I watched the IceCaps game against the Albany Devils, which featured a tame first period, then three quick goals in the second period by the good guys, followed by three fights.
The 'Caps opened the scoring with a powerplay goal by Charles Hudon, on a beautiful feed from Gabriel Dumont, who'd corralled a rebound of a Nikita Scherbak shot. RDS' Stéphane Leroux took care to mention that all five IceCaps touched the puck on this play, so props to Darren Dietz and Bud Holloway on this one, they should by all rights earn tertiary and quarternary assists on the play.
Shortly after, Alexandre Ranger made it 2-0, cashing in a pass from Mark MacMillan on a 2-on-1. And seconds later, Brandon McNally redirected a Bud Holloway pass into the Devils net with a skate, a play which was reviewed and found to be legal.
After this, Ben Thomson, a 6'3" 215 pounder according to the roster, acted like he wanted to go with John Scott at a faceoff, but ultimately chose an easier target, transparently so. Kind of like when René Bourque had to atone for his knockout elbow to Nicklas Backstrom, and had to fight someone on the Capitals in their next game, and he chose to go Matt Hendricks instead of John Erskine. Smart move.
Josiah Didier was Mr. Thomson's foil, and the poor guy, as big and strong may he be, is not a good fighter. He came to us from the NCAA Denver Pioneers, and as such played with a full cage, and fighting was not allowed/tolerated as it is in the CHL. He has no experience fighting on the ice, but I hoped that he might have a natural affinity, to act as an insulator on our roster, a guy who can cool the temper of 'agitators' and the like. Lots of NHL enforcers get to the NHL after a college career where they couldn't drop the gloves, they find a talent for it in the AHL. Kent Carlson, famously, came to Canadiens training camp as an unknown in the '80's and swept through the NHL, surprising many tough guys. He said he got into a few street fights as a youth, but had never fought in organized hockey until he turned pro.
I don't think we should bet on this happening with Josiah. His natural size and strength aren't much help for him, he's not agile or quick, he struggles to grab on to his opponent without taking shots. This is the third fight I've seen him in, and this was his best effort, in that he managed to not get knocked out by the willing and able Ben Thomson, he grabbed him, ripped off his helmet and ducked haymakers before pulling him down. I let out a sigh of relief.
About a minute further in the game, Mark MacMillan got checked hard into the boards, and a line brawl erupted with everyone involved. Brett Lernout ended up tangling with Dan Kelly, and due to questionable work by the camera staff and the director, we didn't see what transpired, they focused instead on Mark MacMillan barely hanging on to the much bigger Ryan Kujawinski.
So the Devils had done what they could to try to turn the tide of this game. We hoped that the rest of the game would continue without incident, but that was too much to hope for. Dan Kelly, freshly emerged from the penalty box, ran Nikita Scherbak into the corner of the glass partitions near the Devils' bench. Stéphane Leroux compared it to Zdeno Chara's vicious assault on Max Pacioretty, and the thought had occurred to me as well.
Darren Dietz rushed in to avenge his teammate, while the medic attended to a dazed Nikita Scherbak, who is having a star-crossed rookie season as a pro. During the cleanup, Bud Holloway and the Devils' captain Rod Pelley talked it over with the refs, and there was some disenchantment from newly-installed assistant captain John Scott when he learned there wasn't a major penalty on the play, just offsetting minors for Dan Kelly and Darren Dietz, and fighting majors.
Sure enough, immediately after puck drop, John Scott grabbed Ben Thomson by the neck, literally. He'd told Jérémy Grégoire to shift off to the left wing so he could line up against the Devils tough guy, and then mauled him. I have to say it was a punishing fight. In the past, when I saw John Scott play for the Wild, I was never impressed, found him to be slow, ineffective. Nobody wanted to fight him, and when he did, it turned into a grab fest, nothing much transpired.
Here, he fed him seven or eight rights before the Devil could get organized, and they all seemed to land on the chin. He then switched to lefty to keep his adversary off-balance, incapable of mounting a defence, and tagged him four or five times, although mostly in the visor. He went back to the right and cranked him ten or twelve times through the earhole in his helmet, then finished off with a roundhouse left/push/takedown. Kudos for the kid for not buckling at the knees, and not puddling himself.
My biggest worry was that John Scott might get suspended if he went overboard, since tomorrow's game against the Devils promises to rock and roll, we may need him then. He did get the instigator penalty and get ejected, but I had to believe that Ben Thomson, after two fights, wouldn't be much trouble the rest of the game. Or the next day. Or the rest of the Devils for that matter.
The third period started off calmly, and thankfully Nikita Scherbak was back in action, after some time in the quiet room no doubt. He took a poor penalty early on, crosschecking a Devil into the boards, probably trying to avenge himself for the earlier hit by Dan Kelly. He ended up costing his team a goal while shorthanded, making the game 3-1 with 15 minutes to play.
Noticeably, both Nikita Scherbak and Tim Bozon, who were drafted as scoring wingers, played centre. I knew that Nikita had been shunted to the middle recently, and that the results were moderately encouraging, that the position might be a good fit for his skill set, but I didn't know that Tim Bozon was being asked to do that as well. After Charles Hudon last season, that's quite a few skilled guys who we switch positions. I know that Marc Bergevin claims you're advantaged by having many forwards who can play centre, that must play a role. The team's status might be like the Canadiens' too, with all the callups and injuries, they're having to scramble and experiment, test the youngsters.
RDS' Norman Flynn mentioned that Nikita is getting a lot of icetime, no doubt due to the Canadiens calling up Mike McCarron, and the resultant vacuum at centre. With 6:30 left, Mr. Flynn also noted an instance when Stéphane Lefebvre sent out Gabriel Dumont to take a faceoff, who quickly returned to the bench and was replaced by Nikita.
The Devils tried to mount a comeback but couldn't get organized. They even played 3 minutes with an extra skater after pulling their goalie, but couldn't sustain any real pressure.
So a good win for the IceCaps, although their playoff prospects are looking grim, being six points back and with Hartford in their way. I like how they battled, they worked and skated hard, and pushed back when needed against intimidation attempts.
And that's refreshing. I don't want to harp on this, or maybe I do, but the Canadiens have been targeted this season, and certain moments have left a bad taste, like Lars letting himself get punched in the head during the Winter Classic, and Jacob de la Rose doing the same, letting Max Domi punch him repeatedly in the head, with no response. Not good Jake. If you're not going to bring offence, you have to bring more than positional play. You have to contribute something else. Especially at 6'3". Against frigging 5'8" Max Domi.
Nikita Scherbak is finally starting to show something, but I wouldn’t count on him at the NHL level until at least another half-season in the AHL. He still needs a lot of work in my estimation.
Last night, seeing him dazed on all fours after being run into the corner glass stanchion, then seeing him back on the ice for the third, I wondered why they didn’t keep him out of the game for precautionary reasons. According to the Centre for Disease Control, any evidence of a concussion, such as a player being stunned, or dazed for a few seconds, is symptomatic of a concussion, no matter how mild.
You’d think that after Michaël Bournival, they’d err to the side of safety. It’s not like the situation was crucial, up 3-0 in the second period late into what is probably a lost season. Developing the asset(s) is job #1, not beating the Albany Devils at all costs.