his ACL, it’s an ‘attempt to injure’ penalty, with all that entails. Don’t wuss out of calling those.

If a defensive player steers-pushes him into the goalie, he gets an offsetting penalty, but these will drop off dramatically, since the opposition forwards will be trying to skate away from the crease, there won’t be a need to joust with them, like P.K. on Logan Couture.

Protect the goalies like the NFL protects its QB’s. If you want to generate offence, get rid of the trap, the officious offside penalties, the hooking, the slashing. Lord, the slashing.

5)  P.A. Parenteau picked up another point, a nice assist on David Desharnais' goal.  The Montreal Gazette's Mike Boone said he played a terrific game.

I didn’t see a “terrific” game in the edited “Canadiens Express” version, but I support the idea of playing him a lot on the top line now, to invest that icetime in him, and hope that it pays off later.

In an interview in La Presse, he explained that recovering from the concussion symptoms was an ordeal. Not only was he not practicing, he couldn’t even do cardio while he recovered. So now, he says he’s trying to catch up, get his fitness, his conditioning back, AND trying to get his timing and chemistry back with his linemates, playing on the #1 line. We should be patient with him.

6)  I also preached patience with respect to Devante Smith-Pelly, thought he could bring more to the table in terms of production. I was mildly surprised that we obtained him so cheap in fact, and started wondering if Jiri Sekac was better than I thought, or if DSP had regressed since he played in Anaheim very early in his career.

After being shut out for so long, and seeing him kind of trip over himself with the puck all alone in front of the net, which would be mirthful if it hadn’t been a fumbled chance to win late in the game, I’m starting to sidle over to the camp of critics who think he needs to be bumped down from the fourth line, maybe even sit a game or two.

I applaud his effort and his affinity for finishing his checks, that may be more valuable in the playoffs, but it’s hard to overlook the ‘0’ (zero) in the ‘G’ column.

I agree with other posters that he will benefit from an off-season of more intensive, focused dryland training, and that he is a young player who will improve, but taking everything in consideration, if the coaches decide he’s had a significant enough chance and hasn’t done enough with it, I’ll support their decision.

7)  Richard Labbé of La Presse pointing out what we kind of know, that Manny Malhotra won’t be back next year.

I was fairly certain that he’d be an improvement over Ryan White and Daniel Brière as the fourth-line centre, that his size and skating and defensive ability would be a great benefit. He caught our eye early with great faceoff numbers, a spillover effect on those of the other centres, and his penalty killing which relieved some of the pressure on Tomas Plekanec.

As the games piled on though, it became tougher to overlook his non-existent offensive contribution, how he actually made his wingers worse.

Torrey Mitchell is smaller, but does bring the experience and leadership angle, the skating. He doesn’t really bring more offensive skill, but his speed and forechecking can precipitate offence.

He’s been doing almost as well as Manny in the faceoff circle, and he’s a rightie, so he’s a better complement to our other centres, lefties everyone of them, even the part-timers like Jacob de la Rose and Alex Galchenyuk.

So yeah, I’d expect the Canadiens to thank Manny and let him walk this July, unless he experiences a rebirth during the playoffs. I envision the Canadiens making a pitch for Torrey instead, or checking to see what’s available on the UFA market.

8)  Also from La Presse, an article discusses Sergei Gonchar’s use lately, and the defencemen in general.

I don’t have a problem with giving Sergei more time off if he wasn’t out of the concussion fog yet, since we do have options.

Personally, I liked the pairings yesterday, they’re my ideal pairings as a fan. Loved, loved Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu together, how they click, complement each other. Their time together in the AHL really shows, they’re not feeling each other out. They know each other and work well with each other.

It’s kind of the ideal pairing that you discuss in the theoretical sphere. A slick puck mover, a defensively-oriented guy with size who hits. But both have some elements of the other’s game, they’re not both unidimensional, stereotypical effete puck-mover paired with the plodding slow-footed brute. Nathan can play in the physical games, has shown he can drop the gloves. And Greg can skate, can pass the puck well, can shoot the puck.

I don’t want to tell the coaches what to do. I swear I don’t. But I’ll be happy if we see more of Nathan and Greg together, and if their minutes creep up, and if they get more and more difficult assignments, and they show they can handle it.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Game 73: Canadiens 2, Sharks 0

A great, great win against the Sharks, a team that has bedeviled the Canadiens for a few years now.  For example, when Tomas Plekanec scored in the first period, it was the first time the Canadiens had scored a goal on the Sharks since December 2011, when Erik Cole had potted one.

Listening to the game description on Hockey Night in Canada by Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson and Glenn Healy, I was struck by how positive and complimentary they were towards the Canadiens, how their skating, up-tempo forechecking style and commitment to team defence was perfectly suited to playing against the Sharks, to frustrating them and shutting them out.

Yet a couple weeks ago at the trade deadline, playing against the same team, the commentary was all about how the Canadiens were too small, not physical enough to compete with such big Western teams, and that it justified Marc Bergevin's decision to trade a skillful skater like Jiri Sekac for a thumper like Devante Smith-Pelly.

So it's interesting how the play-by-play call, the narrative molds itself to the way an individual game plays out.  When the Canadiens win they're too fast, when they lose they're too small.

Before now, the fact that Greg Pateryn wasn’t playing in the NHL was occasionally used as a sign on social media that he was a dud, a failed prospect, ruined by a terrible coach in Hamilton in Sylvain Lefebvre, that he was never any good to begin with, but our scouting staff never saw that.

Now that he is with the Canadiens and providing a strong, steady, mature, physical game, for some it’s a sign that Michel Therrien doesn’t trust rookies, that he’s been wasting his time rotting in the AHL, for two seasons now, that 'MT-MB sux'.

The Canadiens were, in my book, patient with him and Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, they made use of Marc Bergevin’s maxim that you seldom regret calling up a prospect too late, but often regret calling him up too soon. They let these guys develop, put in the miles in the AHL, away from the spotlight and the critics.

Marc Bergevin made the point during that tedious HNIC interview with Dale Tallon and Brad Treliving conducted by Strombo (does Brad Treliving say anything except regurgitate what has already been said more briefly by his panel mates?) that often critics of a GM’s work aren’t operating with all the information at hand, that if they did, they’d probably make much the same decision.

Carey Price was the leader in the three major goalie stats categories of wins, save percentage and goals-against average, but trailed Marc-André Fleury in shutouts, the Penguin netminder having had a torrid start to his season in that department.  I didn't mind that one too much, shutouts are nice but they're a more 'accidental' stat, lots of bounces have to go right for them to happen.  They're not as sure an indicator of quality goaltending.

Well, in two games Carey reeled him in for the co-lead in that category too.  He will not be denied.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 10: Notes

This is a very sad episode, recounting the week of the passing and wake of legend Jean Béliveau.

01:25  Another of the revealing behind-the-scenes look at what the Canadiens do, what they go through.  Here we see Dale Weise showing us what he takes with him on the road in his suitcase, showing that he goes barebones, one suit, one pair of shoes, socks and underwear and that's pretty much it.  He then takes a dig at Dale Prust, saying he probably travels with three suits per day.

Sure enough, we then see that Dale is a clothes horse, carrying different outfits for different occasions.  He explains that his significant other Maripier Morin picks out which suit goes with which shirt and tie, lays it on the bed for him and that he packs it in his suitcase, but not before taking a picture with his smartphone to help keep the outfits straight.  Prusty then, sure enough, takes a shot at Gally and Weisy for their minimalist approach to how they dress.

An interesting angle is that Dale Weise says he leaves his passport in his jacket "all the time", so he doesn't forget it.  He tells the story how the previous season while still in Vancouver he'd forgotten his passport, and had to rush home to get it while the the Canucks' team flight was delayed, and how "John Tortorella wasn't very happy with me".  We know how Dale wasn't a favourite of Alain Vigneault and especially John Tortorella, and this is the kind of stunt that can sour a coach on a guy.  With the Habs, contributing as he does, Weisy's a lovable goofball, but there's a thin margin to being a fourth-liner who's more trouble than he's worth.

03:45  We see David Desharnais rushing the puck against the Avalanche, passing it off and then speed wobbling and falling down.  Back on the bench, P.A. Parenteau asks if he fell down due to skate trouble.  "No, that wasn't the skates, that was all him" Dan Lacroix teases, as he pats Davey in the back.

04:30  Hilarious segment showing a lighthearted Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Prust at practice lampooning each other's skating style and stickhandling moves.  Alex does these giant moves and telegraphs a clumsy pass with his whole upper body, after which Brandon skates upright, awkwardly, with a front-to-back stride reminiscent of a novice figure skater.  He then continues his spoof of Chucky with a puck on his stick and making four fakes and headbobs and feints and dekes per second.  It degenerates from there, with Gally and P.K. joining in.  They're a very loose team.

05:00  Shot of the Olympic Stadium mast lit up in bleu-blanc-rouge.  The city mourns le Capitaine's passing.

06:15  Classic clip of John Ferguson embracing Jean Béliveau, celebrating after a goal.

07:00  Amazing story of the link P.K. Subban had with the Béliveau family, due in large part to his father Karl's love of the Montréal Canadiens.  When Jean Béliveau was invited by P.K.'s coach to speak to the team before a tournament game, Karl appointed himself as guide and 'bodyguard' of the Habs ambassador, and P.K. saw the effect it had on his father.  It's how he became a fan of the Canadiens.

"P.K. might not always listen to mom and dad, but he'll certainly listen to Mister Béliveau", Karl says.  "And whatever advice Mister Béliveau gave to him I know he will not forget it."

" 'Hockey's a team sport, and you can't win unless you play as a unit' he told us, and at the time I was the captain of the team, so he pointed at me and said 'It's your job as the captain to lead the way'," P.K. remembers.

09:30  Equipment manager Pierre Gervais explaining how his counterpart on the Minnesota Wild helped him source out a local printer who made up the number 4 stickers that the players will wear on their helmets for the game that night.

Physiotherapist Claude Thériault showing a picture of himself as a toddler, in his bright snowsuit, being held in Jean Béliveau's arms.  As is customary, when showed the picture decades later, Monsieur Béliveau remembered the occasion, when the picture was taken.

10:45  The Minnesota Wild honour the passing of Jean Béliveau prior to their game against the Canadiens with a short video tribute.

12:00  Michel Therrien to Alexei Emelin on the bench: "Emmy!  Emmy!  Everything quicker!  Get the puck, move the puck."

12:25  Max Pacioretty crashing at full speed in the boards behind the Wild net.  He's down, the trainer runs out on the ice.  As usual, Wolverine re-grows a leg in seconds and doesn't miss a shift.

14:00  Doctor Mulder reminiscing about Jean Béliveau, telling the story of how he wanted to pull John Ferguson from a game to check him for a concussion.  Fergie obviously wouldn't have any of it, until Jean told him "If the doctor says you're not playing, you're not playing."  The Canadiens enforcer meekly complied with his captain's direction.

14:25  Amazing shot of Jean Béliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and Henri Richard in the dressing room post-game.

15:10  Amazing shot of Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau and Maurice Richard with security officer Mario Brousseau.

Mr. Brousseau tells the story of how it's Jean Béliveau who once asked his wife to find a camera so he could take a picture with Mr. Brousseau.  We're then shown the picture, that the longtime Habs employee reverently keeps in a manila envelope.

15:40  Amazing shot of Jean Béliveau, in action against Bobby Hull.

15:45  Amazing shot of Jean Béliveau and Maurice Richard cheek-to-cheek with the Stanley Cup.

15:55  Amazing shot of tuxedoed Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau and Yvan Cournoyer, standing around the Stanley Cup perched on a table.

18:50  Disappointing loss against the Blackhawks, with the winning goal allowed in the final minute after the Habs had battled back to tie the game.

19:00  Canadiens owner Geoff Molson and his father Eric Molson reminisce and eulogize the Canadiens captain.  More amazing photos and video, and scenes of the thousands of fans streaming into the New Forum to pay their homage.

19:50  Amazing shot of three retired gentlemen, Gordie Howe in a green Hartford Whalers jersey, Jean Béliveau in a white Canadiens jersey, and Bobby Hull in the red Blackhawks jersey.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Three-on-three overtime will be great, with a minor adjustment in the rules.

Last season, Ryan White got a mondo huge amount of penalty minutes late in a game and was sent to the dressing room, his night over.  Except that the Canadiens mounted a furious comeback so all of a sudden they were headed to overtime, and there was a chance the game would last long enough that Ryan's penalty time would be served and he could be used by the coach.

As the equipment managers burst into the dressing room and explained all this to him and tried to help him put his gear back on, Whitey quipped: "The thing is, I haven't had an OT shift since before Junior."

And that's my problem with the 3-on-3, it will just be more of the same, the Daniel and Henrik show for the Canucks, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with Duncan Keith for the Blackhawks, etc.  And good Canadian kids like Whitey looking on for the bench.

Hooey, I say.  Let's get these boys in the game.

I've advocated in the past that enforcers should be forced to take penalty shots in the shootout, to dissuade teams from dressing one or three of them.  That shootout attempts be taken by the players with the least icetime that game.  Encourage the Lightning to keep and dress Jonathan Drouin and not Pierre-Cédric Labrie.

So let's do the same with 3-on-3.  Sign Shawn Thornton for his character and his leadership, for his Don Cherry Seal of Approval certification, for his great work in the community, his charitable endeavours?  Good for you, but now he's taking the first shift of 3-on-3.

Try to change the chemistry and character of your Sharks, Doug Wilson, by taking on John Scott and Mike Brown?  Eff you, play them, they're on against Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Love the grit and toughness Radko Gudas and Eric Gryba and Roman Polak bring?  Well you're getting a great big helping of that surliness in O.T.

That kind of forward, lateral, out-of-the-box-left-field-blue-thinking and more is the kind of innovation you can expect when you install me as your benevolent
despotCommissioner of the NHL, for the good of the game.

Game 71: Canadiens 3, Panthers 2

My thoughts on the Canadiens win against the Panthers tonight, as perceived while watching RDS' "Canadiens Express".

--Saw a couple of solid breakouts by Greg Pateryn.  Keep it up kid, nice going.

--I can't tell R.J. Umberger and Scottie Upshall apart in my mind.  I don't know what differentiates one from the other.  For me, they're identical, big players who prey on smaller Canadiens.

--I also have trouble telling Cam Barker, Cam Fowler and Jared Cowen apart, for the most part, although I'm aware when I expend energy on this is that Cam Fowler is the talented one who's in Anaheim.

--I've also never been strong on my Sutters.  I know the older ones are Darryl, Duane, and there's another guy, but I really have no firm grasp on this, I think one of them was a Blue and another was a Blackhawk for a long while, or maybe it was the same Sutter who did both?  I do know that Ron and Rich were the twins, and Ron was more talented and had a better career than Rich as predicted at their draft, but that kid brother Brent was the most talented of all.

--As for their numerous offspring, I gave up before I ever got started on those guys.  They're Sutters, and that's good enough for me.

--As the first period drew to a close at 0-0, I thought of how the Panthers have been a weak team for most of its existence, with a couple of rebuilds around promising rookies sprinkled with vets that never took off.  I sense that the team Dale Tallon is amassing though, with so many mega-talented kids, is going to be a tough out for the next while.

--And I think back to those fumbled games against the Sabres and Coyotes and Oilers, and how a five or six extra points would be a nice cushion to have right now.  Seasons have hot streaks and cold spells, we won a few games against powerhouses that we probably shouldn't have, so it evens out, but still, the Sabres...

--On the first Panther goal in the second period, we saw Tom Gilbert, but mostly Jeff Petry, commit the opposite of a 'strong play', when after stopping a scoring chance, he stood poised with the puck right in front of his net, assessing his breakout options, for at most a second.  This was all the time it took for Sasha Barkov to pick his pocket and slide the puck past a contorted Dustin Tokarski.

Puck movers are great, I love the fact that our 'brigade défensive' is nifty with the puck, but in this instance, a Josh Gorges or Hal Gill, a Craig Ludwig or Donald Dufresne, a defensive defenceman, would have hacked at the puck and swept it in the corner, where it wasn't an imminent threat, a clear and present danger.  This time, a 'strong play' would have prevented that goal.

--Loved the Brandon Prust assist on Jacob de la Rose's shorthanded goal.  The RDS boys were saying while voicing over the replays that both players knew where each other was and what the other would do.  It is especially true in that Brandon, on the replay that showed him in a closeup, is seen to make a no-look pass, looking at the goalie and freezing him in anticipation of a shot, but passing to Jacob, without looking, like a basketball point guard, or a rugby scrum half.  Great job, love to see him get icetime and be rewarded, after a difficult, strenuous outing last night in Tampa.

--Good to see P.K. score on a nice wrist shot, but I'm almost happier that Lars gets an assist on the play, and that he may be digging his way out of his funk.  And P.A. Parenteau on the ice, in front of the net, making things happen, you want him to get in gear for the playoffs too.

--In the third, the Canadiens were outclassed 21-4 in the shots department, which was a little hard to tell in the edited broadcast I was watching, but which Pierre Houde and Marc Denis kept reminding us of.

--On L'Antichambre, the panel quickly centered their aim on Devante Smith-Pelly and his lack of production, his meager contribution, and his bad penalty in the offensive zone at the end of the game.  They allowed, with Vincent Damphousse being the main spokesperson on this matter, that it's understandable that the coaching staff is giving Devo time to get in sync with his new team, and trying to get him in better game shape for the playoffs.  What worries them though is that guys like Brandon Prust and Dale Weise, who get significantly less icetime and were here all along, and who are producing, may sour on this situation.

The point was made that tonight, with Brandon Prust getting off to a good start in this game, and having had his tough outing the previous night, it would have been a great opportunity to move him up in the lineup and give him more leash.

All agreed that Devo's leave may or should be drawing to a close, that the third line would benefit by having a speedy, committed Dale Weise on the right flank instead of the former Duck.

And if we need him to improve his conditioning, let's have him skate a few extra lines at practice, and work a little bit more with Pierre Allard.  Points are hard enough to come by these days, it's hard to justify being patient with him much longer if he's not going to start clicking.

--Four points out of six, with another loss to the Lightning that's a little hard to accept, but overall not a bad road trip.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Devante Smith-Pelly is being held off the scoresheet, but contributing how he can to the Canadiens.

Former Hab stalwart, head coach, and current RDS analyst Mario Tremblay often blows a fuse when the Canadiens are playing listlessly, “mollement”, he’ll enjoin them to throw a hit or two, not make it so comfortable for opponents to skate around and make plays, confident that they won’t be separated from their senses anytime soon compared to if they were up against the Bruins or the Great Gryba.

And I’ve noted a few times that Canadiens players are very focused on the puck in the way they play, and I believe they’re coached that way, that they’re told to stickcheck, turn the puck over and get it going the other way. In that environment, we often see players do a fly-by, a forward passing up an opportunity to lay a hit, finish a check on a defenceman who just fired the puck off the boards. Sometimes you see that opponent bracing, readying for a hit, and a Lars Eller or Brandon Prust skating by and racing off after the puck, and leaving their counterpart genuinely surprised.

In that context, I enjoy Devante Smith-Pelly’s efforts, applaud them. He’s leading the way, forechecking but also finishing every check he can. While I deplore this aspect of the game, until this rule or interpretation is taken out of the game, we shouldn’t pass it up and let other teams enjoy that advantage to themselves.

So I don’t agree when we characterize his hits as meaningless, of little consequence, or that he takes himself out of position to do so. His presence in our roster increases the threat level, makes opponents aware that they need to unload the puck quickly, in a hurry, compared to before. He makes them a little more trepidatious than otherwise.

And his hits are contagious. I think his linemates, and other forwards, will and do take note, and may throw one or two more hits than they would generally. We’ll see on a forecheck that Devo will hit a defenceman, the puck will make its way to the other defenceman, and Lars or Jacob de la Rose will be there and lay another hit on that guy, and so on. These aren’t Scott Stevens quality hits, few are, but they’re enough to keep the opposition on their toes, to make them rush things a little.

So I’m fully on board if we critique him for his lack of production, I expect more from him, certainly I hope for more, but to try to emphasize our critique by downplaying his contributions on the physical side is off-base, I think.

Mike Borland, Michaël Bournival again bring attention to the risks of concussion.

I understand the Michaël Bournival situation, where he had some dizziness but tried to play through it. Maybe he thought it was ‘mild’, or that is was almost gone. Maybe he’d done this before, had the dizziness, and it did go away, and he thought it would again.

Aside from the concerns about his spot on the team, his place in the roster, there’s also the fact that the default setting for men is to usually wait until something is about to fall off before we go see our doctor. We’re trained from an early age to not whine, to ‘man up’, to play or work through pain-discomfort, and that things that hurt usually get better on their own when you wait long enough.

Even today, with all we know about concussions, all that athletes are taught about their signs and the risks involved, we’ll have them hide symptoms from doctors or team officials, or deny it to themselves that they are important enough that they should self-report. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Last season, we saw the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles admit that he avoided team doctors, almost ran from them on the sidelines during a game against the Chargers, after a collision with Brandon Flowers at the goal line had left both shaken. He said that while he was dazed and “saw stars” after the hit, he “felt fine”, and didn’t want to come out of the game.

And then there’s the other side, the other option, which is what the 49’ers Chris Borland chose. At 24, and after a great rookie season with the 49’ers, one which gave the team hope that he could palliate the loss of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, Mr. Borland has decided to retire ‘preemptively’.

Chris Borland is by all accounts a smart kid, he intends to return to school to continue his studies, and eventually get into sports management. It weighed heavily on him that he’d suffered two previous diagnosed concussions, and had symptoms in training camp last season. He’d read about the famous cases of CTE among the former NFL players.

And he’s not the first prominent 49’er to retire as a precaution, before he incurred too much damage that might hamper his life and career after football. In the eighties, tight end John Frank retired midway into a promising career to enter medical school fulltime. I remember reading the article in Sports Illustrated as a young man, flabbergasted that he would walk away from the riches and fame of the NFL, but being persuaded by his arguments, how he worried that he might damage his hands and be unable to achieve his dream/goal of becoming a surgeon.

One unspoken point here is that Chris Borland was locked into a ‘rookie contract’ for another three seasons. He seems to be genuine about his wish to avoid lasting consequences, but he took his time deliberating the decision, did his research. You have to wonder how the entry-level deals that NFL players have to endure will dissuade a few more players from entering or remaining in the meat-grinder that is the NFL.

So many players suffer injuries and wash out of the league before they can have success. The risk-reward equation is seriously tilted when a player can’t renegotiate his contract to reflect his value to the team beyond what it was at the draft, as a fourth-round pick. Financial security is a desirable state to be in, but playing football for $500 000 or so may not represent that to a few players, realistic as they are when evaluating their odds of lasting long enough to earn a second contract.

Game 70: Canadiens 2, Lightning 3

I'm late to the party, and only saw the Canadiens Express of last night's 3-2 loss to the Lightning, but was the tone, and the lack of control by the refs set right at the start, when they overlooked the Brian Boyle slewfoot on Lars Eller?  It seemed like a clear 'editorial' decision, a flagrant foul if ever there was one that they voluntarily let slide.

Lars was leaning towards his bench, the Lightning centre was banking the other way, and he kicked out Lars' skates out.  And not just the near skate, but the inside skate that Lars had his weight on.  Lars went spinning and flying, it was the result of an obvious trip-slewfoot, and not a bodycheck, when the puck was nowhere near.

Yet it occurred within the first couple of minutes of the game, and it's as if the refs decided they didn't want to hand out a penalty quite so early in the game, they wanted to 'let them play', not to 'inject themselves into the game'.  Were they fearful that the Canadiens would score early on a powerplay, and some would be angry about that?

I'm having to conjecture, maybe I'm way off, but that's what we're reduced to, when the referees deliberately stay mum on plays like that.    What possible reason can there be?, you ask yourself.

And then whether every subsequent call or non-call is tinged with the state of accounts that exists in the refs minds, that this team is owed this, but only in these types of cases, and not including scoring chances, or those that affect Steven Stamkos, or conversely P.K. Subban, those have their own ledgers, with their own current accounts.

And that's how a player like Brian Boyle, who's generally considered an 'honest' player, a big guy who plays physically, but isn't dirty, and needs to contribute somehow so he'll occasionally throw a hit that exceeds the bounds of legality, partially due to his great size and strength and the higher than usual location of his elbows.

And then there will be the situations, the contributions like this, when in the playoffs a grinder, a fourth-liner, has to pull stunts like jabbing and punching Erik Karlsson repeatedly in the head, because he's smaller and a star and Nick Kypreos says that's how it is in the playoffs, never mind the head trauma, or Grant Fuhr's blown ACL.  Because Brian Boyle has to justify his presence in the lineup, and it won't be by scoring goals.  So maybe he concusses Erik Karlsson, or kreiderates a goalie.  He has to do something.  He needs to 'send a message'.

And every time a referee overlooks a slewfoot by a Brian Boyle, it allows him to remain in the league and do what he does, and it displaces a Jonathan Drouin, and sets the table where the other team has to have a Brandon Prust, who says "Anything you can do, I must do better", and now he's slashing and spearing guys and running a goalie, and great job refs, glad you didn't inject yourselves into the game right at the start.  Because Don Cherry would have looked really scary garbed in green but purple in demeanor.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

David Desharnais must shoot the puck more.

Encouraging to see David Desharnais fire the puck at Michal Neuvirth on a 2-on-1, trying to squeak it through, or to generate a rebound that can be cashed in, during the Canadiens' 3-1 win against the Islanders.

I’ve advocated in the past, when dealing with an inconsistent René Bourque, that the coaches should focus on the process, the effort, rather than the results. That they insist that he just play positionally sound hockey, and would get a regular shift if every game he fired two shots on net, and delivered two hits. That simple. Take two shots a game, and hope that some will go in, and stay involved physically by finishing a couple of checks or separating a puck carrier from his sensesthe puck. If you do that you’re golden.

I’ve reached a level of frustration with David Desharnais that makes me want to do the same with him. I want the coaches to insist that he get off two shots on net, at minimum. That he should be feeding P.K. and Max those delightful passes of his is understood. But we want him to improve his game by also taking shots on net.

In the offensive zone, instead of the default setting being that he try to slip a cross-crease pass to Dale Weise for a tap-in, and failing that to dish it to Andrei, he should have in his head the option to deke and take a good shot on net.

He can surprise goalies, he’s very accurate with his wrist shot, he’s deceptive, can fake one way and go the other. His former teammate Mathieu Darche was saying that he’s very diligent in practice, always working on his shot, and that he’s got a goodie, but it doesn’t seem to translate into game situations.

Justin Bourne had a good piece recently on how a player can be seriously messed up by being asked to do something that’s unnatural, like maybe asking the very topical Craig Janney to snipe goals instead of feeding Brett Hull. That instead of getting the same production plus adding a new facet to the player's game, what often happens is that the player now thinks, instead of reacting on the ice, he hesitates, and accomplishes nothing, he’s a half-second off. The player’s original production falls off, and you don’t really get the ‘improvement’ either.

Still, I think it’s probably a good idea to set that benchmark as at least a soft target for David. The coaches have to convince him that he needs to be more ‘selfish’, that on a two-on-one he should view this as a scoring opportunity. That rebounds are good outcomes. That goalies flub shots, very often, it’s in the range of likelihood as getting a pass through three defenders’ skates and sticks.

And this isn’t alien to the coaching staff. On 24CH, we saw a sequence where Dan Lacroix was exhorting his troops in the second intermission, and all through the third to ‘get to thirty shots’. The Canadiens were trailing at the time by a couple of goals, but he wasn’t asking them to score, to tie the game, but rather that they “get to thirty”. He'd yell that at the players on the ice as they skated up with the puck, at his charges on the bench. In that particular instance, happily, they were rewarded and mounted a comeback.

So yeah, I can see Michel Therrien having his proverbial cup of coffee with David in his office: “On a besoin de toi mon Dave. Il nous faut plus de but, t’es capable de nous en fournir. Deux ‘shut’, c’est tout ce que j’te demande mon grand, deux ‘shut’, …”

Game 69: Canadiens 3, Islanders 1

Michel Therrien yesterday reverted to one of his favourite maxims when harried by the press about the swoon his team was mired in the last six games.  After practice, he again intoned that every team has to face adversity, the important thing is how you react to it, that when you're down on one knee, you don't put the other knee down, you have to get back up.

This bromide has become his lucky rabbit's foot, every time he whips it out, the Canadiens halt a slide with a win against a strong team.  As they did tonight, handing the Islanders a 3-1 loss on the backs of the usual workhorses: Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and P.K. Subban.

Tomas opened the scoring on a nice 3-on-2 with linemates Alex Galchenyuk and P.A. Parenteau.  Other than his struggles in the faceoff circle, he played a strong leader's role and was his usual difference maker.

Max scored a shorthanded goal for the second game in a row, and was a constant menace.  He's continuing his career season, amassing points but also adding a leadership component, as well as a strong defensive game, as evidenced by his leading the league in the +/- column.

P.K. played 28 minutes and killed penalties, was strong in his zone, and didn't commit any glaring errors, try anything too fancy and assume too much risk.  A couple of times I cringed when he had the puck and was rushing it up-ice, but he quickly dished off to a teammate, and the play progressed.  Nice going P.K.

We've run out of superlatives for Carey Price.  He made a save that will be on all the highlight reels this weekend, when he last-gasped at a puck that stone-handed Matt Martin (who says that these types of players don't hurt their own team) flubbed in the crease.  Still, he stopped 35 of 36 shots, and that's the difference he makes.  No mistakes, plus one or two miracles a game.

Good on Lars for potting an empty-net goal to seal the win, after the Islanders made it close with a powerplay goal.  I had feared a repeat of the loss against the Oilers, in which Tomas Plekanec had failed to score on an empty net, habitual practice for les Glorieux this year.  Again tonight, Max backhanded a shot at the empty net but missed, and now the Islanders had the puck back with around a minute to play.  But our boys forechecked them hard and didn't allow them to get set up, and they turned the puck over to Brendan Gallagher, who smartly found Lars with a quick pass.

Good on Lars also for again celebrating his goal in a sober fashion, not tigerwilliamsing it.  These gimmes may not seem like much, but hopefully they serve to settle him down, feel more a part of things, gain in confidence, and get going in time for the playoffs.  Added to his assist on Max's shorthanded goal, Lars is contributing in a tangible manner, and that's great.

Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu didn't do too badly.  One play I noticed was when Carey made his miracle save on Matt Martin, Greg stepped up and pushed back on an incoming Brock Nelson after the whistle.  There was a potential for escalation, but Greg, uhm, insisted, and the Isles forward didn't push it, he actually backed down.  Which I appreciated.  Greg's a grown man, big and strong, and he can stand up to opponents who want to start up something to get Carey off his game.  Brock Nelson is no waif, but he wasn't too keen on fronting Greg.

I was worried that the Canadiens may have spoiled the good chemistry in their ranks with the trade deadline acquisitions, whether some feathers had been ruffled, so we can hope that this win is evidence that this isn't the case.  The panel on L'Antichambre made the point that a few other teams at the top of the standings are having difficulty right now, including tonight's opponents, but also the Ducks, the Predators, the Blues...  The Canadiens aren't the only ones stumbling a bit.

Chantal Machabé repeated that this may be the most close-knit group she has ever witnessed in all her years of covering the Canadiens, forever teasing and pranking each other.  She said that they're a young team, and you can tell by their ebullience and highjinks, but everyone gets along, there are no cliques or oddballs.

When the discussion dealt with the use of the defencemen, about how Nate has been playing, what happens when Alexei Emelin returns, what will become of Sergei Gonchar, and why Greg Pateryn is getting icetime now instead of a rested, available Mike Weaver, Jacques Demers made the point that no decision on the Canadiens is made in a vacuum, nothing is improvised.  He says that the GM and his advisors, as well as the coaching staff, work hand-in-hand in making these kinds of decisions, as they did last season when they chose to play Dustin Tokarski instead of Peter Budaj.  If Greg Pateryn is being used, it's not desperation, it's to figure him out, showcase him, get him ready for the playoffs, whatever, but it's not a Hail Mary.

So anyway, if I had my druthers, put me down for a series against the Islanders in the Conference Finals, pretty please.  We have their number, and Tomas Plekanec seems to like playing against them, whereas John Tavares has a difficult, whiny time of it.  I'll take that matchup over any involving the Pens or the Rangers.

Doing away with stifling defensive systems in the NHL is an easy fix.

About hockey being entertainment, it is, fundamentally, but the people who have a lot of effect on that, the coaches, the GM’s, they’re not in it to entertain, their jobs, their legacy is dependent on winning.

So we have to align their goals with the paying public’s. And I’ll beat this drum again: we need to stop handing out two points for a win, one point for OTL, etc. That encourages stifling, defensive hockey, and the drafting of big tough players and checkers over players who can actually create.

I missed the Corey Locke era, but often see it wistfully argued that it’s too bad he couldn’t ‘make it’, with all his ability, his size was a strike against him he couldn’t overcome. Meanwhile Shawn Thornton and Chris Neil, Mike Hough and Raffi Torres, they get lengthy NHL careers.

For coaches and GM’s to take a closer look on the Charles Hudons and the Magnus Nygrens over the Brady Vails and the Mark Miteras, there needs to be an upside to having on your roster skilled guys, magicians with the puck who will wow the fans. There needs to be a disincentive to employing guys who can only distribute elbows.

So let’s reward teams that skate and try to score goals, as opposed to leftwing lock the other team to a state of futility, and the fans into a stupor. Let’s make it advantageous to keep the pedal to the metal, instead of playing possum when you have a lead in the third. Let’s not allow teams who coast to the end of the third period to protect their point to profit from that.

So instead of the current point system, here’s what we should do, to foster the entertainment side of our beloved sport.

A win = 3 points

An OT win = 2 points

An OT loss = 1 point

A loss = 0 point

Scoring > 5 goals = (bonus) 1 point

Win by 3 or more goals = (bonus) 1 point

In this format, an Ottawa Senators team with Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza would thrive, rather than be reduced to having to find ‘an answer’ for Darcy Tucker and Wade Belak. You wouldn’t think that, gee whiz, we sure have a lot of scorers, but we’re short of grinders, we need to get some more of those. When the time comes to choose between Mike Bossy and Dwight Foster at the draft table, the ‘choice’ wouldn’t be up for discussion.

International rugby was getting stifled in the past because some teams would just, as soon as they gained possession, kick away the ball to clear out their end of the field, it was their version of the dump and chase. If you played enough anti-rugby in the opposition zone, at some point you’d get lucky and be awarded a penalty that you convert by kicking at goal. So the game became a quagmire, a succession of penalty kicks, and teams that were trying to advance the ball, fan-friendly styles like New Zealand and France’s, were not strategically advantageous.

The IRB made some significant changes to the game, by upping the value of the try from four to five points, so now with a convert you could get seven instead of six points. There was a reward for trying to score a try, instead of just settling for field goals all the time.

Further, a similar system of bonus points in tournament play as I outline above gave both teams a reason to keep playing hard to the final whistle, instead of packing it in when the point differential became significant. Even if the losing team was down by two tries, it had a reason to try to score, and the same for the leading team.

Along with a slew of other changes, with the main philosophical approach being that the attacking team was given the advantage when play broke down, when one team was playing obvious anti-rugby by collapsing a maul or wheeling a scrum, the game was rescued from the low-scoring borefests they were threatening to become. Hockey would do well to follow suit. If a player is headed towards the net with the puck against a checking player, and they both go down simultaneously, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who made them fall, who stood to gain by it. In a tedious cycle along the boards where a player falls on the puck to freeze it, or the net comes off its moorings during a goalmouth scramble, again, we can deduce who was trying to get a whistle, who was trying to advance the play.

So yeah, if Michel Therrien’s or Dave Tippett’s or Ken Hitchcock’s team is leading 2-1 going into the third, let’s give them an incentive to keep pressing, and to coach that way, to build their lineups that way with their GM’s. Let’s dangle some extra points in front of them for scoring more goals.

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.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Game 67: Canadiens 0, Lightning 1 (OT)

Canadiens Expressing this 1-0 loss to the Lightning.  Thank you Gary Bettman.

Three eye-catching plays by the defencemen in the first period.

1) P.K. Subban stepping up in the neutral zone to stickcheck away a pass, Andrei Markov-style.  That's one of Andrei's specialties, sniffing out where the puck is likely to be passed to next by the opposition, and baiting them, allowing the recipient to appear uncovered, then timing it perfectly to intercept the pass once it's delivered.  P.K. might be picking up some moves from the General.

2) The General himself, blowing up onrushing Tampa vet Brenden Morrow with a solid shoulder check, dumping him on his keister.

3) Jeff Petry defending against a streaking Ryan Callahan, who leans in and tries to protect the puck as he goes for the net.  Even if at first the Lightning forward seemed to have a step on the Canadiens defencemen, nothing comes of it.  Mr. Petry easily keeps up with the play, draws even, pushes back against the Lightning forward , and pokes the puck away, a great demonstration of skill, strength and skating.  I may grudgingly have to reconsider if he was worth a second-round pick in a very deep 2015 draft.  Possibly.

Second period, not much to report, except that I was hating on Brian Boyle but then realized it was actually latent Ryan Malone aversion.  I was confusing, in the original Latin sense of the word, both goliathan forwards.  And don't they both have cheesy mustaches too?

Aside from that, the Canadiens Express editors weren't doing the game justice, they showed way, way more sequences where the Lightning were attacking, storming Carey Price's net, than they did Canadiens buzzing in the Tampa zone.  Is it possible there is an unconscious bias against the Canadiens at RDS?  Because any other explication eludes me.

Third period, what about that save by Carey on Ryan Callahan?  This was the one really.  There were ten or twelve other times when I sanked even deeperer in my couch, anticipating that pass, that shot, that rebound, that turnover, that one, was going to end up in our net.  But this one, I was sure of it.  But Carey, after winning in February, apparently has designs on the March segment of the Molson Cup as well.

And again the RDS editors, at it again, they're showing a lot of offensive highlights from the Tampa side, but not from our boys.  Unfair, really.

In overtime, the dam sprung a leak, the Lightning got their bounce and squeaked one past Carey.

One thing I'll comment on is that the Canadiens' propensity to stickcheck rather than throw bodychecks, finish their checks.  Every pass, every Tampa puck carrier would be swooped on by a Canadien and harried.  It was relatively impressive, although I wonder how that'll stand up in the playoffs.

And again, I'm impressed by Jeff Petry.  I feared another version of Tom Gilbert, who disappointed us mildly at the start of the season, but the new defenceman is agile, strong, decisive with the puck, able on defence.  He's a pleasant surprise.  And Tom Gilbert is rounding into form slowly, the last 20-30 games.  It's not the Big Three plus Bill Nyrop and Pierre Bouchard, but it's better than Jaro Spacek and Tomas Kaberle by a fair margin.

I wish Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk had seized this occasion, in a game against a team that has celebrated rookies and youngsters, to make a difference.  

And I noticed that Michel Therrien mixed and matched his lines in the third, even if both teams were even at that point.  I guess he felt he needed to adjust, to try new things, that the sauce needed some salt and pepper, some seasoning.

Expect P.A. Parenteau to make a return to the lineup, in this offensive desert we're currently stranded in.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Game 66: Canadiens 2, Coyotes 0

A win is a win, so we're not going to monocle this gift horse in the mouth, but really, this is practically as close as we could come to having an awful road trip, instead of the mediocre one we ended up with.  The 2-0 win gives us three points out of a possible eight on this California jaunt, but as the Antichambre boys went out of their way to point out, we can look to the Nashville Predators, losers of six in a row including four at home, for some needed perspective.

Carey Price is the author of this win, stopping 28 shots for his seventh shutout of the year.  It's at the point where Carey not only gives his teammates, his defencemen confidence, but gives me confidence, all the way out here on my couch.  Sure, that Shane Doan shot off the post in the third was a little too close, but really, if it was destined to go in, Carey would have stopped it.  And made it look easy.

The HNIC crew made much of Max's frustration due to his many shots being stopped by Mike Smith all game long, but that's par for the course for Max.  He's been shooting profligately, and getting his goals on volume.  He always winces, looks skyward and shakes his head when he doesn't quite get the shot off that he wanted, or gets robbed, but he must be doing something right this whole season.

Devante Smith-Pelly got his first point on Lars Eller's goal, a nifty pass that Lars was able to corral and whirl around to slide in beneath Mike Smith's left pad.  Devo is proving to be an asset, his outbursts of hits aren't outliers, but what he brings on a daily basis.  It's great to have a forward who makes a practice of finishing his checks, of laying the body on opposing defencemen and making them a little more skittish.  We can hope that he inspires some of his teammates to do likewise, to not routinely overlook an opportunity to lay a hit on someone.

Lars broke his goalless streak, and spoke encouragingly of his line members in post-game interviews, although he had a bit of an attitude when pressed on his drought.  He needs to take charge, understand that he needs to be part of the solution when it comes to the offensive woes of the team.  He needs to be hungry for points, to take the puck to the net, use his size to bulldoze a path like Gally wishes he could.

The Jeff Petry-Tom Gilbert pairing is doing very well, against my expectations.  As counterproductive as it may seem to seek out righties and then negate that advantage by having one play on the left, they're meshing and completing each other, skating the puck and breaking out of their zone effectively.  While I still think it's a stopgap, that Alexei Emelin will play with one of them when he returns from injury, and Nathan Beaulieu will partner with the other rightie, it's an effective solution for now.

And it makes me wonder if, as much as Sergei Gonchar was serviceable played a much-ballyhooed mentorship role for Nate, he will be the odd man out when Alexei returns.  It's hard to overlook the fact that, as much as he holds the reputation of an offensive catalyst, he hasn't been productive on the powerplay or generally.

Let's just be thankful that it's over, that the Canadiens are headed back home with their position in the standings more or less intact.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Game 65: Canadiens 3, Kings 4 (SO)

Canadiens Express thoughts on the Canadiens 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings.

-- Usually when I watch a game, I'll think that the Canadiens are a good team, who on any given night can beat any other team.  I'll worry about reffing, scoring droughts, injuries, bad bounces, hot goalies, and any other details which can tilt an individual game one way or another, but generally I think the team can win any game.

 I didn't feel that way after the Rangers kreiderated Carey Price.  I mentally threw in the towel. I still watched and cheered and hoped, but I wasn't able to overcome my ingrained pessimism in these circumstances.

This season though I've had twinges when I feel the Canadiens are a dominant team, that the other doesn't stand a chance.  Which has been rare for me for a couple decades, since the mid-nineties, since the John Leclair-Éric Desjardins trade, and the Patrick Roy trade.  Against the Oilers in Edmonton, I felt that the Canadiens were a superior team, and not just better than the abysmal opponents.

Against the Blues, who we are constantly told is a powerhouse built for the Western playoffs, I just felt that they weren't that great, that if that's a Western powerhouse, then we can match up against anyone, anytime, anywhere.  In fact, maybe we're the powerhouse.

-- The Canadiens Express version of the game on RDS was like a bucket of icy water dumped on this fan.  It felt like men playing against boys, that we were playing in a different league.  It wasn't a question of a hot goalie shutting us down, and taking our spirit with him, changing the momentum.  It wasn't refs allowing the Bruins to cheat their way to a win, like the pro wrestling refs of my youth.  We barely touched the puck.  We couldn't mount an offensive sequence.

-- Like those movies where a torture victim retreats to a 'happy place' to endure the punishment about to be inflicted, I dissociated, and reviewed mentally which players on this team wouldn't be here next year and beyond.  Which youngsters in Hamilton could develop into a player who could skate against the Kings and make a game of it.  Which of the junior players could surprise and win a roster spot next season.

-- I despaired that our roster and farm system is still undersized compared to teams like the Kings.  I revisited my contention that teams like the Kings cynically allow us to draft the Daniel Audettes, the Charles Hudons, the Brendan Gallaghers, it's not like we saw what they didn't and 'stole' a great prospect from them.  They can see the talent, but just have taken the stance that size and bangitude and orneriness will win in the playoffs, not skill.  They can slash harder, interfere better than we do when we have Christian Thomas and David Desharnais on our roster.

And Don Cherry will poison the well in their favour with his harangues for the refs to 'let them play', and Nick Kypreos barking and smirking that Ryan Kesler wrestling down P.K. long after the puck is gone might be a penalty, but only "in October and November".

-- And yet...  Late in the second, long past the time when we'd been skated out of the rink, Tom Gilbert delivered on his promise of being a puck-mover and contributor on offence with a slick stickhandling effort, deking his way off the draw through the Kings roster and past Jonathan Quick.  Dead-cat bounce, I mourned.

-- And then Brendan Gallagher did what he did, using his fighting spirit and quickness in front of the net to avoid beheadings and backhand a shot/pass from Tomas Plekanec into the net.  And bafflingly, we were tied 2-2 going into the third.

-- And then, you won't believe this, David Desharnais, a sapling among the redwoods, managed to feed a puck to Max to put us ahead in the third, and I started to reconcile myself with hockey, that maybe it's not going to devolve into bumper cars, a demolition derby on ice.  Maybe there was hope for us, for our team, our farm system.  For the game.

-- And then... Lars.

I've been assured by Pierre Houde and Marc Denis that Lars played a very good game until then, that it was just an example of a player having rotten luck, that he of all the Canadiens would take that penalty so close to the end of the game.  And that the Kings would tie it up on the resultant powerplay.

-- The way RDS condenses a three-hour game into a one-hour broadcast for "Canadiens Express", they have to make decisions, edit some sequences out.  It's hard to quibble on any of these, absent any information on what is missed, but I have to object to how they hack at the shootout.

Instead of jumping right to the end and showing Max scoring, and the viewer being whiplashed and trying to make sense of the tote board at the top of the screen and the red checkmarks, and before you're quite sure of what is going on then Anze Kopitar is doing his thing, I'd like RDS to show us every shot, so we can get into the rhythm, the drama.  The shootout attempts don't take long, five seconds each, if you don't show replays where they're not really needed.

The shootout is fan-friendly, a crowd-pleaser, at least on the same order as the fights.  Let's not try to scrimp there.

--So yeah, Lars...  It so happens that he took the fourth attempt by the Canadiens, needing to score to keep the game alive, and he deked Jonathan Quick and... put it off the crossbar.

"Why hast thou forsaken me?!" he probably railed to himself skating back to the bench.

--The RDS boys had an interesting take on L'Antichambre.  Their take is that the Canadiens are giving Lars every opportunity to get out of his funk.  By putting him on the second line with Tomas Plekanec, they're telling him he needs to be an important player, be in a front-line role, not satisfy himself with being effective on defence in the Bottom 6.  They were saying that based on his results, he's had an extra-long leash, instead of being in the pressbox he's being sent out again and again.

Part of this was due to the coach trying to 'help his GM', work with him, since Lars just signed a contract extension, you can't cut and run.  You have to get a return on the investment.  Another reason is that the Canadiens don't really have many options, there aren't that many big skating forwards kicking around.  If you have Lars you use him.

-- His being sent out as the fourth option on the shootout is another example of the long leash.  Again, there weren't many snipers on the bench.  Maybe P.A. Parenteau might have come in handy.  But after a shootout where P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were used ahead of him, and the coach when pressed on this issue said that 'he hadn't scored in a month', or words to that effect, Lars got a shot, ahead of Brendan Gallagher, for example.

And you kind of wished that, like David Desharnais last season, he had scored a big shootout goal and it had jump-started him.  But the gods have other plans for Lars apparently, more tribulations.

-- So a rollercoaster 'glass case of emotion' kind of game for this fan.  I'd given up on this season, this team, the entire sport by the end of the first period, but the team-that-never-quits amazed me again, by weathering the storm with their backup goalie and almost coming out with the win.

And I'll never doubt again.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Game 64: Canadiens 1, Ducks 3

Notes on the Canadiens' 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, their second on this California road trip.

--Did I get this right, the Ducks have a player called Rackelle Rackelle?  Did his KHL journey take him from Milan to Minsk?

--I don't know that I ever bought in to the Disney Mighty Ducks name for the Anaheim team, but the Ducks current logo and colours are not too inspiring either.

--In the eighties, teams game-planned around Raymond Bourque and Chris Chelios when they had to face them.  Both those players had to play close to thirty minutes a game, and be a big part of their team's success, spark their breakout and offence, and limit their mistakes for their team to win.  The Canadiens would send Claude Lemieux and Dave Maley and Steve Rooney after the Bruin defenceman, to thump him any chance they got, and the common wisdom was that he wore down as a seven-game series played out, he'd get banged up and exhausted.

P.K. has to expect these tactics and learn how to deal with it.  A couple of times, one of which resulted in an Anaheim goal, he went into the corner and lost the puck battle, a Ducks player came out with it and it ended up in his net.  P.K tried to protect himself, which he has to do, I can't fault him for that, but when he does so he still has to make a play on the puck.  Maybe instead of trying to be shifty, to deke his way out of there, he just needs to make the proverbial strong play, fire it around the boards to gain time and space, as opposed to trying to fend off two guys with one arm, stickhandling with the other, mentally going over his taxes, etc...

Just simplify, P.K.  When you're pressed for time, fire it around the boards behind your net, or backhand it up off the glass to your winger, keep your shoulders socketed and your brain firing normally.  When there's a lot of room, when you have time to scan around behind you on puck retrieval, and see in the glass that there isn't a burly forechecker bearing down on you, that's when you can corral the puck and head up-ice with it, see what you can do.

--I've thought a few times this season, notably when we played against the Blues and the Islanders, that these putative league powerhouses weren't that intimidating, that we could handle them no problem.  I haven't thought that against the Sharks or tonight against the Ducks.  There's a skittishness to our team, our defencemen hurrying to get rid of the puck, our forwards not quite able to get to it, either half a step slow or not able to fight through a hold or jersey tug.  Carey Price looking mortal.  Horrors.

--The three judges scored the Jiri Sekac vs Devante Smith-Pelly bout 120-96 in favour of the Ducks forward.

--It's hard to see positives, at times the Canadiens didn't seem to be in it, but if they could have snuck one past John Gibson the game may have had a different flow.  The Ducks' goalie wasn't miraculous though, it's not as if he was stemming back the Mongol hordes.  It was more of a case that when the Canadiens did manage to mount a charge, they'd flub a shot or miss a pass.

--Having said that, the Canadiens got 38 shots on net, compared to 32 for the Ducks.  And they threw 29 hits as opposed to 27 for the Ducks, althought that stat is hard to believe.  Maybe there should be an advanced stat for 'effectiveness of hitting', measured by the amount of panic in the defenceman's eyes as he's about to get crushed by Nate Thompson or brushed upon by Lars Eller.

--The Canadiens seemed to benefit when Michel Therrien fired up his blender and came up with some new lines.  Alex Galchenyuk on the right with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais had a little bit more jump, for example, than when Brendan Gallagher was on the right side.

With his two new forwards giving him the option to play them at centre or on the wing, and the same being true for Jacob de la Rose, Michel Therrien will be able to experiment even more than before.

--I think the Lars Eller experiment on the wing has to end.  Either by sulking or being completely lost, he seems completely ineffective.  He has shown no affinity for playing on the wing, and he's not improving, he seems to be getting worse.  We're reduced to seeing one or two instances of competence and taking solace from them, "Good, he received the pass, skated the puck into the zone and got a wrist shot on net.  Nice going Lars!"

I think Lars needs to go back at centre, we've led him to water but he just plain won't drink.  So give him back third-line centre, but he has to perform or find himself on the fourth line or the pressbox, while the ex-Sabres and Jacob de la Rose also fight it out.  We need to get Darwinian in his case.

--Sportsnet...  During the first intermission, while showing video of the Dustin Byfuglien injury, Nick Kypreos barked at me that "Face value, you just don't see anything out of the ordinary..."

Face value?  Did you mean 'at first glance'?  'On first perusal'?  'Upon casual inspection'?  'On the first take'?

So Nick, instead of using cutesy phrases you don't understand, why not just use plain language?

He barked some more though that "...something happened, that triggered, uh, that effect."

His clowny sidekick Doug MacLean, tasked with discussing the Dave Clarkson injury, was also stumped, saying that "you think, talk about Byfuglien, strange one, this is in a scrum, where there's no body contact, other than pushing and shoving, ..."

Eleven and a half more years of this.  And the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Thank you Gary Bettman.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Game 63: Canadiens 0, Sharks 4

I have to say it was hard to enjoy last night’s game. I mostly blame circumstances though.

I was “HIO’ed” out by a full day of watching Darren Dreger harangue me about nothing, like Abe Simpson’s verbal battles with the clouds.

For some reason I thought I’d read that the game started at 19:30 hr my time, so I missed a lot of the first period, and the first goal.

Also, the stream I was watching was of very poor quality, very unreliable, so I couldn’t really observe the play very well, my attention was more focused on the Liveblog and the way the Canadiens were subjected to the ridicule of the community.

Still, a 4-0 loss to a team that’s been struggling, rudderless. “Phooey” was my contribution to the post-game discussion.

But as I pointed out during the online discussion/internecine sniping, the Canadiens specifically, but also East Coast teams generally, usually do poorly in their initial game of a West Coast road trip, especially if they don’t acclimate, get a game/day or two in the Mountain Time Zone prior to that. So we can rationalize it somewhat.

Dave Pratt of TSN 1040 Vancouver just did an opinion piece setting up the Sharks’ game against the Canucks tonight. He barely touched on the fact that they just beat the Canadiens.

All he did was lambaste them for their poor record, their dysfunction, their on-and-off love affair with Joe Thornton and his recent struggles on the scoresheet.

He talked about how they had a players’ only meeting on Sunday night. Co-hosts brought up the fact that their problem has been more about their spotty goaltending.

They also mentioned that the most positive development isn’t the way they beat the Canadiens, but the fact that the Flames’ Mark Giordano is now out for the season, and should sink in the standings without their best player.

On to Los Angeles.  I expect that Carey starts the next game, and then Tikker gets a shot since we have a back-to-back situation.

Pierre-Alexandre can settle in little better and try to generate some creativity, some offence, on a team that needs it beyond the first line.

Devo’s also a player who can start settling in after getting bounced around and dropped into the lineup.

The ex-Sabres can show their gratitude after receiving a call from the Governor, give the team a jump.

Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert can work hard and disprove my hunch that they’re mimeographs of each other, ballyhooed right-handed puck-movers who are darlings of the statisticians and toil in obscurity on poor, losing teams. Guys who have a reputation as good ‘first-pass’ guys but get a little shy around contact.

Another hunch/wish was that Michaël Bournival would get sent down to Hamilton, get on track after a tough start to a season due to injury and roster machinations. Let’s hope that he plays a tonne, gets lots of minutes on special teams, shows leadership, and drags the Bulldogs to the playoffs. We’ll need him in the playoffs, especially the version we had in training camp last year that had the Midas touch.

So yeah, let’s have a palate-cleanser, quickly, don’t want to have this aftertaste lingering.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Marc Bergevin on the trade deadline, and the attendant rumours.

RDS has two really good interviews by François Gagnon with Marc Bergevin this morning.  You can use Google translate if you don't read French, there's some good stuff in there.

In this article, Marc Bergevin says that last season he was talking to Garth Snow for a while about Thomas Vanek, but that he wanted too much.  On the trade deadline morning, he says he offered Sebastian Collberg and a second-rounder very early on, in part because he was attending his mother-in-law's funeral in Chicago and would be somewhat detained throughout the day.  He also says that the trade was accepted at around 10:00 hrs, and doesn't know why it took so long for league headquarters to make it official, which I wonder if it isn't a bit of a smokescreen.  Is he trying to protect Garth Snow's reputation?

He talks about how in meetings before the draft they make up a grid of Top 10 draftees, then 11-15, 16-20, and so on, and then evaluate what trade-up or trade-down opportunities will exist at the draft.

He also says the prospects in the organization are constantly being evaluated, and that's what allowed him to offer up Sebastian Collberg last year.  So we now know it wasn't so much an Islander demand that he be included in the trade, but a decision by the Canadiens that they could spare him.

We have another peek behind the curtain in this article.  Marc Bergevin says he's constantly speaking with other GM's, and a lot of it is staying current, taking a pulse, and not necessarily 'goal-oriented'.

Which is why he says he laughs at the rumours that crop up because some team's GM/scouts are at another team's game.  For that, and also because a lot of these scouts are where they are because of travel plans, and teams trying to minimize their costs.  Like he says, if a team is playing two games in two nights, and their farm team is nearby, it's cost-effective to be there.

He says that every GM in the league knew that Evander Kane was headed to the Sabres the week before that trade, all that needed to conclude was the specifics of the trade.  So score one for the Insiders!  They tweeted about it after it happened.

He also says that he had some interest in Jaromir Jagr, but doesn't discuss it beyond that.  Another smokescreen?

He says that he sometimes wants to single out certain rumours and expose them as the ridiculous, nonsensical inventions they are.  He understands that fans and journalists get caught up in the buzz of the trade deadline and want to read entrails based on which GM is seen talking to who, but he hates how unfounded rumours cause turmoil within a team, and how a ten-year old might hear a rumour about his dad being traded in the schoolyard.